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    Buddhism In America Essay (2773 words)

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    The stresses and intensity of modern American society have influenced manypeople to adopt and adapt the principles of Buddhism and other Easternreligions.

    Some recent statistics from the US department of Health and HumanServices show that 75% of the General Population experiences at least “somestress” every two weeks (National Health Interview Survey). Half of thoseexperience moderate or high levels of stress during the same two-week period. Itis common knowledge that stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure,strokes, and other illnesses in many individuals. Stress also contributes to thedevelopment of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigaretteaddiction, and other harmful behaviors. It was reported that tranquilizers,antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of allprescriptions written in the US each year.

    With so many mental health problems,it is almost reassuring that Eastern religions are steadily growing. Buddhism OnThe Move Eastern religions have been practiced in Asia and the Subcontinent forthousands of years longer than Christianity. Buddhism, a main religion of Asiahas been practiced in Tibet for Millennia. Buddhism, Zen and Hindu were firstintroduced to the western world in 1893 at the World Religions Conference inChicago. The Dalai Lama represented Buddhism and D. T.

    Suzuki represented Zen. However, Eastern religions went relatively ignored until 1959, when the Chineseinvasion of Tibet left 1. 3 million Tibetans dead and 6,000 Buddhist monasteriesdestroyed. Tibetan refugees escaped to bordering countries and some fled fartherto the US and Europe.

    Those who fled remembered how the Buddha taught hisenlightened disciples to continue to spread his teachings. “With the ChineseInvasion of Tibet, it was as if a dam had burst; suddenly Tibetan wisdom beganto flow freely down from the roof of the world and to the West. . . and there tofulfill the prophecy come Westerners looking for guidance and eager to developtheir own spiritual lives and transplant the flowering tree of enlightenment totheir own lives. “(Das, 29) The first westerners to begin to adopt Easternprinciples were often people on the fringes of society or in the avant-garde ofthe arts, literature, and philosophy.

    The beatniks in the 50’s, the Hippies inthe 60’s and 70’s. Evidence of eastern thought in the writings of JackKerouac, Hippies ? George Harrison and the Beatles studying with the MaharishiMahesh Yoga. Richard Albert turned his name to Baba Ram Das. In our societytoday, it seems like everyone knows someone into Eastern religion. Frombusinessmen to politicians to celebrities individuals are joining meditatinggroups while still maintaining ties to their traditional faiths to “wet theirfeet” in more satisfying and less materialistic lives. “At retreats you’relikely to find yourself sitting next to a stockbroker or a therapist or aretired 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 the1950’s and 1960’s, the new ranks include a larger percentage of seekers over50″(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 describedas “the scientific West arriving at something like the fusion of the Confuciancultivation of virtue through the bonds of family and community, Taoistlaissez-faire and yearning for nature, and Buddhist compassion for man’s needfor Nirvana. “(Layman, 80) We have adapted religions in many ways to fit ourlives. “Buddhism in America is characterized by great diversity, with bothconservative and liberal trends within the same sect and denomination of course,differences in furnishings and hairstyles are superficial, and are eithertangential or irrelevant to the Buddhist system of beliefs and basic way oflife. But fundamental and widespread changes in American Buddhism are occurring.

    Its priests and adherents are recognizing that Buddhism must be shown to haverelevant approaches to the problems which plague American Society. Accordingly,sermons and lectures delivered by the clergy are making less use ofillustrations recounted by ancient Buddhist saints and are becoming moreapplicable to everyday living in modern American society. “(Layman, 32) As aresult, “The ancient religion of Buddhism grows even stronger roots in a newworld, with the help of the movies, pop culture, and the politics of repressedTibet. ” (Van Biema, 1) Because of the inroads that eastern religions have madein our country there is an increase in personal reform via retreats,”sanghas” ? a circle of friends who regularly meditate together, andself-help groups. We are also undergoing social reform, creating a moreaccepting society, and building upon an ancient religion. “The number ofEnglish language Buddhist teaching centers coast to coast has grown from 429 toalmost 2,000″(Wood, 1).

    What makes Eastern Thought so different from WesternThought. What we currently have in the West, “which is a sort ofanti-religious, psychological way of thinking. . .

    these psychologies often workagainst our spiritual side. Buddhism, on the other hand, can help by providingpsychological 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 Godor Jesus in that Buddha became perfectly aware of the nature of reality andnature of the self, and he was then able to remove limitations on manifestationand could actually manifest whatever was most helpful to those around him.

    Hewas known as Shasta, or teacher, and his objective was to remove the cause ofall 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 thatthere are many gods and one creator, only, they are not sure of the truecreator. There are no set areas where one must practice, however, quiet, naturalplaces are encouraged and it can be practiced any time one feels necessary.

    Itcan be a daily, weekly, yearly or once in a lifetime act, there are no rules asto when a student must pray. The basic tenets and ideas of Eastern religions aregenerally very different from those of Western religions. Mindfulness ? theZen practice of embracing the present, is being profoundly aware of each momentso that people can better appreciate their own lives, and being morecompassionate about the suffering of others. Buddhism tries to make sense out oflife without fear and guilt that some other religions induce. You find the waythat you want to live, open up that way, and then pursue that way.

    The best wayto live the life you want is to “actualize what you realize. ” In otherwords, make real your dreams. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in Zen that, “The othermay be a beautiful sunrise. The other may be your friend, your husband, yourwife. The other is love. Mindfulness helps you recognize what is there thatmakes life real, that makes life possible.

    “(Toms, 19). Buddhism doesn’tbelieve in God, but believes in the nature of god. They are theistic, only notsure of true creator. The Tibetan vision of reality is in a way, the mostsuper-positive vision of human evolution that one could imagine.

    The Buddharegarded himself as an empiricist, only relying on that which is known andtestable in experience. What is new to Western thinking is the Buddhist ideathat ethics and spiritual development are also governed by universal laws. “Inthe West we have a clear sense of personal and group responsibility for thegovernment and welfare of everyone, set forth by Locke, Rousseau, and others inthe late 18th century and developed for the next 200 years in the democraticsocieties in Eastern Europe and the Americas. As Western Buddhists, we arebuilding on one tradition of social responsibility that has been cultivated inmonastic settings.

    . . with such a synthesis of traditions, Buddhism in the Westis 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 WesternPhilosophers as the raw materials of their craft, have been very limited intheir scope and have consequently produced limited world views.

    What has madepeople turn to it. Eastern religions have become as accessible as Westernreligions, 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 ofspiritual life is making ourselves available to others. What young men need isinitiation, someone to whom they can show their stuff and prove it ? otherwisethey do it on the street. “(Toms, 849) The main ideas and themes appeal tomany, Buddhist belief in using the mind to change our lives provides practicalmethods and exercises that we can use every day to change our perception ofreality.

    “Rather than turning us away from what is best in Western Culture,Buddhism can help us return to it, for the west today is in the grip of a majorcultural crisis of confidence. “(Kulananda, 210) Buddhism has become so popularin the West, because it teaches one how to be happier and more aware by use of;seeing things as they are, living a sacred life, speaking the truth, loving,attention and focus on what is important to you, and meditation. These conceptswork with us, because they are easily adaptable and understandable to theWestern way of life. “Zen can be adapted to be useful I modern times.

    Likewater it takes the form of the vessel that contains it without any change in itsnature: water remains water whether it is held in a rice bowl or a coffee mug. Many who seek enlightenment in this day and age may not be able to fulfill theirdestiny within a purely monastic lifestyle. “(Simpkins, p. 61) Another aspect ofEastern religions that attract Westerners is the ability to be independent inthe search of enlightenment.

    Jakusho Kwong, Soto Priest and abbot of the SotoZen Buddhist Temple in Genjoji, expresses, “There’s a lot to read, andthere’s a lot to learn. But for me, the most important thing is what’syours. What can you call your own? And to know that. Not what Suzuki Roshi said,or Maezumi Roshi said, or Katagari Roshi said. What you say.

    What it means toyou. That’s the only way. ” (Tworkov, 103) “In Zen terms, we are bornalone, we die alone, and we have realization alone. “(Toms, 131) Maintaining aclear awareness of our feelings and sensations, we can open out the gap betweenfeeling and craving.

    This experience strengthens our intuition of how thingsreally are and a series of ever more intensely positive mental states thereforefollow. Hindu promotes the ability to listen when people need to be heard. Whenasked “What’s your road man?” Jack Kerouac answered, “Holyboy road,madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, it’s an anywhere road for anybodyanyhow. ” By saying this, Kerouac means that his path in life is to follow hisTaoist religion, be free from others, seek happiness and peace, innocence ofyouth, and that the path he is on can be universally reached. This just showshow conclusive people can be with their words when they learn what the reallyimportant things are. Eastern religions seek to fulfill self and understand thenature of self.

    They teach the seeker to let “body and mind fall away” andlook at the greater picture (Toms, 73). “In going for refuge to the Buddha onecommits oneself to becoming more than one is now. “(Kulananda, 72) “Inseeking happiness by clinging to a restricting, ego-identity, again and again wecause ourselves and others to suffer. “(Kulananda, 87) More and more publicfigures such as; Richard Gere, Michael Yauch, Steven Segal, Courtney Love,Oliver Stone, and more, practice the eastern religions and praise theireffectiveness. “Yauch is slight and soft-spoken, he says Buddhism, ?feltreal, not hokey.

    ‘ Two generations ago, given his milieu he would have been acuriosity, today he is something of a role model. “(Van Biema, 8-9) Easternreligions can be a cheap alternative to psychotherapy because they are verysimilar. “Given the sophistication of the Buddhist analysis of the mind andits preoccupation with the eradication of suffering, it is only natural thatstrong similarities have come to be seen between Buddhism and the contemporaryWestern Psychotherapy. “(Kulananda, 222) As Buddhism and psychotherapy becomecloser acquainted with one another, there is an emerging trend towards a kind ofpsychotherapeutic Buddhism, where the drive towards enlightenment is replacedwith the overriding impulse to simply come to terms with oneself and feel betterabout oneself and the world. Why has it become important to our society.

    “Anything infused into our world today about nonviolence can onlyhelp. “(Scorsesce) Most people in our society struggle to find the right views. “Right views bring us in touch with some of the most important concepts inBuddhist philosophy. How do you perceive life, death, impermanence, suffering,dissatisfaction, and cause and effect? Do we really believe, and know, that wereap what we sow, or do we regard that as just another clich?? In the west, weare typically conditioned to push these serious matters aside, and deal withthem later.

    Buddhism says deal with them now, and you’ll transform yourlife. “(Das, 95) Maintaining a clear sense of our feelings and sensations, wecan open out the gap between feeling and craving. This experience strengthensour intuition of how things are and a series of ever more intensely positivemental states therefore follow. Two Buddhist ideas, that there is a naturalhierarchy of values and that reality is perceived in the imagination, containwithin them the seeds of Western Cultural renaissance. What Buddhism most has tooffer Western Philosophy is the notion that ways of conceptualizing areintertwined with ways of being and although one can go about philosophy as if itwere a purely intellectual exercise, there is little value in that ? thoughtalone cannot apprehend reality.

    “Dharma is timeless not culture bound. “(Das,378) Dharma, the cosmic law underlying all existence; combines with the Buddhaand the Sangha (the community of believers), to form the Three Treasures of thefaith. It is one of Buddhism’s great strengths that it has at its heart theideal of spiritual fellowship. “Today, Buddhism is at a critical juncture asit encounters the West.

    It is no surprise that there have been formidableculture, linguistic, political, and material barriers to overcome in thetransmission of Buddha Dharma from the East to the West and from the past on tothe present and the future. This is a transition through time as well as throughspace, spanning continents and oceans, from a traditional Oriental world to ascientific postmodern Western Culture. “(Das, 378) “Modern Western culture ismarked by an unprecedented degree of technological sophistication and materialabundance. It is highly complex and deeply fragmented.

    “(Kulananda, 25) Allover, people seem torn between a sincere desire to conquer ego and the drive tobe doing so. A great benefit to our society has been the increase in people whomaintain less interest in self and more for the benefit of others, as well asthe increase of knowledge of the effects. The majority of Eastern Religionspromote the ability to listen when people need to be heard. Everything thatlives is subject to decay. All conditioned things are impermanent. To be aliveis to change.

    Without change we would be absolutely inert, but theun-enlightened human condition is to fight change every inch of the way. Afollowing of well known peoples (celebrities, business men, politicians, etc. )has made Eastern Religion appealing to those who were originally skeptical. Apoem that appeared in New Yorker Magazine shows how Buddhism has practicallybecome a “household term” ? “The huge head of Richard Gere, a tsongablossom / in his hair, comes floating like a Macy’s / Parade balloon abovesnowcapped summit / of sacred Kailas.

    ” Some very outstanding people of theEastern religions have reached out to those in need, like Roshi Bernard Glassman,founder of the “Bakery Zendo” in Brooklyn, who uses what he learns andteaches to benefit his community. He employs the local homeless and unemployedin his bakery, garment company, and building-renovation services, and housesthem in his large suburban New York mansion where they are allowed to study Zenwith the great master. There has been much progression of Buddhism in the USbecause, “Americans have always been a do ? it ? yourself culture, andthis is a do ? it ? yourself philosophy. “(Van Biema, 8). But it isdefinite that there will be much more progression. As Richard Gere said,”There has not been enough time to ferment and intoxicate the culture inAmerica, but our approach, because were so new at it, has a certain eagernessand excitement that you sometimes don’t see in Tibetans.

    Westerners askquestions, they take notes. ” Individuals join meditating groups while stillmaintaining ties to their traditional faiths to “wet their feet” in moresatisfying and less materialistic lives. The progression of Western views toadapt Eastern ideas can be explained as, “Combining monastic views withsecular lifestyle has nonetheless served two functions. It has introduced themonastic dimension of the Japanese Zen tradition to the United States, where itmay someday figure prominently. It has also been a skillful means forestablishing the authority of Zen teachings both within and without thecommunities.” (Glassman ? Tworkov, 153) Show major impacts on West Lessmaterialistic lifestyle People search to be “better” Giving Concerned aboutothers People more in touch with reality People become more aware and acceptingShow impact on my life?

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