Thursday, December 13, 2007

Better Late than Never...

So I know it's a bit late, but finals week had me a bit busier than I thought I would be, so I didn't have the time to put up the results of my Eastern Religions and Philosophies project.

I'll start with a brief description for those who weren't directly involved. I sent out a quick questionnaire to a lot of Buddhist bloggers and also posted the same questionnaire on the Buddhist community over on my sidebar ( --> ). The questionnaire had four pretty easy questions:

1. How did you get acquainted with the teachings of the Buddha?
a. If you weren’t a Buddhist your whole life, which tradition did you grow up in? Why did you leave that tradition (if you did)?
2. What, if any, religion or philosophy do you associate yourself with currently? Could you describe your faith a bit?
3. Which of the Buddhist teachings do you find most valuable in your everyday life? Why?
4. Describe your interaction in the Buddhist community. Why do you participate, what brought you to the site, etc.

I ended up getting 20 solid responses which I built my paper upon. Here's a description of the results I synthesized from the responses.

1) Interestingly enough, fourteen of the responses said they came to Buddhism from some Catholic or Anglican background. This statistic is waaay off the demographic statistic for these two faiths. What this says to me is that of all the Westerners who leave a tradition to become Buddhist, Catholics/Anglicans are the most likely to do so. I think this is because of the fact that those traditions (which are very similar) both emphasize suffering, but it is in a helpless, dogmatic way. Instead of saying that we are all suffering but we can take steps to fix it (Buddhism), the Catholic/Anglican tradition says that we are all suffering but it is because we are inherently tainted by original sin. Buddhism offers a more action oriented, less helpless solution which appears to attract Westerners.

2) Most of the people who responded mentioned the Buddha's last words, "Be ye lamps unto yourselves," in one way or another. I think this fits in well with the previous point. People aren't looking for dogma or solutions fed to them that says something to the effect of, "this is the truth, and if you don't believe it you're going to hell," which is the vibe that a lot of Christian traditions tend to give off (there is evidence in monotheistic texts that pluralism is a viable option, by the way, but most churches lean more towards exclusivism).

3) In following point 2, most of the Buddhists who responded call themselves some form of "atheist Buddhist," which tells me they shy away from any mystical, speculative form of the religion. Concepts like reincarnation, the five skandhas, store consciousness, etc, are thrown out the window. What is kept are the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path (though this point is arguable), and the deep rooted sense of compassion instilled in the tradition.

4) I think all of these points put together lend itself to the fact that through globalization and the ecumenical blog-o-sphere, we're seeing the development of a new philosophy. The responses people gave were not Buddhism, but some form of Buddhism-influenced secular humanism. People aren't interested in finding their way out of Samsara and entering into Nirvana, but rather using Buddhism's truths as an ethical system to make themselves and the world around them better. The voice I heard in the surveys was a voice of a developing idea based on impermanence, compassion, and suffering, but it is circling more around social justice, equality, and reason than towards the actual religion of Buddhism, which has a lot of mysticism and speculative faith-based parts to it.

I think it was a really cool project, and it showed me a lot. I hope to keep up with everyone's blogs to see how this trend develops and what comes out of it.


Mark Walter said...

If I might add... with respect to item 3, I agree, but there is also a fairly substantial sub-group of 'former' Christians, leaning Buddhists, who are quite into the mystical path.

One of my websites, Eternal Awareness, embodies this experience. It is visited by many of these types of seekers.

Regarding item 4, the majority of spiritual travelers I encounter are searching for experience. Not simply the outer experience of helping or serving others, but the inner transformational experiences that are aligned with the approach that God made all things, God is the Center, God is at the center of all things, God is in the center of me... and if I travel this inner path I, too, can experience God as me, i.e., that 'experience' is not something reserved only for the mystics and holy men of the past.

BTW: So what's it feel like to see yourself writing to yourself? :) How 'bout the name thing? No 's' on the end of Walter either... pretty good, huh? Maybe I should name my site Marko Pullo or Marko Pusho or... :)

Current site is called OneWord:

PeterAtLarge said...

Interesting, Mark. Glad you got so many good responses to your effort. Did your paper get a good reception?

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