FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT UU BUDDHISTS AND UUBF
Answers offered by James Ford, Wayne Arnason, and Sam Trumbore
WHAT IS A UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST BUDDHIST?
Should a person feel affinity with both Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, they may consider
themselves a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist. There is no creedal test.
WHAT ARE THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM AND BUDDHISM?
Unitarian Universalism is the most liberal of America’s long-established religions. It has deep roots in
New England congregationalism and is closely connected with the foundations of this nation. At the
same time it has, for the most part, moved well beyond its Christian origins. Perhaps not surprisingly
Unitarians were among the first Westerners to express public interest in Buddhism. In 1844 the
Unitarian writer Elizabeth Palmer Peabody published the very first English language version of a
Buddhist text, in the Transcendentalist journal, The Dial. Since that time Unitarians and now Unitarian
Universalists have continued to find Buddhism intriguing. At the beginning this interest was romantic
and generally ill-informed. But over the years both interest and knowledge have deepened and
broadened. Today there are a fair number of Unitarian Universalists who have embraced Buddhist
teachings and practices. Several ordained UU ministers are authorized Buddhist teachers. The vast
majority of UU ministers have a working understanding of Buddhism even if they don’t identify with the
HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BOTH UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM AND BUDDHISM?
There are links to authoritative sources about both faith traditions in the top menu of the home page of
this web site.
IS UUBF A UNIQUE UU CHURCH?
No, it is a non-geographic network of Buddhist practitioners who also identify as Unitarian Universalists.
We invite people to join us by paying a small annual membership fee to support our resources and
HOW ARE YOU GOVERNED? ARE YOU A 501.C3 ORGANIZATION?
We have by-laws and policies that govern a self-sustaining Board of Trustees. We are a non-profit but
have chosen not to become incorporated or seek 501.c3 status. Our funds support a biennial break-even
conference and a newsletter.
DO I HAVE TO BELONG TO A UU CHURCH TO BE A UU BUDDHIST?
No. Some UU Buddhists do not belong to any specific Unitarian Universalist society. Others belong to
the non-geographic UU Church of the Larger Fellowship.
IF I CONSIDER MYSELF A UU BUDDHIST, SHOULD I JOIN A UU CHURCH?
In general, yes. If one feels an affinity with Unitarian Universalism, it is good to try and participate in a
local congregation as much as one can. This benefits the individual and the church, enriching the lives of
MUST I BELONG TO A PARTICULAR SCHOOL OF BUDDHISM TO BE A UU BUDDHIST?
Absolutely not. At the current time it seems most UU Buddhists are interested in or active in Zen and
Vipassana. However, many UU Buddhists are interested in the Vajrayana schools, and others in the Pure
Land and Nichiren schools. Just as there are no creedal tests for being a Unitarian Universalist, there are
no tests for being a UU Buddhist.
HOW CAN I START A LOCAL CHAPTER OF THE UUBF?
Any UU who wishes to start a UUBF chapter is welcome to do so. Local chapters are generally organized
as Dharma study groups meeting in local UU churches. If members of the chapter have a meditation
practice, the group meetings usually begin with a brief period of meditation within their
tradition–usually this is a silent meditation like zazen or vipassana. Some groups use liturgical chants
from their Buddhist lineage, and others prefer not. The time for meditation is most commonly followed
by an ongoing book study group or talks offered by a group teacher or leader. Some groups invite
speakers from different local Buddhist organizations. There is no required pattern. All it takes is one or
two local UUs who are willing to make sure it happens.
I HAVE KIDS! IS BUDDHISM TAUGHT WITHIN UU RELIGIOUS EDUCATION?
In many Dharma groups people with children get referred to UU congregations when they ask how they
can raise their children Buddhist? Today there are more Western Buddhist centers than ever before
seeking to provide competent or consistent religious education. Nevertheless, it remains difficult to
raise Western Buddhist children in many Western Dharma centers as currently structured. This is not to
say that Unitarian Universalist societies are now places where one can raise Buddhist children without a
great deal of conscious effort on the part of the parents. For instance, there are generally no explicitly
Buddhist curricula available. However, Buddhist perspectives and teachings have increasingly found a
place in many of our curricula for children and adults, above and beyond the “world religions” classes.
UU religious education emphasizes the development good self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and
respect for the world’s faiths. There can be no doubt that the already existing UU religious education
programming can provide a very good foundation for educating liberal Buddhists. What is needed are
Western Buddhist parents who will join UU societies and who will teach and begin to develop further these curricula. There are great possibilities here for anyone willing to do the work.