Comments on “The Making of Buddhist Modernism”

Cris Watkins 2011-06-15

David - thanks for this post - you’ve just sold a copy of the book, so McMahon owes you one! Your observations resonate with some thoughts I have about what I feel my particular tradition can ‘offer the world’ right here, right now. I practice because I enjoy it. In terms of explaining it to others, the best thing I think I can say is ‘these practices can make people into better parents’; better because they are more open, kinder, more appreciative, more engaged and engaging. . . Better parents = better kids = better next generation of adults = better world. So, that’s our fundamental contribution. I guess I identify with this because this appeals to that thing inherrent in all parents - that we want better for our kids than we had. Hell, that’s the root of the American Dream, isn’t it? But - that is what I want, so surprise surprise when I look to Buddhism I go looking for what I want - and I find it there. That is both shocking, and utterly unsurprising. Well, thank you for leading me to that recognition.

Máthé Veronika 2011-06-16

Great post, David, thank you for it!

Bernard Faure also has a similar book Unmasking Buddhism ( Less scientific than that of David L. McMahan, but with some relevant points and a funny perspective (see the table of contents of the book).

David Chapman 2011-06-16

Thank you for the pointer to Bernard Fauré’s book! The table of contents for his section on “Buddhism and Society” does look like it covers similar points (and does look to be funny!) It’s shocking how sure Western Buddhists are about “what Buddhism is”, when their ideas would be unrecognizable as “Buddhism” to traditional Asian Buddhists.

Buddhist Leper 2011-06-16

“Dharma never tires of explaining itself through those committed to teaching. To everyone who has questions or incomprehension, Dharma re-clothes itself in fresh terms. No book of truth can contain Dharma – because Dharma speaks to every style of confusion; and the styles of confusion are as variegated as the cultures, societies, and epochs in which we live.”

—Ngak’chang Rinpoche

~C4Chaos 2011-06-16


your outline looks great! looking forward to your future posts. added McMahan’s book to my reading list.

that said, let me throw a wrench into this philosophical exploration and contract back into the sensations that make up this experience. see Buddhism vs. Buddha - - a chapter on Daniel Ingram’s hardcore and irreverent take on the dharma.


Rig'dzin Dorje 2011-06-17

‘It is worth asking whether disenchantment, meaninglessness, and nihilism are still the problems they seemed 30-40 years ago. (I think not—and my theory is that this is why mainstream Western Buddhism is less attractive to people born after the ’60s.)’.
Currently the universal salve of alienation is the internet; one could even call it the dominant world religion. As a religion (a Buddhist might point out), far from being a solution, the internet makes a pretty good catalyst of alienation - self-evidently, as it’s the foster-home for lone crazies of all descriptions, political & religious extremists, bombers, pornographers, bloggers (just my little joke) etc.
The jury is out on this, but my penny’s worth is that a medium that inspires people at adjacent desks to prefer communicating via email is ipso facto alienating. I wonder if there might have been MORE protestors on the streets in the Middle East etc. WITHOUT Twitter, Facebook etc.
This explains why, no matter how intensive the presence of Buddhism online, it is failing to affect the fall in numbers of Buddhist adherents on cushions in the most internet-intensive nations.
I wonder how this is related to the emphasis on social participation and integration in the current wave of ‘conference dharma’ in the US, on which you have commented elsewhere. Is it a panicky backlash against the atomisation of Buddhism in the west, due to the presence of every kind of Buddhism that has ever existed historically or geographically, all at the same time and sometimes all in the same city? ‘Dividing the sangha’ is held to be highly culpable in Buddhism, but modern western conditions plus the internet make division and independence the order of the day. And it is easy to justify that from within those very Buddhist traditions; indeed some of us live by that.

David Chapman 2011-06-17

Hi, Rig’dzin Dorje,

Nice to see you here! I think I agree with you about all that.

What I’ll suggest, near the end of this blog series, is that the character of alienation is different now than it was in 1970. Meaninglessness is no longer the problem; it’s the onslaught of innumerable fragmented meanings, without good resources for selecting among them or integrating them. The internet is definitely a major source of this problem. This fragmentation of culture, of meaning, leads to a fragmentation of society and of the self. My take is that this is irreversible, so the task is to learn to dance with it, rather than to attempt to reassemble a coherent culture, society, and self.

I don’t think I understand this very well yet. In terms of observations about generations, I may be too old to grasp it; I didn’t grow up in the post-fragmentation world. But I plan to explore it soon on both the Meaningness site and Buddhism for Vampires.



rigdor 2011-06-17

It’s interesting how history doesn’t repeat itself, meaning that meaninglessness is back, but with a twist. What intrigues me is, when Buddhism comes back, what will be the twist? To get ahead of the twist, the catch is, probably it’s necessary to take rebirth at the right time. How much can one actually care about that, and at the same time be prepared to go to the wall for the Buddhism one espouses right now?

Namgyal Dorje 2011-06-17

Dear Rig’dzin Dorje

Re: ‘Currently the universal salve of alienation is the internet; one could even call it the dominant world religion.’ Yes, yes - excellent - that has got my imagination racing. Heck, I’m an initiate in that cult. I’ve just recently ‘graduated’ from reading other folks’ sites and e-mail, to using Twitter - is this the Pratyekabuddhayana of the world wide web - shouting empty words in the forest of webtraffic using 140 characters or less? The internet - home of ‘virtual dharma’. There is some fantastic material within your proposition. What a wonderful tool the web - that provides a sense of connectivity with everyone, everywhere, yet that is at the same time hollow, shallow, superficial, because that contact is illusory. Do you think the themes you’ve picked up on might serve as the kernel for a teaching some time? Perhaps even a webcast!

Best regards


roni 2011-12-11

Mugaku 2016-02-28

As a zen teacher and lawyer–classic non- traditional Buddhist, who came to Zen in my 50s–I just read McMahan’s book and loved it. Could relate to all the threads he pulls together, although I would have liked to see more in psychology. And I just found your site. It is energizing to read of explorations of the impact of the web on Buddhism now. A subject in which I am deeply interested as I see the Boomers showing up but not many
Millenials. I look forward to reading more of your interchanges.

Lotus Buddhas

Lotus Buddhas 2022-09-13

Buddhists today are too attached to the Dharma. They spend too much time arguing about things they haven’t really experienced. Like the story about the raft, you should leave it when you’ve crossed to the other side.