Buddhism came to America first in the 18th century. However, after being a hot topic at dinner table conversations, intellectual debates, and tabloid coverage, it quickly fizzled out. This failure happened due to many reasons. But the main one was the beliefs and doctrines of the religion failed to find acceptance in American sensibilities. America has a past ridden with racism and violence stemming from it. It was a common notion that Western people were more civilized and superior than Asians. Since Buddhism was an Asian religion, it faced instant resistance among Americans.
Buddhism And Mindfulness
When Buddhism first came to America, it alarmed Christian authorities. Hence, anti- Buddhism teaching became common. Many Christian religious teachers called this new Asian religion, pessimistic and barbaric. They even deemed it to be a dangerous cult that should be avoided at all costs.
America, in those days, had something called ‘racial science.’ According to these, it was scientific that Americans were a superior race of people than Asians, who were backward and uncivilized. Hence, an Asian religion was far inferior and no match for Christianity.
Many leaders also twisted and misinterpreted the Buddhist doctrines, and said that Buddhism was a religion without a ‘God.’ These reasons led to the initial failure of Buddhism in America.
However, Buddhist leaders quickly picked up on the gap. In the 20th century, Buddhism was re-introduced to Americans, in a language they understood. The Buddhist leaders came up with smart ways to adapt the religion to the American sensibilities. Further, they used the racial sciences to establish Buddhism as a science and a way of life rather than a religion. They also argued that in Buddhism, the concept of God goes beyond just one being. Further, they also spread the beliefs of the religion through the US and Canada in the form of English language magazines, journals, and pamphlets.
Meditation, a considerable part of the Buddhist religion, gained popularity among the masses. Teachings showing the overall health benefits of this practice became widespread. It further helped in getting more believers for the faith. However, this led to completely dissociating mediation with the religious doctrines itself. It became more of a way to teach ‘mindfulness.’ The mystification of this religion helped to spread it among the Western population.
A Religion For The Elites
Buddhism has proven positive impacts on the life of people. Meditation is a way to get in touch with your inner self. It can also help in handling stress better and practicing calm. Many people in the upper strata of society got inducted into it due to these positive effects.
Further, Buddhism’s past in the country can lead to a lot of learning. It can help in a better understanding and handling of racial tensions in these times. However, several researchers argue that Buddhism’s spread in America has an element of appropriation. But today, it is one of the most popular religions in the country. However, these took place nearly a decade ago. Today, studying the past of this religion can help in overcoming current social problems.