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The Institute of Buddhist Studies would like to thank all the panelists, participants, and guests who made the 2010 Buddhism Without Borders Conference such a wonderful success!

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Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Developments of Buddhism in the West

at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Berkeley, California
March 18 - 21, 2010

Panel V: Living Buddhism: Community and Family, 2:00 - 5:00

Bringing Up Buddhists in America

Zach Zimmerman, Princeton University

This paper examines how Buddhist converts in North American are raising their children. Believing religious education to be a window into how the adults of a tradition define what is most valuable to them, I took three approaches to this population: I examined the children’s programming offered by several Buddhist institutions, interviewed several Buddhist parents grappling first-hand with the issues, and surveyed a collection of Buddhist children’s literature to see how authors and publishers are presenting Buddhism to children. Through my three-angled approach, I found that many Buddhist converts harbor a bitterness towards the religions in which they were raised, and, therefore, are quite hesitant to “do to their children what was done to me,” as one of my interviewees put it. This fear of “indoctrinating” their children into Buddhism is paired with a yearning for a social structure which does not exist in many parts of the country. To create this community, some Buddhist institutions are borrowing forms from the dominant American religious culture – such as timing their Buddha Birthday Celebration to coincide with Easter or altering the words of a pop music to include Buddhist doctrinal teachings. This institutional and individual ambivalence toward the dominant religious culture of North American Convert Buddhists is unique to this population of seeking Buddhist converts. Above all, the interviewed Buddhist parents do not necessarily hope their children will become Buddhist, rather they hope their child will engage in a spiritual journey, like they did, and arrive at a decision that is sincere, well-considered, and valuable to them.

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