Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism Essay Sample

Jan 11, 2021 at History Free Essays

The Transmission of Zen to the West

Buddhism remained almost unrecognized in the West until present times, despite it spreading throughout Asia. The ancient missions to the West instigated by emperor Ashoka were not successful. The recent acceptance of meditation and Zen broods from the desire for the de-spiritualized West to address the problems with religion and spirituality (Baumann 35). According to Baumann (21), these needs that stem from the society include the need for a community, the need for comprehending oneself, the need for experience in both intellectual and emotion levels, and the need for liberation from obsession with materialism and self-affirmation.

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According to Dumoulin (12), the West seems to be culturally bankrupt. In addition, statistics show that Western states, especially the US, are least contented of all societies today, in spite of their economic success or their seeming stability. With this in consideration, Pye (4) pointed out that Western societies have unknowingly erased all the possible areas of reflection, moments, self-awareness, and understanding of Zen. In order to allocate time for relaxation or meditation, people from West find themselves in coffee shops or restaurants to achieve solitude and serenity. Until recent times, there has been penetration of Zen Buddhism into the Western culture. It is believed that Westerners are reducing trips to the coffee shops or restaurants for relaxation or serenity. This research paper essentially discusses the spread of Zen Buddhism into the west, and its effect on Western cultures.

History of Zen Buddhism

Buddhism originated in India during the 5th century, and was eventually transferred to China by monk Bodhidharma during early 6th century A.D (Baumann 35). It became popular in China and eventually spread to Japan, where it was identified and embraced as Zen Buddhism. There were two schools competing for recognition during this time. The two schools stemmed from Buddhism were referred to as Mahayana and Hinayana. They finally separated into two different sects, taking their own paths (Baumann 35). The school of Mahayana was born because of the liberal attitudes towards the old-style monastic tradition. Mahayana allowed the Buddhism practitioner communities to have a greater voice and looser way of practicing religion. According to Kon? (34), the first signs of Zen Buddhism started manifesting themselves. According to Tweed (12), a monk called Hui Neng introduced Zen in China under the name Chan. In 12th century, the Chan Buddhism eventually spread to Japan, where it finally adopted the common term of Zen.

Zen was viewed as a sense of flow, sense of rightness in all actions and sense of serenity at this point. In fact, Zen was a direct rebellion against Buddhism by erasing words in order to attain personal insight into ones nature. Zen was not a component of the initial Indian doctrine of Buddhism. Bodhidharma orally spread this doctrine of Zen. Between the 6th and 20th centuries, the number of people in whom the state of awareness flowered in Japan and China produced what might be referred to as the visible entities of Zen in their outward influence, as manifested in the original Zen Buddhism (Baumann 35). It was during this time that the doctrine of Zen was secretly taught and passed down from master to students. Finally, Zen infiltrated into the society as a way of expressing oneself in literature, art and music.

The Spread of Buddhism into the West

According to Pye (11), the knowledge of Buddhism has penetrated the West through three major channels that include western scholars; the arrival of Asian immigrants; and the work of philosophers, artists and writers. However, Asian immigrants, of all the three major channels, played the most significant role in spreading Zen Buddhism to the West. All the channels have brought Zen Buddhism to North America, Europe and Australia. Buddhism has an attitude of come and see, which seems to attract a number of western societies. Westerners are not asked to believe in anything, but they are asked to follow the advice of Buddha and to test the ideas first. With the increase in the opportunities to travell and communicate, the West has been capable of finding out more concerning Zen Buddhism in the 21st century, than during all the time before. The emphasis and informality on practice of Buddhism appeal to several western societies.

Extremely few individuals in America and Europe knew the meaning of the word Buddha, despite Buddhas teachings being known in countries throughout Asia for more than 2500 years (Pye 23). Over a century ago, people from Great Britain, France, Netherlands and other European nations began travelling to the Far East. Most of these Western travellers returned home with Eastern lifestyles and ideas. As such, Europeans began hearing about Buddhism. Most recently, the Buddhist communities have immigrated to the west, and most of them have been refugees. For instance, several Tibetans fled from their mother country after the Chinese takeover in 1959 (Pye 56). The Indochina wars in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in many Vietnamese citizens immigrating to and settling in Europe, America and Australia. Other Buddhist societies from nations, including Thailand, have established business in the Western urban centers or cities. These Buddhist communities from the Far East brought all their beliefs to their new place of residence, which they now call home, and they set up Buddhist centers.

The Inception of Buddhism in America

Similar to Europe, the scholars in the US became equipped with several Buddhist teachings in the 19th century. Some oldest universities in the US have departments concerned with oriental studies, where scholars studied Buddhist teachings from the Far East. In the second half of 19th century, Chinese travellers settled in California and Hawaii (Pye 31). These immigrants augmented the already existing Buddhist texts by bringing several Mahayana Buddhist texts with them. In addition, they built several Buddhist temples. Besides the Chinese immigrants, Japanese travellers also arrived later, and they not only built temples but also invited Japanese monks who belonged to several Buddhist sects. Nevertheless, Zen Buddhism practices and teachings remained largely restricted to these immigrant societies. During the late 19th century, two Buddhist spokespersons, Soyen Shaku, who was a Zen master from Japan, and Dharmapala from Sri Lanka, attended the World Parliament of Religion held in Chicago (Baumann 35). The speeches of these Buddhist spokespersons impressed their audience, and assisted in establishing a foothold for the Theravada and Zen traditions in the U.S.

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Before the end second half of the 20th century, Buddhist teachings and ideas had reached a wider section of the U.S. society. Dumoulin (55) pointed out that US servicemen coming from Far East Asia after the Korean War and World War II brought with them a fascinating interest in Asian culture that included Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism gained significant popularity in the 1960s among artistic groups and literary works in the U.S. This significantly helped in popularizing Zen Buddhism. Academic interest also grew during the postwar time. Several new departments concerned with Buddhist studies sprung in a number of the U.S. universities (Baumann 35).

The Inception Buddhism in Europe

Individuals who had paid a visit to the colonies in the East brought several Buddhist texts to Europe. This took place in the 18th century. According to Baumann (45), these Buddhist texts aroused the interest of European academic community who began studying them. In the middle 19th century, a few texts of Buddhism were translated into European languages. As a result, Buddhist teaching became popular among European scholars. A considerable number of these scholars, in the process of studying Buddhism, were influenced by it. Some scholars introduced Buddhist teachings into their writings. In the early 20th century, a greater number of improved translations of Buddhist texts into European languages were made (Pye 40). In fact, English, German and French translations were done during this time. This included almost the entire collection of Mahayana texts, as well as the number of Theravada scriptures.

Before the onset of the 20th century, the study of Buddhism was restricted to scholars mainly. In addition, there teachings were not practiced much. This pattern eventually began changing, with several Europeans travelling to Far East to acquire firsthand knowledge of Zen Buddhism practice, and to witness monastic lifestyles (Baumann 35). Moreover, several Buddhist organizations were established in major European cities, such as the one established in London in 1924 (Baumann 35). This is one of the oldest Buddhist organizations in Europe. According to Kon? (22), these organizations would later help in the growth of Buddhism via their lecturers, circulation of Buddhist literature and meditation sessions.

By early 20th century, several Europeans had travelled to Far East in order to study Zen Buddhism. Some of these Europeans had even become monks, and they strengthened and inspired the Buddhist circles in Europe. In recent times, there has been a remarkable growth of interest in Zen Buddhism among Europeans (Pye 31). The number and membership of the present Buddhist societies has increased significantly, and new centers have been created.

Impacts of Zen Buddhism on Western Culture

The tolerance to religious practices is one of the most essential influences of Zen in Western cultures. The emphasis on self-realization of written texts guarantees that the follower or the practitioner cannot be a religious fanatic. According to Dumoulin (34), this occurs as the follower or the practitioner does not rely on his religious identity but his or her self-actualization as a way of fulfillment. This has been facilitated by the various practices of different religions to coexist with Zen, including Christianity. It is popular to find Europeans and Americans who go to Zen temple and the church. Tweed (13) pointed out that there are Europeans who get married in Church but held funerals as per Buddhist tradition.

Another important effect of Zen on Western culture is the significant emphasis on self-discipline. According Buddhist teachings, Zen practitioners or followers are required to comprehend themselves and have control over their actions (Tweed 51). The form of self-discipline observed among Japanese workers is a proof of this idealism to some extent. As such, Zen Buddhism essentially instills self-discipline among Europeans and Americans. As a force of civilization, Buddhism awakens the feeling of self-responsibility and self-respect of countless westerners. In addition, it also stirs the energy of several countries (Baumann 35).

According to Dumoulin (45), the mannerism and discipline practiced in Zazen and Zen have also resulted in a greater effect on the Western societies. The image of calm and cool Zen master contemplating in the SODO and the informal hall utilized for meditation has resulted in an ideology, which influences all actions in the daily lives of most Zen practicing Europeans. All Zen practitioners from the West are required to respect the calmness of Zen master, and adhere to it one way or another. This has facilitated the acceptance of harmony as a significant social virtue in both daily life and corporate world.

Dumoulin (25) pointed out that the effect of Buddhism on Western cultures was truly significant. In Buddhism, there is no intellectual error because it is based on the reason and on the bedrock of personal experience. Buddhism is free from moral blindness as its ethics is truly lofty, and guided by a rational basis for ethics, such as personal evolution in terms of ones own karma. According to Kon? (34), Buddhism engendered no social perversity, which implies that intolerance and hate are not allowed. The thrilling message of reason, universal benevolence, social justice, flaming righteousness, and hope preached by Buddhism had a liberating and fertilizing effect on action and thoughts of Westerners.

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To most Western Buddhist practitioners, Buddhism provided a practical, rational, and balanced way of deliverance from all sorrows of life (Baumann 35). In addition, Buddhism also provided the certainty of the perfectibility of a man solely by ones own efforts. To the humanist, Buddhism provided an all-embracing compassionate vision that inspired ameliorative action as a pre-condition for the realization of the highest spiritual achievements. Dumoulin (23) claimed that Buddhism does not lure people into living in a fools paradise, nor does it agonize or frighten people with all forms of imaginary fears.

Buddhism has linked humanity with religion in Western societies. Buddhism is a more efficient vehicle for saving the humanity today from responding to the moral standards taught by religions (Baumann 35). Buddhism is a religion of human with a human founder who sought no divine intervention or revelation in the formulation of his or her teachings. According to Pye (21), Buddhism encourages spiritual progress by appealing to the thinking powers of human beings. In an era when westerners are overwhelmed by their success in the control of the material universe, they may wish to look back and take a stock of the achievement they have made in controlling themselves. It is in quest that most Westerners found Buddhism an answer to their several problems and doubts (Tweed 43).

Zen has also been criticized for creating disconnected lifestyles among Westerners. According to Kon? (23), since Zen teaches nothing in specific, it is very hard to apply it to different aspects of Western life. Nevertheless, as many Westerners do not have the means of devoting their lives to the study of Zen, people have used other proven ways to create a balance. One Dr. Suzuki, who authored the responsible bringing and teaching Zen and Buddhism to the Western world, translated the old Zen philosophies and Buddhist to English in early 20th century (Baumann 35). Dr. Suzuki offered a framework for the persons interested in this calm lifestyle, and authored several other books to help Europeans find their Zen. Nevertheless, Suzukis works did not consider the inquisitive and stubborn mindsets of most Americans who would not survive in a mondo-koan form of environment. Dumoulin (23) does not agree with the fact that Zen and other religions can work together. Perhaps the establishment of Zen in Western societies did not work with the western religions in order to find a harmonious balance. Zen, though related Buddhism does not have a Pope, headquarters such as Rome in the case of Catholic, and a religious Book, such as Bible in the case of Christianity. As a result, westerners do not have sufficient information to incorporate such ideas into their lives.

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The introduction of Buddhism to the West has affected language. Language, as well as culture and religion, is also a very important aspect of the Western society and its ideas as well in dealing with the fluidity of Zen. In Western cultures, it is normal to presume that everything verifiable is conventional knowledge. This implies that in the West one does not truly know anything until it can be dictated in something concrete, such as in words, numbers or in some form of notations. Mathematics is notated, music is notated, and stories are notated. In several Far East cultures, things are much less rigid, and it can take several forms to explain the same concept. Westerners must place value on or classify every object, both abstract and physical. This is base on the compound nature of several Latin languages. Western minds function by proven techniques and linear structures. Unlike Far East societies that practice Zen Buddhism, their tendency is to limit things to the point of understanding.

Conclusions

The recent acceptance of meditation and Zen broods from the desire for the de-spiritualized West to address the problems of religion and spirituality. Buddhism originated in India during the 5th century, and was eventually transferred to China by monk Bodhidharma during early 6th century A.D. The knowledge of Buddhism has penetrated West through three major channels that include western scholars; the arrival of Asian immigrants; and the work of philosophers, artists and writers. The Buddhist communities from the Far East brought all their beliefs to their new place of residence, which they now call home, and they set up Buddhist centers. To most Western Buddhist practitioners, Buddhism provided a practical, rational, and balanced way of deliverance from all sorrows of life. Buddhism is a religion for a human with a human founder who sought no divine intervention or revelation in the formulation of his or her teachings. Zen Buddhism essentially instills self-discipline among Europeans and Americans. As a force of civilization, Buddhism awakens the feeling of self-responsibility and self-respect of countless westerners.

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