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The Mindful EliteMobilizing from the Inside Out$
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Jaime Kucinskas

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190881818

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190881818.001.0001

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A Brief History of Buddhist-Inspired American Spirituality, 1830s–1970s

A Brief History of Buddhist-Inspired American Spirituality, 1830s–1970s

(p.19) Chapter 2 A Brief History of Buddhist-Inspired American Spirituality, 1830s–1970s
The Mindful Elite

Jaime Kucinskas

Oxford University Press

This chapter introduces the historical cultural antecedents to the contemplative movement, showing that mindfulness builds upon the rhetoric and logics of prior religious liberal and spiritual thought in the United States. Americans were exposed to Buddhism, and its emphasis on cultivating inner spiritual life through solitude and reflection, in the mid-nineteenth century from the Transcendentalist literature of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the late nineteenth century, the Theosophists and the World’s Parliament of Religions meetings brought additional attention to Buddhism, aligning it with science. Interest in Zen and solitary, reflective Buddhist practices surged in the mid-twentieth century based on the influence of D. T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, and the politicized literature of the Beats. These romanticized portrayals of Buddhism were then more widely popularized with the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The contemplatives built upon the work of these prior streams of Buddhist-inspired American spirituality.

Keywords:   American Buddhism, Buddhist modernism, contemplative, mindfulness, meditation, American counterculture, American spirituality, history of spirituality

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