The Opening of the American Psyche: A Brief History of Zen in the West.

Via on Nov 6, 2012

American Zen: A Brief History (Part II.)

Click here for Part I.

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II. Fertile Ground: World War II and the Baby Boomer Generation

From the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1848 until 1941, 382,162 Chinese and 277,619 Japanese immigrated to the United States.[53] Many of the new immigrants brought with them a diverse group of Buddhist traditions. Despite nearly 100 years within the United States, little of their Buddhist practices were ever acknowledged within mainstream American society.

The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, as well as numerous immigration and anti-miscegenation laws, highlighted very cold relations between the Asian community and the predominately Caucasian-controlled political, economic, social and religious spheres of America.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers dropped low through the gap in the mountains of Oahu and sank U.S. warships in Pearl Harbor. The unprovoked attack simultaneously doomed the Japanese Empire and exported Zen Buddhism to the United States.[54] An account given by Roshi Robert Aitken supported this when he stated,

“My life as a Zen Buddhist began with a good book, in a civilian internment camp in Kobe, Japan. One evening during the second winter of the Pacific War a guard entered my dorm waving a book… I boldly took it from his hand—and never gave it back.”[55]

Though the war increased American contact with Zen, the augmented level of interaction would not have been enough without a shift or opening within American culture.

Zen had already been in the U.S. for nearly 100 years by the war’s end. It could not flourish within American society without a fundamental change in the country’s openness to Asian influences. The necessary shift in the American psyche—the opening—occurred during the Beat movement of the early 1950s.

Writers such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and Alan Watts played crucial roles in opening Buddhism, and particularly Zen, for the United States.[56] The post World War II movement rejected materialism and the values stemming from a society that emphasized money, work, rigid gender roles and social status. They questioned the capitalist model, addressed issues of equality, and looked down upon any form of authority or institutionalism. The Beats experimented with drugs, sex, and most importantly, foreign philosophy. Many individuals deeply explored Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism during this period to gain a better understanding of ideas of the self and spirituality.

The transcendentalist cultural backlash occurred during the militarization of the Cold War. Under NSC-68, the U.S. became a war machine deeply involved in the Asian continent: America was rebuilding the infrastructure of Japan; it engaged in a brutal conflict in Korea, threatened nuclear attack during the Quemoy and Matsu crisis in 1953, and sent envoys to Vietnam.[57] The country mirrored these engagements politically as well. General Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed a 60 percent approval rating; McCarthy sought “evil” communists within government.[58] The Beat generation represented a natural, counter-cultural reaction to the conservative status quo, and Eastern philosophy represented a counter-philosophical orientation to that of political realism, social gender roles and capitalism.

In many respects, the Beat’s willingness to accept anything outside of the norm, created an opening for new Asian ideas to enter into American literature, art and thought.

The open and accepting culture within the Beat generation, as well as its experimental tendency, opened the door for Zen to find a niche within the predominately Caucasian American fabric.

The most celebrated Buddhist writing of the period, Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, underlined the popularization of Buddhist values and principles within Beat poetry and literature. As Time magazine stated, “Zen Buddhism is growing more chic by the minute.”[59] Much of the Beat writings represented a spiritual revolt as well as a call to change Western society. Gary Snyder commented on a need for change when he wrote, “the mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been the individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.”[60]

As could be seen above, the Beats fusion of Eastern and Western modes of thought sought to transform the political, social, and cultural fabric within America through a far left leaning lens. Though other forms of Asian thought and religious practice permeated the Beat movement, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Snyder became three influential figures who took a particular interest in Zen.[61] The three writers combined Zen Buddhism with social change, which gave rise to the idea of engaged or active Buddhism.[62] Engaged Buddhism called on individuals to use Buddhist values as a way to change the Earth through the Buddhist ideal, “to be in this world but not of it.” From the Beat generation, Zen values were used to justify civil rights, environmental action, peace rallies and non-violent protest later on in the 1960s. Though much of Zen would be lost in such endeavors as drug experimentation, nevertheless, the Beat generation and the writers that lead the movement, created the opening essential for Zen’s initial introduction into American mainstream culture and society.[63]

III. Two Pillars of American Zen: D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (October 18, 1870 – July 6, 1966) was the most influential individual responsible for the transition of Zen to mainstream America. His translations of old texts, his teachings and charisma— representative of East and West, paved the way for a fluid Zen transmission into Western intellectual and spiritual practice. As Alan Watts said, “It is to him that we of the West owe almost all of our knowledge of Zen.”[64]

Though Zen had been in the United States for some time, D.T. Suzuki’s work legitimized it in mainstream society.[65] His two most popular works, Essays on Zen Buddhism and Manual of Zen Buddhism, not only translated the original works from Chinese and Japanese to English, but also included introductions and explanations that were digestible to Western enthusiasts. As the legendary Bodhidharma transmitted Zen from India to China, and master Lin-chi from China to Japan, one could safely bestow D.T. Suzuki with such a comparison as the carrier of Zen from East to West.

Suzuki first visited the United States in 1893 following his translations of Zen material for the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago—an event that coincided with the World’s Columbian Exposition. He continued to study and travel until receiving a series of teaching jobs in Japan from 1909 to 1921, and until he received a professorship of Buddhist philosophy at Otani University.[66] He would remain in Japan for the next 40 years.[67]

Suzuki’s pre-World War II work influenced numerous western individuals, including Alan Watts, but his influence did not reach a wider audience until after World War II.[68] In 1951, Suzuki returned to the United States as a lecturer on Buddhism at Columbia University. Passionate and full of youthful energy, the 81-year-old lecturer delivered a series of lectures and dissertations responsible for launching the Zen craze in the 1950s. Suzuki’s lectures were attended by influential figures such as John Cage, Erich Fromm and Huston Smith.[69] More importantly, the old teacher and scholar laid a foundation of writings that adhered to an intellectual emphasis of Zen that has remained a cornerstone of American process and understanding. Though many Zen teachers and writers since Suzuki’s time touched on the inherent non-communicative essence of Zen, nevertheless, Suzuki’s attempted explanations of Zen teachings manifested in the hundreds and thousands of authors who followed Suzuki’s intellectual vein.

Suzuki’s ability to transmit Zen ideology to American intellectuals, particularly through the lens of Rinzai[70] Zen Buddhism, earned his style the nickname, “Suzuki Zen.” Suzuki’s influence on American Zen was so great that it steered its initial progress (most American practitioners think of Zen in the Rinzai fashion).

In addition to Suzuki’s Rinzai inclination, his writings and lectures stressed three important and unique aspects: individual inner experience as opposed to monastic rituals, active engagement in the world, what some have labeled, “engaged Buddhism,” and the representation of Zen as a philosophical explanation for reality.[71]

D.T. Suzuki’s teaching style reflected his life as an intellectual layman practitioner. During his time as a lecturer, Suzuki also linked Zen to psychoanalysis, physics and Christianity. However, some used Suzuki’s wide-ranging writing and teaching styles as evidence against him. The School of Western Zen Buddhists, as well as the scholarly publication, The Journal of the American Oriental Society, accused Suzuki of popularizing Zen and skewing the teachings to pander to a wider Western-oriented audience.[72] Some Buddhist practitioners believed that Suzuki’s wish to spread and even mix Zen into Western culture, tarnished its inherent purity. These criticisms, in combination with Suzuki’s status as a layman practitioner, as opposed to an ordained Roshi, lowered his credability in the eyes of many Zen Buddhists. But these criticisms remained counterintuitive—through a Zen lens—because of their failure to witness the greater overall role of Suzuki’s work: the natural transmission of Zen from East to West. When the teachings of Bodhidharma spread throughout China, his initial Indian teachings morphed and combined with Taoist philosophy, which could most notably be seen in the synonymous relationship between “The Tao” and “The Way.” As was the case in China (Ch’an) and then Japan (Zen), Suzuki followed suit. He brought the teachings and presented them in a way to American culture and academia that reflected American values, sciences, capitalism, and religion as well as America’s way of looking at the world. D.T. Suzuki commented on his impetus for lecturing on Zen when he wrote,

“I have no private interests to pursue except carrying out my plans to make Zen better known to the West, whereby they will be able to make full use of it in their way, intellectual as well as practical.”[73]

For those who peered more deeply into any form of teaching or presentation of Zen material, saw that Zen—no-distinction, no-self and so forth, cut through any cultural point of view. All one had to do was to look below the surface. No matter the initial appearance of Zen—whether it came packaged in the superficial, surface-level form of a Wendy’s hamburger or a piece of sashimi, the end result of direct experience into the nature of “ultimate reality” remained the same.[74] At the age of 95, the layman teacher’s last words were,

“Don’t Worry. Thank you! Thank you!”[75]

Alan Watts (1915 – 1973)

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist only in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”[76]

Alan Watts was one of the most prominent and influential Western proponents of Zen Buddhism in the United States during the Zen Boom in the 1950s.[77] Watts was raised in Chislehurst, Kent, England, a small suburb on the outskirts of London. He enjoyed a prestigious and conservative education at the Kings School. As a child, Watts was exposed to Eastern philosophy through his mother’s love of “Oriental art” as well as her occupation as a teacher of the children of missionaries traveling abroad.[78] As a boy, Watts’ father read Rudyard Kipling’s works such as Kim and The Jungle Book, peaking his interest in Asian culture and philosophy.[79] After Watts was graduated from the Kings School, he continued to seek an answer to the question, “What is the experience which these oriental masters are talking about?”[80]

In 1936 the University of London hosted the World Congress of Faiths. At the Congress, Watts met and spoke with D.T. Suzuki, a man he admitted, “stole the scene.”[81] It was after this initial meeting, at the age of  21, that Watts published his first work, The Spirit of Zen (1936).

In 1938, Alan Watts moved to New York where he joined a small circle of Zenm Buddhist practitioners. Zen amazed him, yet he found the rigorous discipline of his Roshi to be irreconcilable with his spiritual inclination. Though Watts originally sought to be ordained as a Zen priest, he decided against it and dropped out. In the mid-1940s, Watts joined an Anglican church, which he described as, “a way rather than a destination” —his destination, of course, was California.[82] After serving as the Episcopal chaplain at the Northwestern University in Illinois, Watts withdrew from the Church to pursue his love for Eastern thought and particularly, Zen Buddhism.[83] The intellectual’s movement between Zen and Christianity in the 1940s underlined Watts’ belief in non-belief. Until his death in 1973, Watts never fully joined any religious affiliation. Rather, he remained a spiritual individual who lived through Zen but still looked to other religious and philosophical doctrines as well as psychological understandings to gain deeper insight into universal principles.

In 1951 Alan Watts moved to San Francisco where he joined a number of Buddhist groups, gave lectures, and continued his writings. He also joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies where he eventually became the Dean and in 1953 was invited to speak regularly on KPFA public radio in Berkeley.[84] Watts was influential in furthering the reach of Zen into the Beat generation. He cultivated a deep relationship with fellow Beat, Gary Snyder, who advocated engaged Buddhism and environmentalism. Watts also communicated with Carl Jung, combining Buddhist values with psychological understandings of the ego.[85] The initial interactions among social involvement, scientific understanding and Zen Buddhism laid key fundamental tenets during Zen’s early years in the United States.

To Watts, Zen was not found in a monastic or ascetic lifestyle but rather, in the liberation of the mind from the trap of conceptualization. Higher consciousness was the ultimate aim, no matter the method used to reach it.

Though controversial, Watts’ insight into consciousness and awareness and also, his emphasis of individuality, became ingrained in American Zen.

Alan Watts was criticized for dismissing Zazen meditation and also, for his dabbling in psychedelic drugs for psychological experimentation.[86] The former criticism was a large one in the eyes of the Zen community, for meditation stood as the cornerstone of Zen practice. Watts’ dismissal of meditation practice and his emphasis of higher consciousness may not have been an irreconcilable disparity, for both involve the dissolution of the ego as well as the cultivation of clear, thoughtless awareness of the present. But his de-emphasis of a rigorous meditation practice remained at odds with centuries of Zen teachings. Watts went on to criticize traditional Japanese schools for their top-down, institutional approach as well as the Beat generation Buddhists’ sometimes superficial understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.[87] One of the most influential figures for the transmission of Zen teachings to the United States, Alan Watts embodied the spirit of American Zen.[88] His iconoclastic approach cracked Zen open so that American practitioners could truly create a new branch. Watts’ interest in a wide-range of intellectual and philosophical fields: psychology, Eastern philosophy and Christianity, along with his ability to convey a deep understanding of Zen, advanced and legitimized the Americanization of Zen.

Conclusion: American Zen Today

Chao-chou asked Nan-chuan, “What is the Tao?”

Nan-chuan said, “Everyday mind is the Tao.”

Chao-chou said, “How can I approach it?”

Nan-chuan said, “The more you try to approach it, the farther away you’ll be.”

“But if I don’t get close, how can I understand it?”

The Master said, “It’s not a question of understanding or not understanding. Understanding is delusion; not understanding is indifference. But when you reach the unattainable Tao, it is like space, limitless and serene. Where is there room in it for yes and no?”[90]

Since the 1950s, Zen has continued to grow, morph and spread into the fabric of American culture and society. Whether one ascribes to the teachings or not, he or she certainly cannot help but notice the plethora of products, therapies and services emphatically underlining a connection to Zen. The Zen movement’s foundation within laity, highlighted by Suzuki and Watts’ status as non-ordained, intellectual Zen practitioners, has continued to be a fundamental pillar of American Zen that remains a defining difference from the Asian traditions.[91]

An American Roshi commented:

“We are no longer dependent on a system of religious training. We are no longer living our practice in a formal way full-time… This places more responsibility upon us individually to learn what our practice is and to carry it forth” [92]

Though laity existed within the Asian Zen traditions, its emphasis in the United States is an American phenomenon that reflects our cultural values of individualism and self-reliance. While some have viewed the loss of institutions and monastic discipline in American Zen with skepticism, others see it simply as a natural manifestation of Zen within its host country. In response, Roshis and Zen enthusiasts have pushed for greater emphasis on the cultivation of an individual daily practice that includes, daily meditations (at least a half an hour), vigilant mindfulness, and the cultivation of a constant stream of awareness that is free from thought.[93]

The result has lead to the continuation of lay-style Zen and also, a deeper general understanding of Zen principles.[94] The growth of lay-style Zen in the United States makes it an elusive movement to calculate or define. The question, “what is a Zen Buddhist?” in America, remains undefined, for it is almost entirely individual. Groups ranging from small meditation meetings to larger Zen centers have passed leadership rolls down to recent converts, leaving less of a divide between practitioners and teachers. The result of this has been to further the individuality and egalitarian nature found in American Zen.[95]

American Zen has also witnessed the growing influence of women Roshis, teachers, writers and practitioners.[96] Throughout Zen’s history within Asia, women were barred from the tradition. When one looked through the entire Zen body of writing, he or she found little to no mentioning of influential women in Zen.[97] The most notable example of male dominance is found in the spiritual lineage of Zen, which is referred to as, “patriarchal line.” Eisai, a 12th century Japanese Master wrote, “nuns, women, or evil people should on no account be permitted to stay overnight.”[98]

Today, women sit shoulder to shoulder with men practitioners if they are not leading group meetings themselves.

Feminism in American culture and society has drastically changed Zen. American Zen reflects these social changes and women are looked to just as much as men for guidance and insight.[99] The distinction between attitudes toward women teachers in Asia and here in the United States is evidence enough for the categorization or labeling of American Zen as a distinct branch.

As stated before, American Zen has also become increasingly socially engaged in issues such as human rights, environmentalism, social equality and non-violence. Though Buddhist ethics called for individual practice and Right Action, Buddhist involvement in broader social issues has been invigorated to new levels in its interaction with American culture.[100] One who practiced American Zen placed more emphasis on his or her world. Global warming, war, pollution, and poverty, present opportunities for American Zen practitioners to be involved in the affairs of the world.

While Zen monks in China and Japan often moved into the wilderness for a time to live in solitude, American Zen practitioners bring the Dharma to the everyday world.

The development can be viewed as positive or negative: more interaction versus a loss of dialogue with the self. Whether or not one judges engaged Buddhism, ingrained within American Zen, as a good or bad development, remains entirely subjective.[101] American Zen remains in flux and as of this moment, engaged Buddhism is a foundational tenet.

The unprecedented number and variety of Zen traditions throughout the United States has allowed for the growth of new interpretations and teaching styles of the Dharma.[102] The variety of works from which to draw, in combination with the open, free and diverse American cultural landscape, has given rise to an entirely new branch of Zen. Victor Sogen Hori, a Canadian Zen teacher commented on the Americanization of Zen when he wrote:

“The call for an Americanization of Buddhism is unnecessary. Every attempt by Americans to comprehend Zen intellectually and to implement it in practice has already contributed to its Americanization. What Americans have been practicing for the last several decades is already Americanized Zen”[103]

From Bodhidharma’s teachings in China to Japan and then across the Pacific to the shores of California, the appearance of Zen shifted to fit the culture in which it grew.[104] In reaching the United States and sprouting in the context of an open, diverse and dynamic cultural scene, Zen took on the form of what it encountered. Feminism, democracy, connection to the environment, science, psychology, the speed of technological advancement and individual-minded capitalism, molded the teachings in a way that were presentable and digestible to the American public.

While some continue to worry about the deep changes Zen has undergone in its interaction with America, others point to the ancient masters for comfort: On his deathbed a Master consoled an anxious and worried monk, “The Dharma will take care of itself.”[105]

The quote highlights the ultimate view that the teachings of the Buddha and subsequent Zen masters will remain regardless of a given cultural presentation. The form American Zen takes in the coming decades and centuries is unimportant, for it is only a vessel that comfortably holds the essence lying within.

Notes:

[53] Franca Sieverling, Bronte McMillan, Christian Birkenfeld, “Chinese and Japanese Immigration to the United States,”
[54] John Tarrant, “Robert Aitken’s Amazing Life” Shambhala Sun Magazine, November 2010
[55] Foster & Shoemaker, “The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader” Forward, p 1. ; The book given to Roshi Aitken was R.H. Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics.
[56] Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America, p 34-35. Columbia University Press, New York, N.Y. (1999)
[57] “What we were doing in San Francisco in the 1950s must, of course, be seen in the context of America’s military involvements in Japan, Korea, and then, Vietnam, for these exploits were bound to bring the cultures of those areas back home” (Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography (1915 – 1965) p 261).
[58] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography (1915 – 1965) p 259 – 260. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972) ; It is important to note what the Beats opposed in American culture (militarization, authority, and conservatism) and also, the interaction between the U.S. military and Asian continent (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, China).
[59] “Zen, Beat, and Square,” Time magazine 72, (July 21, 1948), 49.
[60] Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America, p 42-43. Columbia University Press, New York, N.Y. (1999)
[61] Carl Jackson, The Counterculture Look East: Beat Writers and Asian Religion, University of Texas at El Paso
[62] Note: A Zen Roshi said in the 1970s, “Bring the peace movement to Buddhism, and Buddhism to the peace movement” (Zen Tradition and Transition p 193)
[63] Note: Interestingly, the beats rose out of New York and then moved in the mid-fifties to San Francisco. These two coastal metropolitan and liberal centers brewed the beginnings of the “Zen Boom” in the 1950s and 1960s. Zen would remain in fairly liberal regions of the United States.

[64] Alan Watts, The Spirit of Zen, p 12. Grove Weidenfeld New York, N.Y. (1958) ; D.T. Suzuki, The Awakening of Zen, x. Shambhala Publications Boston, Mass (1987)
[65] Soyen Shaku (1860-1919) is considered the first Zen master to teach in the United States. Shaku asked D.T. Suzuki to go to the United States after the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 – a decision that would eventually have far-reaching implications for Zen in the United States.
[66] Dawn Lawson, American National Biography Online: D.T. Suzuki p 1. Oxford University Press (2001)
[67] Carl T. Jackson “American Reception of Zen Buddhism” in American Buddhism as a Way of Life p 43. State University of New York Press Albany, N.Y. (2010)
[68] In 1936, at the World Congress of Faiths in London, D.T. Suzuki produced a widely circulated paper that addressed Western misinterpretations of Mahayana Buddhism as nihilistic and also a form of escape from daily living. He argued that in fact, Mahayana & Zen represented total acceptance of the present-moment, deep concentration, and the cultivation of no-self ; Though WWII stood as a terrible example of global conflict, the War’s aftermath, (particularly in light of the Cold War) brought together a great deal of diverse cultures as evidenced by the strong alliance between Japan and the United States.
[69] Carl T. Jackson “American Reception of Zen Buddhism” in American Buddhism as a Way of Life p 46-47. State University of New York Press Albany, N.Y. (2010)
[70] The Rinzai lineage of Zen Buddhism stems from Japan. It relies on abstract, nonsensical sayings and koans to strike the practitioner.
[71] Carl T. Jackson “American Reception of Zen Buddhism” in American Buddhism as a Way of Life p 48-49. State University of New York Press Albany, N.Y. (2010)
[72] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography (1965 – 1915) p 119. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972)
[73] D.T. Suzuki, What is Zen, forward x, Buddhist Society of London, England (1971)
[74] Note: The use of a “Wendy’s Hamburger” and “a piece of sashimi” simply refers to the different cultural representations Zen can take in different cultures: in this case, American and Japanese respectively. Regardless of the representation, the core principles of Zen remain untouched.
[75] Dawn Lawson, American National Biography Online: D.T. Suzuki p 2. Oxford University Press (2001)
[76] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography (1965 – 1915) p 3. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972)
[77] David L. Smith, “The Authenticity of Alan Watts,” American Buddhism as a Way of Life, State University of New York, N.Y. (2010) ; I would like to emphasize “western proponent” here because it underlines Watt’s English orientation. Watts stands as an example of the growth of Zen within mainstream American culture in that he was one of the first influential Caucasian teachers of the Asian teachings.
[78] Alan Watts, Buddhism: The Religion of No Religion, Introduction p xi, Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Company of Rutland Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (1966) ; In the introduction, Watts is quoted, “I was, of course, being taught by those painters to see grass, but there was something else in their paintings… That ‘something else’ was the thing I will call it the religion of no religion. It is the supreme attainment of a Buddha: it cannot be detected; it leaves no trace” (Buddhism: The Religion of No Religion, Introduction xi).
[79] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography p. 25 Pantheon Books: a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972) ; Though Alan Watts notes Kipling’s high regard for imperialism, nonetheless, he describes Kipling’s writing as, “one of the major channels through which the high culture of India and the Himalayas flowed back into the West”
[80] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography p. 84 Pantheon Books: a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972) ; For further reading, in the mid 1930s Watts was influenced by a man named Dimitrije Mitrinovic ; Jiddu Krishnamurti also greatly influenced Watts as a young man (1936): “Why do you want to know whether there is a God… or what method you should follow to become enlightened, liberated, or realized? Could it be that you identify yourself with a merely abstract ego based on nothing but memories? That therefore you are not alive and aware in the eternal present, and thus interminably worry about your future? You yourself license the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita as infallible. Wake up!.. Watch what is now” (p 118).
[81] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography p. 119 Pantheon Books: a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972)
[82] Watts humorously describes the transitions (1938-1952) in his autobiography through photographs and captions, “I went to America and studied surreptitiously with Sokei-an Sasaki (1939)… but was eventually ordained an Anglican priest (1945)… But the role was uncomfortable, so I fled to California (1952) ; Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography p. 178 Pantheon Books: a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972)
[83] “Alan Wilson Watts.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (March 26, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404706758.html ; Watts left the church, “not because it doesn’t practice what it preaches, but because it preaches” (Life Magazine, 1961).
[84] Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography p. 161 Pantheon Books: a division of Random House, New York, N.Y. (1972) ; Watts published hundreds of lectures and more than twenty-five books, which included, The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951) The Way of Zen (1958) and Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen (1959) ; The American Academy of Asian Studies eventually was incorporated into a graduate program at the College of the Pacific.
[85] Note: Carl Jung was the founder of analytical psychology. Jung delved into Eastern philosophy to aid in his examination of the self and the unconscious. One can see this through some of Jung’s most famous quotes, “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious” and, “(He) Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
[86] Note: Alan Watts passed away at the age of fifty-eight after giving a series of lectures in Europe. Stress and increased alcohol consumption contributed to his death.
[87] “Alan Wilson Watts.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (March 26, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404706758.html
[88] Watts commented on Zen when he wrote, “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
[89] The illustrations highlight the transformation of Zen from Bodhidharma to American culture and society.
[90] Zen stresses that there is no distinction between East & West, up & down. Whether in Japan or the United States, ordinary mind remains the way. ; Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching p 93, translated by Stephen Mitchell, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, N.Y. (1988)
[91] “The American versions (of Zen) are typically a package of traditional forms of monastic practice wrapped in western philosophy and psychology” (Carl Bielefeldt, Stanford Buddhist Center, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Episode no. 445 July 6, 2001)
[92] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition p 183 (Quoting Robert Aitken)
[93] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition p 185-186. Grove Press, New York, N.Y. (1988)
[94] In Asia, Zen practitioners were often considered monks. Lay practitioners were aware of the Buddha’s teachings, but did not practice meditation or koan practice. Though American Zen has yet to solidify in any way, it seems that a trend toward a middle, reconciliatory road between the old Asian monastic ways and Asian lay practices is underway in the U.S.
[95] Carl Bielefeldt, Stanford Buddhist Center, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Episode no. 445 (July 6, 2001) ; The Egalitarian nature of American Zen contrasts sharply from the top-down seniority system witnessed in Asian Zen communities.
[96] Note: An interesting koan example of how Japanese Zen monks viewed women: Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud. Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous! Why did you do that?”
”I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
[97] Note: The author’s Sensei is a woman who leads a weekly koan seminar and meditation group for the Pacific Zen Institute in Santa Barbara, California.
[98] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition p 186-187. Grove Press, New York, N.Y. (1988)
[99] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition p 186-187. Grove Press, New York, N.Y. (1988)
[100] Charles S. Prebish, Pennsylvania State University, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Episode no. 445 (July 6, 2001)
[101] The author’s subjective interpretation: Zen is Zen. As stated before, the quote, “being in this world but not of it” represents an essential characteristic of Zen: placing events within the Buddhist view of ultimate reality and the oneness of the universe, one who moves with the Tao and embodies the Tao, acts in accordance with the Tao. American Zen’s emphasis of engaged Buddhism is yet another development in the impermanent presentation of the teachings of the Buddha.
[102] Charles S. Prebish, Pennsylvania State University, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Episode no. 445 (July 6, 2001) ; Note: The author wrote, “America affords the first occasion in history for every Buddhist school from every Asian tradition to exist together in one place at the same time”
[103] Charles S. Prebish, Pennsylvania State University, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Episode no. 445 (July 6, 2001)
[104] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition: A Sourcebook by Contemporary Zen Masters and Scholars p 180, Grove Press. New York, N.Y. (1988)
[105] Kenneth Kraft, Zen Tradition and Transition: A Sourcebook by Contemporary Zen Masters and Scholars p 193-194, Grove Press. New York, N.Y. (1988)

 

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Editor: Brianna Bemel

 

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About Don Dianda

Don Dianda is the author of “See for your Self: Zen Mindfulness for the Next Generation.” Through meditation, daily mindfulness practice, and individual koan work, Dianda seeks to shed light on the inherently deep connection one can have with the experience of this life as well as the world one moves through. Stepping into the now and recognizing the movements within the mind is where the path begins… See more at: http://redwoodzen.blogspot.com/

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2 Responses to “The Opening of the American Psyche: A Brief History of Zen in the West.”

  1. [...] Roshi Shunryu Suzuki provides Western mindfulness enthusiasts with a glimpse into the way of the Zen mind. Easy to read and full of great teaching points, the heart of Suzuki’s life will be in your hands [...]

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