This was apparent in most West European countries, and by far the greater part of this was devoted to Vajrayana, Zen and Theravada. Just as Tibetan Buddhism was once regarded as a superstitious aberration, so, today, many Europeans, if they know of Pure Land at all, tend to regard it as an aberrant that has somehow, misguidedly, adopted a form uncomfortably close to Christianity.This last point is significant because European Buddhists are, if not immigrants, almost all converts.One conference that I attended took me to New York.In one of the breaks I was walking down Riverside in Manhattan and I saw a statue that was clearly Buddhist, though not a seated Buddha.Zen made lesser, though still significant headway in Europe, mostly coming via America.By the late twentieth century, therefore, there was a well-established interest in Buddhism.America, a melting pot for immigrants, saw substantial numbers of Chinese and Japanese, many of whom followed Pure Land Buddhism.
These, however, were primarily a means of cultural survival for the Japanese and did not take in many Caucasian members.
Ideas of faith, grace, a transcendent Buddha, devotional practice, and, in the Japanese forms, a priesthood that has many similarities to the Protestant clergy, all ring warning bells.
In my own case, I started studying Buddhism when I was in my early twenties in Cambridge.
The small number of us who did try formed a distinct group and this later became the core of the Amida Trust.
At this time I was also practising as a psychotherapist.
Although the latter hurdle has been overcome, the idea that Buddhism is “not a religion” (except when there is government money available for religions, etc.) has stuck in many quarters.
In the early part of the twentieth century there was also some intellectual interest in Buddhism in America.
In a way, she taught me not only that Buddhism is a religion, but also that it is the essence of all religion.
Although she was a Zen teacher, there was a strong thread of Pure Land devotional thinking in her approach and I absorbed it.
David’s books include (among others) In this essay, David outlines how a specific tradition of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism was imported to the West.
He also explores possible reasons why Pure Land as a whole has historically been less popular in the West than its Zen and Vajrayana sisters.