Now that Buddhism is becoming more visible in the West, all kinds of people are trying to "fix" it to make it more "western." Or maybe just less "Asian," or less "sectarian," or more "secular" or more "natural." Most of these fixers mean well. But I also think most of their attempts at imposing a makeover will have little real impact on the future of Buddhism in the West, which in fact is evolving in its own way from the many Asian traditions that have been transplanted here.
It seems to me that the most significant contribution of the West is that women are becoming more prominent as priests, teachers, and leaders within Buddhism. This is not completely new, as there have been currents of women's influence in Buddhism all along, especially in Mahayana. I've written about women who are prominent in Zen history, for example. However, prominent women have been the exceptions.
How is this changing Buddhism? Although I've never run into this myself, many women who were Zen students in the 1960s and 1970s reported less-than-equal treatment. For example, the late Maurine Stuart Roshi trained for a while with Eido Shimano, one of the teachers at the forefront of our many Zen sex scandals, at Dai Bosatsu monastery in upstate New York. In 1980 Eido Shimano decided that only men could attend the intensive three- month training periods considered essential for priests and teachers. And then the pattern of exploiting women students sexually emerged also. Stuart and many other students left.
I'm not so naive that I think all the sex scandals are behind us now, but I do think it is significant that all of the "perps" in Zen so far have been men from the "first class," either Japanese teachers who came here years ago or their first generation of men students. I do think the "boy's club" days of western Zen are nearly over, and that's changing how Zen is taught and practiced in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
In western Zen men and women are training and being confirmed as dharma heirs in the same lineages. Since Japanese Buddhism is no longer celibate ( by the Meiji Emperor's order!) and no longer tied to the Vinaya, there's no longer any issue with maintaining separate monks' and nuns' ordinations and lineages.
But that's not so in the rest of Asia. "Lineage" usually refers to the unbroken line of ordinations carried out according to the rules of the Vinaya going back to the historical Buddha. There are four lineages of monk ordinations thought to be unbroken, but only one lineage of nun ordinations, which survives in China and Taiwan.
Theravada Buddhism has a big problem, then, because the Chinese ordinations follow the Sanskrit/Chinese version of the Vinaya, not the Pali one. Women's ordinations according to the Pali Vinaya stopped in the 5th century. Theravada bhikkhunis cannot be correctly ordained without the presence of correctly ordained Theravada nuns, and there are none, so technically women cannot be fully ordained in Theravada Buddhism. And someday they're going to have to find a way around that, because there will be a day when all-male clergy will not be tolerated. I don't expect that in my lifetime, but it's going to happen sooner or later.