Renouncing the American way of life is not easy.
“I am still expecting something exciting,” Edmund Wilson confided in his journal when he was in his mid-60s: “drinks, animated conversation, gaiety: an uninhibited exchange of ideas.”
The balance and harmony that have formed the basis of the Buddhist tradition is attractive to many Americans who are converting to Buddhism
The fundamental insight of the Buddha (the Awakened One) is this: life consists of suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment to the self, which is in turn attached to the things of this world.
Only by liberating ourselves from the tyranny of perpetual wanting can we be truly free.
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the United States.
Dr. Paul D. Numrich, a professor of world religions and inter-religious relations, conjectured that there may be as many Buddhists as Muslims in the United States by now.
Professor Numrich’s claim is startling, but statistics (some, anyway) support it:
Many converts are what Thomas A. Tweed, in “The American Encounter With Buddhism,” refers to as “nightstand Buddhists” — mostly Catholics, Jews and refugees from other religions who keep a stack of Pema Chödrön books beside their beds.
Burned-out BlackBerry addicts attracted to its emphasis on quieting the “monkey mind”?
Casual acolytes rattled by the fiscal and identity crises of a nation that even Jeb Bush suggests is “in decline”?
Uncertain times make us susceptible to collective catastrophic thinking — the conditions in which religious movements flourish.
Or perhaps Buddhism speaks to our current mind-body obsession.
Dr. Andrew Weil, in his new book, “Spontaneous Happiness,” establishes a relationship between Buddhist practice and “the developing integrative model of mental health.”
This connection is well documented: at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, researchers found that Buddhist meditation practice can change the structure of our brains — which, we now know from numerous clinical studies, can change our physiology.
The Mindful Awareness Research Center at U.C.L.A. is collecting data in the new field of “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” that shows a positive correlation between the therapy and what a center co-director, Dr. Daniel Siegel, calls mindsight.
He writes of developing an ability to focus on our internal world that “we can use to re-sculpt our neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas that are crucial to mental health.”
It was hard to concentrate at first, as anyone who has tried meditating knows: it requires toleration for the repetitive, inane — often boring — thoughts that float through the self-observing consciousness.
(Buddhists use the word “mindfulness” to describe this process; it sometimes felt more like mindlessness.)
But after a while, when the brass bowl was struck and we settled into silence, I found myself enveloped, if only for a few moments, in the calm emptiness of no-thought.
During the lectures, there was talk of “feelings,” “loving kindness” and “the inherent goodness of who we are” — tempered by good-natured skepticism.
(“Feel free to resume struggling with things,” a teacher concluded after a long “sitting.”)
But it wasn’t all about looking inward. There was also talk of issues I thought we had left behind.
“What’s affecting the world is the unhealthy state of mind — culture, environment and society,” a teacher reminded us: “violence, horror, bias, ecological catastrophe, the entire range of human pain.”
In Tibet, he noted, monasteries aren’t sealed off from the life around them but function as community centers.
The resistance to Chinese oppression has come largely from monks, who demonstrate and even immolate themselves in protest.
Engaged Buddhism — a concept new to me — has a tradition in the West.
Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, among its early American proponents, didn’t just cultivate their gardens.
Kerouac’s Buddha-worshiping “Dharma Bums” were precursors of the sexual revolution (their tantric “yabyum” rituals sound like fun); Ginsberg, a co-founder with Anne Waldman of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., the first accredited Buddhist-inspired college in the United States, faced down the police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago by using meditation as an instrument of passive resistance.
Reading “Buddhism in the Modern World,” a collection of essays edited by David L. McMahan, I was struck by the pragmatic tone of the contributors, their preoccupation with what Mr. McMahan identified as “globalization, gender issues, and the ways in which Buddhism has confronted modernity, science, popular culture and national politics.” Their goal is to make Buddhism active.
Perhaps it was simply the lesson of acceptance — and the possibility of modest self-transformation.
A teacher had said: “Don’t fix yourself up first, then go forth: the two are inseparable.”
To enact, or “transmit,” change in the world, we need to begin with ourselves and “learn how to have a skillful, successful, well-organized, productive life.”
Author:James Atlas is the author of “My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale.”
mentioned ...reading Sakyong Mipham’s “Turning the Mind Into an Ally”
Source:Buddhists’ Delight - NYTimes.com
Times Topic: Buddhism
By JAMES ATLAS
Published: June 16, 2012
Religion and Belief