Buddhism was one of the earliest world religions. Developed on the Indian subcontinent around the 5th century BC it is estimated to have between 230 million and 1.7 billion followers today, making it the fourth largest religion world. The highest concentration of Buddhist practitioners are in China, Tibet and South-East Asia.
Buddhism has become increasingly popular in the modern Western world. Meditation classes and Buddhist retreats are very common; “Eat, Pray, Love” made discovering yourself through spirituality on the Eastern subcontinent a mainstream pursuit. Through the Buddhist teachings harried Westerners seek to find moments of calm and clarity.
To the cynics, this phenomenon is titled “weekend Buddhism” – the Westerners typically practice the Buddhist teachings only on their weekends and throughout the rest of the week their live typical Western lives. The cynics claim that these Westerner’s interest in and adherence to Buddhism is only superficial and undesirable.
It can sometimes anger or upset the Easterners who think that their culture is being “appropriated” and interfered with by the West, by people who do not fully understand the importance of their beliefs or treat Buddhism respectfully as a religion.
In many instances this cynicism might be true. A lot of Westerners see Buddhism less as a religion or philosophy and more as a way for them to gain relaxation or explore spiritual harmony. The Buddhism they practice in weekly meditation classes is a world away from the Buddhism lived by monks in Tibet. Going to a retreat for a week or maybe even for a few months can never be equivalent to dedicating your whole life to the full-time practice of a religion. There is also much more to Buddhism than the meditation practice. Most people understand that – the Westerners that don’t are usually the ones who give the rest a bad reputation.
Interestingly, the culture of weekend Buddhism is no longer confined to the West. In China there are a growing number of Buddhist retreats targeted at stressed city dwellers wanting to escape their daily pressures and build up a better work-life balance. These Chinese businessmen and women no doubt view Buddhism in the same way as their Western counterparts – a form of relaxation and philosophy of life more than a serious religion.
Buddhism itself is an inclusive religious and philosophical movement: many of the people who practice it in China also subscribe to Taoism, Confucianism and other Eastern belief systems. Unlike many other religions in Buddhism there are no limitations on what other beliefs you can hold – it is a belief system of harmony and acceptance.
It certainly isn’t “wrong” to practice Buddhism in a way that aligns with your own private spiritual beliefs. As with all things, an appreciation and understanding of the culture and history behind what you practice goes a long way.
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