Religion is an important element of culture. This is particularly true for traditional cultures, whereby religion played an important role in providing ideals upon which people would live by. People who look to religion for comfort and for guidance use religious teachings to determine the right way of living a fulfilling life. This is true for all religions, including Christianity, Muslim, and Buddhism. While the dominant culture in the West is Christianity, the interaction between Western dwellers and people from other world regions has brought about other religious practices. It is this that has led to the spread of Christianity beyond Western nations, while bringing in Buddhist and Muslim religious practices. While some of these religions may conflict the way of life idealized by American society, there has been nothing to stop the integration of new religions. With special focus on the ideas presented in the article Religion and Culture, this article seeks to defend the idea that there can be such a thing as an American Buddhist.
The new society, in which technology dominates social systems, the space for religious practice becomes continually diminished. Nonetheless, this does not stop religious practitioners from achieving what they seek to achieve through religion. The role of religions in human societies is to bring peace and contentment to those who live out their teachings. Each religious practice has a specific set of guidelines on how to live life in an ideal way. For instance, Christianity teaches Christians to live life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ (Gruzensky, 2014). This implies attempting by all means to live a righteous life and seeking out help from God through prayer. By following the teachings of Christ, Christians are well placed to live a fulfilling life on earth, the end of which is a reward of eternity in heaven. Similarly, Buddhist teachings help followers to abide to the teachings of Buddha in order to have a fulfilling life on earth.
Unlike Christianity, Buddhism does not teach its followers to live right with the objective of an afterlife in heaven. Instead, they believe in a cycle of constant rebirth (Gruzensky, 2014). The concept of Karma requires Buddhists to live right, since all actions or thought processes produce consequences in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. Good karma results from good deeds and bad karma follows corrupted deeds (Gruzensky, 2014). As Christians convene in churches for mass and worship, Buddhists convene in temples, where they meditate in order to get in touch with their inner souls. The similarities between the way of life of Christians and Buddhists suggest that although all religions differ in some respect, they are all purposed at helping followers to find peace and contentment.
The culture of Americans differs from that led by Buddhists. In the contemporary American culture, contentment is attainable by achieving the different ladders of success suggested in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Vincent, 2017). Citizens in the capitalist nation strive to find well-paying jobs in order to lead a rich life. Having attained riches, the average American will strive to self-actualize, which entails doing what he likes, dissociating himself with negativity, and doing everything that is in line with their character (Vincent, 2017). This works to boost their self-worth. Indeed, religion plays no role in defining how people ought to live in the United States. While everyone has the freedom of worship, suggesting that they are not limited by the state to practice religion, the state does little to facilitate this worship. Instead, the system in place is designed to facilitate the ideal American lifestyle.
Buddhism is discordant with the American lifestyle which is inclined towards materialism (Gruzensky, 2014). While the American way of life advocates for the accumulation of wealth in order to attain happiness, Buddhism advocates for detachment from the material world. While this is true, it is important to note that Buddhism has, in recent decades, improved its stronghold in The United States. This is not just because America has become continually diverse, allowing for the entry of people of different cultures, but also because the system does not prohibit people from practicing religion. Just like early Europeans visited the East and tried out Buddhism in accordance with Buddha’s teaching of “come and see for yourself”, liberal Americans today are continually experimenting with new religions, with some exploring and accepting Buddhism. With this in mind, and considering that the country’s law does not prevent people from practicing religion, there can indeed be such a thing as an “American Buddhist”.
People practice religion in order to find contentment and peace. As seen in this discussion, religions may differ in terms of practice or the higher power who is considered to be the teacher. Nonetheless, religion is practiced with one end – improving the fulfillment for practitioners’ life on earth. The American way of life advocates for accumulation of material riches, which is one of the steps necessary before self-actualization is attained. This is discordant with the Buddhist teaching of dissociating oneself from the material world. While this is true, American way of life does not prevent citizens from practicing religion. As such, those who seek to experience the fulfillment that comes with religion are at liberty to do so. Therefore, there can be such a thing as an American Buddhist.
Gruzensky, A. (2014). Buddhism in America. Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, 10(1), 115-119.
Vincent, A. (2017). ‘Here or nowhere is your America’: idealism, religion and nationalism. History of European Ideas, 43(3), 251-261.