Choose your branch


Review: The Accidental Buddhist

Former CMS missionary Rolf Lepelaar reviews The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, enlightenment and sitting still, American style. Rolf served with his wife, Bonnie, in Cambodia for more than 10 years.

Of all the books I have read on Buddhism, The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty Moore is the most helpful book for understanding the mindset of Westerners attracted to Buddhism. Moore is an American and lapsed Roman Catholic who decided to investigate and try out Buddhism. His book is not a textbook on the subject, but rather an account of his experiences as he tried different forms of Buddhism and Buddhist practices, visited Buddhist centres and talked to different Buddhist teachers.

Throughout The Accidental Buddhist, Moore seeks to answer the question as to why Westerners are attracted to Buddhism and its practices. On page 17, he notes, “…while a good number of Americans are embracing serious religious Buddhist practice, many, many others are engaged in ‘vaguely’ Buddhist practice, much of it part of the new age movement. Business week hails meditation as ‘the new balm for corporate stress.’ Even beat cops are being taught to breath, for relaxation. Beer maker Adolph Coors reports that meditation has helped lower the company’s mental health costs 27 per cent since 1987. Elle magazine, of all places, ran a recent series of articles promoting the meditative lifestyle. In one article, Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein endorses a group of New Yorkers who have begun chanting for parking spaces.”

Moore asked Helen Tworkov, founding editor of the largest Buddhist magazine in American, why Buddhism is becoming so popular in the West. She states (p. 80), “I think there is a sincere panic about the world. About the environment. About violence. I think there is a very sincere anxiety… In Buddhism we talk about the mind that abides nowhere. The homeless mind, the mind that’s not attached, the mind that’s not dependent on a home, or a country, or nation, or money, or job, or status, for its essential identity. And a lot of what I get from talking to people in their twenties who come into Buddhism is a sense that they literally do not have a home. Their parents are divorced, there is a tremendous sense of fragmentation in families. I talk to kids coming into Buddhism who don’t know where their mother is… haven’t seen her for 12 years or something… They take one look around and see that their last shot for any kind of security, or equanimity, is totally inside, because everything around them is falling apart.”

Moore helpfully includes his own attraction, questions and apprehensions, as well as some thoughts on his Catholic upbringing and an honest self-assessment of his reaction against it. For example, he says (p. 65), “…granted, it is easy to bash Catholics and Christians for their failings, and it would be massively naïve of me to imagine that the various Buddhist schools aren’t guilty of similar distortions or misdirection. Like so many Americans now giving Buddhism a test drive, my search is tainted to some degree. I am not just studying a new religious path, but am also reacting, maybe overreacting, against what I see as an earlier, ineffective spiritual upbringing.”

Moore also writes about the Eastern mysticism practices within Buddhism, which can assist Christians in seeing the way in which some popular ‘Christian’ teaching in spirituality is more in line with Easter mysticism. This includes the spirituality of quietness to defeat the ‘monkey mind’.

I highly recommend this book as easy to read, funny, provocative, thought provoking, but most importantly, as a great book to help us think through how we can share the truth Jesus with Buddhists in general, and especially with Westerners who have rejected a form of Christian background to embrace Buddhism and New Age spirituality.

Moore, D. 1999, The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, enlightenment and sitting still, American style, Harmony, USA