Saturday, February 27, 2010

American Buddhism

The West Coast of America has always looked beyond the Pacific for their philosophies. What the Euro-centric world ironically calls "The East". The religions and philosophies of China, japan and India have not only brought immigrants, but lifestyles and ideas. Very secular, and removed from the European way of life, the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest have largely adopted Buddhism as their religion.

Keep in mind, this is still a very Americanized approach to Buddhism. It actually incorporates a somewhat distilled, layperson's idea Asian religions. Many sport the Yin-Yang as a symbol, which is actually more associated with Taosim. American Buddhists have more or less appropriated what they needed to legitimize a philosophy that more strongly influenced the Pacific Northwest: Environmentalism. In fact, the Cascadian Yin-Yang is blue and green, the color scheme of the Earth. The collapse of the industrialized world built up more than a little resentment, and many even took it as a punishment from the earth for what mankind has done to it. The basic tenets of Buddhism made a lot of sense for a de-industrialized, environmentalist world. Fueng Shui and the balance of nature encouraged people not to ravage the land and take up all the resources. The concept of reincarnation gave the incentive to take care of the environment so future lives would have something to live in. The skewing towards vegetarianism also mashed well with the regional culture. In fact, the eating of beef is explicitly forbidden due to the land that must be cleared for cow pasture, and the methane bovines produce.

Trees, rivers and mountains are considered sacred, and while it's not frowned upon to chop wood to build a home or furniture, the real sin is doing so without planting a tree in its place. Lumber workers are an important profession, but they, along with blacksmiths and butchers, are viewed with a great deal of trepidation, and they're often not the most auspicious of professions for country folk. However, out in the city, they're more valuable and better paid, and some of the merchant classes really give the religion more lip service than anything.

While Buddha is regarded as an important teacher, the religion has also taken on a pantheon of Animal Spirits. These include the Bear, fighter of fires, the Owl, fighter of refuse, and the Turtle, fighter of toxins. These spirits make up the Cascadian Zodiac, which includes many of these signs, as well as the Dragon and the Bigfoot. Like the Chinese zodiac, they are divided into yearly, as opposed to monthly cycles. However, the tier of elements is strictly that of the Western classification. (Fire, Earth, Wind, and Water) These beings will often feature int totems, tiny ones worn by just about anyone, or large totem poles found outside temples and palaces.

Buddhism is much more informal than other religions in America, and there tends not to be any great central power--teachers and leaders are pretty much local and autonomous. Most families will have a shrine in their home they pray to, but many might visit the temples to seek favor or guidance. There is no official headquarters, although the city of Seattle is considered especially holy as it's said if was the origin of many singers who found Nirvana. Monks who wish not to live the monastic lifestyle may travel the countryside playing an instrument and sing these Seattle songs. These grunge monks, so called because they live in poverty and live off the generosity of others, carry a whisker basket on their heads due to the pouring Northwest rains.

American monks have not taken a vow of celibacy, and can often marry and start families. To support themselves, they may take up a variety of careers, like the aforementioned musicians. However, some become holy warriors, conquering land out east. The current District of Columbia is a small kingdom grown out of Holy Men who have taken up the sword.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff...I know a bunch of people who may not comment definitly look at this whole thing with interest at Alternate History