Reading the Dharma Talk as Ritual: a status report

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Much of this paper ends up in my dissertation. It was presented to the Buddhist Studies group of the American Academy of Religion during the 2007 Western Regional meeting in Berkeley.

Abstract: Curiously, despite the tacit assumption that there is no ritual in American Buddhism, there are very few scholarly works on the subject of American Buddhist ritual to confirm or deny this stereotype. And anecdotal evidence would suggest that it is indeed false. One need look no further than the complex etiquette of entering the zendo at the San Francisco Zen Center, the strict rules governing placement of the hands, position of the feet, and the chants recited before and after a dharma talk — a deeply embedded concern for rules, to paraphrase Frits Staal. Or one could examine the ritual observances and festivals of an “immigrant” Buddhist community and set aside the notion that just because the community is an immigrant community necessarily suggests that it is not truly “American.”

© 2007 by Scott A. Mitchell