When Buddhism first emerged in India some twentyfive hundred years ago, it was thought of as a "new religious movement; arising as it did around the sixth century B.C.£., after many earlier religions had become virtually defunct. Buddhism's founder, Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas (also known as Gautama Buddha), was born about 563 D.C.£. into the privileged caste. His father was King Suddhodana (who was more like a feudal lord than a king because many kingdoms existed on the Indian subcontinent during that era). Accordir-g to historians, the king attempted to keep his young son in the palace at all times so that he would neither see how poor people lived nor experience the suffering present in the outside world. As a result, Siddhartha was oblivious to social inequality until he began to make forays beyond the palace walls and into the "real- world, where he observed how other people lived. On one excursion, he saw a monk with a shaven head and became aware that some people withdraw from the secular world and live a life of strict asceticism. Later, Siddhartha engaged in intense meditation underneath a bodhi tree in what is now Nepal, eventually declaring that he had obtained Enlightenment-an awakening to the true nature of reality (Kurtz, 1995). From that day forward, Siddhartha was referred to as Buddha. meaning "the Enlightened One" or the "Awakened One:' and spent his life teaching others how to reach nirvana (Smith, J 991). Because of the efforts of a series of invaders, Buddhism had ceased to exist in India by the thirteenth century but had already expanded into other nations n various forms. 'Iheravadin Buddhism. which focuses on the life of the Buddha and seeks to follow his teachings, gained its strongest toehold in Southeast Asia.Mahayana Buddhism is centered in Japan. China. and Korea, and primarily focuses on meditation and the Four Noble Truths: 1. Lifeis dukkha-physical and mental suffering, pain, or anguish that pervades all human existence. 2. The cause of life's suffering is rooted in tanh,lgrasping. craving, and coveting. 3. One can overcome tanha and be released into Ultimate Freedom in Perfect Existence (nirvana). 4. Overcoming desire can be accomplished through the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. This path is a way of living that avoids extremes of indulgence and suggests that a person can Eve in the world but not be worldly. The path's eight steps are right view (proper belief), right intent (renouncing attachment to the worl ), right speech (not lying, slandering, or using abusive talk), right a~tion (avoiding sexual in The third major branch of Buddhism- Vnjrayal incorporates the first two branches along with some aspects of Hinduism; it emerged in Tibet in'the seventh century (Albanese. 2007). Like Hinduism. the teachings of this type of Buddhism-and spec;jfically those of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leaderemphasize the doctrine of altimsa, or non harmfulness. and discourage violence and warfare. It is believed that Buddhism may have suppressed caste-related tensions resulting from the vast economic inequality found in early India (Kurtz, 1995). When did Buddhism first arrive in this country? According to most scholars, some branches appeared as early as the 1840s, when Chinese immigrants arrived on the West Coast. Shortly thereafter, temples were erected in San Francisco's Chinatown; however. ethnic Buddhism in the United States expanded after the Civil War. when Iapanese immigrants arrived first in Hawaii (then a u.s. possession) and a decade later
in California. the branch of Pure Land Buddhism brought by the Japanese probably had the greatest chance of succeeding in the United States because it most closely resembled Christianity. Pure Land Buddhism included teachings about God and His son Jesus. Who brought human beings to an eternal life in paradise (Albanese, 2007). Buddhism went through the process of Americanization. which is reflected in the contemporary use of terms such as church. bishop. and SUllday scllool-terms previously unknown in this religion.
Today. Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing Eastern religions in the United States. Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are extremely popular forms. Zen sprang up among white. middle-class young people. many of whom were well-educated and lived in California orNew York. Buddhist monks fleeing the takeover ofTibet by the Communist Chinese in the 1960s brought Tibetan Buddhism to this country. Recently. Tibetan Buddhism has received extensive media coverage. at least partly due to the conversion of some u.s. celebrities. including Richard Gere, Steven Seagal, and Adam Yauch (Van Bierna, 1997).