Is asceticism a phenomenon driven by the upper class?


This paper explains how this problem occured back in 50’s, when buddhism was new to the west.

Nattier, J., 1997. Buddhism comes to main street. The Wilson Quarterly (1976) , 21 (2), pp.72-80.

Import Buddhism and Elite Buddhism

There are two types of Baggage religions, import and export.
To begin with the import type, consider a hypothetical example: a college student living in the Midwest in the 1950s finds a book on Zen Buddhism in the public library and thinks it’s the greatest thing he’s ever heard of. So he buys a plane ticket, heads off to Japan, and begins to study meditation in a Zen temple. After several years of practice and some firsthand experience of Buddhist “awakening,” he returns to the United States and establishes a Zen center, where he begins to teach this form of Buddhism to other Americans.

The important point to note here is that the importer (in this case, the college student) deliberately seeks out the product and takes the initiative to bring it home. But for this to happen, two crucial resources are required: money and leisure time. Buddhist groups of the import variety, in other words, can be launched only by those who have a certain degree of economic privilege. And not surprisingly, in these groups (as in other voluntary associations), like attracts like. Thus, the upper-middle-class status of the founders tends to be reflected in their followers, with such communities drawing a mostly well-educated, financially comfortable, and overwhelmingly European-American constituency. Aconvenient label for the groups formed by the import process, then, would be “Elite Buddhism.”
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