When the East Met the West: Buddhism at Lafayette
By Walter Burkat ‘16
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 14:02
Few cultures can withstand the force of America’s melting-pot mentality and one of the newest converts is Zen Buddhism, according to a panel that spoke recently at Lafayette.
“Zen is in the process of moving away from Asian Zen and becoming American Zen,” said the Reverend Joriki Datbaker of Blue Mountain Zendo based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Asian Zen emphasizes enlightenment and personal insight into Buddhist teachings, whereas American Zen incorporates Christian beliefs into Buddhist teachings. Along with three other Buddhists from the Lafayette Community—Information Technology Services professional Janemarie Duh, Binh Pham ‘13 and Tong Pham ‘13—these four panelists explained to the audience how the religion has been adapted into American culture, and how their everyday lives are affected by the moral principles of Buddhist beliefs.
Datbaker led the discussion by explaining the rather short history of Zen Buddhism in America. Following a stunted attempt by Japanese immigrants to establish a Zen foothold in the early 1900s, the religious movement stalled until the 1960s, when it was embraced by the Anti-War “Flower Child” movement.
Zen’s focus on peace, prosperity and the search for internal cleansing spoke to the revolutionaries of that time as they sought to rebel from traditional, conservative America.
“Buddhism is very flexible in belief adherence. As we see in many other cultures, Buddhism is often paired with local beliefs, such as Shinto in Japan and Daoism in China,” said Duh. She is a member of the Bodhi Monastery in Lafayette, NJ. Duh practices a mix of southern traditional Therevada Buddhism with influences the Chinese form of
Zen Buddhism. A practicing Buddhist for ten years, Duh is currently involved with academic pursuits at the monastery and is also highly involved with the Buddhist Global Relief organization, a non-profit corporation dedicated to eradicating world hunger.
According to Buddhist tradition, one cannot be enlightened if he or she is famished; therefore, by establishing this organization, the world is one step closer in achieving Buddhism’s main goal of Nirvana.
Lafayette student Binh Pham ’13, talked about his experiences as a Buddhist and how his traditions guide him in life. He mentioned that while living in the United States, his mother became interested in Catholic teachings,and incorporated them in her Buddhist beliefs. “When I was young, I was taught about karma and if I wanted good karma, I would have to be moral,” said Pham. “One day, my grandmother gave a homeless man ten dollars. I asked why she gave that much, considering that even if she gave one dollar, she would still get her karma.
She sagely responded by saying that she is not looking to gain something from the experience, but rather, she would like to see charity and benevolence spread to others as well,” Pham added.
Tong Pham ‘13, another Lafayette student, offered different perspective into Buddhism. “Although I wouldn’t say that I’m a practicing Buddhist, I do follow the teachings of Buddha.
“If I had to mention one thing that I found most intriguing from Buddhist teachings, it is the importance of smiling,” Pham said. “Buddha teaches that smiling always brightens a melancholy mood, and even if one person smiles, then humanity has hope for the future.”