Buddhists in the American West

The American encounter with BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... begins in the middle of the nineteenth century when Chinese workers and immigrants arrived in Hawaii and on the West Coast. They came during the Gold Rush to the land they called “Gold Mountain.” Some became miners and others farm hands, fishermen, loggers, and construction workers on the Central Pacific Railroad.

The Chinese immigrants built templesA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... supported by various “associations” which drew membership from particular districts in China. The Chinese brought with them images of the BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... and of the BodhisattvaA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo... of Compassion, GuanyinAvalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva who looks down with compassion upon the suffering of all beings. In East Asia, this bodhisattva came to be popular in female form as Guanyin (China), Kannon (Japan) or Kwan Um (Korea), holding a willow branch and vase sy..., as well as the complex religious worldview informed by Buddhist, DaoistThe Daoist tradition incorporates a highly diverse range of philosophical, religious, and folk values and practices, all of which share a concern for realigning human life so that it is in better accord with the natural rhythms of the universe. Symbols of..., and Confucian traditions. By 1875, there were eight temples in San Francisco’s Chinatown, most of them housed on the top floors of Chinese association offices. The Tin Hou TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... and the Kong Chow Temple are among the oldest.

Temples in the fishing villages and mining camps were often makeshift structures and log sheds. The historical temple in Weaverville, California, preserves an example of this era of temple building. By the end of the century, hundreds of Chinese temples and shrines could be found along the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains. In the Montana territory, there were Chinese annual rites for the deceased as early as 1869. There were Buddhist communities in Helena and Butte. In 1860, one-tenth of the population of California was Chinese, and in 1870, one-tenth of the population of the Montana territory was Chinese.

The Japanese began to come in the 1880s. Japanese immigration was far more controlled than that from China. Immigrants were often screened by and received support from the Japanese government. The Japanese immigrants, especially those belonging to the devotional Jodo ShinshuThe Jodo Shinshu or True Pure Land school of Buddhism was founded by the Japanese monk Shinran Shonin in the 12th century. This tradition regards chanting the name of Amida Buddha as the most appropriate form of practice in the current degenerate age. Tod... Buddhist school, also established their religious organizations and temples. In 1898, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association and the Buddhist Mission of North America were established; by 1912, there were twenty temples, headed by ordainedOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... priestsA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... sent from Japan. These “missionaries” helped to nurture ties between the first and second generations of the Japanese-American community. They provided a level of institutional support that the Chinese immigrants often did not have.


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