Sunday, July 6, 2008

Buddhism in American, Part 2

After serving as a temple priest in Japan, Suzuki requested to be sent to America, and, in 1959, at the age of 54, he travelled to San Francisco to manage Sokoji, the citys Soto Sect mission. When he arrived, his congregation almost exclusively older Japanese people, although his predecessors had begun to make some efforts at a broader outreach. Suzuki himself proved to be more comfortable teaching Americans than Japanese. He quickly attracted a group which met for regular zazen sittings and lectures in English. The group incorporated as the San Francisco Zen Center and, in 1966, purchased a tract of land near Los Padres National Forest to began building Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, described as the first Buddhist training monastery located outside of Asia. In 1969, Suzuki left Sokoji when the Zen Center started its own new temple in San Francisco, operating largely independently of the Soto Sect in Japan. In 1970, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, an edited collection of talks given by Suzuki, was published and became one of the most popular brief introductions to Zen practice.
The San Francisco Zen Center remains one of Americas largest and most influential Buddhist groups and is now part of a network of related centers. Sanbo Kyodan Zen is a contemporary Japanese Zen lineage which had an impact in the West out of proportion to its size Japan. It is rooted in the reformist teachings of Harada Daiun (1871-1961) and his disciple Yasutani Hakuun (1885-1971), who argued that the existing Zen institutions of Japan, the Soto and Rinzai sects, had become complacent and, with few exceptions, were unable to teach real Dharma. Harada had studied with both Soto and Rinzai teachers and Yasutani founded Sanbo Kyodan in 1954 to preserve what he saw as the vital core of teachings from both schools. Sanboi Kyodans first American member was Philip Kapleau, who first travelled to Japan in 1945 as a court reporter for the war crimes trials. In 1947, Kapleau visited D. T. Suzuki at Engaku-ji in Japan and in the early 1950s, he was a frequent attendee of Suzukis Columbia lectures.

In 1953, he returned to Japan, where he met with Nakagawa Soen, a protg of Nyogen Senzaki. At Nakagawas recommendation, he began to study with Harada and later with Yasutani, whose disciple he became. In 1965, he published a book, The Three Pillars of Zen, which recorded a set of talks by Yasutani outlining his approach to practice, along with transcripts of dokusan interviews and some additional texts. The book quickly became popular in America and Europe, contributing to the prominence of the Sanbo Kyodan approach to Zen. Later in 1965, Kapleau returned to America and, in 1966, established the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, New York, making him the first American-born Zen priest to found a training temple.

In 1967, Kapleau had a falling out with Yasutani over some of Kapleaus moves to Americanize the style of his temple, after which it became independent of Sanbo Kyodan. The Rochester Zen Center is now part of a network of related centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and New Zealand, referred to collectively as the Cloud Water Sangha. One of Kapleaus most notable early disciples was Toni Packer, who herself left Rochester in 1981 to found a nonsectarian meditiation, not specifically Buddhist or Zen. Robert Aitken is another important American member of Sanbo Kyodan. He was first introduced to Zen as a prisoner in Japan during the Second World War. After returning to the United States, he began studying with Nyogen Senzaki in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

In 1959, while still a Zen student himself, he founded the Diamond Sangha, a zendo in Honolulu, Hawaii. Three years later, the Diamond Sangha hosted the first U.S. visit by Yasutani Hakuun, who would visit various locations in the U.S. six more times before 1969. Aitken travelled frequently to Japan and became a disciple of Yamada Koun, Yasutanis successor as head of the Sanbo Kyodan. Aitken became a dharma heir of Yamadas, authored more than ten books, and developed the Diamond Sangha into an international network with temples in the United States, Argentina, Germany, and Australia.

In 1995, he and his organization split with Sanbo Kyodan in response to reorganization of the latter following Yamadas death. Another influential Japanese Zen teacher was Taizan Maezumi, who arrived as a young priest to serve at Zenshuji, the North American Soto sect headquarters in Los Angeles, in 1956. Like Shunryu Suzuki, he showed considerable interest in teaching Zen to Americans of various backgrounds and, by the mid-1960s, had formed a regular zazen group. In 1967, he and his supporters founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He was later instrumental in establishing the Kuroda Institute and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, the latter an organization of American teachers with ties to the Soto tradition. In addition to his membership in Soto, Maezumi was also recognized as an heir by a Rinzai teacher and by Yasutani Hakuun of the Sanbo Kyodan. Maezumi, in turn, had several American dharma heirs who have become prominent, such as Bernie Glassman, John Daido Loori, Charlotte Joko Beck, and Dennis Genpo Merzel. His successors and their network of centers have organized as the White Plum Asanga.

Not all the successful Zen teachers in the United States have been from Japanese traditions. There have also been teachers of Chinese Zen (also known as Chan), Korean Zen (or Seon), and Vietnamese Zen (or Thien). The first Chinese Buddhist priest to teach Westerners in America was Hsuan Hua, a disciple of the preeminent 20th century Chan master, Hsu Yun. In 1962, Hsuan Hua moved to San Franciscos Chinatown, where, in addition to Zen, he taught Chinese Pure Land, Tiantai, Vinaya, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Initially, his students were mostly ethnic Chinese, but he eventually attracted a range of followers.

In 1970, Hsuan Hua founded Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco and in 1976 he established a retreat center, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on a 237-acre property near Ukiah, California. These monasteries are noted for their close adherence to the vinaya, the austere traditional Buddhist monastic code. Hsuan Hua also founded the Buddhist Text Translation Society which works on the translation of scriptures into English.

Another Chinese Zen teacher with a Western following is Sheng-yen, a master trained in both the Caodong and Linji schools (equivalent to the Japanese Soto and Rinzai, respectively). He first visited the United States in 1978 under the sponsorship of the Buddhist Association of the United States, an organization of Chinese American Buddhists. In 1980, he founded the Chan Mediation Society in Queens, New York. In 1985, he founded the Chung-hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in Taiwan, which now sponsors a variety of Chinese Zen activities in the United States.

The most prominent Korean Zen teacher in America was Seung Sahn. Seung Sahn had been the abbot of a temple in Seoul and had also lived in Hong Kong and Japan when, in 1972, not speaking any English, he decided to move to America. On the flight to Los Angeles, a Korean American passenger offered him a job at a laundry in Providence, Rhode Island, which was to become the headquarters of Seung Sahns Kwan Um School of Zen. Shortly after arriving in Providence, he attracted a group of America students and founded the Providence Zen Center.

The affiliated Kwan Um School now has more than 100 Zen centers on six continents. Another notable Korean Zen teacher in America is Samu Sunim, who moved to America in 1968 and founded Torontos Zen Buddhist Temple in 1971. He is now the head of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom, which has temples in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Mexico City. Two notable Vietnamese Zen teachers have been influential in America: Thich Thien-An and Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Thien-An came to America in 1966 as a visiting professor at UCLA and taught traditional Thien meditation.

Thich Nhat Hanh, however, has established his own very distinctive approach to Buddhism, to the extent that his following is sometimes not classified as a Zen group. Thich Nhat Hanh was a monk in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, during which he was a peace activist. In response to these activities, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King, Jr. .In 1966, he left Vietnam in exile and now resides at Plum Village, a monastery in France. He has written more than one hundred books about Buddhism, which have made him one of the very few most prominent Buddhist authors among the general readership in the West. In his books and talks, Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes mindfulness (sati) as the most important virtue in daily life.

Tibetan Buddhism
Perhaps the most widely visible Buddhist teacher in the world is Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama. As the exiled political leader of Tibet, he has become a popular cause clbre. His early life was depicted in glowing terms in Hollywood films such as Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet. He has attracted celebrity religious followers such as Richard Gere and Adam Yauch. The first Western-born Tibetan Buddhist monk was Robert A. F. Thurman, now a noted academic supporter of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama maintains a North American headquarters at Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York. The best-known Tibetan Buddhist lama to live in the United States was Chgyam Trungpa. Trungpa, part of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, moved to England in 1963, founded a temple in Scotland, and then relocated to Boulder, Colorado in 1970.

He established a series of what he named Dharmadhatu meditation centers, which were eventually organized under a national umbrella group called Vajradhatu. The methods and techniques he developed for teaching Westerners he termed Shambhala meditation. Following Trungpas death, his followers built the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, a traditional reliquary monument, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. Consecrated in 2001, it is the largerst stupa in the Western world.

There are four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: the Gelug, the Kagyu, the Nyingma, and the Sakya. Of these, the greatest impact in the West was made by the Gelug, which is led by the Dalai Lama, and the Kagyu, specifically its Karma Kagyu branch, which is led by the Karmapa. As of the early 1990s, there were four significant strands of Kagyu practice in the United States: Chgyam Trungpas Shambhala movment; the Karma Triyana Choling, a network of centers affiliated directly with the Karmapas North American seat in Woodstock, New York; a network of centers founded by Kalu Rinpoche; and a fledgling organization established by Ole Nydahl, a Danish-born lama with many supporters in Europe (Lehnert, 1997).
Vipassana, also referred to by the rough translation insight meditation is an ancient meditative practice described in the Pali Canon of the Theravada school of Buddhism, and in similar scriptures of other schools. Vipassana also refers to a distinct movement which was begun in the 20th century by reformers such as Mahasi Sayadaw, a Burmese monk. Mahasi Sayadaw was a Theravada bhikkhu and Vipassana is rooted in the Theravada teachings, but its goal is to simplify ritual and other peripheral activities in order to make meditative practice more effective and available both to monks and to laypeople. This openness to lay involvement is an important development in Theravada, which has sometimes appeared to focus exclusively on monasticism.

In 1965, monks from Sri Lanka established the Washington Buddhist Vihara in Washington, D.C., the first Theravada monastic community in the United States. The Vihara was fairly accessible to English-speakers, and naturally vipassana meditation was part of it activities. However, the direct influence of the Vipassana movement would not reach the U.S. until a group of Americans returned there in the early 1970s after studying with Vipassana master in Asia. Joseph Goldstein, after journeying to Southeast Asia with the Peace Corps, had lived in Bodhgaya where he was a student of Anagarika Munindra, the head monk of Mahabodhi Temple and himself a student of Mahasai Sayadaws. Jack Kornfield had also been in the Peace Corps in Southeast Asia, after which he studied with Ajahn Chah, perhaps the most influential figure in 20th century Thai Buddhism. Sharon Salzberg went to India in 1971 as a spiritual seeker and studied with Dipa Ma, a former Calcutta housewife trained in vipassana by Mahasai Sayadaw

Goldstein and Kornfield met in 1974 while teaching at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. The next year, Goldstein, Kornfield, and Salzberg, who had very recently returned from Calcutta, along with Jacqueline Schwarz, founded the Insight Meditation Society on an 80-acre property near Barre, Massachusetts. IMS became the central Vipassana instituation in America, hosting visits by Mahasi Sayadaw, Munindra, Ajahn Chah, and Dipa Ma. In 1981, Kornfield moved to California, where he founded another Vipassana center, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, near Marin County. In 1985, Larry Rosenberg founded the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Another important Vipassana center is the Vipassana Metta Foundation, located on Maui.

In 1989, the Insight Meditation Center established the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies near the IMS headquarters, with the goal of promoting scholarly investigation of Buddhism from various perspectives. It director is Mu Seong, a former Korean Zen monk. S. N. Goenka is an Indian-born meditation teacher who can also be considered part of the vipassana movement. His teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma, was a contemporary of Mahasi Sayadaws, and taught a style of Buddhism with similar emphases on simplicity and accessibility to laypeople. Goenka has established a method of instruction which has proven very popular in Asia and throughout the world. In 1981, he established the Vipassana Research Institute based in Igatpuri, India. He and his students have built several active centers in North America.

Export BuddhistsAlthough ethnic-based institutions, such as Hsi Lai Temple and the Buddhist Churches of America show some evangelical movements, there is only one Buddhist group in North America which has focused on recruiting converts from among the general public and been successful: Soka Gakkai, a Japan-based society which promotes Nichiren Buddhism. Soka Gakkai, which literally means Establishing Value Education Society, was founded in Japan in 1930 as a fraternal auxiliary to Nichiren Shoshu, the largest sect of Nichiren Buddhism.

It was perhaps the most successful of Japans new religious movements that enjoyed tremendous growth after the end of the Second World War. During the occupation of Japan, some American soldiers became aware of it, and it was the Japanese wives of veterans who became the first active Soka Gakkai members in the West. A U.S. branch was formally organized on October 13, 1960. Its Korean-Japanese leader took the name George M. Williams to emphasize his commitment to reaching the English-speaking public. Soka Gakkai expanded rapidly in the U.S. through an aggressive recruitment technique called shakubuku. One of the results of this outreach is that Soka Gakkai has been much more effective than any other group at attracting non-Asian minority converts, chiefly black and Latino, to Buddhism.

It has also been successful in attracting the support of celebrities, such as Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, and Orlando Bloom. Soka Gakkai has no priests of its own and was originally part of Nichiren Shoshu, a formal religious sect in Japan. In fact, its United States branch was originally named Nichiren Shoshu America (NSA). However, in 1991 Soka Gakkai split from Nichiren Shoshu and became a separate organization; at that time, the U.S. branch changed its name to Soka Gakkai International - United States of America (SGI-USA). Nichiren Shoshu proper maintains six temples of its own in the U.S. and another Nichiren group exists which is primarily the domain of ethnic Japanese.

The main religious practice of Soka Gakkai members, like other Nichiren Buddhists, is chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and sections of the Lotus Sutra. Unlike import Buddhist trends such as Zen, Vipassana, and Tibetan Buddhism, Soka Gakkai does not teach meditative techniques other than chanting. Demographics of Buddhism in the United StatesFor various reasons, it is not easy to arrive at a accurate idea of the number of Buddhists in the United States. The simplest reason is that it is not at all clear how to define who is and who is not a Buddhist. The easiest and most intuitive definition is based on self-description, but this has its pitfalls. Because Buddhism exists as a cultural concept in American society, there may be individuals who self-describe at Buddhists but have essentially no knowledge of or commitment to Buddhism as a religion or practice; on the other hand, others may be deeply involved in meditation and commited to the Buddhadharma, but may refuse the label Buddhist.
Despite these difficulties, several scholars have investigated this question. Most studies have indicated a Buddhist population in the United States of between 1 and 4 million. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2004 indicates that 1.0% of the U.S. population is Buddhist, which would mean a total of 2,957,341 Buddhists. Other estimates, perhaps relying on a greater degree of intuition, are larger: in the 1990s, Robert A. F. Thurman stated his opinion that there were 5 to 6 million Buddhists in America, and others might speculate there are more. Whatever the total number, it appears that roughly 75 to 80 percent of Buddhists in the U.S. are of Asian descent and inherited Buddhism as a family tradition; the remaining 20 to 25 percent are American converts. Ethnic divideDiscussion about Buddhism in America has sometimes focused on the issue of the visible ethnic divide separating ethnic Buddhist congregations from import Buddhist groups.
Although many Zen and Tibetan Buddhist temples were founded by Asians, they now tend to attract very few Asian-American members. With the important exception of Soka Gakkai, almost all active Buddhist groups in America can be readily classed as either ethnic or import Buddhism based on the demographics of their membership. There is often very limited contact between these Buddhists of different ethnic groups. This divide can be disturbing in view of the historical necessity of relying on Asian peoples to transmit Buddhism, and in light of ongoing and complex tensions surrounding ethnicity and immigration in America.
Some Asian-American Buddhists feel that their non-Asian counterparts ignore the many contributions of their ethnic communities toward the development of American Buddhism. However, the cultural divide should not necessarily be seen as pernicious. It is often argued that the differences between Buddhist groups arise benignly from the differing needs and interests of those involved. Convert Buddhists tend to be interested in meditation and philosophy, in some cases eschewing the trappings of religiosity altogether. On the other hand, for immigrants and their descendants, preserving tradition and maintaining a social framework assume a much greater relative importance, making their approach to religion naturally more conservative.
Further, Kenneth K. Tanaka suggests, based on a survey of Asian-American Buddhists in San Francisco, that many Asian-American Buddhists view non-Asian Buddhism as still in a formative, experimental stage and yet they believe that it could eventually mature into a religious expression of exceptional quality.

Additional questions come from the demographics within import Buddhism. Researchers and casual observers alike report that the vast majority of American converts practicing at Buddhist centers are white people with Christian or Jewish backgrounds. Only Soka Gakkai has attracted significant numbers of black or Latino members. A variety of ideas have been broached regarding the nature, causes, and significance of this racial uniformity. A key question is the degree of importance ascribed to discrimination, which is suggested to be mostly unconscious, on the part of white converts toward potential minority converts. To some extent, the racial divide is indicative of a class divide, because convert Buddhists tend strongly to be drawn from the more educated segments of society. Among the African American Buddhists who have commented on the dynamics of the racial divide in convert Buddhism are Jan Willis and Charles R. Johnson.

Trends in American BuddhismEngaged BuddhismAn important trend that has developed in Buddhism in the West is socially engaged Buddhism. While it would be a serious mistake to believe that Buddhism in the past has not affected and been affected by the surrounding society, it is sometimes seen as too quietistic and passive toward public life. This is particularly true in the West, where almost all converts to Buddhism come to it outside of an existing family or community tradition. Engaged Buddhism is an attempt to apply Buddhist values to larger social problems, including war and environmental concerns. The term engaged Buddhism was coined by Thich Nhat Hanh, who developed the idea during his years as a peace activist in Vietnam. The most notable engaged Buddhist organization is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, which was founded in 1978 by Robert Aitken, Anne Aitken, Nelson Foster, and others and received early assistance from Gary Snyder, Jack Kornfield, and Joanna Macy.

Another engaged Buddhist group is the Zen Peacemaker Order, which was founded in 1996 by Bernie Glassman and Sandra Jishu Holmes.

Buddhist education in the United StatesA variety of Buddhist groups have established institutions of higher learning in America. The first four-year Buddhist college in the U.S. was the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University), which was founded in 1974 by Chgyam Trungpa. It has enjoyed consistent involvement both from convert Buddhists and counterculture personalities, such as Allen Ginsberg, who christened the Institutes poetry department the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Naropa is currently fully accredited and offers degrees in some subjects not directly related to Buddhism.
Another Buddhist university is the University of the West, which is affiliated with Hsi Lai Temple and was, until recently called Hsi Lai University. Soka Gakkai also sponsors two branches of Soka University, which is based in Japan. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is the site of Dharma Realm Buddhist University, a four-year college teaching courses primarily related to Buddhism but including some general-interest subjects. The Buddhist Churches of America runs its Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, which offers a degree in Buddhist Studies but is primarily a seminary. The first Buddhist high school in the United States, Pacific Buddhist Academy, opened in Honolulu in 2003. It is affiliated with the Hompa Hongwanji Jodo Shinshu mission, which had already run an elementary and middle school.

See also "Western Buddhism," "Buddhism in Canada," "Buddhist regions," "Religion in the United States," "United States religious history."

Fields, Rick (1981, 1992). How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America. London: Shambhala Publications.
Lehnert, Tomek (1997). Rogues in Robes. Nevada City, California: Blue Dolphin Publishing.
Prebish, Charles (2003). Buddhism - the American Experience. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Inc.
Buddhism - The American Experience, Chapter 1 by Charles Prebish.
Surveying the Buddhist Landscape, article by Charles Prebish, from Shambhala Sun
Global Buddhism: Developmental Periods, Regional Histories, and a New Analytical Perspective, article by Martin Baumann
Buddhism Comes to Main Street, article by Jan Nattier on
Buddhist Studies and its Impact on Buddhism in Western Societies, article by Max Deeg
Review of Tweed, Thomas A. The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912. Reviewed by J. I. Bakker
Media guide to Buddhism, from the Centre for Faith and Media in Canada
Buddhism evolves as followers multiply, article from the Poughkeepsie Journal, April 23, 2004
Shin Buddhism in the American Context, article by Dr. Alfred Bloom
Chronology of the lives of important persons in the history of Zen in America, from Terebess Online
A chronology of Theravada Buddhism, from
Timeline of Buddhist history and related events, from
Timeline of Japanese Canadian historyAmerica
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  • This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Buddhism-in-America."


Original Black Buddha said...

For the Black Buddhist perspective on CNN's series on Black America check out my blog:

wwharder said...

Just to clarify -- Soka University of America is a private, four-year liberal arts college and graduate school located in Aliso Viejo, CA. ( The Aliso Viejo campus opened in 2001. SUA is incorporated in California and is founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life. The curriculum is non-sectarian and the university if open to top students of all nationalities and beliefs. Students from more than 30 countries are attending. SUA was accredited in 2005. Soka University of America is not based in Japan, but its founding organization (SGI) and Soka University in Hachioji (founded 1971) are based there.

John C. said...

some interesting stuff here but as the christian expression goes? "the devil is in the details"
"Soka Gakkai" does -not- mean Value Creation Education Society "Soka Kyoiku Gakkai" (Makaguchi's origional group) which was for educators.
Soka Gakkai was not a 'part' of Nichiren Shoshu, they were a lay organization -of- Nichiren Shoshu
The did not 'split off' first their leader and then the lay membership that chose to remain with him were -excommunicated- which was the predominance of all the membership. THey may have (after the fact) come up with a covering line that they somehow voluntarily 'split off' but the chronology is quite clear.
I hope you'll go back to the various groups you've described in here and ask them for similar clarifications.