I recently gave an evening lecture on “The Relevance of Buddhism in the XNUMXst Century” in London, one of the cradles of our modern world. Today, London is still a powerful city, an economic and cultural center, but there are many other cities around the world that are just as powerful, if not more so. England itself is a relatively small country on an island with a modest population. It's hard to imagine that once upon a time, this country built the greatest empire ever and initiated the Industrial Revolution, which later gave birth to the modern world of science and technology we know today. today.
This topic is interesting to ponder, but it is something that most Buddhists do not even think about in day-to-day life as they bask in the bliss of their religious practice. But it is worth discussing in this new era, in which many religious institutions are collapsing not under one factor, but under a variety of factors.
In the Western world, “nones” – those with no religious affiliation – are the fastest growing demographic group. The lay church attracts countless congregants without the need for preachers or knocking on doors with pamphlets. This is partly because many do not believe in orthodox religious doctrines, or because they define themselves as "spiritual but not religious." There are also so many things to do in modern life: cooking, going out, watching TV and much more. Barring an unexpected surprise that reverses this trend, the West will only become more and more irreligious. It will no longer be the stronghold of the Judeo-Christian religions. Some Americans on the political right have a utopian vision of turning their country into Christianity. But there is perhaps a greater possibility of people living in a secular human colony on Mars than of the United States becoming an all-Christian country, as it did in the 1800s.
What about Buddhism? It is difficult to predict the future of Buddhism. Yet if we reframe the question to ask, "How relevant is Buddhism in the 21st century?" then we can offer a lot of thoughtful answers. Buddhism is a unique tradition. It can be considered a religion, but at the same time, it doesn't quite fit the narrow definition of religion that western thinkers might offer. Buddhism is bigger than the Western notion of religion, which is often rooted in the indisputable idea of God as the singular being who created the entire cosmos. On the contrary, such a postulation is continually refuted by Buddhism to ensure that it will never be misinterpreted as theism.
There are many validating reasons for the relevance of Buddhism in this century, one of which is that Buddhism is not built on theism, but rather on an understanding of the true nature of reality. Thus, those who cannot force themselves to believe in God can find spiritual sanctuary and feel that there is another path to transcendence. Many Western Buddhists come to Buddhism because they have, among other reasons, a desire to find a spiritual path that gives meaning to life, but they cannot accept the doctrine of a god.
A few years ago, a friend of mine who worked at Google in Mountain View, California, told me that the company had a variety of interest groups. Among the religious groups, the Buddhist club was quite large and the group's gatherings were attended by people from different backgrounds, some of whom were culturally Buddhist and others who did not identify as Buddhist. Many Google employees are veritable specimens of the 21st century; they are highly educated and enjoy many benefits that people in the past could not even dream of. This may be a small example of how Buddhist teachings have so much to offer us, regardless of our belief systems.
The Buddha had a penetrating vision of the human condition. He realized that the human spirit is the realm in which lies the source of our suffering and liberation. He gave a whole set of wisdom teachings and techniques on how to work with our mind and how to let go of the very root of suffering. In this sense, the Buddha was a kind of enlightened psychologist who understood how the human mind works and knew how to free us from its traps. Meditation was one of the main disciplines he taught. Today, Buddhist meditation helps so many people overcome their internal conflicts and discover inner peace. What is called mindfulness is also rooted in the Buddhist tradition. It is quite shocking to realize how popular mindfulness has become; it is embraced by people from different walks of life and is applied by many institutions to promote mental well-being.
At present, Buddhism is still flourishing in the East. Sooner or later, as Asian societies modernize, many will naturally become more secular. For Buddhism to thrive in this new era, we must ensure that it meets the spiritual needs of modern people, whose lifestyles are constantly changing. This task rests on the shoulders of Buddhist leaders and Dharma teachers. If Buddhist leaders take the right approach, Buddhism will have longevity and continue to help humanity find inner peace and happiness. This is because its timeless wisdom transcends all cultural boundaries, it is also why many intellectuals believe that Buddhism is the only religion that can go hand in hand with modern thought, namely science.
Then there is Buddhism in the West, which has developed its own flavor. In some ways, this manifestation of Buddhism began to have an influence even in Asia, from where Buddhism originally emerged. I found that many Westerners who practice Buddhism not only correctly understand the Buddhist teachings, but also have the sincerity to change themselves by practicing the noble Dharma.
Dharma teachers often face many challenges when teaching Buddhism in the West, where it has no historical roots, while most Asian Buddhists grow up in a culture steeped in Buddhist practices. This is, in some ways, not bad news. This allows Buddhism to continue to be a living Dharma with liberating power, instead of an old tradition that has lost its life and vitality. To me, the fact that all of these educated individuals with logical minds in the West are adopting Buddhism is proof that the tradition continues to be so relevant in our time, even in the most modern and secular society. .