Buddhism in America

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  • Topic: Buddhism, Zen, Buddhist meditation
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  • Published : December 5, 2005
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Buddhism in America

Buddhism first came to America in the late 1800's from the Europeans. 1893 is the year most often given to the birth of Buddhism in America. It was said to have come over during the first World Parliament of Religions, which took place in Chicago

The first known Buddhist monk in the Western hemisphere was, Allan Bennett. He eventually took the name Ananda Metteya.

As Buddhism began to flower in America, it began to influence important thinkers, who in turn influenced the practice itself.

While early in America's history, scholars, Transcendentalists and Theosophists knew about Buddhism, it was not until the early 1950's that most Americans heard of Buddhism. This greater exposure is thanks to the writers and poets of the Beat generation who took up Buddhist practice and incorporated it more blatantly into their widely published works. Later in the 1950's, Alan Watts began giving erudite public talks on Zen Buddhism. Shunryu Suzuki established San Francisco Zen Center and Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi established the Zen Center of Los Angeles. In the 1960's – the age of psychedelics – the more colorful Tibetan forms of Buddhism began to flower. In the 1970's, Insight Meditation Society, a lay meditation center, was founded in Massachusetts. In the 1980's and 1990's, Buddhism increased dramatically in America, fed by the influx of Asian immigrants, interest in martial arts, and the Internet. Currently, around 3 million Americans, or around 1 percent of the total population, consider themselves Buddhists.

The attitude of Buddhism is "come and see for yourself," which attracts many Westerners. Buddhists are not asked to believe in anything, but to follow the Buddha's advice to test ideas for ourselves. In fact, Buddha's final words were to, "be a lamp unto yourself, make of yourself a light."

The status of Buddhism today is compared to the way it was in 7th century Japan. It's gaining popularity, however in America it has been altered...
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