Why So Many Americans Are Turning to Buddhism by Olga Khazan
I find the timing of this article by Khazan in The Atlantic (linked to much farther below in this post) so interesting.
I just came across this article a few days ago, and for the last few months, I’ve been thinking about researching Buddhism more, and maybe taking up some of its practices.
(I do not intend on becoming a full-blown Buddhist, or identifying as a Buddhist, even if I may adopt some of its practices. I’m still at the research phase right now. Perhaps I will decide to have nothing to do with Buddhism after I look into things more. I don’t know.)
I once saw a documentary about singer Tina Turner a couple of years ago (yes, that Tina Turner).
According to this documentary, Turner was raised in Christianity but later converted to Buddhism in adulthood, when she was facing a lot of struggles, if I recall correctly. Her Wiki page says she practices Nichiren Buddhism.
I am interested in any practical teachings Buddhism may have, such as meditation, in dealing with things like anxiety.
I found no help in the Christian faith for anxiety and other problems I’ve had over the course of my life, which I wrote about in more detail in this post.
I was a very conservative, devout, run of the mill Christian from my childhood up to my 40s, and not only did Christianity not alleviate my problems, but it exacerbated some of them.
(Also, from my teens to my early 30s, I saw psychiatrists and one or two psychologists, and took doctor prescribed medications for depression and anxiety, and those doctors -and the pills- did not help me either.)
But in skimming over articles the last few months, I’ve noticed that some of the methods or ways of thinking I’ve come across on secular mental health sites, or sites that mention Buddhist beliefs, make more sense to me.
I prefer concrete help with problems – depending on the type of problem, that is – with some of life’s problems, I’d just like a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, but for other problems…
I like to see lists or articles that say, “If you are having problems with X, then try steps 1, 2, or 3.”
This is opposed to most Christian advice, approaches, or counseling, which is either vague, or boils down to some nebulous, feel-good, but ultimately ineffective, “just trust in Jesus!” platitude, or some other similar Christianized babble (all of which I tried before as I understood it but found it did nothing to help me).
Jesus Christ may have died on the cross for my sins, but he did not heal me of my depression, anxiety, or grief after my mother died. I had to learn to cope with those things on my own, the Christian faith did not get me over or through any of that, nor did it help me cope.
Buddhism, though, looks interesting to me, because it appears to offer actual, concrete practices, or ways of looking at problems, that can actually tackle issues such as anxiety. I just did not get that from Christianity, and God knows I tried for years.
Here is the article:
March 7, 2019
The ancient Eastern religion is helping Westerners with very modern mental-health problems.
[The author says she attended a class on Buddhism with other students]
…After we had meditated for 15 minutes, the teacher shifted focus to the topic of the class: letting go of resentments. This was the real reason I had come to this meditation class, rather than simply meditating on my own at home with an app.
I wanted to learn more about Buddhism and how its teachings might be able to improve my mental health—and that of the myriad other Americans who have flocked to some form of the religion in recent years.
These newcomers aren’t necessarily seeking spiritual enlightenment or a faith community, but rather hoping for a quick boost of cognitive healing.
The people I spoke with were young and old, but few were Buddhist by birth. Perhaps some have just run out of options: Mental-health disorders are up in Western societies, and the answer doesn’t seem to be church attendance,which is down. There’s always therapy, but it’s so expensive. My meditation class was $12.
As she opened a book on Buddhist teachings, the teacher told the class that holding grudges is harmful. Resentment feels like clutching a burning stick and complaining that it’s burning us. And yet, being harmed by someone also hurts. So, the teacher said, the question was this: “What do I do with my mind if I feel like I’ve been harmed by someone?”
Americans everywhere seem to be asking themselves variations on this very question: What do we do with our minds?
….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 ancient religion, some find, helps them manage the slings and arrows and subtweets of modern life.
….What’s different—and perhaps reassuring—about Buddhism is that it’s an existing religion practiced by half a billion people. Because relatively few Caucasian Americans grew up Buddhist, they generally don’t associate any familial baggage with it like some do with, say, the Christianity or Judaism of their childhoods.
While liberating, this also means that the practice of secular Buddhism often differs dramatically from the religion itself.
All of the secular practitioners I spoke with for this piece are reading different books, listening to different podcasts, and following different teachers and traditions.
Their interpretations of Buddhist teachings aren’t necessarily consistent with one another or with traditional texts.
….This so-called secular Buddhism, says Autry Johnson, a Colorado bartender and tourism worker who meditates regularly, “is a little more accessible to people that wouldn’t primarily identify as Buddhists, or already identify with another religion or philosophy, but want to adopt aspects of Buddhist practice to supplement their current worldview.” (Indeed, many meditation centers emphasize that you don’t have to be Buddhist to attend sessions.)
Buffet Buddhism may not be traditional, but its flexibility does allow its adherents to more easily employ the philosophy for an antidepressant jolt. Some people practice Buddhism and meditation as an alternative to psychotherapy or psychiatric medication, given mental-health care’s cost and scarcity:
Sixty percent of counties in the U.S. don’t have a single psychiatrist. “I have pretty good health insurance,” Bernard said, “but if I want support, it’s a month and a half to see someone new. Having a resource that I can pop open is invaluable.”
Some people turn to both Buddhism and psychotherapy.
You can read that article in its entirety on The Atlantic, here
Some of the individuals leaving comments below the Tweet to the Atlantic article say that New Kadampa Tradition is cultic and to beware – I for one don’t know anything about that but thought I’d mention that in my post.
Again, I don’t intend on joining any sort of religious organization or cult, I am only interested in being looking into any practical benefits Buddhism has to offer. I’d be more into the “Secular” or “Cafeteria Style” approach to Buddhism the article mentions.