The Jewish-Buddhist Encounter

Both faith communities have something to teach the other.

By Ira Rifkin

For American Buddhism, few dates have more significance than Sept. 26, 1893. It was on that day in Chicago that Anagarika Dharmapala, a Buddhist priest from Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), administered a Sanskrit oath to Charles T. Strauss to formally convert him to Buddhism–making Strauss the first non-Asian to do so on American soil. Rick Fields, who in 1981 published a seminal history of Buddhism’s development in America, described Strauss’ background as follows: “…of 466 Broadway, a New York City businessman, born of Jewish parents, not yet 30 years old, long a student of comparative religion and philosophy.”

The Jewish Attraction to Buddhism

Fields was also a Buddhist who came from Jewish stock. His book, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, was published by Shambhala Publications, the Western world’s leading publisher of books about Buddhism. Sam Bercholz and Michael Fagan–also Jews–started Shambhala in 1969 in Berkeley, California, where they owned a metaphysical bookstore. Clearly, there’s something about Buddhism that’s attractive to a sizeable number of Jews, who by some estimates account for as many as a third of all non-Asian Buddhists in North America. >>More

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