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Buddhism: Western: Thinkers & Topics

Last Updated: May 15, 2024 3:52 PM

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Western Buddhism: Thinkers & Topics

Thinkers:  Alan Watts  |  Sangharakshita  |  Jon Kabat-Zinn  |  David R. Loy
Topics:  Digital Technology  |  Film  |  Modernity  |  Social Justice  |  Western Philosophy
Skull logo: Source: Clipart-Library. | Author: Unknown. | License: Public domain.
On this page you can find the best resources for exploring scholarly perspectives on important thinkers and topics in Western Buddhism. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region. Resources within the gallery box are arranged from the newest to the oldest publications, left to right.

Istanbul, Turkey at night from space

Above: The relentlessly illuminated globe: the city of Istanbul, Turkey, viewed from space at night.
Image source: Pixabay. Image author: skeeze. Image license: Pixabay license.

Alan Watts (1915 – 1973)

A British-born American writer who interpreted and popularised Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, Kent (now in southeast London), England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master's degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies. Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling Western books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He considered Nature, Man and Woman (1958) to be, "from a literary point of view—the best book I have ever written." He also explored human consciousness in the essay "The New Alchemy" (1958) and in the book The Joyous Cosmology (1962). Towards the end of his life, he divided his time between a houseboat in Sausalito and a cabin on Mount Tamalpais. According to the critic Erik Davis, his "writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity."
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Alan Watts unless otherwise noted.

Alan Watts


Sangharakshita Wikimedia pictureSangharakshita (1925 – 2018)

A British Buddhist teacher and writer, Sangharakshita was the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community, which was known until 2010 as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, or FWBO. He was one of a handful of westerners to be ordained as a Theravadin monk in the period following World War II, and spent over 20 years in Asia, where he studied under a number of prominent Tibetan Buddhist teachers. In India, he was active in the conversion movement of Dalits — so-called "Untouchables" — initiated in 1956 by B.R. Ambedkar. He authored more than 60 books, including compilations of his talks, and was described as "one of the most prolific and influential Buddhists of our era," "a skilled innovator in his efforts to translate Buddhism to the West," and as "the founding father of Western Buddhism" for his role in setting up what is now the Triratna Buddhist Community. Sangharakshita was also widely considered a controversial teacher and was criticized for having had sexual relations with Order members. Sangharakshita retired formally in 1995 and in 2000 stepped down from the movement's ostensive leadership, but he remained its dominant figure and lived at its headquarters in Coddington, Herefordshire. The Triratna Order Office announced the death of Sangharakshita after a short illness on 30 October 2018.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Left: A portrait of Sangharakshita. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Upekshaka. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported. All the books in the gallery immediately below are by Sangharakshita unless otherwise noted.


The Complete Works of Sangharakshita


Jon Kabat-Zinn (born 1944)

An American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn was first introduced to meditation by Philip Kapleau, a Zen missionary who came to speak at MIT where Kabat-Zinn was a student. Kabat-Zinn went on to study meditation with other Buddhist teachers such as Thích Nhất Hạnh and Seung Sahn. He also studied at the Insight Meditation Society and eventually taught there. In 1979 he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he adapted the Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and developed the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program. He subsequently renamed the structured eight-week course Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He removed the Buddhist framework and any connection between mindfulness and Buddhism, instead putting MBSR in a scientific context. He subsequently also founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His secular technique of Mindful Yoga, which combines meditation and Hatha yoga, has since spread worldwide. The course aims to help patients cope with stress, pain, and illness by using what is called "moment-to-moment awareness." Kabat-Zinn's MBSR began to get increasing notice with the publication of his first book, Full Catastrophe Living, which gave detailed instructions for the practice. Then, in 1993, his work in the Stress Reduction Clinic was featured in Bill Moyers's PBS special Healing and the Mind, spurring wide interest in MBSR and helping to make Kabat-Zinn nationally famous. In 1994 Kabat-Zinn's second book, titled Wherever You Go, There You Are, became a national bestseller. In the latter part of the 1990s, many MBSR clinics were opened, either as standalone centers or as part of a hospital's holistic medicine program. His practice of yoga and studies with Buddhist teachers led him to integrate their teachings with scientific findings. The stress reduction program created by Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), is offered by medical centers, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Jon Kabat-Zinn


David R. Loy (born 1947)

An American scholar, author and authorized teacher in the Sanbo Zen lineage of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Loy was born in the Panama Canal Zone. His father was in the U.S. Navy, so the family traveled a great deal. He attended Carleton College in Minnesota, and spent his junior year abroad studying philosophy at King's College London. After graduation in 1969 he moved to San Francisco and then to Hawaii where he began to practice Zen Buddhism. In 1971, he began practicing Zen with Yamada Koun Roshi and Robert Aitken in Hawaii. In 1984, Loy moved to Kamakura, Japan to continue Zen practice with Yamada Koun Roshi, director of the Sanbo Kyodan. He completed formal koan study in 1988 with Yamada Koun and received the dharma name Tetsu-un, "Wisdom Cloud". Loy's main research interest is the dialogue between Buddhism and modernity, especially the social implications of Buddhist teachings. In addition to academic lectures, he offers workshops and leads meditation retreats in the U.S. and internationally. Loy received an M.A. in Asian philosophy from the University of Hawaii in 1975, and his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1984 from the National University of Singapore. He was senior tutor in the Philosophy Department of Singapore University from 1978 to 1984. In 1990, Loy was appointed professor of philosophy and religion at Bunkyo University in Chigasaki, Japan until January 2006, when he accepted the Besl Family Chair of Ethics/Religion & Society, a visiting appointment with Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio that ended in September 2010. In June 2014, Loy received an honorary doctorate degree from Carleton College, his alma mater, for his contributions to Buddhism in the West, but returned this degree to Carleton in April 2016 to protest the institution's investment in fossil fuel-producing organizations. Loy offers lectures, workshops, and retreats on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity as well as related issues in human society and ecology.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All books in the gallery immediately below are by David R. Loy.

David R. Loy

Antifa in Syria

Above: The global architecture of violent conflict in the 21st century: Antifa fighters from the 0161 Manchester (UK) Crew in the International Freedom Battalion (IFB) in Rojava, Syria in 2017.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Unknown IFB member. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Lopez portraitDonald S. Lopez, Jr. (born 1952)

The Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. Lopez was born in Washington, D.C. and is the son of U.S. Air Force pilot and Smithsonian Institution official Donald Lopez. He was educated at the University of Virginia, receiving a B.A. (Hons) in Religious Studies in 1974, an M.A. in Buddhist Studies in 1977, and his doctorate in Buddhist Studies in 1982. Lopez is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has written and edited many books on various aspects of the religions of Asia. He specializes in late Indian Mahayana Buddhism and in Tibetan Buddhism and commands classical and colloquial Tibetan. In 2008, he gave four lectures on The Scientific Buddha: Past, Present, Future as part of a Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University. In 2012, he delivered the Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures at Harvard under the title When the Buddha Was an Idol.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Image source & author: Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Image license: By permission of Donald S. Lopez, Jr. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. unless otherwise noted.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr.


Sharon Salzberg (born 1952)

A best selling American author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices in the West. Her emphasis is on vipassanā (insight) and mettā (loving-kindness) methods, and has been leading meditation retreats around the world for over three decades. All of these methods have their origins in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Born in New York City to a Jewish family, Salzberg had a troubled early life after her parents divorced when she was four, and her father abandoned the family. At nine, her mother died and she went to live with her father's parents. Though her father returned when she was eleven, he soon overdosed and was subsequently hospitalized. He was placed in the mental health system, where he remained until his death. By 16, Sharon had lived with five different families. In her sophomore year at the State University of New York, Buffalo in 1969, Salzberg encountered Buddhism during a course in Asian philosophy. The following year, she took an independent study trip to India, and in January 1971 attended her first intensive meditation course at Bodh Gaya. In the next several years, she engaged in intensive study with various Buddhist teachers including S.N. Goenka. After returning to US in 1974, she began teaching vipassanā meditation. Salzberg is a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, Sayadaw U Pandita and other Asian masters. Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein founded the Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts in 1974; she and Goldstein co-founded the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in 1989 as well as the Forest Refuge, a long-term meditation retreat center, 9 years later. Today, she is a notable teacher within the Vipassanā movement.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All books in the gallery immediately below are by Sharon Salzberg.

Sharon Salzberg

Martine Batchelor (born 1953)

A former Jogye Buddhist nun and the author of several books on Buddhism. Batchelor currently resides in France. She and her husband, Stephen Batchelor, work mostly in the United Kingdom and occasionally in the United States. In addition to writing books, she leads meditation groups with her husband that incorporate aspects of Zen, vipassanā, and Tibetan Buddhism. Batchelor also blogs frequently for the U.S.-based magazine Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. She studied Jogye Zen Buddhism for ten years at Songgwangsa with her former teacher Master Kusan Sunim, being ordained as a nun in 1975. Batchelor served as Kusan's interpreter on speaking tours of the United States and Europe from 1981 to 1985, the year she left monastic life, married Stephen Batchelor, and returned to Europe. There she became a member of Sharpham North Community and served as a guiding teacher at Gaia House, both of which are based in Devon, England. She has also led a Buddhist studies program at Sharpham College in Totnes, Devon.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Martine Batchelor


Stephen Batchelor photoStephen Batchelor (born 1953)

A British author and teacher, writing books and articles on Buddhist topics and leading meditation retreats throughout the world. He is a noted proponent of agnostic or secular Buddhism. Batchelor was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1953. When he was three, his family relocated briefly to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where his parents separated. He returned with his mother Phyllis (b. 1913) to England, where he was raised in a humanist environment with his younger brother David in Watford, Hertfordshire. After completing his secondary education at Watford Grammar School, in February 1972, at the age of eighteen, he embarked on an overland journey which eventually led him to India. He settled in Dharamsala, the capital-in-exile of the Dalai Lama, and studied with Geshé Ngawang Dhargyey at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. He was ordained as a novice monk in the Gelug tradition in 1974. A few months after ordination, he sat a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat with the Indian teacher S.N. Goenka, which proved a lasting influence on his practice, and aroused his curiosity about other traditions of Buddhism. He left India in 1975 in order to study Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and doctrine under the guidance of Geshe Rabten, first at the Tibet Institute Rikon then in Le Mont-Pèlerin (both in Switzerland), where he helped Geshé Rabten to establish the Tharpa Choeling (now Rabten Choeling). The next year he received full ordination as a monk. In 1979 he moved to Germany as a translator for Geshé Thubten Ngawang at the Tibetisches Institut, Hamburg. In April 1981 Batchelor travelled to Songgwangsa Monastery in South Korea to train in Zen Buddhism under the guidance of Kusan Sunim. At the monastery, he met Martine Fages, a Frenchwoman who had ordained as a nun in 1975. He remained in Korea until the autumn of 1984, when he left for a pilgrimage to Buddhist sites in Japan, China and Tibet. Following the death of Kusan Sunim, Batchelor and Martine Fages disrobed in February 1985 and married in Hong Kong, then returned to England and joined the Sharpham North Community near Totnes, Devon. Over the course of the next fifteen years Batchelor lived at Sharpham, subsequently becoming coordinator of the Sharpham Trust (1992) and co-founder of the Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiry (1996). Throughout this period, he worked as a Buddhist chaplain at Channings Wood Prison. From 1990 he has been a Guiding Teacher at Gaia House meditation centre in Devon and since 1992 a contributing editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. In August 2000, he and Martine moved to Aquitaine, France, where they live in a village near Bordeaux. As a lay Buddhist author, teacher and self-designated scholar, he has increasingly turned his attention to the earliest teachings of Buddhism as recorded in the Pali canon. Batchelor is a member of the core faculty of Bodhi College, which focuses on interpreting the early texts of Buddhism, such as the Pali Canon, in a manner that is applicable to the modern world.
Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Left: A portrait of Stephen Batchelor in 2010. Image source: Flickr. Image author: Stephen Lasky. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Stephen Batchelor

Server farm at CERN in Switzerland

Above: Silicon and silence: a server farm at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), in Meyrin, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland.

Digital Technology



Social Justice

Western Philosophy

Shrine room installation, Sackler Gallery, Washington DC

Above: An installation of a Tibetan shrine room in the exhibit "Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia" at the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC, USA.
Image source: Flickr. Image author: Sarah Stierch. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.