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The Lay LifeHai Zhang

Joe College is an anonymous American student seeking long-term peace through meditation.

Ru Guan Bhikkhu is walking to the Fa Yun Monastery. He and Joe are both Buddhist. They seek long-term peace through meditation and the global cessation of suffering. Yet Bhikkhu is an elite Buddhist and Joe is a convert. These categories reflect the schism in contemporary Buddhism: elite Buddhists, in most cases Asian immigrants and their descendants, follow traditional study methods, while the surging population of American converts, known to elites as "lay Buddhists," practice through casual community centers, in accordance with popular teachings.

At the Fa Yun Monastery for elites, intensive textual study is considered central to peace, and meditation begins daily at 3:30 a.m

Ru Guan Bhikkhu in front of his spare dorm room.

Morning chants at the Fa Yun Monastery.

In contrast, a group of lay people leave private homes and gather on a Sunday evening at the Open Heart Sanhga in downtown Taos.

Meditation inside of the Zendo at Upaya Zen Center (Sante Fe, N.M.), a lay person monastery that is set away from the lay world in hopes of screening it out.

The Albuquerque-based Buddhist Center of New Mexico attempts to straddle the rut between elite and lay Buddhism. They offer daily morning and evening services to the public, but teach through untranslated texts and English versions selected by the lead monk.

Bob Watkins, 72, is a former lay Buddhist and co-founder of the elite Hoko Ji monastery. His transformation from lay to elite illustrates that, while Buddhism has cleaved into two groups, neither are immutable.

Hai Zhang is a Chinese-born photographer working in the architecture industry in New York City. His pictures have been exhibited in Washington, DC, New York City, and London.

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