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Zen Buddhism represents the largest population of self-identified Buddhists practicing Buddhism in the United States. These individuals are both lay and ordained hailing from several unique lineages imported to the United States from areas such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Some of the country's most recognizable modern teachers are natural-born Americans, both men and women (many of whom are Dharma heirs of foreign masters). Pioneers like Soyen Shaku(釈 宗演) and his students Sokei-an, Nyogen Senzaki(千崎 如幻) and D.T. Suzuki(鈴木 大拙) helped lay the foundation that allowed Zen in America to take hold. The English-born Alan Watts published works that brought Zen to a large American audience, and later pioneers like Shunryu Suzuki(鈴木 俊隆), Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi(前角 博雄), Dainin Katagiri(片桐 大忍) and Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim helped to ensure Zen's longevity in the country (each of whom are now deceased). Many of their successors either carry on their direct lineages or have gone on to establish schools of their own.

Early history[edit]

Photo of the World Parliament of Religions of 1893

In 1893, at the World Parliament of Religions held at the Chicago World Fair, an important Zen priest was present to give a lecture who was integral to the importation of Zen Buddhism from Japan to the United States?his name was Soyen Shaku. He returned to Japan following the summit, but came back to the United States in 1905 with others in the hopes of founding an American Zen community in San Francisco. While the endeavor failed and his stay in the U.S. was rather brief, three of his students would go on to help ensure the establishment of Zen in America. One of these students was Nyogen Senzaki, who had come to the United States to serve as the personal assistant to Shaku Soen. When Soen returned to Japan he left Senzaki with instructions not to teach Zen to anyone for a period of seventeen years. Observing his masters wishes, he did not begin teaching until 1922. Thereafter he became known for his "floating zendos", instructing groups in San Francisco and Los Angeles on zazen in rented halls until his death in 1958.[1] Another of Soyen Shaku's students was Sokei-an, who founded the First Zen Institute of America in New York City in 1930?originally called the Buddhist Society of America. He died in 1945 and left behind no Dharma heir, though his center is still running today. As the first koan master to make the United States his home, his contributions to the development and transplantation of Zen Buddhism from Japan to the United States cannot be emphasized enough. One of his students had been Alan Watts, who had briefly studied koans under him. Sokei-an later married Alan's mother-in-law, Ruth Fuller Sasaki.[2][3]

The third student of Soyen Shaku, and arguably most influential in bringing Zen to America, was the Zen scholar and author Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. Suzuki had served as an English translator for Soyen Shaku at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Due in part to his linguistic ability, Suzuki made friends with several in attendance?including the writer Paul Carus. Suzuki returned to the United States in 1897 to work with Carus at Open Court Publishing Company in La Salle, Illinois. He married an American woman during his stay in the U.S. and returned to Japan in 1911 to continue his Zen studies with Soyen Shaku. In 1919 he gained a professorship at the University of Kyoto, where he taught philosophy and religion. While headquartered in Japan, Suzuki began writing on Mahayana Buddhism in English. In 1927 his book Essays In Zen Buddhism: First Series was published, the first of many books and essays to come on the subject from him. Until his death in 1966, he traveled frequently throughout Europe and the United States to give lectures on Zen at libraries and universities. His writings and lectures in the United States influenced a generation of thinkers in the Zen arena in the lates 40s and early 1950s, including Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, Philip Kapleau, Erich Fromm, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and countless others. The power of Suzuki's pen was enormous. Perhaps equally as influential as Suzuki was the aforementioned Alan Watts.[1]

The Beats[edit]

While American understanding of Zen had improved tremendously by the conclusion of World War II, it was (for the most part) just a philosophy that academics and intellectuals would discuss amongst themselves in their own respective circles. These were individuals that were likely drawn to the mysterious quality of the religion. The actual practice of zazen was sorely lacking during this period, with those qualified to teach dumbing down their instructions in an effort to not scare away their new students. During the 1950s this trend slowly began to shift gears with the emergence of the Beat generation, and many of its most prominent members adopted Zen as their own. However, even at this stage in the development of Zen in the United States, the Beat's interest in Zen and Buddhism was still a largely intellectual one. Icons of the generation like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder all claimed themselves to be adherents at one time or another. Although he was not one of them, Alan Watts and his writings were very popular among members of the Beat generation in San Francisco?and, while he did not identify with the group, much of his lifestyle mirrored their own. This was despite their having labeled his work "Square Zen." Watts, who was English-born, had declared himself a Buddhist at the age of fifteen, and studied Eastern philosophy in London under Christmas Humphreys, among others. While one can accredit D.T. Suzuki with introducing Zen to the American audience, Watts enjoyed a much larger readership than his counterpart. This was probably due in large part to his skill in presenting complex ideas to his readers in words which they could understand.[4]

Gary Snyder later took his studies to Japan in 1956, studying under Isshu Miura for one year. He then continued his studies under Oda Sesso until Sesso's death in 1966. Snyder was one of the few members of the Beats that actually pursued formal studies of Zen early on, with the others simply identifying with the seeming spontaneity of the philosophy. Philip Whalen would later go on to study Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970s, and Allen Ginsberg became a student of the controversial Chogyam Trungpa. Allan Watts and the Beats, while demonstrably influential in bringing Zen to America's consciousness, nevertheless had many misconceptions about the practice of Zen.[5]

Pivotal years[edit]

In 1949 the Rinzai priest Soen Nakagawa(中川 宋淵) arrived for a brief stay in San Francisco?the first of several trips to the United States?where he met with his friend Nyogen Senzaki. Nakagawa helped to facilitate the arrival of Haku'un Yasutani(安谷 白雲)'s arrival in 1962.[6] That same year the Soto priest Soyu Matsuoka(松岡 操雄) founded the Chicago Buddhist Temple, later leaving the temple in the care of Richard Langlois (one of the first truly American roshis). Matsuoka went on serve other Soto congregations, mostly in California.[7]

During the late 1950s and early 1960s several pivotal Zen teachers had arrived in the United States as members of missionary efforts. The three most influential of these were Shunryu Suzuki, Dainin Katagiri and Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi. Maezumi arrived in 1956 to serve as a priest at the Zenshuji Soto Mission in Little Tokyo?a Japanese-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. He and Shunryu Suzuki became casual friends when Suzuki arrived in 1959 to serve as priest at Soko-ji in San Francisco under similar circumstances. Both men were, during their early years, the leaders of primarily Japanese-American congregations. Eventually they both attracted a more American audience, which culminated in the incorporation of Suzuki's San Francisco Zen Center in 1962 and the founding of Maizeumi's Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1967?the impact of the former being especially great. Suzuki is the author of a bestselling book of talks on Zen titled Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. This 1970 publication did much to further the growth of his own Zen community, as well as to further the ongoing development of Zen in America.[8] Dainin Katagiri had come from Japan to the United States in 1964, where he assisted Shunryu Suzuki at San Francisco Zen Center, eventually opening a zendo in his home of Monterey, California. He founded his own community in Minneapolis, Minnesota (the Minnesota Zen Center) in 1972. Another individual that should be mentioned is Kobun Chino, who also assisted Suzuki in San Francisco and led a satellite center in Los Altos, California.[7]

2008 sculpture of Philip Kapleau in progress

Another important individual in the spread of Zen Buddhism in America was Philip Kapleau. His 1965 book The Three Pillars of Zen greatly increased American interest in Zen practice. Kapleau wanted to merge East and West, and to this end his vision of an American Zen center and the general practice of Zen was not in line with his Japanese teacher Haku'un Yasutani. When Yasutani Roshi and other masters came to visit Kapleau at Rochester Zen Center in the late 1960s, they had very strong opinions about how the Rochester Zen Center should be run. Kapleau, known for his unorthodox views and headstrong nature, was not swayed by their visits or pleas. In 1967, Yasutani and Kapleau split ways over infighting about the use of English translations of Japanese texts?and the two never spoke to one another again.[9] Yasutani wrote in 1969, "You are no longer my student." This effectively stripped Kapleau of his permission to teach in the Harada-Yasutani School, and we may never know the full extent of the circumstances that led up to that break. However it happened, the line was broken with Yasutani. At that time Kapleau had not finished the entire Koan curriculum of the Blue Cliff Record, or the Gateless Gate. Even though he had spent 13 years and over 20 sesshin with Yasutani he was soon censured. Kapleau, undeterred, continued to teach and grow his center?and his students gave him the moniker roshi anyway. While he had never officially recieved inka(印可) from his teacher, he was verified to have experienced satori(悟り) by Yasutani in 1963. Kapleau succumbed to Parkinson's disease in the garden of the Rochester Zen Center in 2004, surrounded by his students. The current Abbot, Bodhin Kjolhede, has been offered inka by several Soto teachers in America. At this time he has not accepted. If he accepts inka the Rochester lineage will have been brought together whole. Among the most prominent of Roshi Kapleau's heirs are Toni Packer, Peter Bodhin Kjolhede (current abbot of RZC) and Sunyana Graef?who guides the Vermont Zen Center near Burlington and Casa Zen in Costa Rica.[10]

Meanwhile, as Katagiri was founding the Minnesota Zen Center in Minneapolis in 1972, another influential figure had arrived that year in Providence, Rhode Island from Korea?the Korean master Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim. He founded the Providence Zen Center, which grew into the Kwan Um School of Zen?the largest school of Zen represented in the United States.




Female roles[edit]

According to author Sandy Boucher, in her book Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism, "Zen women do not face the same obstacles as Theravadin and Tibetan Buddhist women. Throughout its history in the United States Zen Buddhism has offered ordination for women, making no distinction from men, usually referring to both women and men as monks or priests. Some Zen women have been successful in taking institutional and intellectual leadership positions within Zen centers, a few achieving the title of roshi, which is conferred by a master only upon his most worthy disciples." She goes on to say, "...But...Zen monastic settings have been predominantly male dominated and male defined."[11] Indeed, practicing Zen Buddhism in the United States presents unique challenges to women. Aside from serious issues regarding boundaries and equality, American women do not have many Asian female counterparts in Zen literature or teaching positions to exemplify.[12]

The history of women participating in the development of Zen Buddhism in the United States dates back to the arrival of Soyen Shaku. Mrs. Alexander Russell and her husband, two wealthy Japanophiles living in San Francisco, California, were responsible for inviting Shaku to the United States and boarding him in 1905 so that he could teach them and their friends. Though Mrs. Russell was of European decent, she is nevertheless the first documented case of a woman undergoing formal koan study under a master in the United States. Ruth Fuller Everett, later Ruth Fuller Sasaki, played a decisive role in helping to bring Zen to America. The mother-in-law of Alan Watts, she was ordained by Sokei-an in 1928 and later married him in 1944. Following her husband's death she studied for many years at Daitoku-ji(大徳寺) in Japan, where she set up a subtemple for Western students to practice Zen and translated texts. In the late 1950s a woman named Elsie Mitchell co-founded the Cambridge Buddhist Association with her husband in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having previously studied Soto Zen under Rindo Fujimoto in Japan, in 1960 she published and penned the introduction to his book on shikantaza(只管打坐) titled The Way of Zazen. It was the first book on the subject published in the English language.[12][6]

Modern day[edit]

Christian Zen[edit]


Names to work into this article[edit]

Dainin Katagiri(片桐 大忍), Kyozan Joshu Sasaki(佐々木 承周), Nhat Hanh, Robert Baker Aitken, Soen Nakagawa(中川 宋淵), Yamada Koun(山田 耕雲), Blanche Hartman, Joan Halifax, Mary Farkas, Soeng Hyang, Reb Anderson, Zentatsu Richard Baker, Martine Batchelor, Jan Chozen Bays, Joko Beck, Bon Yeon, George Bowman, Edward Espe Brown, Kyogen Carlson, Sherry Chayat, Jiko Linda Cutts, Dae Gak, Issan Dorsey, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Charles Tenshin Fletcher, James Ishmael Ford, Keido Fukushima(福島 慶道), Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Ruben Habito, Paul Haller, Shodo Harada(原田 正道), Issho Fujita(藤田 一照), Houn Jiyu-Kennett, Paul Genki Kahn, Father Robert Kennedy, Jakusho Kwong, Shuichi Thomas Kurai, Geri Larkin, Samu Sunim, Peter Matthiessen, Dennis Genpo Merzel, Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Enkyo Pat O'Hara, Shohaku Okumura(奥村 正博), Sevan Ross, John Tesshin Sanderson, William Nyogen Yeo, Wu Kwang, Wu Bong, Gerry Shishin Wick, Philip Whalen, Mel Weitsman, Brad Warner, Thien-An, Maurine Stuart, Su Bong, Soeng Hyang, Eido Tai Shimano(嶋野 栄道), Sheng-yen, Robert Livingston (Zen teacher), Cheri Huber, John Tarrant, Judith Roitman, Peter Matthiessen, Albert Low, Ruben Habito, Kazuaki Tanahashi(棚橋 一晃), John Daido Loori, Steve Hagen, Seirin Barbara Kohn

Places to work into this article[edit]

Great Vow Zen Monastery, Magnolia Village Practice Center, Deer Park Monastery, Berkeley Zen Center, Bodhi Manda Zen Center, Cambridge Zen Center, Chapin Mill, Chicago Zen Center, Chogye International Zen Center, Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, Diamond Sangha, Hartford Street Zen Center, Hazy Moon Zen Center, Kanzeon Zen Center, Maria Kannon Zen Center, Mount Baldy Zen Center, Nashville Mindfulness Center, New York Zendo Shobo-Ji, Pioneer Valley Zendo, Providence Zen Center, Sanshin Zen Community, Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, Upaya Zen Center, Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, Zen Studies Society, American Zen Teachers Association, Zen Mountain Monastery, New Orleans Zen Temple

Places to work into article or create[edit]

Milwaukee Zen Center, North Cascades Buddhist Priory, Olympia Zen Center, Mountain Lamp Community, Seattle Practice Center, Shao Shan (Zen center), Vermont Zen Center, New River Zen Community, Mindfulness Community of WDC, Kanzeon Zen Center Utah, Austin Zen Center , Houston Zen Center, Mt. Equity Zendo, Zen Center of Pittsburgh, Eugene Zendo, Dharma Rain Zen Center, Zen Center of Portland, Portland Buddhist Priory, Zen Center of Syracuse, The Ordinary Mind Zendo, Village Zendo, Mountain Gate, Hokoji Zendo, Albuquerque Zen Center, Three Treasures Sangha of the Sandias, Heart Circle Sangha, Morning Star Zendo, Nebraska Zen Center, Zen Center of Asheville, Great Tree Zen Women's Temple, Charlotte Zen Meditation Society, Chapel Hill Zen Center, North Carolina Zen Center, Starkville Zen Dojo, Compassionate Ocean Dharma Center, Wild Fox Zen Monastery, Zen Buddhist Temple (Haju Lundquist), Treetop Zen Center, Boundless Way Zen, Kansas Zen Center, Prairie Zen Center, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Zen Community of Oak Park, Udumbara Zen Center, Lakeside Buddha Sangha, Great Plains Zen Center, Cedar Rapids Zen Center, Decorah Zen Center, Honolulu Diamond Sangha (Palolo Zen Center), The Jacksonville Zen Sangha, New Haven Zen Center, Zen Center of Denver, Great Mountain Zen Center, Contra Costa Zen Group, Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center, Shasta Abbey, Ring of Bone Zendo, Stone Creek Zen Center, Rocks and Clouds Zendo, The Open Source Project, Pacific Zen Institute, Genjo-ji (Jakusho Kwong), Everyday Dharma Zen Center, Santa Cruz Zen Center, Floating Zendo, Goat-in-the-Road, Peaceful Sea Sangha, Mountain Source Sangha, Dharma Eye Zen Center, Berkeley Buddhist Priory, Empty Gate Zen Center, Bay Zen Center, Oakland Zendo of the Pacific Zen Institute, Vallejo Zen Center, Hayward Buddhist Center, Deep Streams Zendo, Zen Heart Sangha, Empty Nest Zendo, Three Treasures Zen Community, Zen Center of San Diego, Vista Zen Center, Hidden Valley Zen Center, Manzanita Village (Zen center), Sweet Water Zen Center, Beginner's Mind Zen Center, Sozenji Buddhist Temple, Santa Monical Zen Center, Anchorage Zen Center, Mountain Cloud Zen Center, Still Mind Zendo, [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]],

Schools/organizations to mention[edit]

Order of Interbeing, Kwan Um School of Zen, White Plum Asanga, Zen Peacemakers Order, Mountains and Rivers Order, Soto Zen Buddhist Association, Zen Community of Oregon, Dogen Sangha International, Everyday Zen Foundation, [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]], [[]],

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, 150-160
  2. ^ Zen Master Who?, 66-69
  3. ^ Turn Off Your Mind, 114
  4. ^ The New Buddhism, 60-64
  5. ^ Luminous Passage, 13
  6. ^ a b Journeys East, 174-175
  7. ^ a b Luminous Passage, 13-14
  8. ^ Zen Master Who?, 162-166
  9. ^ Lopez, 147
  10. ^ Zen Master Who?, 152-156
  11. ^ Turning the Wheel, 92
  12. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, 639-646


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Further reading[edit]

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