Zen’s Personality

Jane Naomi Iwamura

in Virtual Orientalism

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738601
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894604 | DOI:
Zen’s Personality

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1950s mass media representations of D.T. Suzuki and the American “Zen Boom” are the focus of this chapter. The specific way that Suzuki is portrayed—as engaging, yet ineffable Oriental—and the medium in which these depictions first appear—the fashion magazine—mark Eastern spirituality as a “stylized religion” and consumable object. The various “characters” that emerge in the unfolding of Zen Buddhism mid-century are explored: Alan Watts and Jack Kerouac as Suzuki’s most famous pupils and spiritual heirs; Arthur Koestler as Zen’s skeptical critic and; Mihoko Okamura, Suzuki’s long-time assistant, who figures the problematic representation of Asian Americans in the scheme of American conceptions of Asian religions. These real-life personalities and the debates and drama that ensue over Zen’s legitimacy and significance prefigure and establish a Virtual Orientalist narrative that is still popular today.

Keywords: D.T. Suzuki; Zen Buddhism; Jack Kerouac; the Beats; Alan Watts; Arthur Koestler; Mihoko Okamura; stylized religion; Japanese Americans

Chapter.  15871 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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