I live in a predominantly-Christian culture. This, among other things, may account for the overt and covert sense among some Americans who interest themselves in Buddhism that they should spread the good word. Christians, like Muslims, live under a mandate to spread the one true faith, the 'good' news.
But it's probably not entirely fair to lay off on culture the desire to have others see the light. See-things-my-way is hardly limited to religious institutions or the cultures they infuse.
I think Buddhists are about like anyone else: They latch onto or involve themselves in a particular path and then seek out others who are like-minded. It's supportive and lends credibility to the given path. The more of us there are, the true-r the path must be. This is human, I'd say, and it's not a bad starting point. But over the long haul, it is a crippling and inept point of view. If relying on others were the sum total of any religion, what kind of substance could that religion hold?
It's a sticky wicket, but it still needs to be addressed. Each of us is alone ... together. Our cohesiveness is real, but selling it as real is a false prophet.
I once asked my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, why he didn't beat the bushes more and try to bring new members into the Zen center fold. He was horrified at the suggestion: The center was available; people came and went as they chose; that was enough. But didn't he try to convince people of the value Buddhism offered -- didn't he, in a sense, seek out converts? No, no, no! he said. "If people come here I encourage them. I encourage them to do zazen (seated meditation)."
Both institutionally and personally, I think this is a pretty important point. Encouraging people to seek out the truth in their own experience is quite a different kettle of fish when compared to a mandated program of converting the infidels or non-believers. Buddhism may be a very good thing, but it is up to individuals to find that out and to express that goodness. Without that, Buddhism becomes another tin-pan religion and a cause for subtle and gross wars.
True, Buddhism offers a format within which to study and actualize what is important. But it is not the format, in the end, that matters -- it is the actualization. Some people use this observation as a means of excusing themselves from group activities -- from the Sangha that is one aspect of Buddhism's "triple gem" -- Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Some say, "What the hell -- group-think just screws the pooch. I can do this on my own." And perhaps they can. But equally important, perhaps they can't. In fact, without being able to take any actualization into the marketplace, into the throng, into the hurly-burly that Sangha exemplifies ... well, Buddhism becomes another feel-good, self-serving, tin-pan religion.
On the other side of the coin, there are the stick-up-my-ass Buddhists who claim the inability to actualize on your own is proof-positive that Buddhism with its Buddha-Dharma-Sangha has got a clear bead on things. Look at this authentic text, they may crow in one way or another. If you want what we have to offer -- enlightenment, compassion, emptiness, deeeeeep meaning, etc. -- then you have to toe the Buddhist mark. There is no way but the 'Buddhist' way.
OK. On the one hand. On the other hand. Blah, blah, blah.
But the interesting part of this boring disquisition, I think, is how individuals address and see through their own desire for applause and company -- how they may continue to rely on the good graces of others, asserting, in essence, "If we're all together in this, we must be right. The greater the number, the greater the truth." And this approach is, for anyone who has taken a look, clearly horseshit. Each of us brings a very specific patience and courage and doubt and determination to practice. It may be comforting or consoling that others do the same thing, but this is not the same as actualization. The point isn't look-how-many-people-agree-with-me ... the point is, do I agree with myself? And this is a question that no amount of proselytizing, no 'authenticity,' and no institution can ever answer.
In an earlier and less politically-correct era, young men awash in hormones might be heard chanting,
Baby you've got
But even in a more innocent era, no young man would confuse chanting -- even group chanting -- with getting laid.