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Academic Deliciousness

Sometimes, you just can't make this stuff up. I've been reading How Sweet The Sound: Music In The Spiritual Lives of Americans by David Stowe, and in his chapter on American Buddhist hymnody (yes, it exists), there is this delightful passage:

"Compared to the decades following the World Parliament of Religions, the interwar and World War II years were a period of relative dormancy for the development of American Buddhism. As a result of the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the leadership of American Shin Buddhism was assumed by Julius Goldwater, born in 1908 in Los Angeles to German-American Jewish parents. Goldwater was a protégé of the Hunts who was converted in Hawaii in 1928 before being ordained in Kyoto. During wartime internment Goldwater traveled widely to all camps, distributing literature including his adapation of the Hunts' Vade Mecum. The flavor of the liturgies distributed by Goldwater was strikingly Protestant, with gathas intermingled with responsive readings, collective affirmations, and a sermon to create an order of service that one might expect in a Presbyterian church." (Stowe 2004: 164 - 165)

To sum up: Nice Jewish boy (probably Reform, given his ethnicity and DOB) converts to Buddhism, spends WWII ministering to inmates of American Japanese concentration camps using a Latin-named hymnal containing Presbyterian-sounding Buddhist hymns.

Ain't America grand?

(Where by "grand" I mean "totally bizarre.")


Feb. 5th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
Actually, this is very common and greatly encouraged in Buddhism. My particular favorite American-born Buddhist spiritual leader, Surya Das, is also formerly Jewish and a good many of the stories he uses to teach have clearly Jewish roots/background. I love him. I've gone several times to hear him speak. And if you ever get a chance to hear the Dali Lama speak in America, he will invariably make Judeo-Christian references. Most Buddhist spiritual leaders in American encourage people who come to them expressing interest in Buddhism to explore Buddhist tenants in the context of their birth religions and without 'converting' away from their birth religion. In most of the sanghas I've visited, the teachings are always explained from a distinctly Judeo-Christian perspective, drawing parallels between the life of the Buddha and the lives of people in the Old and New Testaments. It is really very interesting and pretty effective because people outside the Tibetan or Eastern traditions can grasp that more readily.

But it is not what you would expect initially, that is certain. It is very funny to see a tiny little Tibetan guy in saffron robes that barely speaks English talking about Jesus and how XYZ that he did is an excellent illustration of the concept of Right Action. Especially when the sangha is meeting in a Roman Catholic Church and the little Tibetan guy is standing in front of a crucifix. It becomes even more interesting when the church's priests are all there, listening and asking lots of questions and obviously very engaged in the lesson.

Only in America indeed!
Feb. 5th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
And there is that lengthy section in Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal where Josh and Biff go off and learn kung fu at a Buddhist monastery . . .


by Illsaysheis

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