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Buddhism in the United States has both ethnic and non-ethnic connections.

Buddhist immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand, each with different traditions and practices, have imported their own varieties of Buddhism to their communities. In Chinese communities around the country, for example, people pray, burn joss sticks and give offerings at Buddhist temples.

As is the case with Hinduism, non-Asian Americans have since the 19th century been attracted to Buddhism as a path to spiritual awareness. This is particularly true in the case of Zen Buddhism, which has been associated with American counter-culture, and with the broad appeal of Tibetan Buddhism under the leadership of the popular Dalai Lama. In some sense the ethnic Buddhists use Buddhism as a means of preserving tradition, while the convert Buddhists use it as a means of rejecting western religious traditions they feel have little application to their lives and spiritual concerns.

Buddhism reflects the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, called “the Buddha,” who lived on the Indian sub-continent between 600 and 400 BC. The Buddha promulgated paths to spiritual enlightenment revolving around the concept of escaping the eternal earthly cycle of suffering and rebirth called Samsara, and achieving a state of escape called Nirvana. The various schools of Buddhism lay down paths to enlightenment that involve meditation, monastic living, ethical precepts, study, and other means of escaping the cycle of earthly suffering.

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