Buddhism in America
We have a crisis of the spirit in America; and religion is for the most part broken. You see it in people’s faces; you see it in people’s behavior, which is often far too acquisitive, violent and frivolous to call healthy; you see it in our public life, in relentless marketing, endless war and mindless rhetoric. People quite commonly have no greater values than to make money, to have fun, to become famous, to be slim, beautiful, sylish, and to avoid what brings discomfort. Then when none of this leads to happiness, few question their original assumptions, but rather infer that they haven’t made enough money, aren’t famous enough and so on. We by and large as a nation are mired in Samsara. What informs our Way of Being in the world? One might look to religion to correct such foolishness, to impart the wisdom to lead worthwhile and beneficial lives, however, even much of American religion is itself far too acquisitive, violent and frivolous to call healthy.
More and more people are turning to Buddhism, often is desperation, for advice on how to live their lives more meaningfully and more healthily. Buddhism aims ultimately at no less than the perfection of the human character, in its affective, behavioral and cognitive aspects. Inspired by the positive image of Buddhism as a way of Peace, Compassion and Wisdom and the high regard for public figures like the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, the strong examples provided by the Buddhist Asian Americans among us and the natural logic of the Buddhist teachings, more and more Western Americans are embracing the Buddhist Path. But are the teachers there to guide the Way? The links below explore the strengths and pitfalls of Western American Buddhism. While Buddhism is growing among Western Americans, its growth is uneven and outstrips the availability of qualified teachers. For instance, to echo a persistent theme throughout these Web pages, the monastic Sangha is still very weak but will be key to the flourishing of Western Buddhism
It is important to bear in mind that America is a land of many religious traditions. Although many of them, or it least their individual sects, have failed to address what ails America, others have a deep understanding and play important positive roles in the spiritual health of America. The role of Buddhism is not to supplant the beneficial traditions but to supplement them; they share our concerns and goals, they are our comrades. Buddhism brings to the mix a very sophisticated understanding of the human mind and program for its mastery. It is also very accessible for a segment of the American population, especially, it seems, the highly educated. Working side by side I would hope that each of the strong spiritual traditions will retain its integrity but at the same time learn from the other traditions. I think, for instance, of Dr. Martin Luther King’s openness to Eastern religion and how he put that understanding to work in becoming an exemplary Christian. I think of what Buddhist have learned and are putting to good use from Christians about social action, and the influence Buddhism is exerting on contemplative practices within Christianity.
Bhikkhu Cintita’s Essays
- Wildflower Seeds. (in preparation)
Links on Western Buddhism