With the Dalai Lama's name still on the lips of celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford, and Richard Gere, the Tibetan Buddhist leader ended a two-month U.S. tour in September, leaving in his wake a growing flock of Americans, including some Christians, attracted by pop Buddhism's buffet of low-commitment, high-touch beliefs.
"The world of American religion is going through enormous change," University of Chicago sociologist Stephen R. Warner recently told Religion News Service. "It will be increasingly difficult to distinguish Christians and Buddhists." But are lines between the two religions really blurring?
"Now it's becoming the in thing to be spiritual," says Buddhist teacher Jagad Guru Paramahamsa. "It's more cool, modern, and progressive to be spiritual. But without God."
The Dalai Lama's recent book on pursuing lasting happiness has topped bestseller charts for more than a year. His latest title, Ethics for a New Millennium (Riverhead, 1999), has been praised by some book critics because it proclaims tolerance and peace without religion.
In a book review in the Chicago Tribune, critic Richard Bernstein says the Dalai Lama's message of spirituality without a deity is "the perfect way to satisfy the spiritual hunger of people living in a scientific and secular age." Buddhism, which has 358 million followers worldwide, is nontheistic. It focuses not on an individual's relationship with God, but rather on a person's incremental spiritual progress, achieved through ethical conduct and eventual reincarnation to a higher state of existence.
Patty Campbell, 52 and a United Methodist, drove from Arkansas to Indianapolis this summer with her son to see the Dalai Lama. "I'm a Christian and I think you can ...1