Monday, September 15, 2008

Religion In The News

Most religions in developed countries are struggling to remain relevant. Only two developed counties have a significant Buddhist population – Japan and Korea. Since the 1950’s Korean Buddhism has declined drastically in part because it has been slow to engage to modern society and in part because of aggressive and determined Christian evangelism. In Japan Buddhism seems to be fading away on its own accord. What is lacking in traditional Buddhism that makes it so unresponsive to modernity? Is there anything about this troubling phenomena that Western Buddhists could learn from? Have a look at this interesting news item.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7582794.stm

6 comments:

footiam said...

This decaying phenomenon occur even in ancient time in the place where Buddhism was founded; so, it is not surprising that the dark age is coming yet again in another part of the world.I think I have seen a documentary just recently that describes Buddhism as a religion that emphasize the cultivation of the mind. In a modern world and in places like Korea and Japan and elsewhere too, I wouldn't be surprised if the mind is not conducive for cultivation; being too preoccupied with money . People will be thinking so hard on how to earn money not just to buy food but there are other bills to think about. We need a lot of money to buy cars, TV etc not to mention money to pay for the education of our children. People need money too not just to buy the much touted intoxicants sold freely in night clubs but there are other more subtle intoxicants the likes of multivitamins tablets or other expensive tonics of the modern world, the viagra for example, the cigarettes, the casinos. Modern people lead a far too complex life where their time is used to pursue materialism and the mind is not cultivated as a result; but in fact, become more polluted. Perhaps, that could explain why violent movies with lots of blood and gore and explosion become big hits and draw a big crowd; not quiet, meaningful movie. I don't think the new generation can stand sitting down observing the mind in a room, not to say in a cave or under a tree! I believe in ancient time, after working in the field, people come home to a life full of inactivity, there being no electricity and no TV and hence, their mind are empty enough to be cultivated. Money is not so important then and now that Money has become more important; people has to learn to draw a line on where their importance stand. Cultivating the mind is not easy too because most probably people are not born with a gentleman mind at all and that kind of mind is programmed with lots of desire and to fight to odds to survive. It it is easier to push down the mind to the realm of animals than to push it up to the level of a Buddha. And then, mind cultivation is not really something that is taught in school i.e if people really want to see it. Most of what are taught in schools are knowledge based, not spiritual and nobody would want to pursue a non commercial subject on mind cultivation unless it can help earn lots of money or the government makes it compulsory. Hence,lacking a burning zeal to spread the religion , the lack of a patron would spell the death of any religion. In the past, there are always powerful king behind Buddhism; I don't know if there is any now but if there is, most probably the role will be different now.In the past, big temples are built and often there are paintings and carvings that I suppose transmit messages/knowledge; education is ever important and do we have one now, I wonder , an effective one in the simplest language that spread its tentacles everywhere?

David (TheDhamma.com) said...

I am thinking (and hoping) that this decline will be temporary. These countries are getting more developed and modernized and when that happens old, traditional, ritualistic practices seem useless and inappropriate for the modern age.

But as the mind gets more cluttered and more stressed, people will come back to the Dhamma for the valuable meditation teachings. The end result will be more emphasis on meditation and less on ritual, sort of what the Buddha wanted anyway.

Say Lee said...

While Taiwan is not a country/nation in the usual sense of the word, it is a developed region nonetheless where Buddhism is thriving. The conducive enviroment coupled with a long tradition of Buddhist practice has spawned several Buddhist groups that have made inroads into the west, one of which is the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha Light Mountain) movement led by Master Hsing Yun who has made Buddhism relevant by propagating Humanistic Buddhism.

Terrance said...

I think if a society is having too much pleasure (safe, rich, etc.) there will be little incentive to practice. This we can say to be a Deva Realm.

And if a society is having too much suffering (war, poverty, etc.), they will be too overwhelm for any cultivation. This can be a metaphor for a Hell Realm.

Hence, I guess only in the "Human Realm" - is it suitable and relevant for a serious Buddhist practice. One out of Thirty-One other Realms - definitely not a majority.

And in our world, this metaphoric "Human Realm" will move about as some country rises and some falls.

See:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.135.than.html

"
SN 35.135
Khana Sutta
The Opportunity
Translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

"It's a gain for you, monks, a great gain, that you've gained the opportunity to live the holy life. I have seen a hell named 'Six Spheres of Contact.' Whatever form one sees there with the eye is undesirable, never desirable; displeasing, never pleasing; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears there with the ear... Whatever aroma one smells there with the nose... Whatever flavor one tastes there with the tongue... Whatever tactile sensation one touches there with the body... Whatever idea one cognizes there with the intellect is undesirable, never desirable; displeasing, never pleasing; disagreeable, never agreeable.

"It's a gain for you, monks, a great gain, that you've gained the opportunity to live the holy life. I have seen a heaven named 'Six Spheres of Contact.' Whatever form one sees there with the eye is desirable, never undesirable; pleasing, never displeasing; agreeable, never disagreeable. Whatever sound one hears there with the ear... Whatever aroma one smells there with the nose... Whatever flavor one tastes there with the tongue ... Whatever tactile sensation one touches there with the body... Whatever idea one cognizes there with the intellect is desirable, never undesirable; pleasing, never displeasing; agreeable, never disagreeable.

"It's a gain for you, monks, a great gain, that you've gained the opportunity to live the holy life." 1

Note

1. The message here is that in realms where sense objects are totally disagreeable or totally agreeable it is very difficult to practice the holy life, for in the former, one is too distracted by pain; in the latter, too distracted by pleasure.
"

yamizi said...

My humble observation is the marketing approach of the Dhamma turns to be irrelevant or quite out of touch to the modern needs, especially in fast-pace society like Japan.

Japanese Buddhism has evole to ceremonial rites.

Much like the Chinese/Tibetan Buddhism we see in Singapore engaging mainly in rites.

How many buddhists are really interested in the teachings and learn to be living examples of the Buddha's Teachings?

Dhamma81 said...

I would say that modern society in general doesn't believe in trancendence anymore. Science and economics have become the new religions. science teaches that we are pretty much higher order apes whose sole purpose is to claw our way to the top of the food chain and get the most out of sensual pleasures before we fade away into oblivion and economics and advertisng gives a means to do that. With a global society based on those premises, religion is seeming to some to be irrelevant. As Buddhists we can't forget that those views are considered "wrong" by the Buddhas standards, but there is hardly any support in following the holy life, whether lay or ordained in many parts of the world.