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The Making of Buddhist Modernism Hardcover – November 14, 2008
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"With David McMahan's The Making of Buddhist Modernism, the study of modern Buddhism has reached a new level of maturity. This sweeping and sophisticated analysis of the ways in which westerners and Asians alike have constructed new forms of Buddhism under the pressures of modernity is thoroughly disillusioning, in the best sense of the word. McMahan shows that much of what has been written and said about Buddhism in the modern era only can be understood against the background of dominant western discourses. Trenchant but fair, erudite yet lucid, this book should be required reading for any serious student of Buddhism, and will be appreciated as well by those interested in intellectual history, cultural studies, or, simply, the inquiry into modernity." --Roger R. Jackson, Stephen R. Lewis, Jr. Professor of Religion and the Liberal Arts, Carleton College
"David McMahan offers readers a theoretically sophisticated analysis of the development of new modes of thought and discourse in the Buddhist religion since the latter part of the nineteenth century. Grounded in a sound understanding of premodern Buddhist ideas, this work effectively unravels the complex ways in which 'Buddhism' has been adapted to fit the theoretical commitments and tacit understandings of people living in the modern world." --Stephen C. Berkwitz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Missouri State University
"This is an exceptionally well-written and imaginative piece of scholarship. David McMahan treats in great depth many different facets of Buddhist modernism including art and creativity, meditation and monastic ideals, and science. The writing is clear, straightforward and to the point, and reflects an excellent understanding of how Buddhism fits into the larger scheme of modern religiosity and the development of modern society more generally." --Steven Heine, author of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?
About the Author
David L. McMahan is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Empty Vision: Metaphor and Visionary Imagery in Mahayana Buddhism and of articles on both Buddhism in South Asia and Buddhism and modernity.
Top Customer Reviews
But, he also notes that it's more than just an intersection. It was a reaction to colonialism penetrating ever more of the Buddhist heartland. And, while Emerson and other Transcendentals may have made Eastern religion (much more focus by them on Hinduism, though) synthesized with new thoughts from the west, Buddhist thinkers, in trying to defend Buddhism against colonialism and reinvigorate it, willingly did their own synthesis.
And, not all Buddhist modernism, certainly not in its homeland, nor even in the West, has been demythologized today, McMahan notes. For example, though he professes to be willing to drop any belief incompatible with science, the Dalai Lama still holds firm to both karma and reincarnation.
McMahan focus on specific areas of "dialogue" in Buddhist modernism, such as science, meditation, Buddhism as psychology and more. He then concludes with a chapter on the idea of Buddhism postmodernism.
If you're looking for a great intro to where today's ideas about Buddhism, both West and East, have arisen, just how selective they may be in what parts of traditional Buddhism they use as their base and more, this is the book to read.
Using Donald S. Lopez' definition of a modern form that "stresses equality over hierarchy, the universal over the local, and often exalts the individual above the community," McMahan begins his study (qtd. 8). By demythologizing, detraditionalizing, and psychologizing, the twentieth century continued the efforts of Romantics and rationalists to prove that not only might Buddhism be compatible with post-Enlightenment thought, it might better Christian or scientific models.
Chapter Two, "The Spectrum of Tradition and Modernism," takes the case study of the "Shukden affair" to show how tensions brought in-- via psychological definitions-- to the Tibetan controversy have been heightened as the "self-understanding" of those involved has been transformed by this modern version of dharma. Pico Iyer's recent "The Open Road" (also reviewed by me) discusses this awkward P.R. situation for the Dalai Lama at more length.
Scholarship enters most doggedly into the middle chapters.Read more ›
In short, most of what is hocked in the West as Buddhism is a mixture of German Romantic Idealism, Victorian Protestant sensibilities, scientific materialism, and traditional Asian Buddhism of various stripes - probably in something close to that order of prominence. Much (though certainly not all) of the appeal of this concoction for westerners is due to the familiarity that comes with western ideas repacked as Timeless Asian Wisdom.
McMahon does a superb job documenting the many global forces at work in this construction over the past two hundred years.
Finally, this book is not for the casual seeker of knowledge about Buddhism, but instead for someone well-versed in the subject and the scene, who is looking for some context around the debates and difficulties apparent around the field of modern Buddhism.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Lots of opinions here. Not of much use for the average meditator.Published 5 months ago by Kindle Customer
A nearly perfect book. A beautifully and compellingly written account of the cultural and historical forces that shaped the emergence of global Buddhist modernism. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Seth Zuihō Segall
I liked this book and found it very informative. The argument is clear and well argued. That said, it's somewhat repetitious. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Book Lover
Amazing read! You think you know what Buddhism is? Guess again. I was amazed on how much of the Buddhism I thought I know was actually no necessarily Buddhist but a... Read morePublished 11 months ago by c.a. leibow
My religious studies book club picked this book. I must say they chose a winner. I have very little knowledge about Eastern religions. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Cathy Blanchard
This is an extremely well written and thoughtful book that describes the many influences on the broadly held views of Buddhism in the west. Very enlightening.Published on June 20, 2013 by James B. Stake