John L. Crow
Earlier this week, the news and social media lit up with claims that the Buddha may be older than already thought (examples can be found here, here, and here). I was not really surprised that so many people found the story interesting. The Buddha has always been a fascinating figure to Americans. Since 1893’s World's Parliament of Religions, the Buddha has been represented in ways that appeal to contemporary concerns and interests, not unlike the representation of Jesus. Thus at the World Parliament, figures such as Anagarika Dharmapala, and Soyen Shaku, represented the Buddha as scientific in thinking, claiming he applied the method of science, and preached the law of cause and effect. In her essay in A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions (1993), Tessa Bartholomeusz noted that this “packaging” allowed Buddhists at the Parliament to represent Buddhism as rational, scientific and egalitarian. This kind of representation has continued to today.
Mind and Life Institute where Buddhist meditation is used as a remedy to PTSD suffered by American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. With such a rich history of representation, and Buddhism being the third largest religion in the United States, it is not surprising at all that so many people are interested in the life of the Buddha, when he lived, and how we that the archeological evidence demonstrates. Just exactly how this new discovery will transform the narrative we teach remains to be seen. But what is without questions is that the story of the Buddha himself, will remain an interest of Americans for many years to come.