At least 2 million Buddhists currently practice their religion in the United States, and many of their fellow citizens disapprove. A survey conducted by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, coauthors of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010), endeavored to determine how Americans perceive the nation’s major religions and found that Buddhists rank second to last, above only Muslims, writes James Coleman in Buddhadharma (Fall 2011). The same survey reports that whereas a large Christian church coming to their neighborhood would be acceptable, a large Buddhist temple would raise objections from one in five Americans.
The negative image seems to stem from a lack of publicity, which has contributed to the sort of ignorance that fuels fear. “Buddhism has remained something of a stealth religion, virtually invisible to most people outside our cosmopolitan coastal enclaves,” explains Coleman, who entreats practitioners to enter the public discourse, especially since the faith has become America’s fastest-growing religion with numbers rivaling those of Mormons, Muslims, Anglicans/Episcopalians, and practicing Jews. Coleman points to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for inspiration, not only because of his peace-loving message, but also because of his carefully crafted public image.