The final two lectures by Prof David Eckel on Buddhism look at the influential Zen school and the introduction of Buddhism to America during the 20th century.
The Kamakura Period also saw the appearance of Zen, now one of the most popular Buddhist movements in the West. As the Japanese version of the Chinese meditative tradition known as Ch’an, Zen focuses on developing a direct, experiential awareness of Emptiness.
Rejecting the idea of a “degenerate age,” the great Zen masters of the Kamakura Period, most notably Dogen (1200–1253), understood Emptiness as an experience of timelessness in each passing moment.
The practice of Zen meditation has had a major influence on the martial discipline of Japanese warriors and in the practice of the arts, from flower-arranging and landscape painting to Japanese poetry.
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Since the end of the nineteenth century, Buddhism has become a respected and significant part of
American culture. The American Theosophist Colonel Olcott traveled to Ceylon in the 1880s, converted to Buddhism, and helped formulate a self-confident, modern view of the Buddhist tradition.
Today, Buddhism is strongly represented in Asian immigrant communities and in a host of distinctively American movements. Buddhism has influenced the visual arts, literature, film, music, landscape architecture, and the way Americans think about their physical and mental well-being.
The tradition that began on the plains of India 2,500 years ago has now been transformed in ways that would once have been unimaginable, but it still carries the sense of serenity and freedom that we associate with the Buddha himself.