Losing Our Religion

Have Westerners created a new and viable form of Buddhism, or has something been lost in translation? Berkeley professor Robert Sharf argues that with our emphasis on individual experience and meditation, we risk cutting ourselves off from the benefits of a greater tradition. Photographs by Christine Alicino

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© Christine Alcino

Robert Sharf's interest in Buddhism began in the early 1970s, when, as a seeker in sandals barely out of his teens, he hopped from one meditation retreat to the next, first in India and Burma, then back in North America. It was shortly after a three-month Vipassana meditation retreat in Bucksport, Maine, in 1975 that Sharf began to wonder whether the single-minded emphasis on meditation characteristic of much of Western Buddhism was in some way misguided. Over time, doubt and confusion gave way to a desire to better understand Buddhism's historical background, which in turn led him to pursue a career in Buddhist scholarship. Today Sharf is the D. H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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