Yuppie Seekers

From the excellent The New Buddhism by James William Coleman, a study of the history and the dominant trends of the Americanization of Buddhism:

‘Buddhism challenges Western society’s deepest cultural assumptions about the nature of reality. The mere fact that a respected religious group would reject the existence of a separate independent self is bound to force some people to think long and hard about the way they look at their lives.

Despite it’s gentle mien, Buddhism is a profoundly subversive force in postmodern consumer society. The structure of our economy, our psychology, our whole social reality is built around the unquestioned assumption that we are each of us separate, autonomous selves. Selves with endless appetites for consumer goods to set us off from the crowd, make us feel good about who we are, and give us a sense of identity. Selves that identify with a particular ethnic group, political party, or ideology. Selves driven by a sense of inadequacy, driven by the desire to be better, richer, or wiser people, driven by the need to prove their worth, driven by dark fears about the future and the fate that awaits us. What would happen if enough people saw through all that? If there was a critical mass for change?’

His research demonstrates that American Buddhism draws practitioners who are wealthy, extremely well-educated, and white. They are often looking to explore the self more deeply, and may have come from traditional psychotherapy. What a great cosmic joke to tell these self-seekers that they don’t, in fact, exist.

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