The space for this particular articulation of Buddhism is created by specific cultural currents in the modern West: Romantics, Idealists, Transcendentalists, and their mid-twentieth-century counter-cultural successors, all of whom emphasize exploration of the deep interior of the mind, God as an all-encompassing spirit in nature, spontaneity, creativity, and suspicion of mechanized reproduction; Protestant Christianity, which eschews idolatry, privileges texts, looks askance at priesthoods and hierarchies; Enlightenment rationalism, which promises insight into the nature of things through careful observation and thought; psychology, which encourages introspection and exploration of the mind; and global capitalism, which allows for the flow of commodities newly valued in the West, like our Buddha image, by those who can afford them.
Thus Buddhism takes on yet another incarnation, blending with the indigenous cultures of the West, the United States, the Midwest, and Clifton. Even here, though, it turns out to be one incarnation among many.
This is a much better way of saying what I said here. I particularly liked the part about the guy who felt disappointed that Tibetans didn’t measure up to the idealized image that he had projected onto them.
As I said, one of the strengths of Buddhism is that its pragmatic aspect allows people to make use of it to suit their own context without being accused of deviating from orthodoxy. But for all that, many people who identify as Buddhists do so for all the usual religious reasons, even Westerners who aren’t shackled by Asian cultural conditioning. I’m alternately amused and bemused by the way people are so desperate to believe that all the answers are “out there” already in finalized form, and all they need to do is find the right leader to follow behind.