Buddhism originated in the East so it is relatively new to America and the West in general. Now, in America, one can practice many different kinds of Buddhist practices. In the 1970’s, when it really came to Western understanding in America, there was just the one kind.
Who Was Chogyam Trungpa?
If you have never heard of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, he was the first Tibetan Lama to come to the United States after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. While most of the Tibetan masters were either killed off or fled to India, Trungpa Rinpoche was sent to England.
It was there that he intensely studied English and other studies at Oxford University and that is what gave him such great command over the English language. He studied sciences and math as well along with Western psychology.
This ultimately gave him the ability to communicate Tibetan Buddhism to Westerners in a way that they could all understand. In the 1970s, he was able to start many dharma centers in the United States and he gained a huge following of students who would eventually become teachers themselves.
How He Raised American Buddhism
The main practices of Buddhism in the East were restricted largely to monasteries and nunneries in the countries of practice. In the East, that was a long standing tradition so it was and never has been nor is it now a problem.
In the West, on the other hand, there were not Buddhist monasteries and nunneries to go practice in. In fact, Buddhism was obscure until Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche demystified it and made it available in a way that Americans could understand completely.
He managed to teach the highest of the Tibetan lineage teachings to Westerners through his understanding of the language and Western psychology. That is how he planted the seeds.
It Was Born as Shambhala
The brand of Buddhism that Chogyam Trungpa taught was unique to the West and became unique to Buddhism altogether. It is now known as Shambhala Buddhism or American Buddhism and is practiced throughout the United States and the other Western countries such as Europe and South America.
Shambhala is actually the name of a legend in Tibet that concerns a land of sun and warriorship practices of courage in spiritual practice. That is what makes it unique. Trungpa gave his brand of Buddhism this name in honor of the legend.
Many Practices but One Way
Shambhala or Western Buddhism is an amalgam of Tibetan Buddhism with some Zen practices as well. Together, these forms of sitting and walking meditation comprise the root practices of Western or American Buddhism as we know it today.
In America, there are now many different forms of Buddhism accepted and taught widely. One can even learn more traditional Tibetan and Japanese or Chinese Buddhist practices if they wish. For awhile, it was only the Shambhala practices which were done.
Now, you can practice and study as you like since the lines between each have mostly faded. There are now many possible practices but they are all one path.