Why Does Buddhism Resonate
With Many Westerners?


Many spiritually hungry people have turned to Buddhism. Most were previously disappointed with Christianity or Judaism. They are drawn by media stories about the Dalai Lama and by accounts of people who have truly found some calm in this hectic world by practicing meditation. Elements in Buddhism that are very similar to Judeo-Christian teachings resonate with them. They think, Here is a wise, practical path to follow—without the constraint of submitting to an exacting God.

They desire world peace and compassion for all people, and they want to take an open stand for nonviolence. Buddhism is exotic and inviting. It shuns the violent, materialistic culture of the West. It offers the opportunity to tailor a unique path to becoming a better person, and, ultimately, to attaining enlightenment. Beginning is easy. You choose the kind of meditation that feels good to you, and you select what you will meditate on.

Many begin this way and then become more serious about Buddhism. To their surprise, some things do not feel comfortable. Most likely, these are some of the distinctively Eastern elements of Buddhism. That is why Patrick French, the author of Tibet, Tibet, noted: "I was . . . cautioned by the Dalai Lama's own refusal to proselytize. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice."1 The Dalai Lama has said that "westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear."2

Buddhism has two strongly contrasting sides. One feels Western, or common to all people, and the other, quite Eastern. This book offers a plausible explanation for this: When Buddha was formulating his new religion, he blended the wisdom of the West (from Solomon, who preceded him by four hundred years) with many ways of the East (from Indian detractors to Hinduism). The result was a new "Middle Way."

It is the Western (or common) elements of Buddhism that attract people in the West. After delving more deeply into their adopted religion, they encounter its Eastern elements. Many beginning Buddhists balk at these and begin to pick and choose the aspects of Buddhism they will practice. Yet this cafeteria-style approach to spirituality usually doesn't work very well. So Western Buddha-seekers end up homeless. The Dalai Lama put it this way:

    In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism.
    Changing religions is not like changing professions.
    Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are
    not excited, and then where are you?
    Homeless inside yourself.3—The Dalai Lama

In other words, westerners become alienated from the Western traditions in which they were raised, and yet unwilling to adopt the Eastern ways of Buddhism fully.

Patrick French, whose book (Tibet, Tibet) includes the first two quotations above, provided this glimpse into his own story of how he came to be "homeless within himself":
    As time passed, some aspects of Tibetan Buddhist teaching remained with me, becoming part of my life, while others faded. I did not anticipate liberation from the cycle of existence, or an end to the experience of desire, however illusory I might know its satisfactions to be. When I had passed through the various stages of learning, inquiry and rejection, I was left with techniques of meditation and the philosophy of Buddhism; a way of looking. I felt no need to go through a process of declarative conversion, as you would when joining a revealed religion like Islam or Christianity. Instead I slipped into something near it, avoiding classification, borrowing and incorporating bits of another culture to make my own life easier.4

What is missing here is any sense of what Mr. French's choices imply for his future, both here on earth or in whatever hereafter awaits him. He is skeptically living in the now, watching out for self above all else. He became "homeless within himself." He has a lot of company.

You may doubt that the Dalai Lama said the things quoted above. After all, hasn't he spent decades traveling the globe as the world's most visible Buddhist? While this is certainly true, what is not often appreciated is that one of the Dalai Lama's chief objectives has been to serve as a rallying point for the cause of the liberation of Tibet. Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible aids him in furthering the cause of the autonomy and welfare of the Tibetan people, for whom he has served as "the temporal and the spiritual leader" for more than half a century.5


What if Jesus had given a warning to present-day Christians similar to the Dalai Lama's precautions? He might begin with similar words, such as, "I do not think it advisable to blend my teachings with Western culture." He might then continue with the following warning, which is an excerpt from the Bible:

    Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.6

If you are at all acquainted with the wisdom of the Old Testament, as a Jew, as a Christian, or as someone reasonably knowledgeable about these religions, you will find in this website (and a forthcoming book, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?) a fascinating and helpful gateway from the wisdom of Solomon to the Western aspects of the path of Buddha.

If you are well acquainted with the Jesus of the New Testament, you will learn much by comparing Buddha and Jesus, side by side, in dozens of key ways. You will also a gain thorough appreciation for the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity.

Let us begin . . .


Footnotes


1Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.
2Mary Garden, "Can Meditation Be Bad for You?" Humanist. September/October 2007, TheHumanist.org, retrieved November 22, 2010.
3French, Tibet, Tibet, 27.
4Ibid., 27.
5 "His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet," DalaiLama.com, retrieved April 11, 2011.
6 Revelation 3:17-19, New American Standard Bible (NASB).
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