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Zen Buddhism

Buddhism’s trek through history, politics, and America Zen, or Zenno (as it is
known by the Japanese word from which it derives), is the most common form of
Buddhism practiced in the world today. All types of people from intellectuals to
celebrities refer to themselves as Buddhist, but despite its popularity today in
America, it has had a long history throughout the world. “Here none think
of wealth or fame, All talk of right and wrong is quelled. In Autumn I rake the
leaf-banked stream, In spring attend the nightingale. Who dares approach the
lion’s Mountain cave? Cold, robust, A Zen-person through and through, I let the
spring breeze enter at the gate.” -Daigu (1584-1669, Rinzai) (DailyZen) Zen
Buddhism’s history begins where Buddhism’s history began. It originated on the
continent of Asia around 500 B.C.. The founder of Buddhism; Gotama Siddhattha, a
former price in what is now known as India, is known as “The Buddha,”
which roughly translates to ” one who is awake” (Merit 102). “At
the age of twenty-nine, deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he
renounced his privileged life to seek understanding. After six years of
struggling as an ascetic he finally achieved enlightenment at age
thirty-five” (DailyZen). In 475 A.D. a Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma,
traveled to China and introduced the teachings of Buddha there. In China
Buddhism mixed with Taoism, and the result was the Ch’an School of Buddhism, and
from there Ch’an spread to Japan where it is called Zen Buddhism (DailyZen). The
Buddhist Religion has always been passed down from teacher to student, and
through the use of books and sacred works such as the Malind-panha, Pali
Tipitaka, and the Pitaka series (Merit 102). These books and teachers taught
students of the religion the philosophies of the practice. They taught of Satori,
or enlightenment, which is the main goal of the Zen Buddhist, which is to
achieve peace of mind despite external turmoil ( Archer ninety-six). One way to
reach enlightenment is through meditation. Zaren is sitting in meditative
absorption as the shortest yet most steep way to reaching enlightenment (Zen
233). The Buddhists stressed the fact that existence is painful. They believed
that suffering was a result of false human attachments to things that were
impertinent, “including the attachment to the false notion of self or ‘I'(DailyZen).”
They said that, ” the conditions that make an individual are precisely
those that also give rise to suffering. Individuality involves limitation;
limitation ends in suffering (Buddhism eighty-six).” They taught that
ridding themselves of these attachments they could end suffering (DailyZen).

” This pure Mind, the source of everything, Shines forever and on all with
the brilliance Of its own perception… If you students of the Way desire
knowledge of this great mystery, Only avoid attachment to any single thing
beyond Mind.-Huang Po (DailyZen).” As well with the philosophical side of
the teachings were the basics of Guidance and ethics. “Buddhist philosophy
is both a system of thought and a set of ethical norms (Buddhism
eighty-six).” It offers practical guidance in everyday social affairs.

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Socially, the Buddhists have often been thrown into the political arena. Due to
the nature of politics, where originally, “in Vietnam, the Buddhist
Community was not politically activated until it was mistreated (Brittanica
ninety-two), “the Buddhists have been divided into two groups. There is the
moderate group that was led by Thich Tri Quang, that claimed political
neutrality, but any of their movements for peace were seen as a weakness in the
face of communism by the government of Saigon. And there are the militant
Buddhists, who support upheavals. One such incident of upheaval was in 1963 when
” the government (of Vietnam) forbade the flying of the Buddhist flag
during the May eighth celebration of Buddha’s birthday (Britanica ninety-two).

“A riot erupted by Buddhists against their cruel treatment, but it was it
was put down by heavily armed guards. Not only did the government serve as a
political persuader for the Buddhists, but the Roman Catholic Church was
excessively partisan against the Buddhists, and the Ngo Dinn Diem family had an
anti-Buddhist policy. The militant Buddhists also organized a coup against the
Diem regime on November first, 1962, but it too was put down. The Buddhists also
protest in more passive ways, “since 1963 there have been over thirty self-
immolations of monks in South Vietnam protesting the ruin of their country (Britanica
ninety-two).” China Town in San Francisco, California, is where much of
Buddhism started in the U.S.. By the mid 1850s many temples began to appear,
“within a quarter century several hundred temples dotted the California
coastline (experience 670).” The American form of Zen owes its origins to
Sogaku Harada, who had three deciples who each contributed to the American form
of Zen. One deciples of Harada was Taizan Maezumi, who arrived in America in
1956.Taizan Maezumi founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Another one of Sogaku
Harada’s deciples was Hakuun Yasutani Roshi. Hakuun held Zen meditation sessions
in many major US cities from 1962, until he died in 1973. Sogaku Harada’s Third
deciple was Philip Kapleau. Not only did Philip Kapleau found the Zen Meditation
center in Rochester, New York, But he also published a book called “The
Three Pillars of Zen” (experience 670). The Nations first Buddhist
monastery was founded in Big Sur, California, in 1967, by Richard Baker and Zen
master Shunryu Suzuki, it was called Tassajara. It was the main learning ground
for Zen Buddhism in the US. The sixties is when Zen’s popularity made it’s way
into the mainstream. It was referred to as a cult, just as was Hare Krishna, by
the American Public. It attracted many intellectuals, such as scientists and
doctors (Archer ninety- three). It also attracted poets and writers, “Allen
Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the beat poets of the fifties, were early apostles of
the Zen and Hare Krishna cults that flowered in the sixties (Archer
ninety-three).” “All the constituents that exist are transitory and
there’s no permanent self (bigtable).” Allen Ginsberg was one poet who
understood, and practiced the Buddhist philosophy. The Religion’s ideals were
slightly radical as compared to the mainly Christian population of the time. It
also came as a shock because women were welcomed to join. America was in a
chaotic state during the 1960s. The country was basically torn apart, and highly
tormented by the controversy over the Vietnam war. People were breached by the
traditional American ideals of serving the country, and heroic nationalism, and
new ideologies and beliefs systems. More Americans were open to try different
things. The Hippie era, trials of free love, and experimenting with fresh
cultural aspects, all probably led to a sort of flourishing of spiritual
awareness. As the cultures’ curiosity and confusion led to a blossoming of new
religious forms, or at least new to the Americana. Zen Buddhism was among these
ideas, that was grasped at by Americans seeking new spiritual enlightenment. Zen
went from India to China to Japan to Western civilization, and made a variable
impact in each place it traveled to. The ideas, customs, beliefs, and
philosophies of the Zen Buddhist religion spread globally due to its
universality. From politics to poets, Zen impacts all aspects of life, and forms
ethics through guideline, and basic philosophies of human nature and spirit.

Page “Buddhism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, edition 3.

“Buddhism,” Encyclopedia of The American Religious Experience, 1988,
edition 2. “Buddhism,” Merit Students Encyclopedia, 1985, edition 5.

Jules Archer, The Incredible Sixties, San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1986. “Zen,” The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion,
1989, edition 1. Zen; Works Cited Page “Buddhism,” Encyclopedia
Britannica, 1974, edition 3. “Buddhism,” Encyclopedia of The American
Religious Experience, 1988, edition 2. “Buddhism,” Merit Students
Encyclopedia, 1985, edition 5. Jules
Archer, The Incredible Sixties, San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

“Zen,” The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, 1989,
edition 1.


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