Buddhism in Action
Zen Buddhism represents one of the earliest forms of Buddhism to find a foothold in United States culture. With the help of Jack Kerouac and other writers, Zen has been able to flourish in all parts of the country. Most importantly, Zen has found its way to Bethlehem, PA. For the Buddhism in Action assignment, James Schaefer and I attended the Blue Mountain Zendo.
Zen has come a long way to find itself in the Lehigh Valley. Zen’s earliest roots are in China (where it was known as Ch’an). The establishment of the school is credited to Bodhidharma. In the 5th century, Bodhidharma’s teachings gained immense popularity and subsequently amassed a number of disciples. These disciples helped influence the growth of the religion, and soon enough the Zen practices had reached overseas to Japan.
Zen Buddhism came to Japan by way of a number of religious scholars. One major branch, Rinzai, was brought to Japan by a monk named Eisai. Eisai traveled to China and studied the form of Buddhism known as Ch’an. His teachings developed, and after incorporating Neo-Confucian and Shinto ideas, the Rinzai form of Zen Buddhism was established.
By chance, a Buddhist monk named Dogen met one of Eisai’s students. The two traveled together to China to further their understanding of Buddhism. From this knowledge, Dogen eventually founded a new branch of Zen Buddhism known as Soto Zen. As opposed to Rinzai, Soto focused less on texts and more on personal meditation. His teachings stressed the importance of the Genjo Koan (which was all about taking the present moment as an object of meditation). Further, the practice of Zazen (or, seated meditation) was also established based on the teachings of Dogen.
Late in the 19th century, a number of Japanese Buddhists were invited to the United States to help familiarize Americans with Buddhist beliefs. What resulted was the establishment of some of the first zendos in America. California eventually...