The Appeal of Buddhism to the West

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“When you come back as a whale, you’ll be bloody glad you put Greenpeace in your will.”
— Greenpeace advertisement on billboard in Taylor Square, Sidney, Australia

As the above quotation from the advertisement indicates, there is no question that Buddhism has a certain appeal to the West. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. author of Prisoners of Shangri-la: Tibetan Buddhism and The West provides a cultural history of the “strange encounter” between Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism) and Western countries, most notably Britain, Australia and the United States. It is no longer questionable that Buddhism, and again, especially the Tibetan stream, has permeated popular culture: since China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1950, which will be discussed further, but most significantly since the 1990s. This is most likely accredited to the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, which brought him and Buddhism much exposure. In fact, every stream of Buddhism announces growing public acceptance in the West since the Dalai Lama first visited two decades ago. The Complete Guide to Buddhist America, written in 1998 for which the Dalai Lama wrote the preface, reports that the number of worship centers in the United States more than doubled from 1987 to 1997 to over one thousand.
Several examples illustrate the recent exposure of Buddhism in Western popular and political culture. Firstly, one of the most popular films of the early 1980s, The Return of the Jedi of the Star Wars series featured the Ewoks who spoke high-speed Tibetan. More recently, in 1996, at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta, Georgia, the percussionist of the Grateful Dead play the song “Call to Nature” which famously began with the chanting of a Tibetan monk. Furthermore, in 1996 fifty thousand people gathered at Golden Gate…...

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