Buddhism has started to influence a lot of different areas of our pop culture, meditation is being suggested by doctors for anxiety and stress relief, mindfulness retreats are becoming popular, yoga classes are offered all over, zen teas, herbal supplements and zen candles are being sold to name a few examples. With the rise in popularity of Buddhism I was curious as to how America has Westernized Buddhism. I chose Buddhism as my religion of study for the semester and while I feel that I learned a lot about this religion, I still fully stand for the exclusivism of Christianity and the belief of Jesus being the only way to God.
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I grew up without any religious influence in my life and to this day nether of my parents practice a religion. In my house, Christmas was about Santa similarly Easter was about the Easter bunny. Things changed for me when I was 16 after a friend of mine introduced me to Jesus, it felt like my eyes were finally open. Every situation in my life that I had gone through I could see how it was all intricately woven together for Gods plan. I’ve been a Christian for over 10 years now and I attend church and bible study regularly. Learning about other religions in the class has helped strengthen my faith and grow it even deeper.
I attended a Monday night meditation and dharma talk at the Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County. I was fortunate to be present for a guest speaker, Rebecca Li who led a guided meditation called Shikantaza or silent illumination. Shikantaza is a non-thinking meditation, where you let yourself experience everything without getting attached to anything. It is also called just sitting, however its not exactly about your postural position, it is better described as sitting within yourself and unplugging from the everyday distractions. Shikantaza is a way to free yourself from attachment, allowing your body mind to naturally drop off and the true Dharma to manifests. (Sugawara) When everyone entered the room, I noticed that they all bowed to the Buddha before taking a seat. I was naively confused at the time, but I have since researched this and found that they bow they are expressing gratitude for the historical Buddha as a teacher, gratitude for the teachings themselves, respect for their own capacity for awakening, and acknowledgement of the oneness of Being. (Segall) When Rebecca entered the room she went beyond just bowing before the Buddha, she did some movements with her hands clasped and then went on to do a five-point prostration and transitioned to a full prostration with her entire body in contact with the earth. Researching this I have found the five-point prostration is a visualization of the five negative emotions (anger, attachment, ignorance, jealousy, and ignorance) leaving their body and flowing into the earth, symbolically purifying them. The full prostration is a surrender of ego. (Kane) Then, she would rise up and do this again, I’m not sure how many times she did this but it was very fascinating watching. The dharma talk which followed the meditation expanded on the Four Bodhisattva Vows. Which are: All beings without number, I vow to liberate; Endless blind passions I vow to uproot; Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to pass through; The great way of Buddha I vow to attain. In the closing the group chanted these vows together three times. Rebecca explained that when we liberate all sentient beings before ourselves, we actually end up liberating ourselves since we are all interconnected. We can do this by showing compassion even when there isn’t gratitude, not thinking of ourselves, sacrificing ourselves and giving whatever is needed to others including time, energy and finances. Some of the things that can block us from enlightenment are our habitual tendencies, our world view and our self-narratives. She concluded by encouraging everyone never to become complacent, to remember to be fully aware and that this is a life long road to continue practicing until you’ve reached full liberation, connected totally with wisdom and compassion.
While Buddhism is chiefly an Eastern religion, its adaptable nature has given it the capability to take on new forms when spreading to new cultural regions. Starting in India, Buddhism began migrating to China and thus commenced the slow process of the Sinicization of Buddhism. The interpretation of Buddhist text through a Daoist perspective allowed for the Chinese to understand Buddhism. In its original form, Buddhism’s belief in monasticism and emphasis on individual spiritual enlightenment contradicted the Confusion based society of China. However, the Mahayana branch was proven compatible with the Chinese cultural traditions due to its reliance on Bodhisattvas and emphasis on selfless compassion. The teachings of karma were revised to allow people to earn merit not just for themselves but also for their parents and children. This coincided with the Chinese practice of ancestor worship and the emphasis on the family as the fundamental moral unit. (The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism) Much like the evolution of Buddhism in China a form of American Buddhism has begun to take emerge. The spread of Buddhism to the United State started in the mid-1800s when Chinese Immigrants came to North America at the start of the Gold Rush. Transcendental philosophers such as Emerson and Thoreau became interested in Buddhism and published an English version of the Lotus Sutra, along with early scholars translating Buddhist teachings making them available to the public. But at the 1893 World Parliament, trying to make a 2,500 year old tradition relatable to the 1900’s, Buddhist masters exposed their meditative practice solely, leaving behind deities, doctrines and rituals. Presenting the perception of Buddhism as a philosophy not a religion to modern America is part of the reason this perception persists today. (Winfield)
There appears to be a distinct difference between Immigrant Buddhist and converts to Buddhism in America. Immigrant Buddhist adheres to the religious observances ingrained in family tradition with an emphasis on ancestral worship. American Buddhism evolved ancient principles to contemporary Western terms and reflect democratic principals such as the sense of liberty and justice for all. American-style Buddhism is defined by six traits: strong lay involvement, a focus on meditative practices, democratic ideals, parity for women, social action, and openness to Western psychology.( Feuerherd) Currently, more than a quarter (27%) of adults say they are spiritual and not religious according to PEW research. “”Now it’s becoming the in thing to be spiritual,”” says Buddhist teacher Jagad Guru Paramahamsa. “”It’s more cool, modern, and progressive to be spiritual. But without God.”” (Veenker) American Buddhism offers freedom from institutions and divine authority focusing mostly on realization and experience. “”People are looking for experiential practices, not just a new belief system or a new set of ethical rules which we already have, and are much the same in all religions,”” Surya Das says. “”It’s the transformative practices like meditation which people are really attracted to.””(Lampman)
This perception makes this religion ideal to those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious and could be the reason for the rise of Buddhism in America today. (Sun) Buddhism has really impacted every part of American culture. Social justice and environmental initiatives have embraced the movement of Engaged Buddhism. (Winfield) Engaged Buddhism applies Buddhist teaching to suffering in the world today. It strives for social and community cohesion and gets involved with social engagement. Some ways they are doing this are by becoming involved with education and healthcare projects, helping poor students in countries like Cambodia. These Monks volunteer their time and personal education to help these students become a part of a larger community. There are also Monks who work with prisoners to help teach them how to train their minds, equipping them with the ability to become beneficial members of society. (Perry) A revolution of mindfulness meditation has influenced medical communities, child birth and parenting classes, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Pentagon chiefs and along with many others. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn, introduced an 8- week course to help people with pain management through Meditation Based Stress Reduction. In an interview Jon Kabat-Zinn said, The Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. A religion grew around his community. His realizations were universal realizations about suffering, the nature of suffering and the nature of the human mind. He explains mindfulness is the heart of Buddhism, by making meditation mainstream and available for everyone there’s potential to heal and transform the world. (Baer)
All of us, together: Muslims, Hindi, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But brothers, children of the same God. We want to live in peace, integrated, quoted from Pope Francis. Inclusivism is being pushed by political and religious leaders, and is also being displayed in traffic on the bumpers of many cars with the logo, coexist. The bible talks about there coming of a one world religion and I believe that this is where we are headed. I think the rise in the belief of spirituality but not of religion is starting a trend of buffet style religion, people are cherry picking certain aspects of different religions and creating their own. The growing trend of this along with harmonizing of world religions is moving toward a sort of new age planetary consciousness. While I believe that it is important to show respect for all religions, I do not think that I have to believe their truths to be true. I think that it is okay to acknowledge that someone else has a different religion but I don’t have to have full acceptance for those beliefs. I think that it is also important not to hide truth for the sake of tolerance but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15) By definition of truth, how is it possible for all truths to be true and thus how could contradictory truths co-exist? I believe that by logical consistency, empirical adequacy and existential relevancy that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that nobody can get to the father except through him.
Jesus transforms mankind, compassion from his followers has resulted in founding of countless orphanages, hospitals, clinics, schools, homeless shelters, and emergency relief agencies”all in the name of Christ. (Gotquestions) As a Christian I believe in the exclusivism of believing in Jesus. After learning of all these different religions over the semester and analyzing their beliefs I still humbly believe that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus. For this reason, I think that he came to earth not to bring harmony for us all to coexist, but to bring division (Luke 12:51). Either you believe in him or you don’t. My sincere faith in this has given me motivation to want to share this truth with others and do as instructed by Jesus in his Great Commission Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
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