How is Buddhism different in the Northeast than it is on the West Coast? And does it really exist in other American places? There are Buddhist groups operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all the regularly inhabited U.S. territories. So we can definitely say that Buddhism exists in some fashion throughout the United States. That’s a dramatic change from 100 years ago, when Buddhism was confined to a small handful of states and territories. But as I’ve tried to point out, the Buddhist reality of these disparate places can be very different. There really isn’t a single American Buddhism, but many local American Buddhisms that are sometimes more and sometimes less similar to each other.
If we want to take the Northeast and the West Coast as specific examples, we get a nice contrast. Both areas have higher Asian-American percentages than the country as an average, but the West Coast’s Asian-American population is significantly higher that of the Northeast. There is a much greater size and diversity of Japanese types of Buddhism on the West Coast, including many groups with little or no representation at all in the Northeast, while the Northeast is where the majority of Tibetan-Americans live. Most of the important American Buddhist groups are headquartered on the West Coast, such as the Buddhist Churches of America, Soka Gakkai USA, and Foguangshan. On the other hand, the Northeast has spawned some regionally significant networks with few affiliates in the West, such as the Kwan Um School of Zen. Historically-speaking, Buddhists have experienced far greater legal and extra-legal persecution on the West Coast than in the Northeast. While more subjective, many people have reported cultural differences between these areas to me, such as a tendency toward more formality in East Coast Buddhist groups vs. a noticeably more laid back style for many West Coast Buddhists.
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