When we think of the stereotypical Buddhist we no longer think of the members of the Buddhist Churches of America who were forced by the American government into internment camps during World War II. Nor do we conjure up images of the white American officer Henry Olcott who was the first president of the Theosophical Society. Personally I prefer to imagine Richard Gere or John Cleese as the stereotypical Buddhist (whatever that means).
Now instead we immediately think of the Dalai Lama. A week ago the Dalai Lama visited Emory University in an event boldly called The Visit 2013. In comes the inevitable Huffpo blog written by Peter M. Wallace (a white male Episcopal seminarian for anyone who thinks authorship matters). Wallace tells us about his experience from The Visit 2013. ( I can’t help but find this title humorous) Wallace, as an Episcopal seminarian, stereotypically outlines the “essential Buddhist concepts of awareness, discernment, and compassion,” because of course Buddhism is about peace and compassion. (I’m being a bit facetious here and don’t worry I’m Episcopalian so I am allowed to make essentializing blanket statements about them).
He also speaks of the Dalai Lama’s message as somehow not religious, but “universal” to appeal to “the cultural reality of the growing number of people identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious.'” If you want a good read on the problems with the None category check this article. I find this “secular” universal truth that somehow “transcends our concepts of religion” interesting. This quite well illustrates the stereotypical American Orientalism experience of Asian religions as a sort of great ancient wisdom of the East.