17 votes

Why So Many Americans Are Turning to Buddhism

5 comments

  1. [5]
    UniquelyGeneric Link
    I think Buddhisim’s rise in America is also closely linked with the rise of yoga and other “healthy alternatives” like kombucha and kale smoothies. As these once-obscure practices become more...

    I think Buddhisim’s rise in America is also closely linked with the rise of yoga and other “healthy alternatives” like kombucha and kale smoothies. As these once-obscure practices become more mainstream, their accessibility grows with it. My girlfriend has a subscription service for work out classes and she finds she uses the meditation classes the most frequently (it should be noted that they also provide CBD at the start of the class...verging on homeopathy).

    I think it’s interesting that the article points out the “buffet Buddhists” pick and choose the philosophical teachings to practice, while ignoring the more typically religious aspects that require more commitment. While I don’t doubt there’s a genuine desire to improve mental health by this interest in Buddhisim, I can’t help but think there might be some extent of the ego that Americans are unwilling to let go of. It seems to me that Americans are backlashing against the stresses introduced by an increasingly connected and technology-driven world, and are choosing to rely upon ancient wisdom to find comfort and mental balance. Many teachings from Buddhist meditation align with “insights” derived from psychedelic use. Yet, despite psychedelics receiving far more attention than in the past few decades, they remain illegal and largely unresearched.

    I’m not trying to say that the current state of adoption of Buddhism is a bad thing, I am happy to see it growing. Perhaps baby steps with experimentation of thought and substances like CBD are the necessary first steps towards a more holistic incorporation into Western culture. However, I also wonder if people are hoping for a “quick fix” by paying for a 30 minute meditation session rather than addressing mental health issues by embracing a more holistic lifestyle of being zen.

    6 votes
    1. masochist (edited ) Link Parent
      Some of what you'll encounter in this kind of thing is certainly homeopathic eastern medicine nonsense. Most of the time, though, you can disregard the nonsense and focus on the parts that have...

      it should be noted that they also provide CBD at the start of the class...verging on homeopathy).

      Some of what you'll encounter in this kind of thing is certainly homeopathic eastern medicine nonsense. Most of the time, though, you can disregard the nonsense and focus on the parts that have actual science behind them. As an atheist studying to be a scientist, I don't pay any attention to that stuff at the studio where I practice, and it's not forced on me, so it works out. I focus on the parts that have science backing them: the physical practice and meditation.

      I think Buddhism's rise in America is also closely linked with the rise of yoga and other "healthy alternatives"

      As an American who's been interested in Buddhism, yoga, and meditation for >20 years, I have some thoughts on this. Some of it's absolutely going to be opinion and anecdote, but maybe it'll be useful regardless.

      First, I want to question, if not object to, "healthy alternatives". Modern western science (not the silly eastern homeopathic stuff) has shown multiple benefits for yoga and meditation, so describing it as "healthy alternatives" seems disingenuous to me. Maybe I'm misinterpreting, and if so, I apologize. There's actual science here, and I'd prefer it to be respected as such instead of being described in the way you'd describe juice cleansing and the like.

      It's not just the therapeutic side, it's not just the alternative to the high testosterone environment of the gym. Part of it is a response to the dour, dismal, depressing nature of Christianity, especially Catholicism. Part of it is a cultural difference. It's not just a response to the hustle-bustle of modern western life. Things were bad 20 years ago, but not as bad as now, and I was just a high schooler at the time. There's a strong element of accepting where you are and who you are that's absent from the western faiths that are so, so fond of punishing people for being people.

      There is absolutely an (increasingly proven) therapeutic benefit to practices like meditation and yoga. I started meditating when I was 14 or so, and it helped me get through some really tough times in school. I didn't explore mantras very much, nor any of the spiritual elements in the books I was reading at the time, but it absolutely helped me. Things got better, or I got better at dealing with the nonsense of school, and I fell out of the habit. But as I grew older and started working in the software industry, I started having serious anxiety issues. Cutting caffeine helped, but wasn't enough. I tried numerous anxiolytics, but they made things worse (in addition to having side effects I was promised I wouldn't have). Gym exercise didn't help, but yoga and meditation do. And they have other benefits besides; it's like they have side benefits to parallel the side effects.

      Especially in America, where gyms have an expectation of pushing you until you can't go any further, until it hurts (no pain no gain, after all (which is disproven, by the way)), a yoga mat is a very welcome respite. In most forms, yoga is about meeting you where you are, about modifying the pose to fit what you can do and who you are at the time you're practicing it. The goal of yoga is to fit the pose to you, not the other way round. This is such a different way of approaching fitness than what we're used to in the west. And this isn't even covering the slower, or even stationary, disciplines of yoga.

      Again, especially in America, where religion is such a big deal, a religion* like Buddhism that's more accepting of humans being humans is very comforting. It seems very difficult to separate the moral teachings of Christianity (and the concomitant bits about the afterlife) from the advice about life and love, whereas Buddhism, at least as presented in the west, doesn't have that kind of heavy-handed moralizing. I don't have statistics for this, but I'd not be surprised to learn that most people who practice some form of Buddhism in the west don't recognize the spiritual / theistic elements of it (e.g. the reincarnation bits).

      I think it’s interesting that the article points out the “buffet Buddhists” pick and choose the philosophical teachings to practice, while ignoring the more typically religious aspects that require more commitment.

      Erm, it's not just the religious aspects that require commitment. Committing to meditate regularly, even if not daily, is a big deal for a lot of people. Committing to the physical practice regularly, even if not daily, is a big deal for a lot of people. Taking the lessons learned about breathing when in stressful situations out into the real world, into everyday life, takes commitment.

      While I don’t doubt there’s a genuine desire to improve mental health by this interest in Buddhisim, I can’t help but think there might be some extent of the ego that Americans are unwilling to let go of. It seems to me that Americans are backlashing against the stresses introduced by an increasingly connected and technology-driven world,

      How is this about ego? I'm not seeing the connection here. Further, that's deeply ironic considering the approach eastern philosophies have toward minimizing the ego.

      I’m not trying to say that the current state of adoption of Buddhism is a bad thing,

      It certainly seems like you are, though. You compare the lessons at the start of your girlfriend's classes to homeopathy, you make a point I can't quite grasp about egotism, you compare the teachings to psychedelics and lament their inferior status, and you later make another point about substance use which has nothing to do with the article, and you question whether people are looking for a "quick fix" as a bandaid instead of a real way of addressing problems.

      In sum, it sounds like you don't know much about the topic.

      * or a philosophy, if you prefer to, in "buffet Buddhism" style, discard the few theistic elements of Buddhism and rather focus on the philosophy and life advice. We used to call this adoption of specific parts of a religion to synthesize a coherent whole syncretism, but it's fallen out of style because of people criticizing Christians for doing it to make something more personally useful out of their faith. Sounds like a No True Scotsman fallacy to me.

      3 votes
    2. Akir Link Parent
      That's basically the state of general religion in the country. Most people I know believe in the Abrahamic God but do not believe in the teaching of any particular church. The most popular form of...

      I think it’s interesting that the article points out the “buffet Buddhists” pick and choose the philosophical teachings to practice, while ignoring the more typically religious aspects that require more commitment.

      That's basically the state of general religion in the country. Most people I know believe in the Abrahamic God but do not believe in the teaching of any particular church. The most popular form of religion in the US is protestant Christianity, where the whole shtick is that they don't believe in everything that Catholics do. To look at things from a different angle, most Christians don't believe everything in the Bible is literally true.

      2 votes
    3. The_Fad Link Parent
      I agree with you. As with most things that integrate into the culture of the US, I think Buddhism is going through a commodification that will strengthen its staying power, until eventually it...

      I agree with you. As with most things that integrate into the culture of the US, I think Buddhism is going through a commodification that will strengthen its staying power, until eventually it will gather enough followers that it becomes ubiquitous not for its individual philosophies or the goods & services it can provide, but for its lasting effect on the culture as a whole.

      In a broad sense it's the same thing that Scientology and Mormonism did, though admittedly both of those were quite a bit more nefarious than Buddhism.

      1 vote
    4. izik1 Link Parent
      You know, at risk of being discovered by parents or employers in future times (my username is linked to my IRL in several not-so-simple-to-solve ways) I would say that I am Atheist (once a...

      You know, at risk of being discovered by parents or employers in future times (my username is linked to my IRL in several not-so-simple-to-solve ways) I would say that I am Atheist (once a Catholic), and that I do definitely take lifestyle choices from Buddhism (mostly meditation from The Mind Illuminated, which takes from there). And I think I'm the kind of person you are defining here but under a different label (an Atheist who takes things from Buddhism, as compared to a Buddhist).
      Anyway, I find it interesting that people who may basically be Atheists say that they are Buddhists despite just taking the (non-religious) stuff they found useful from it.