We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Nightstand Buddhist?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
PublicPeople is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At PublicPeople, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A number of people do not claim a particular religious faith, but when pressed on the issue will respond that Buddhism describes their spiritual belief structure better than anything else. Christian author Thomas Tweed called such a casual adherent to Buddhism a nightstand Buddhist, largely because of the number of books on Buddhist philosophy such a person would keep on his or her nightstand for bedtime reading.

A nightstand Buddhist is more of a dabbler in the surface philosophy of Buddhism rather than a traditional convert or an ethnic Buddhist raised in the philosophy since birth. This is not to suggest a nightstand Buddhist is not sincere in his or her spiritual beliefs, but critics of the practice suggest there is a significant difference between reading entry-level books on Buddhism and actually embracing the entire culture and tradition of what many ethnic Buddhists view as a religion more than a philosophy.

There are a number of people who would describe themselves as spiritual seekers, but have either had bad personal experiences with organized mainstream religion or have issues with the rituals and other trappings of Christianity and Judaism. These mainstream religions do not address what a nightstand Buddhist would consider the basic spirituality inherent in all people, not just those who ascribe to an established religion. Many nightstand Buddhists would have considered themselves to be agnostics or skeptics before embracing the alternative teachings of Buddha.

One of the concerns surrounding the practice of nightstand Buddhism is the level of dedication of the practitioner. Ethnic Buddhists traditionally practice extended periods of meditation and reflection, often in spiritual retreat centers far removed from the trappings of modern society. Buddhist monks and other devout Buddhists spend years learning the rituals and philosophy associated with true Buddhism. A nightstand Buddhist may not be able to devote significant amounts of time to meditation, and it may be difficult to find a proper Buddhist temple or spiritual adviser.

Some American Buddhists have expressed concern over the growing interest in nightstand Buddhism, primarily because it has already proven challenging to import true Buddhism from its Asian origins. American and European Buddhists may be able to study the philosophy and model their behavior by observing ethnic Buddhists, but the culture and traditions which inspired the philosophy are much more difficult to adopt. A nightstand Buddhist may be able to grasp the concepts of Zen Buddhism from reading literature, but the religion of Buddhism has just as many trappings, hypocrisy, rituals and congenital failings as the mainstream religion he or she previously dismissed.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
By anon39094 — On Jul 30, 2009

PS. Commenter #2 again--I thought of a few other salient points I wanted to mention.

1. There is no one Buddhism in Asia. It varies wildly: Mahayana, Theravada, Tibetan, Zen, etc. There is no "right" Asian Buddhism that Americans should emulate.

2. In parts of Asia, Buddhism is largely practiced by monastics. Lay people go to the temple and make offerings, but do not engage in much of the practice. The American Buddhist tradition is more of a lay tradition, with lay practitioners meditating, taking the precepts, reading Dharma, and listening to Dharma talks. This democratic attitude is spreading back to Asia and influencing the way that Buddhism is practiced there.

By anon39019 — On Jul 29, 2009

I found this article to be rather insulting. Like many American Buddhists, I came to Dharma first through the books of authors like Thich Nhat Hanh, and began to integrate the practices into my life, including meditating and attending retreats.

The beauty of the American Buddhist tradition is, in fact, that it is stripped of many of its religious and cultural trappings and presented as a rather unadorned practice.

The most recent podcast from Buddhist Geeks features a scholar of Buddhism discussing how Buddhism was perhaps the first cross-cultural religion. It is, in fact, a tradition of Buddhism for the Dharma to be reinterpreted into many languages and cultures.

By anon33282 — On Jun 03, 2009

I was once a "nightstand" buddhist when I was a young teenager. I came in contact with a number of Buddhist philosophy books and felt they thoroughly answered the questions I had. In my adulthood I sought to experience the teachings. For the first few years, nothing made any sense, but after a few years of sticking to it, I have come to experience what dharma is and it's been on a more personal level. I never got this from books but it came through practice.

I often wonder if it is possible to "know" what dharma is if one is not a practitioner. When I wasn't practicing I seemed to have a lot of concepts, misunderstanding, and no real feel for the sometimes clumsy English interpretations. Words were interpreted based on the culture I grew up in and I have to admit that after 20+ years of being a practitioner, what I thought I understood in the beginning is so different than what I understand now. I study the Tibetan tradition, fortunately with a teacher, but have also taken instruction with Theravadan and Mahayana teachers, that has made a world of difference for me. Doing this additional study filled in the blanks, explained a myriad of things, dashed a lot of concepts on the rocks and left me more open, listening and receptive.

What I have found interesting is when I meet people who study solely from books, they may know dates, details, historic events I am unaware of, but when the conversation becomes solely dharma, they have no experiential reference and things become dry, rote and repeated. It's like describing something you have never experienced. I am just wondering if it is at all possible to really know dharma without practicing it!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
Learn more
PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.