Why is Buddhism so popular in the West?

I’m asking this question in part because it seems that whilst churches are closing at a rate never seen before (often sold for housing or other purposes), and whilst atheistic and anti-religious belief is also rising, it seems odd that another religion, Buddhism, is growing at a massive rate.

So, why is it Buddhism has become such a phenomena in the West? What is attracting so many people at a time when more traditional forms of religion seem to be getting older in terms of average congregational age and smaller in terms of attendance size?

EDIT: My intention in asking this question isn’t intentionally disrespectful towards Buddhists, as I firmly believe in the free practice of all religions and see valid points and teachings in all religions aside from my own.

Good question. My best guess is that buddhism gives people this peaceful feeling when people think of let’s say the buddha or some other enlightnement guru/master. The thing with buddhism is this, that it allows the individual to find his or her own understanding of what reality is. Of course reality can ONLY be one, however, the way to interpret that one reality is quite vast. And buddhism leaves a lot of space for personal thoughts in which every person can construct his own path to enlightment. This is mainly, according to my understanding, why buddhism has such a large appeal in the west, partly because there is no precise instruction as to what each individual has to believe. The only thing really that binds most buddhists (regardless of the form or denomination) is the large emphasis on the eight noble truths (which instruct how to lead a moral life, based on the Buddha’s philosophical reflections). But apart from that, there is no clear dogmatic definition of what buddhists have to specifically believe or not believe. For instance, some buddhists (like the theravada, which are mainstream) choose to lead a less god devoted life, and more of an atheistic type of lifestyle. Other forms of buddhism, like the Japanese Zen for example, tend to form certain devotional chants to elevated deities (enlightment masters) which they believe can assist them in gaining enlightment. And there are plenty other forms as well. So getting back to the question, the reason why buddhism is so popular, is because it leaves the individual to ponder about the universe, and for example you can choose whether to believe in creator or not (a lot of buddhists don’t believe in God though, but in some rare cases they do). I personally see no problem with there being a creator of the universe, but many buddhists might for example disagree with me (I am not a buddhist though, just interested in it).

I don’t know if that answers your question…

Thank you for the answer! :D:thumbsup:

However I’ve often felt that sometimes though that what is being presented to people as Buddhism distorts it to being little better than new-age junk. There’s mention of meditation and mantras, but no mention of actual spritual research, discovery and practice. The ‘feel-good’ stuff is promoted over the bits that may be viewed by some as ‘too hard’, meaning it gets dragged down into that trap of new-age associations.

Thank you for the answer!

However I’ve often felt that sometimes though that what is being presented to people as Buddhism distorts it to being little better than new-age junk. There’s mention of meditation and mantras, but no mention of actual spritual research, discovery and practice. The ‘feel-good’ stuff is promoted over the bits that may be viewed by some as ‘too hard’, meaning it gets dragged down into that trap of new-age associations.

No Problem :D.

And I completely agree that buddhism, in its original form, is a lot better than new age. New age focuses too much on developing your ego rather than working for self- spiritual selfless improvement. There are too many Oprah Winfrey videos, where she supposedly teaches people how to attract money. The thing is this, that in buddhism you would have to dettach yourself from wordly pleasures (at least those that are considered harmful), and that includes detachment from money and fame. Money and fame are things which the new agers are opsessed with :). Real buddhists must try to develop compassion, love, and knowledge instead.

I think the attraction to other faiths takes place when our children are not taught how to pray, and as they get older, how to deepen their prayer lives. A better catechesis on the faith is necessary.

I believe that is why some are seeking peace elsewhere. I believe they may find a surface peace, but not a peace that contains the Truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. (“Pick up your cross and follow me.”)

I doubt that it is that popular per se, I think it has a great romanticized image in the west. Sure people love the image of a meditating Buddha and are in love with the Dalai Lama , but it seems to be only skin deep.

Islam is more popular in terms of converts, it is not as fashionable among the media or hipsters but in the west more people are converting to Islam than Buddhism.

I must admit to something of a personal stake in this subject given that I know two people personally who are both interested in Buddhism, but also have swallowed wholesale a lot of new-age stuff, and so their approach to Buddhism is this wishy-washy one where the focus is basically ‘I can do as I please’.

But what I don’t think helps is the pop-religion culture which seems to have sprung up around Buddhism. I was in a bookstore recently and whilst the other religious books were ‘serious’ ones on history, religious texts, famous religious people, philosophy, theology etc, all I could find for Buddhism was self-help type ‘spirituality’ books and two lone books on the basics of Buddhism.

**Buddhism isn’t as popular as Islam.

Look at the rate of growth of Islamic populations in the Western countries.**

Muslim families have big families, so by far the most populous minority religions are Muslims, not Buddhists.

I am not sure it really is growing at a ‘‘massive’’ rate, but it depends on what you mean with the word of course. It is popular though, I agree and while I don’t really know why I have a few possible explanations. There are of course people who are interested in Buddhism because the religion seems to be the true one to them, which is one reason of course, then there is the exotic factor to it as well which attracts some. Besides that I think it is also because of misconceptions about the religion which makes it seem more attuned to the individualistic views westerners often have, to those people Buddhism is more about feeling good and meditation etc. As you said in your other post, the New Age kind of Buddhism. Western conceptions of what Buddhism is or how it should be often differs greatly from the reality in traditional Buddhist countries. I think one example would be that Buddhism and other traditional religions often think of the community as something important while the New Age kind prefers more individualism and meditating on their own instead. So basically I think the greatest reason is western individualism and misconceptions of Buddhism which makes it out to be whatever they want it to be. It is just like the more individualistic and possibly anti-organized religion approach to spirituality which is becoming more and more popular in the West in general.

Just re-reading your question,

you mention churches closing, those churches are turning into Mosques for Islamic purposes. I don’t seem to understand this stance you have on Buddhism, because I sure don’t regard it as a growing religion in the UK at all! It’s more Muslim growth, not just here in the UK, in Europe and the United States.

Muslims have been killing Christians in Egypt recently, I’m more worried about Muslim growth than Buddhist growth or lack there of, they are a quiet minority, why should that be alarming. Whereas muslims are a vocal minority that want to introduce Sharia Law into the mainstream.

This thread is pointless.

Just re-reading your question,

you mention churches closing, those churches are turning into Mosques for Islamic purposes. I don’t seem to understand this stance you have on Buddhism, because I sure don’t regard it as a growing religion in the UK at all! It’s more Muslim growth, not just here in the UK, in Europe and the United States.

Muslims have been killing Christians in Egypt recently, I’m more worried about Muslim growth than Buddhist growth or lack there of, they are a quiet minority, why should that be alarming. Whereas muslims are a vocal minority that want to introduce Sharia Law into the mainstream.

This thread is pointless.

You made a very good point about islamic facism spreading like a disease across the world. It is indeed frightening how governments such as UK are being infiltrated with sharia law practices. You basically see muslim fanatics taking the lead in high places of the government, and thus are able to enforce islamic law on the land and spread the religion, which is quite scary to be honest. They are not spreading their religion because its so convincing, but its partly a problem of immigrants I think. There are too many imigrants from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Pakistan etc… which essentially bring their own culture/religion to their immigrated land, and this is how unfortunately islam has grown so fast.

If you don’t mind me asking, why are you on Catholic Forums? If you are a Sikh, are you thinking of converting to Catholicism? Your posts don’t seem to relate to religion?

The growth of Islam in the West is countered by the fact that more and more Muslims are choosing to leave Islam, including one estimate which suggests something like 3/4 of new Muslim converts are not practicing after 2 years. Even for those born Muslim, many choose to leave, either because they become atheist, or for conversion to another religion.

Regarding the population issue, this is again easily countered. Population trends do not remain constant in any group, and this applies to religious communities too. For Western Muslims the better standards of education along with better healthcare provision means that Muslims are making better choices with regards to family planning and health, including the woman’s choice to decide what happens to her own body in terms of pregancies. It may take time, but the sort of growth which is happening now will eventually become a distant historical relic, just as it is with Catholics now.

I’m wondering further: which form of Buddhism is becoming popular in the West? Is it Mahayana or Theravada (or even Vajrayana), and if so, which school?

The term ‘Sikh’ means student. I am, as part of my faith, instructed to learn about all the faiths of the world. This forum and others provide me with the opportunity to do so from the perspective of ‘real’ Catholicism as practiced by its people rather than academia. As to conversion, I cannot say if this is a possibility or not.

I’m wondering further: which form of Buddhism is becoming popular in the West? Is it Mahayana or Theravada (or even Vajrayana), and if so, which school?

Well, the one that is popular at the moment is unfortunately neither Mahayana nor Therevada, but rather a new-age version of Zen buddhism, which focuses only on self-love, and attracting fame and money. The original buddhism (Theravada) is very different from the new-age “self-improvement mystical experience” junk.

Most Muslims in the West are immigrants or children of immigrants, right? If so I don’t think it makes Islam more popular just because there are more Muslims, to me it seems people like Buddhism more than Islam when they practice neither and therefore you can say that Buddhism is more popular. What some extreme Islamists do is off-topic and not relevant to this discussion.

AFAIK Theravada isn’t exactly the ‘original’, but it is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism and is closer to early Buddhism than the others. And I feel you’re right; I look at the West and all I see is this weird, mashed-together New Agey (dare I say it) bastardization of Hinduism and Buddhism. As someone who is studying religions for fun (personal interest, really) and living in an East Asian country that is, at least, historically (Mahayana) Buddhist, I can’t help but go like this :bigyikes: whenever I see this stuff from Westerners.

I don’t think Buddhism is popular at all, where are the statistics, we don’t hear anything about it in the media, we only hear about how much Islam is spreading and how white women are becoming converts to arabic husbands. I’ve seen a few white women in town wearing headscarves, so I wouldn’t underestimate just how many white people are converting. Tony Blair’s relative became a famous convert, so you’re wrong they are not all descendants of arab muslims .

My issue is that this thread should ask “Why is Islam growing at such a massive rate”, not buddhism, lol. The white elephant in the room is how alarming Muslim presence is, it’s a threat to freedom of speech, and other religions.

The subject of Islam is one which has been discussed many times on this forum, as a quick search will tell you. It doesn’t need repeating.

Don’t believe everything you read in the papers either. As I say before in a previous post, something like 3/4 of new Muslims leave the faith after 2 years or less. Muslims in Muslim countries in Africa are leaving Islam in droves, often to convert to Christianity. The more educated Muslims in many countries are also leaving Islam, or becoming less religious., and current population trends will not continue.

Also, I find it odd you assume that white woman in headscarf= convert. Bosnia is Muslim, and yet most people there are white. You could easily be looking at a Bosnian woman, or even an Iranian woman, many of whom are pale-skinned enough to look like a Western woman. More rarely, you could be looking at a white woman whose family have been Muslim for decades, or who was raised in Islam with her parents having converted.

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