Buddhism In America The stresses and intensity of modern American society have influenced many people to adopt and adapt the principles of Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Some recent statistics from the US department of Health and Human Services show that 75% of the General Population experiences at least “some stress” every two weeks (National Health Interview Survey). Half of those experience moderate or high levels of stress during the same two-week period. It is common knowledge that stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses in many individuals. Stress also contributes to the development of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigarette addiction, and other harmful behaviors. It was reported that tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of all prescriptions written in the US each year. With so many mental health problems, it is almost reassuring that Eastern religions are steadily growing.
Buddhism On The Move Eastern religions have been practiced in Asia and the Subcontinent for thousands of years longer than Christianity. Buddhism, a main religion of Asia has been practiced in Tibet for Millennia. Buddhism, Zen and Hindu were first introduced to the western world in 1893 at the World Religions Conference in Chicago. The Dalai Lama represented Buddhism and D.T. Suzuki represented Zen. However, Eastern religions went relatively ignored until 1959, when the Chinese invasion of Tibet left 1.3 million Tibetans dead and 6,000 Buddhist monasteries destroyed.
Tibetan refugees escaped to bordering countries and some fled farther to the US and Europe. Those who fled remembered how the Buddha taught his enlightened disciples to continue to spread his teachings. “With the Chinese Invasion of Tibet, it was as if a dam had burst; suddenly Tibetan wisdom began to flow freely down from the roof of the world and to the West..and there to fulfill the prophecy come Westerners looking for guidance and eager to develop their own spiritual lives and transplant the flowering tree of enlightenment to their own lives.”(Das, 29) The first westerners to begin to adopt Eastern principles were often people on the fringes of society or in the avant-garde of the arts, literature, and philosophy. The beatniks in the 50s, the Hippies in the 60s and 70s. Evidence of eastern thought in the writings of Jack Kerouac, Hippies George Harrison and the Beatles studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga.
Richard Albert turned his name to Baba Ram Das. In our society today, it seems like everyone knows someone into Eastern religion. From businessmen to politicians to celebrities individuals are joining meditating groups while still maintaining ties to their traditional faiths to “wet their feet” in more satisfying and less materialistic lives. “At retreats youre likely to find yourself sitting next to a stockbroker or a therapist or a retired social worker who may or may not claim to be Buddhist.”(Wood, 3) “Unlike the rush of mostly younger Americans to Buddhism that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, the new ranks include a larger percentage of seekers over 50″(Wood, 2). Now in the West we see many variations of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Zen, such as Mahayana, Pali, and Vajpareena.
Our new, multi-religious land that combines Eastern and Western religion can be described as “the scientific West arriving at something like the fusion of the Confucian cultivation of virtue through the bonds of family and community, Taoist laissez-faire and yearning for nature, and Buddhist compassion for mans need for Nirvana.”(Layman, 80) We have adapted religions in many ways to fit our lives. “Buddhism in America is characterized by great diversity, with both conservative and liberal trends within the same sect and denomination of course, differences in furnishings and hairstyles are superficial, and are either tangential or irrelevant to the Buddhist system of beliefs and basic way of life. But fundamental and widespread changes in American Buddhism are occurring. Its priests and adherents are recognizing that Buddhism must be shown to have relevant approaches to the problems which plague American Society. Accordingly, sermons and lectures delivered by the clergy are making less use of illustrations recounted by ancient Buddhist saints and are becoming more applicable to everyday living in modern American society.”(Layman, 32) As a result, “The ancient religion of Buddhism grows even stronger roots in a new world, with the help of the movies, pop culture, and the politics of repressed Tibet.” (Van Biema, 1) Because of the inroads that eastern religions have made in our country there is an increase in personal reform via retreats, “sanghas” a circle of friends who regularly meditate together, and self-help groups. We are also undergoing social reform, creating a more accepting society, and building upon an ancient religion. “The number of English language Buddhist teaching centers coast to coast has grown from 429 to almost 2,000″(Wood, 1).
What makes Eastern Thought so different from Western Thought. What we currently have in the West, “which is a sort of anti-religious, psychological way of thinking..these psychologies often work against our spiritual side. Buddhism, on the other hand, can help by providing psychological bridges that will reinforce the spiritual side.”(Toms, 143) Unlike Western religions, Eastern religions do not teach commandments, rather, natural ways of ordinary human practice. Nor do they teach right and wrong correct and incorrect or wise and ignorant. The Buddha is different from a God or Jesus in that Buddha became perfectly aware of the nature of reality and nature of the self, and he was then able to remove limitations on manifestation and could actually manifest whatever was most helpful to those around him. He was known as Shasta, or teacher, and his objective was to remove the cause of all suffering to find true happiness.
The Buddha can be perceived as omnipotent, he was enlightened and awakened, but he was not the creator. Hinduism, Brahma, Buddhism, Zen, and other Eastern religions are consistent in the belief that there are many gods and one creator, only, they are not sure of the true creator. There are no set areas where one must practice, however, quiet, natural places are encouraged and it can be practiced any time one feels necessary. It can be a daily, weekly, yearly or once in a lifetime act, there are no rules as to when a student must pray. The basic tenets and ideas of Eastern religions are generally very different from those of Western religions. Mindfulness the Zen practice of embracing the present, is being profoundly aware of each moment so that people can better appreciate their own lives, and being more compassionate about the suffering of others.
Buddhism tries to make sense out of life without fear and guilt that some other religions induce. You find the way that you want to live, open up that way, and then pursue that way. The best way to live the life you want is to “actualize what you realize.” In other words, make real your dreams. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in Zen that, “The other may be a beautiful sunrise. The other may be your friend, your husband, your wife. The other is love.
Mindfulness helps you recognize what is there that makes life real, that makes life possible.”(Toms, 19). Buddhism doesnt believe in God, but believes in the nature of god. They are theistic, only not sure of true creator. The Tibetan vision of reality is in a way, the most super-positive vision of human evolution that one could imagine. The Buddha regarded himself as an empiricist, only relying on that which is known and testable in experience.
What is new to Western thinking is the Buddhist idea that ethics and spiritual development are also governed by universal laws. “In the West we have a clear sense of personal and group responsibility for the government and welfare of everyone, set forth by Locke, Rousseau, and others in the late 18th century and developed for the next 200 years in the democratic societies in Eastern Europe and the Americas. As Western Buddhists, we are building on one tradition of social responsibility that has been cultivated in monastic settings.. with such a synthesis of traditions, Buddhism in the West is sure to apply the precepts in a new way.”(Aitken written by Tworkov, 53) The forms of introspection that have, to date, been available to Western Philosophers as the raw materials of their craft, have been very limited in their scope and have consequently produced limited world views. What has made people turn to it.
Eastern religions have become as accessible as Western religions, because they have spread to every corner of earth. If all else fails, the Internet is a wealth of information. “One of the key elements in all of spiritual life is making ourselves available to others. What young men need is initiation, someone to whom they can show their stuff and prove it otherwise they do it on the street.”(Toms, 849) The main ideas and …