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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


One of the few cultural institutions to hold over from the old United States was the Church of Latter Days Saints. In Industrial times, its members were instructed to keep stores of food in case of disaster, and even the Church itself had supplies of grain on hand. When disaster did indeed turn out to strike, the preparations and rigid structure of the Mormons allowed them to ride the storm out with a relative lack of problems also helping out was the Mormon epicenter, Utah, being sandwiched between mountains and barren desert. This not only create buffer from sieges, but it allowed the non-Mormons to either be weeded out or quickly kowtow to spiritual salvation in order to secure earthly salvation.

With most of the population already leaning this way, and power over things like food and water in these times of strife, the Church of Latter Day Saints transitioned from a de facto theocracy to an active one. It was from here a Hydraulic Empire was secured, and the Church became one with the Empire of Deseret. Even in more secular times, much of its members' daily lives revolved around the church and its very rigid structure, so it was not too hard to flex its power a little more. Mormon congregations, called Wards, play an active role in every day life. Even courting between young singles is pretty much instructed by the Wards. Elite and middle class families are often enlisted to do the Church's work for a period of time, maybe even years. Peasant families' involvement varies more, as not to disrupt the growing season, but children may often be drafted to fill the ranks of soldiers, bureaucrats or concubines. Still, any Mormon is expected to serve the Church at the drop of a hat.

Through much of the millennia, Mormonism has changed little. Tobacco and liquor are outlawed, though the more fiscally-minded governors have allowed trade to pass through the borders. The book of Mormon is taken more seriously than ever, and theological history the places the faith in the continent give Mormons a sense that it is the true faith of America. (Of course, other religions feel that way, this is just their argument) Multiple wives have been allowed again, due to the wish to populate the basin and new colonies as much as possible, as well as the lecherous intents of previous Governors. It also helped that the mainstream Church absorbed a few fringe groups. With the United States no longer a concern, the offshoot compounds were not a major concern, though leadership was eventually supplanted with the President's family.

The President is voted on by the ruling family, which can often be quite numerous. The most powerful twelve are the elders, and although they play a significant role in theory, power-hungry Presidents are not always comfortable with the politicking and backstabbing that can take place. As a result, they may kick contentious Elders upstairs to distant states. Most of their advice are taken from loyal Eunuchs, who they refer to as counselors.

Colonies are a major part of the Mormon manifest. After all, the desert can only support so much life, and the Church very much means to convert the world. Therefore, missions, which were very peaceful in Industrial times, are now extremely warlike. The President's army consists mounted knights known as Templars, who are instructed to sway or slay the native heretics. These newly conquered areas are known as Stakes, territories from which to spread the book of Mormon. This usually results most of the males being taken out and the females becoming wives to form a new Stake community.

Our in the East, the Non_Denominational Church does not have much a relationship with the Mormons, but refers to the Church as "The Temple".