All over the world, organized religion is on a protracted decline. However, in Western societies, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing “religions” in terms of new converts.
In these Western societies, many people take to Buddhism because of the appeal of meditation and the substantial self-help benefits attributed to persistent meditative practice. Some Neo-Buddhists are motivated enough to warm up slowly but surely to the fact that Buddhism is much more than mere meditation. They come to understand that the Buddhist way of life is atheistic and emphasizes ethics. They draw inspiration from the realization that they alone are responsible for their own attitudes, intentions, decisions, actions, and behaviors. As University of St. Thomas’s Stephen Laumakis wrote in An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy,
The single most important or most basic insight of the historical Buddha is the claim that who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers. In other words, it is our mind and our uses of it that determine how we see and understand our self, the world, and other things.
On the other hand, some new Buddhist practitioners have misgivings especially as regards the religious or esoteric philosophical aspects of Buddhism. They continue to seek and practice meditation techniques in a secular, non-Buddhist context.
Buddhism has never sought strength in number of adherents
As I have mentioned in my previous article, Buddhism is more of a philosophy of life—a “spiritual practice”—than a religion in the Abrahamic sense.
When Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and other prominent Buddhist teachers started teaching Buddhism in the West during the ’80s, they did not intend to establish a beachhead. Rather, they intended to help educate enthusiasts and help Westerners return, with renewed spirit, to their own religions. In Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
Many Westerners attracted to Buddhist practice have abandoned their own spiritual traditions. They reject the churches and clergy of their own traditions because they feel constricted and uncomfortable with the attitudes and practices they have encountered there. They have suffered within their own tradition and so have sought another. They approach Buddhist practice with the hope of replacing their own tradition and may wish to break away from their own tradition forever.
According to Buddhist wisdom, such wishing is in vain. A person severed from her own culture and traditions is like a tree pulled out by the roots. Such a person will find it hard to be happy. Buddhist practice can offer effective means to heal, reconcile, and reunite with one’s blood and spiritual families, in order to discover the precious gems in one’s own traditions. Thanks to the practice, people will see that Buddhism and their own spiritual tradition have many things in common, and therefore it is not necessary to reject their own spiritual tradition. They will see that there are things that need to be transformed in Buddhism as well as in their own tradition.
Idea for Impact: Forcefully rejecting one’s religious, spiritual, or cultural tradition in favor of another is not conducive to happiness and peace of mind. Buddhism encourages the Neo-Buddhists to employ insights from their Buddhist practices to find what may have been previously overlooked in their long-established beliefs.