The Japanese monk Dogen (1200-1253) spent two years in China studying Tendai (Tiantai) Buddhism. Disappointed by the intellectualism of the school, he was about to return to Japan when the monk Rujing explained that the practice of Chan simply meant “dropping off both body and mind.” Dogen suddenly realized that the very act of sitting in meditation, so that such conceptions as “body” and “mind” do not arise, is itself enlightenment. After Dogen returned to Japan, the Soto school which he founded developed into one of the preeminent Zen traditions.

Chan, Linji

(also: Lin-chi Ch'an; Rinzai Zen; Rinzai) The Linji school of Zen Buddhism first developed in 9th century China, when the monk Yixuan devised a meditational technique in which the only guidance was to come from the subtle hint of a raised eyebrow, the sudden jolt of an unexpected slap, or the teacher’s direct questioning on the meaning of a gongan (koan). In the late 12th century the monk Eisai brought the tradition to Japan, where it soon became a major school known as Rinzai Zen.


In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, rinpoche, meaning “precious jewel,” is the honorific title for highly respected lamas (teachers), especially tulkus (enlightened teachers who have consciously taken rebirth for the benefit of others).

Thoreau, Henry David

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was one of the first American intellectuals to take an interest in Buddhism and is said to have translated part of the Lotus Sutra from French.

Zen Boom

In the 1950s a new generation of Buddhists, poets, and intellectuals brought their enthusiasm for Zen Buddhism to their work. Advocates like Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg placed Zen Buddhism at the cutting edge of the American literary and cultural scene.... Read more about Zen Boom

Popularizing Buddhism

Popularizing BuddhismIn the 1990s, a new form of popular Americanized Buddhism emerged with the publicity of celebrity followers like Richard Gere and Tina Turner. At the same time, new generations of Asian American Buddhists continued to grow and shape their traditions.... Read more about Popularizing Buddhism

Internment Crisis

Internment CrisisAfter the outbreak of the Pacific War between the United States and Japan in 1941, Japanese Americans who had already put down roots in America—citizens and noncitizens alike—were sent to internment camps. The internment crisis lasted from 1942 until 1946 and fundamentally reshaped Japanese Buddhist institutions, such as the Buddhist Churches of America, which afterward attempted to “Protestantize” Buddhist temples and organizations.... Read more about Internment Crisis

East Coast Buddhists

East Coast BuddhistsOn the East Coast, interest in Buddhism rose in the 1870s through the influence of prominent figures like Henry David Thoreau and H.P. Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society with Henry Steel Olcott. Many of these East Coast Buddhists drew spiritual inspiration from what they considered “exotic” or “ancient” Buddhist texts and ideas.... Read more about East Coast Buddhists

Discrimination and Exclusion

Discrimination and ExclusionAnti-Chinese rhetoric in San Francisco and throughout the American West culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Japanese immigrants also faced hostility; by 1924, the exclusionary policy was expanded to include quotas that further restricted the entry of immigrants seen as nonwhite. ... Read more about Discrimination and Exclusion

Buddhists in the American West

Buddhists in the American WestBuddhism first entered America in the middle of the 19th century when Chinese workers arrived in Hawaii and the West Coast. Japanese immigrants began to arrive in the late 19th century. Both groups soon built Buddhist temples in America; by 1875, there were eight temples in San Francisco’s Chinatown.... Read more about Buddhists in the American West

The Path of Awakening

In the 5th century BCE, Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha (“the Awakened One”); his teachings would spread throughout Asia and the world. The two main contemporary streams of Buddhism are the Theravada and Mahayana traditions, with Vajrayana, a subset of Mahayana, sometimes recognized as a third stream.... Read more about The Path of Awakening