Buddhist Fundamentalism

Although religions differ greatly in the beliefs and practices they endorse, many universal themes can be found when comparing the underlying reasons that people practice religion. Freud believed that people practice religion as a form of displacement so that they could be at ease with themselves while not coming to terms with the actuality of their convictions. Someone who is a Buddhist by this theory may only be so because they are dissatisfied with their current situation and do not know why specifically. Perhaps Jung was correct when he said that we create religion because of a collective unconscious or similar thought process among members of a given society. Hence people of one time and space may have beliefs that coincide.

When exploring Buddhist Fundamentalism it is important to ask who is involved within the religion? There are two methods through which people can be introduced to the ideals and practices of Buddhism. These ways will affect the perception and interpretation of what Buddhism means to that person. The first way is growing up within a Buddhist environment; having Buddhist parents, a society in which the Buddhist religion is very observable. This would be the simplest way for a person to be introduced to a religious belief. In many ways this might also be the easiest form of the spread of religion because there is no conflict associated with the undertaking of the practices. The second way for people to undertake Buddhist beliefs is when it is encountered outside of their normal routine. These people might be dissatisfied with their present lifestyle whether it is religious or not. This way also includes the spread of Buddhism through the media and popular culture. For example, famous and therefore influential individuals like Richard Gere and Adam Yauch (Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys) who might introduce the awareness of the Buddhist religion to people who otherwise might not have encountered it. In keeping with this, people might be swayed from their normal religious beliefs because it appears exotic or foreign and therefore attractive.

It is also important to ask what exactly is Buddhist fundamentalism? There is an important distinction to be made regarding what the true practice of Buddhism actually is and the perception of it as portrayed by the media perhaps the deep, transcendent nature of Buddhism appeals to people who have lost faith in Western Society’s pursuit of material wealth. However, the religion of Buddhism fills other needs as well. Marx says that religion is created as an “opium” of the people, to dull their senses of the world and industry. By this theory people practice Buddhism because it was given to them as a temporary escape from the every day rat race. Perhaps Eliade was right when he said that to fully understand a religion we must view it from the perspective of that particular religion. According to Eliade someone with a Christian upbringing cannot fully understand the concepts that Buddhism presents.

If we accept these ideas that “God” is a human construct and fulfils human needs then it seems like it has been said that Buddhism is not a true religion in that it rejects the notion of God. However, it does endorse an ultimate reality, so in this sense it is not really all that different. Also, Buddhism sets forth precepts regarding a specific lifestyle and ideals so Buddhism can actually be seen as a true religion. Therefore Buddhism probably serves the same function to its followers as any other religion.

Until recently Buddhism only existed within Eastern culture. It has gained such popularity that it is now recognised as a major world religion. This speaks volumes about how much western society has changed. It also shows Buddhism is evolving in the global spectrum. At first glance it is hard to imagine the world of western society and the Buddhist religion colliding. The language and ideology are alien to one another yet now it is not uncommon to see people practising Buddhism and living fully functional Western type lifestyles. This must mean that there are aspects of both Buddhism and the societies in question that can coincide while other aspects are rejected.

One interesting aspect of Buddhism that can be considered is the effect of technology on the human psyche and the resulting tendency of humans to adopt religions with certain traits. When technology distances people from useful production within society, technology causes them to feel disposable. Buddhism teaches these people that there is an ultimate reality beyond this immediate and difficult world.

Another key question regarding Buddhist fundamentalism is where is it most commonly studied? Depending on the surroundings of the individual there may be limitations on what they are able to believe. There are many factors that can affect how Buddhism can be understood and practised. One example of surroundings effecting the believer is when the Chinese government invaded Tibet, the Tibetans were no longer allowed to practice Buddhism as their faith. Another example is that the Dalai Lama has publicly declared that due to the harsh climate of Tibet the consumption of meat is allowed by Buddhists living in Tibet, although it is still against religious principles for other Buddhist to eat meat. So religious values and rules are often subject to the rules and ideology of the surrounding society.

Why do people look toward Buddhism as their chosen religion? We should look at what causes the individual to follow a faith, what are the influences in that person’s life, are they family or are they media? Does the person look to religion because they are dissatisfied with their present lifestyle? Is it because someone who has influence over them is also interested in the Buddhist religion? Or perhaps it is because they find the idea of Buddhism exotic and therefore appealing.

Where is Buddhism practised most widely? Why is it more acceptable in some societies and not in other societies? What kinds of things allow for the introduction of Buddhism into a given culture? Can religious rules be changed in order to accommodate the individual? Is it okay to manipulate the rules of a religion so that they coincide with the surrounding culture? Can Buddhism be considered a true religion even though it does not have a “God”? Is the basic principle of an ultimate reality enough to classify it as a major global religion? Many questions arise when exploring Buddhism. It is important that the individual studying Buddhism make their own observations about what it means to them. Many different aspects of interpretation affect this. We may not begin to answer the timeless questions about religion but we can make our own assumptions about what religion is suppose to mean to the individual. Religion is in the eye of the beholder.

Word Count: 1131

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