In this article, I will describe Zen anarchism, a strain of American political and religious thought that developed among Beat poets of the San Francisco renaissance. Specifically, I will explore and attempt to explain the particular historical formation called Beat Zen anarchism, an aesthetic and political ideal that emerged from the Beat generation’s dialogue with Japanese Buddhism. I will show how Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Alan Watts, in particular, trans-muted a Japanese exceptionalist critique of American rationality and materialism explicit in the work of Japanese Zen writers, especially D. T. Suzuki, into a radical, anarchistic critique of American cold war culture. In the process of presenting Zen anarchism as an American religious phenomenon, I call into question two important narratives about American religious and political life in the twentieth century.  First, I suggest ways in which the emergence of Beat Zen anarchism in the 1950s reconfigures common narratives of the American left that tend to focus on Marxist-inspired literature and dissent. Second, and more centrally, I hope to show how Beat Zen emerged not primarily from an Orientalist appropriation of “the East,” as one might argue, but rather from an Occidentalist, Japanese-centered criticism of American materialism that followed from the complex legacy of the World’s Parliament of Religions at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

James Brown

Full article can be found here http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Miscellaneous/The_Zen_of_Anarchy.pdf
Advertisements