Factors that Account for the Growing Popularity of Buddhism in Western Societies
Buddhism is a form of religious faith that dates back around 2,500 years from India. In the last fifty years, the teachings of Buddha have been influencing the lives of many in many ways. Today, there are more than 1.2 billion Buddhists worldwide, approximately 6 million in the US, and dozens of Buddhist centers in many western countries, including Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. But the spread of Buddhism to the west did not kick off until the mid-nineteenth century.
The first western interest in Buddhism was from archeologists and scholars. English and French people living in India gathered Buddhist texts and sent them home, where scholars undertook to study and interpret the texts into the local languages, including English, German, French. The initial western understanding of Buddhism was tainted with theosophy, and people viewed it as something exotic and generally not a useful way of life. However, by the mid to late 19th century, there had emerged several Buddhist societies in Europe.
Transmission of Buddhism in the late 19th century was further boosted by immigration and the movement of people worldwide. Buddhism first arrived in North America through Chinese and Japanese immigrants who settled in the western part of the Us in California and Canada. More Europeans have also traveled to far Eastern countries in the past century. Most of them bring back the eastern ideas, which means more Europeans have continued to hear, learn, and practice this philosophy. Western scholars who had interests in Buddhism also traveled to the East to acquire first-hand knowledge about the religion and later transmitted it back to their people.
However, Buddhism’s rapid growth did not happen until the late 19th century and early 20th century. Many Tibetans took it upon them to set up teaching centers where they taught Buddhism to all people interested, including the westerners. Several Buddhist teachers also immigrated to the US, Canada, and Europe and continued establishing more Buddhist centers. They included Taizan Maezumi, who established the Zen Center of Los Angeles, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Vajradhatud.
Another reason for Buddhism’s rapid growth is that it appeals very much to the western and modern world because it does not offend their reason and has no element of fear, persuasion, or blind faith like most Western religions. Buddhism appeals to reason and allows the followers to test and see something for themselves and decide whether it works for them based on their experience rather than believing in the final analysis. Many people in the western regions have been going through a sad period filled with fear and anxiety. Buddhism appeals to their situations, helping them meditate and work on their inner selves.
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