by Douglas Todd, Canwest News Service, April 27, 2009
Vancouver, Canada — Have you noticed more friends and acquaintances quietly suggesting they have become Buddhists? I’m picking up the trend everywhere.
I take Buddhism very seriously as one of the great religions. There are important truths to explore in Buddhism. It is a profound and challenging system of belief.
But right now I just want to remark on how struck I’ve been by the way many North American searchers are making Buddhism their spirituality of choice. It is currently very cool to be a Buddhist.
Buddhism gets good media coverage. The Dalai Lama. Thich Nhat Hanh. Jack Kornfeld. These caring and charismatic men are high profile. Many Hollywood stars are also into Buddhism, spreading the word.
Unlike some of the world’s two billion Christians, Buddhists are not linked in the public’s mind with extremism or war or aggressive proslytizing (even though, believe it or not, there are Buddhist militants).
In contrast, it is definitely not cool now to be Christian, especially in Canada, despite the diversity of the faith.
And it’s still not really socially acceptable to be a follower of Jesus in Canada despite Barack Obama being a liberal Christian.
Even Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and in some quarters Islam seem to be more cool these days. Yet nothing seems to touch the popularity of Buddhism as its been adapted to the West. I think many are drawn to a Buddhist-flavoured allure of meditation, inner calm, psychological insight and apparent open-mindedness. I recently interviewed the rock-and-roll/punk singer Bif Naked. A smart woman, Bif has been noticing how young North Americans, as well as the not so young, are drawn today to "exotic" religions, and that typically means from the East.
A Vancouver yoga studio owner says, "Everybody’s a Buddhist now." She also knows a few things about Buddhism. But, like me, she wonders how so many people can so casually say they’re Buddhist.
Do they attend a Buddhist temple? Have they studied Buddhism, beyond a few books or articles or taking some meditation classes? What do they think about Buddhist basics, such as the Four Noble Truths? The Eightfold Path? Which stream of Buddhism do they follow?
There are so many different schools of Buddhist thought — and they are incredibly complex, both philosophically and in their spiritual demands. I suspect some new Buddhists don’t know the answers to these questions.
It’s true that followers of many religions don’t really know much about their tradition. And despite raising these concerns, in some ways I celebrate these new Buddhists’ interest in this spiritual path. Maybe they’re at the beginning of something creatively transformative for themselves, and even society.