In the 1960s, “The Orient” captured a new interest among the post-World War II Beat Generation as the lures of Zen Buddhism, Indian music, Thai weed and related mind-altering experiences rippled through the hip communities of the West. 

While young American GIs were fighting the Vietnam War, more peaceable folks were donning backpacks and heading East, with their first stops often being Japan, India or Thailand. And no less a Western cultural icon than The Beatles spread the notion that chilling out and getting your spirituality on at an Indian ashram was the cool thing to do, man. 

Subsequently, South Korean monasteries won a reputation for being more open to foreign novice monks, while Bali became a famed global tourist destination not just for its beaches, but for its status as an island of colorful Hinduism in a predominantly Islamic archipelago. 

Since then, with the expansion of global air travel and niche agencies, East Asia’s religious people, sites and traditions have become ever more accessible. Interested persons could – at least before the Covid-19 pandemic – investigate the intricacies of Islamic architectural traditions or mix Himalayan trekking with temple stays. 

Seoul- based American photographer Tom Coyner, who last week presented the Asia Times gallery Asia’s servants of the gods, introducing us to the region’s clergy, this week takes us on a tour of Asia’s religious sites. Once again, our pilgrimage proceeds from east to west, kicking off in Japan, and terminating in India.

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