Animism among Western Buddhists

Myriad instances of animist phenomena abound in the Buddhist world, but due to the outdated concepts of thinkers such as Edward Tylor, James George Frazer, and Melford Spiro, commonly scholars perceive this animism merely as the work of local religions, not as deriving from Buddhism itself. However, when one follows a number of contemporary scholars and employs a new, relational concept of animism that is based on respectful recognition of nonhuman personhoods, a different picture emerges. The works of Western Buddhists such as Stephanie Kaza, Philip Kapleau Roshi, and Gary Snyder express powerful senses of relational animism that arise specifically from Buddhist thought and practice. Recognizing the role of relational animism within Buddhism opens a new window on the dynamics of the tradition and this perspective can clarify issues such as the distribution of Buddhist (non)vegetarianism.

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