Why so many Americans think Buddhism is just a philosophy

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Buddhism in America

Once it was planted here though, Americans became particularly fascinated with the mystical appeal of Buddhist meditation.

The lay Zen teacher Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, who was Japanese Zen Master Shaku Sōen’s student and translator at the World’s Parliament, influenced many leading artists and intellectuals in the postwar period. Thanks to his popular writings and to subsequent waves of Asian and American Buddhist teachers, Buddhism has impacted almost every aspect of American culture.

Environmental and social justice initiatives have embraced a movement known as “Engaged Buddhism” ever since Martin Luther King Jr. nominated its founder, the Vietnamese monk and anti-war activist Thich Nhat Hanh, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. His Buddhist Order of Interbeing continues to propose mindful, nonviolent solutions to the world’s most pressing moral concerns.

America’s educational system has also been enriched by its first Buddhist-affiliated university at Naropa in Colorado, which paved the way for other Buddhist institutions of higher learning such as Soka University and University of the West in California, as well as Maitripa College in Oregon.

The medical establishment too has integrated mindfulness-based stress reduction into mainstream therapies, and many prison anger management programs are based on Buddhist contemplative techniques such as Vipassana insight meditation.

The same is true of the entertainment industry that has incorporated Buddhist themes into Hollywood blockbusters, such as “The Matrix”. Even professional athletics have used Zen coaching strategies and furthered America’s understanding of Buddhism not as a “religion” but as a secular philosophy with broad applications.

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