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The early twelfth century marked a crucial point in the formation of the religio-commercial network. Archeological discoveries show that around 1100, a “Chinese quarter” with residents who were mostly sea merchants took shape in the port city of Hakata on Japan’s Kyushu Island. After taking up permanent residence in Japan, those Chinese merchants also sought patronage from local religious establishments in Kyushu for protection. During this period, merchants and the religious establishments grew increasingly closer to each other, and the merchants from the “Chinese quarter” even appeared in Buddhist texts and helped facilitate the spread of Buddhist teachings to Japan.
Zen may be most commonly associated with Japan, but the ‘art of Zen’ was made in Germany. This article reconstructs the reception of Zen Buddhism in Nazi Germany as an extension of the regime’s project to transform Christianity. Although Japanese reformers emphasized Zen’s universal qualities, in Nazi Germany it became associated instead with a combination of völkisch nationalism and spiritual mysticism mirroring Nazi aspirations for a ‘positive’ German form of Christianity. That project may have been discredited after 1945, but the image of Zen cultivated by Nazi ideologues transitioned more or less seamlessly into the post-war New Age movement. This phenomenon thus merits attention not only for what it reveals about the extent to which Germany remained engaged in global intellectual and cultural currents during the Nazi era but also in complicating our historical understanding of how Zen came to be part of the contemporary global vernacular.
Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard (1978) is the best-known Western Buddhist travel narrative and the classic text that for most readers defines the genre. This chapter explores Matthiessen’s account of his two-month trip to Nepal to search for Himalayan blue sheep and the rare snow leopard, mourn his wife’s death, search for a spiritual guide, and practice Buddhist mindfulness and compassion. He describes several incidents of unselfing as well as his frustration in persisting in this longed-for state of being. Matthiessen’s later Nine-Headed Dragon River describes his shift from Rinzai to Soto Zen and culminates in a pilgrimage to Zen monasteries in Japan. He examines how the student–teacher relationship calls for submission of the ego. He presents transformation as an aspect of individual experience as well as the process by which Zen changed as it moved from China to Japan to America. In Nine-Headed Dragon River, the meaning of no-self is no longer a state to be achieved in a dramatic moment but rather offers a crucial perspective from which to understand his relationship to his Zen master and Zen’s journey through various cultures.
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