Written by Kimberly Courtney, King University, Religions of the World Final Project
Kimberly Courtner lives in East Tennessee. She is a full time Human Resource Analyst, wife, and mother of six. She enjoys time with her family, church, traveling and learning new things.
The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World:
Why It’s a Good Thing
My son at the Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, South Korea
Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world today, and is expected to increase up until 2030. This religion originated in Tibet and is based around the teachings of Buddha. There are traditions, practices, and beliefs of this religion that are unique to this religion, but similar to the Hindu religion as well. Those that practice Buddhism – known as Buddhists – believe in reincarnation. That is, they believe that death is not the end but instead a person is reborn after they pass. Buddhists believe that finding enlightenment is how to stop the cycle of rebirth. They believe that one must achieve inner peace to find enlightenment. Enlightenment occurs when aversion and clinging are abandoned. Not a goal to be attained; it is effortlessly realized as the way things naturally are when aversion and clinging are abandoned.
For some, Buddhism is a religion. For others, it is a philosophy, while others practice Buddhism to find themselves and experience inner peace. Buddhism is a religion that is practiced worldwide. It is the study of oneself and the study is to forget oneself, and to forget oneself is to be enlightened by all things. According to World Population Review, in the United States alone, 1.2% of the population is made up of practicing Buddhists. This is a growing number to seriously consider. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Buddhism has been popular in various forms among certain celebrities and tech elites, but the religion’s primary draw for many Americans now appears to be mental health.” The article goes on to say how many Americans are adapting the practices of Buddhist meditation to heal their overall mental health and to cut costs on medication, therapies, and physician visits that are so expensive to the working person. Like the old practice of the religion, many are finding that the power of healing is instilled in the simplistic recitation and meditation of the ancient art of Buddhism.
The Byodo-In Temple in Ahuimanu, Hawaii
Common practices of the Eastern civilization can be seen as useful practices in our Western world today. Little did we know that these practices have worked for many centuries in the East among the people of the Buddhist religion. The practice of meditation or mental development is also a growing trend here in the Western world. Eastern Buddhists look within themselves to find the calming and clarity to reach their inner peace, This being a form of meditation or Samatha. The object of this practice is to let the thoughts that come to mind arise and then simply let go of them, thus clearing the path to inner peace. Another practice of meditation is Vipassana, or insight. Vipassana allows a person to see things as they really are, liberating one to the highest happiness. Maitri or Metta Meditation will activate interest in others, the cultivation of benevolence, loving kindness or goodwill to others once the mind has been freed.
The Western world is adapting these ancient practices to achieve their own health and well being. The users of this practice in the West are not using the ancient art as a religious tool or practice. The western civilization has conformed these practices to a therapeutic concept from the daily stresses of the rat race we live in. Psychological science states that mindfulness can illuminate the workings of the mind, noting that a person can actually heal themselves depending on the state of mind. The constant interactions with one’s environment depicts the level of treatment one can give themselves. This in turn correlates the amount of healing or depth of inner peace that one receives.
It is common to see Buddhist quotes and teachings in everything from calendars to movies in America today.
It is amazing that an ancient praxis can be used as a common cultural wave in society today. According to the New York Times, “ Meditation has now become a practice recommended for everyone.” The article goes on to say, “Yet Buddhism long ago generated insights that modern psychology is only now catching up to, for example, psychology has lately started to let go of its once-sharp distinction between “cognitive” and “affective” parts of the mind; it has started to see that feelings are so finely intertwined with thoughts as to be part of their very coloration.” Secular Buddhists practices are growing in America today.
In recent studies, there has been a decline in stress and the adverse effects of stress in individuals with higher amounts of stress just by using the practice of meditation. There has also been a notable decrease in anxiety in individuals through meditation who have job-related anxiety in high pressure work environments. According to Healthline.com, some forms of meditation can decrease depression and improve a person’s overall emotional health and leave them with a positive outlook. Meditation has been a key source in expanding the shrinking attention span, sharpening one’s mind and concentration, reversing patterns in the brain that lead to mind-wandering, and overall worry and stress.
Using this ancient art is beneficial not only to the emotions and psyche but the mind and body as well. Getting into the habitual practice of meditation in the pop culture western world can be an easy feat. There are many practicing meditation studios, gyms, and programs to join . Most of these cost less than the average therapy session with a psychologist or the average monthly gym fee. There are also practicing Buddhist temples in the Western world for those who want to indulge in the spiritual practice of Buddhism.
At the end of the day, Buddhism is a thriving religion that managed to make it from a simplistic beginning in a distant land that continues to grow in not only the Eastern world but also in the Western world as well. Whether the practice be spiritual or secular, the outcomes of both are intertwined and beneficial for human beings. Buddha himself said it best: “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” This is where the West meets the East and they become one.