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The term "Buddhism" did not appear in English-language dictionaries until 1812.

Circa 1850 – First Buddhists arrive with Chinese immigrants moving to California during the gold rush.

1853 – The Sze Yap Company established the first Buddhist temple in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

1854 – Beginnings of opposition to Chinese workers who competed with Americans for jobs. The Supreme Court of California ruled that the Chinese essentially had no legal rights.

1854 – Commodore Perry forces Japan to open its ports to U.S. trade, expanding contact between Japan and America.

1868 – Japanese begin migrating to the Kingdom of Hawaii to work on plantations.

1870s - American intellectual elites become interested in Asian religions. Concord Transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau) began rebelling against established religion and Enlightenment rationality. They became interested in Buddhism.

1875 - Eight Buddhist temples existed in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and by 1900 there were hundreds of Chinese temples on the West Coast.

1875 - Theosophy leaders (Henry Steel Olcott and Madame Helena Blavatsky) converted to Buddhism in modern-day Sri Lanka and presented Buddhist ideas to Americans

1877 – Crowds attacked Chinese laundries in San Francisco.

1882 – Chinese Exclusion Act passed to prevent Chinese laborers from competing for mining jobs with American workers. The law required Chinese government certification that future immigrants were qualified to immigrate. The law also required any Chinese who left the United States to obtain certifications for reentry and made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens (excluding them from U.S. citizenship). The effect was that Chinese immigrants had little chance of reuniting with their families or of starting families in America.

1884-1902 – Provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act were tightened, ultimately requiring each Chinese resident to have a certificate of residence.

1885 – 25 Chinese are lynched in Rock Creek, Wyoming

1880s - Japanese immigrant workers began replacing Chinese workers and initially settled in Hawaii.

1889 – The first Japanese Buddhist temple (Jodo Shinshu, which became the Buddhist Churches of America) was established in Hawaii.

1893 – World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago and brought a diverse group of Buddhist leaders to the U.S. The first American was ordained into the Buddhist Sangha (Charles Strauss) following the Parliament. A Japanese Zen monk, Soyen Shaku, attended the Parliament and enhanced Westerners knowledge of Zen.

1897 – D.T. Suzuki joined Paul Carus in writing about Buddhism, introducing American audiences to Buddhist thought.

1898 – U.S. annexed Hawaii. Japanese Buddhists begin migrating to the U.S.

1898 – The Young Men’s Buddhist Association (Bukkyo Seinekai) was the first Japanese Buddhist organization founded in the U.S. in San Francisco.

1899 – Jodo Shinshu missionaries arrive in California from Hawaii and formed a number of temples on the West Coast over the next decade.

1899 - Honpa Hongwanji (Buddhist Mission of North America, which later became the Buddhist Churches of America) was established in California by Japanese missionaries and became the largest national presence of Buddhism

1900 – The first Euro-American Buddhist organization, the Dharma Sangha of the Buddha, was established in San Francisco. The group represented the Jodo Shinshu lineage.

1906 – The California State Board of Education enacted provisions calling for separate but equal schools of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans.

1915 – A world Buddhist conference was convened in San Francisco by the Jodo Shinshu Mission of North America.

1924 - Asian Exclusion Act passed that stopped Asian immigration and denied citizenship to Asians in the U.S.

World War II – Some American soldiers received Zen Buddhism training and there was interest in Zen (because it did not emphasize Buddhist deities) among those in the Beatnik movement and among intellectuals

1927 - The Soto Zen Mission of Los Angeles (Zenshuji) was established.

1931 – The Buddhist Society of America was incorporated in New York and evolved into the First Zen Institute of America.

1934 – A Soto Zen Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco. In the 1960s Shunnyu Suzuki began teaching Zen meditation to Euro-Americans.

1942 – The internment of Japanese Americans began, reaching 120,000. Japanese withdrew to ethnic enclaves following the war or converted to Christianity.

1949 – The Buddhist Churches of America established the Buddhist Studies Center (later the Institute of Buddhist Studies) in Berkeley to train clergy for BCA.

1950 – D.T. Suzuki began teaching Zen Buddhism, and his writing influenced Beat Buddhists (Alan Watts [an Episcopal priest], Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney) who were literary elites.

1955 – Beat Zen began with a public reading of the poem “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco. Allen Watts, The Way of Zen; Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums.

1965 – Rescinding of Asian Immigration Act

1960s – Small numbers of Tibetan Buddhists arrived following Chinese occupation of Tibet and the exile of the Dalai Lama.

1960s – Ikeda Daisaku brings Soka Gakkai organization to the U.S.

1965 – First Theravada temple in the U.S., Washington Buddhist Vihara, established in Washington, D.C.

1970 – Chogyam Trungpa established Tibetan Buddhist temple, Tail of the Tiger, in Vermont.

1970 – Shunryu Suzuki and American followers established the Zen Center of San Francisco, the flagship Zen center in America.

1975 – Insight Meditation Society formed in Massachusetts by non-Asians who had studied Buddhism in Asia.

1970s – Large number of Vietnamese admitted to U.S. following Vietnam War. Evenly distributed by state and required to stay in original location for five years.
Largest group were from Vietnam, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mynamar, Laos and nations with Chinese populations ( Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore).

1975 – 130,000 Vietnamese refugees arrive in the U.S., and the number rises to 640,000 by 1985 (70,000 Laotian, 60,000 Hmong, 10,000 Mien)

1979-1989 – 180,000 Cambodian refugees enter the U.S.

1987 – The ecumenical American Buddhist Congress formed representing 47 Buddhist groups.

1988 – Hsi Lai Temple (Coming to the West) is constructed in Hacienda Heights and is the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere. Membership is over 20,000 and predominantly Chinese immigrants in the Chinese Pure Land Buddhist tradition. The temple reflects Humanistic Buddhism, which takes as its goal is to live as an energetic, enlightened, and endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves. It focuses on issues of the world rather than on how to leave the world behind; on caring for the living, rather than the dead; on benefiting others, rather than benefiting oneself and on universal salvation, rather than cultivation for only oneself.

1991 – 1,000 Tibetan Buddhists resettled in the U.S.

1993 – World Parliament of Religions centennial celebration held in Chicago.

1990s – American celebrities become Buddhist (Richard Gere, Steven Segal)

1990s – Increase in the number of Buddhist groups led and attended by both Asian and American practitioners (parallel congregations).

1990s - 70-80 % of Buddhists arrived in this wave. 20-25% of Buddhists are non-Asians

Most Tibetan Buddhism membership is non-Tibetan.

Current estimates of the Buddhist population in the U.S. range from 1-4 million

Hawaii has the largest Buddhist population, which is primarily Japanese. California had the most diverse Buddhist population

It is not uncommon for immigrant Buddhists to become active practitioners after they reach the U.S.

American Buddhists have adopted a denominational model, forming associations on the basis of nationality/language or theological tradition, but Buddhists are oriented to a practice, temple, or teacher.


One is immigrant Buddhists from China/Japan or Southeast Asia.

These immigrant groups have initially sought
       Preservation of their own cultural forms (dance, music, language, food, holidays)
        Resolution of acculturation/assimilation issues.
        Recruitment of monks
     Establishment of community centers

The other is Euro-American Buddhists
   These groups are primarily concerned with self and societal transformation
     The emphasis is counter-cultural (Zen)
     The emphasis is on meditation
     Practice is often solitary
     Cohesive communities have proven a challenge to form