I'm not a Buddhist, but I know many Quakers who practice some form of Buddhist meditation and I've dabbled in some of them, too. I enjoy reading many Buddhist publications such as Shambhala Sun and Tricycle. I think Quakers who want to engage in outreach could learn a lot from the Buddhists who publish these magazines. Buddhism in America has grown by leaps and bounds in the last century, and it is very attractive to progressives from Christian and Jewish backgrounds.

Here are some of the things I notice. First, the rich diversity of options for Buddhist practice is consistently presented as a feature not a bug in this religion. Every issue of one of these magazines will include articles from teachers of different traditions, presenting their practices and beliefs in a welcoming way, without ever including any slights or criticisms of other forms of Buddhism. You will never see an article called, "Why I don't practice Zen," written by someone from another tradition, in one of these Buddhist magazines. Neither will you ever see one called, "Why Theravadan Buddhists need to accept the truth of the Bodhisattva to be true Buddhists." You won't even see these attitudes hinted at within otherwise positive essays. They treat each other and each other's traditions with remarkably consistent respect, or at least their editors do. (Of course, in the larger Buddhist world there have been these arguments.)

Second, there's a great deal of instruction for beginners in every issue. Teachers from all lineages regularly write basic instructions about how to meditate and what kinds of experiences you may have while you're doing it. They differ from each other. That's ok. A reader gets a vivid picture of their similarities and differences, but pointing these out is not important to any individual writer. Instructing those who are learning or want to learn is the only purpose. The instruction is extremely concrete, detailed, and easy to understand (to me, anyway.) For instance, you sit in such and such a posture, think the following words, and if such and such happens in your mind, here's what you do. Of course, we may not be able to be specific and concrete in quite the same ways, but we could emulate the emphasis on introduction and explanation.

Third, these are beautiful magazines. I feel a little guilty even mentioning that because, of course, they are not made sustainably in the use of dye and ink, etc. But they're not afraid of the sensual pleasure of looking, and they include beautiful artwork and poetry from great writers.

These are the major organs of Buddhist outreach. You can see them on sale at Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, and other likely places. As a result, Buddhism presents itself to us as a beautifully diverse, intelligent, hope-filled, peaceful and welcoming religion. No wonder it is so attractive.

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Thanks, Richard. It seems like one of those insights which most Friends won't accept. The liberal Friends I know passionately refrain from all "proselytizing," although (I presume) they believe that our religion contains something of value that others might benefit from if they knew about it. Other Friends often seem to feel that they cannot tolerate all forms of Quakerism. Then we don't seem to have a lot of money to spend on retreat centers and publications. (I get a little queasy myself sometimes looking at all the expensive equipment those Buddhist magazines advertise!)

Yet I can imagine a wonderful journal. Perhaps it could be both beautiful and environmentally friendly. It would have an editorial board of Quakers from across the spectrum--Friends from Bolivia and Burundi as well as Britain and America--and would solicit essays from beloved teachers and ministers of all Quaker types. They would be encouraged to explain their own experiences and forms of worship and witness in great detail from the heart, and discouraged from reflecting negatively on other types. We all might come to appreciate each other more as well as presenting a more pleasant appearance to newcomers.
That was a very interesting perspective you offered Rosemary. I have myself been quite engaged in Buddhism (most active with a local FWBO group in Belgium) a few years before I came in touch with the Quaker tradition.
Just a few observations though: the contemporary popularity of Buddhism in the Western world is pretty much a result from an enormous rise in general interest in Eastern spiritual traditions. The import of Asian religious thought to the West has an interesting history of its own, with strong currents provided by the first Orientalists, missionary contacts, theosophists and the likes.
I would however be careful in taking this apparent unified vision and harmonious coexistence of contemporary Buddhism too far as a parallel with Quakerism. First of all, the historical backgrounds are quite different. The historical schools within Buddhism were often de facto quite harshly opposing each other to legitimize their existence, and socio-political power structures (many monasteries were also centres of political power, the Tibetan tradition illustrates this quite clearly) had to emphasize "what they were against".
So the fact that one never reads an article in these magazines "why I am not a practicioner of Zen" is quite a recent phenomenon in the history of Buddhism, and as such, a contruction within a very particular context. The rejection of other denominations stood quite central in a big part of the classical Asian religious literature in general. Buddhism was no exception to this.
Not that it diminishes the importance of what you describe, but I just feel that Quakerism, much younger and recent in its development, and in no way enjoying a similar historcial background, has quite different challenges to tackle.
Having said that, I can fully relate to an analysis that the outreach from many Quaker groups is in dire need of dynamic and innovative changes. Finding ways of getting over internal divisions (which often, but not always, appear to be rather artificial, as this forum seems to illustrate quite well) would be a good first step no doubt.
Yes, I think it's true that Quakers are unlikely to have wide appeal to the same degree that Buddhists do today. Yet, I think Quakers are Buddhists are very much alike in having a long history (Buddhist history is longer, of course) of splitting and bitter disagreement and prejudice. That's one reason why I find the approach of these magazines so startling and inspiring. I don't think we can get over our internal divisions, but maybe we could learn not to be so disturbed by them.

Great discussion.


It seems, based on what little I've read about Quakersim, that at an earlier time, Quakerism was much more popular then today. I don't think that we, as humans, have really changed that much. I think that what Quakerism offered in the past is still relevant to today and I know people hungry for it's message & experience. The question seems "how to introduce ourselves in a non-offensive manner" (by offensive I am referring to those religious types who claim your way is totally wrong, thus come join us.)


Imitating and adapting what others are doing, who are successful at growing their churches (without loosing one's Quaker character) seems promising. My list would include:

a glossy magazine like the ones you mention seems like a great idea!

podcasts.... (I love those things).

Great websites with great downloadable material.I belong to the "Becoming Friends" website/teaching tool put on by Woodbroke. It is a great intro to Quakerism.I think QuakerQuaker is great too!!

and.... maybe an old fashion style of outreach... is some sort of public presence. I am imaging a info table, with a tent behind. In the tent, a circle of chairs, that people could sit in to relax, pray, reflect, etc. A Quaker outside would explain nuts n bolts of how to use tent and the practice of "waiting on God". At the table outside, another Quaker could be present to answer questions, pass out a 3 fold pamphlets to those who want one, be a smiling face greeting those passing by. As a back drop, a banner. On the left: some quick read panels about Quaker's Christian roots and the Mystical path. On the right, Quaker's history of social engagement and current day projects.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, the third eye is a symbol of enlightenment. For me the inner Light, is symbolically and functionally the same Light referred to in the word "enlightenment."


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