Situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago is a unique mix of historic architecture, modern skyscrapers, and seventy-seven neighborhoods, each with its own style.
Chinese immigrants first arrived in the 1870s, but the dharma found its footing in 1893, when Asian Buddhists including Anagarika Dharmapala and Zen master Soyen Shaku attended the World’s Parliament of Religions. Beginning in 1942, thousands of Japanese Americans who had been forced to live in internment camps settled on the South Side, founding new Buddhist centers. Today, the city embraces a multitude of Buddhist communities and traditions. With sixty temples and almost 200,000 Buddhists in the greater Chicago area, spiritual travelers will find refuge along these freshwater shores.
Amitabul—“Amida Buddha” in Korean—has been serving up Buddhist Korean vegan food in the urban oasis of Norwood Park since 1995. Chef Bill Choi learned the traditional fermentation techniques from his mother and grandmother in Korea. Soy sauce, miso, hot sauce, and kimchi are all made in-house—ask your server for recommendations. The restaurant prides itself on its hospitality.
6207 N. Milwaukee Avenue
2| Midwest Buddhist Temple
Founded in 1944 to serve the influx of resettlers from Japanese relocation and internment camps, this Shin Buddhist temple offers virtual and in-person family services and Zen Shin meditation, mind and body seminars, cooking classes, and annual holiday festivities. The temple was designed by local architect Hideaki Arao, and the ringing of its kansho (large bell) can be heard throughout Old Town on Sundays. For a taste of tranquility, arrange a private tour of the Legacy Garden, created by the Japanese landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu to be “an oasis of peace and inspiration for the Buddhist community and larger public.”
435 W. Menomonee Street
3| The Buddhist Temple of Chicago
Situated in the historic Uptown neighborhood, this six-sided temple building (modeled after the Rokkakudo in Kyoto, Japan) can’t be missed. Founded in 1944 by Reverend Gyomay Kubose, one of the first Jodo Shinshu ministers to teach in the United States, the temple offers an LGBTQ-friendly space where visitors can join a weekly English service held on Sunday morning or meditation sessions held twice weekly. Other activities include qigong, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), cooking, and services for children; all are free and open to the public. The resident minister is Reverend Patti Nakai, a longtime Tricycle contributor.
1151 W. Leland Avenue
4| Art Institute of Chicago
Designed as part of The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this grand Beaux-Arts building houses a stunning collection of Asian art, including a seated Shakyamuni in meditation said to be the largest Buddha statue in the mainland United States. This 12th-century granite statue originates from coastal southern India and can be circumambulated just as it could be in its original monastic site at Nagapattinam. The collection spans five thousand years and includes a rare 8th-century Japanese bodhisattva crafted in lacquer and the stunning sculpture Head of a Luohan from China, which visually captures the clarity of enlightenment.
111 S. Michigan Avenue
One of the oldest Chinese American communities in the US is just a short water-taxi ride from Chicago Riverwalk. Consider a guided tour with the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute or a food tour for the best of Chinese culinary arts. Don’t leave without a stroll through AJ Houseware & Gifts, a packed-to-the-rafters shop where you can find everything from live bamboo plants to electronically lit lotus flowers.
Armour Square Neighborhood, W. Cermak Road and S. Wentworth Avenue
6| Chicago Botanic Garden
Nature lovers can head north to visit this four-hundred-acre park and its twenty-eight gardens located on islands in the Skokie River lagoons. Relax in the Malott Japanese Garden among flowering plums and sculpted pines, or peruse the courtyard displays with selections from the Bonsai Collection. The Garden’s collection features gifts from Japanese bonsai master Susumu Nakamura, including a graceful, century-old Japanese white pine. Located twenty miles north of Chicago, the garden is accessible by car or Metra train and includes a 0.8-mile, ADA-compliant walk.
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
7| Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple
Take a trip to the Bridgeport neighborhood to enjoy the vibrant Vajrayana iconography at the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple. The 128-year-old building sports a simple exterior, but inside you’ll find ornate altars that extend to the ceiling and beautiful displays of buddhas and bodhisattvas lining the walls, as well as a number of chambers dedicated to specific themes such as wisdom and health where visitors are welcome to meditate. As part of the True Buddha School, the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple offers Taoist and tantric teachings.
1035 W. 31st Street