Buddhism is has always been considered a religion and a philosophy by its followers and believers. Its origin and widespread practice in Asia notwithstanding, Buddhism has been quite adaptive to many cultures that it has encountered. For centuries Buddhism practices had only been restricted to the Asian countries and although it exhibit variations in various Asian countries, there are still some common features witnessed across these cultures. Coming to the west, Buddhism and its believers have faced many challenges to incorporate their practices into the cultural norms of the west.
However, whether Buddhism can adapt to the attitudes and values of the western countries and still maintain its unique philosophy is the ongoing question among religious scholars. This paper will examine the background of Buddhism and its importance to the current adherents in the United States where there are many diverse cultures. I had a chance to attend a Buddhist pre-wedding ceremony – well, it looked like one. I am told Buddhism is all about simplicity and all its practices and rituals reflect the same. Unlike other religious wedding ceremonies, the Buddhist wedding is nothing but simple and has no pomp and color.
It comprises virtually no rituals as we would expect of a wedding ceremony. Their marriages are focused more on the faith and belief between consenting individuals than any other thing. Buddhists are more inclined on ensuring a lasting and harmonious relationship is created between couples seeking each in marriage. I was also told that Buddhists do not compel their followers to undergo some compulsory rituals before marriage and that the decision as to whether to go the courts for marriage or to the few registered temples solely lies with the couple.
Nevertheless, a Buddhist wedding would involve two parts; the first part involves engaging in hearty prayers accompanied by offering gifts to the monks and the almighty. And it is during this process that couples are expected to make vows of understanding and faithfulness. The second part which is regarded as a non-Buddhist component consists of all traditional practices which are followed by the specific families of the couple and may involve attending the spirit house for prayers, a feast or gift exchange. Back to the pre-wedding I attended.
The ceremony as you make call it, took place at the groom’s family home. I was shocked that the marriage ceremony was very simple unlike any other wedding ceremony I had attended before. There are no strict religious rules or regulations and unlike other religions where such ceremonies are regarded as religious affairs, Buddhists’ ceremony is purely a social affair. There was a small feast organized by the groom’s families over which gifts were exchanged and people chatted freely and without any formal procedures in the entire duration of the ceremony.
After the pre-wedding ceremony the couple was declared wife and husband by a friend of the groom’s family and the congregation dispersed thereafter. The couple was told to decide whether to visit a temple or go to court the following day to secure a marriage certificate. When the ceremony was almost over, I secure a moment a friend of the groom and asked him a few questions regarding Buddhism and here is the excerpt of our talk. 1. Is your religion an actual way of life for you? How integral is it to your daily life? Shimano Roshi: Very important to me.
One of the fulfilling aspects of my religion is that it helps me to understand the true nature of life and the universe. Again, it does not only teach me to respect others but also to be tolerant of other people’s way of life. 2. What are some of the main practices, or daily components of your religion? Shimano Roshi: Normally Buddhist prayers in the temples would involve monks reciting the suttas and preach as well. However, there are variations across Buddhists traditions. Personally, I do pay homage to our spiritual leader the Buddha and chant (recite the suttas) every morning and before going to bed.
3. What are some restrictions in your religion, if any, such as dietary, dress code, etc? Shimano Roshi: I don’t know about other religion but I know that Buddhism is one of the most accommodating religions in the world. Buddhism lays emphasis on peace and being harmless. While a dietician may tell you what to eat and a Muslim how to dress up, a Buddhist will tell you that you are what you think. we are define by our inner thoughts and not what we wear or eat. 4. What is the favorite aspect of your religion? Why?
Shimano Roshi: To me there is no single aspect I may consider as my favorite because my religion is simply all embracing. 5. Do you feel that you are supported in your town, or in this country, practicing your religion, or do you feel any discrimination? Shimano Roshi: American had had problems earlier accepting us and our way of life but things have changed these days. It is quite common to see a black Buddhist in the temple, and people of different races are converting every day. I feel Buddhism has been embraced well by the Americans. 6. What is the most misunderstood element of your religion?
Shimano Roshi: I don’t know, but if there is any then I think that is there own problem. What I believe is quite important to me to think of how others think about me. 7. Is it important to you that your family/children continue your religious practices/tradition? Shimano Roshi: Absolutely! Buddhism offers a good and stronger foundation for a healthy living both spiritually and physically with others and I would love to impart such teachings on my children. 8. Do you have any holy places or countries that are important to your religion and that you have been to?
Why are they considered holy? Shimano Roshi: I have been to the Gangetic plains in northern India and an area in southern Nepal. Buddhist visit this place because Gautama Buddha, our spiritual leader lived and taught there and therefore we believe the place is much connected with his life. 9. What do you think is most unique about your religion in relation to other religious traditions? Or do you feel there are more similarities? Shimano Roshi: Just like Christian religion, Buddhism has got sects, traditions, lineages, schools and many other smaller groups.
It has evolved over the centuries and some even more reformed than others. However, one unique thing in Buddhism is the Enlightenment process. 10. If there were only one thing about your religion that you could share with the world, what would it be? Shimano Roshi: Simplicity! We relate with one another and approach the daily living with utmost simplicity while we are still devoted to our almighty Overview Buddhism its unique combination of religious and philosophical teachings encompasses a number of beliefs, traditions and practices derived from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha ‘the awakened one”.
According Buddhist, Buddha lived in northeastern part of India between 6th and 4th centuries BCE. His followers recognized him as an awakened one who used his knowledge to assist the sentient beings avoid suffering (dukkha), attain nirvana and finally escape the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Robinson & Willard, 1970). The religion has two main braches namely; the Theravada – the school of the elders and the Mahayana – the great vehicle.
Theravada is considered the oldest surviving branch and enjoys a wide following in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The Mahayana on the other hand has a heavy presence in East part of Asia and involves the traditions of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land, Shigon, Nichiren Buddhism, Tendai and Shinnyo-en (Fisher, 1997). Vajrayana which is a branch of Mahayana is sometimes categorized as the third branch of Buddhism. While it has always been considered a religion of the Asian countries, Buddhism is today found in every part of the world.
According to the recent estimates, the Buddhists in the world are numbering about 230 million to 500 million which the religion the fourth largest in the world. Different schools of Buddhists have different interpretation of the path to freedom, the importance and understanding of the scriptures and teachings, as well as different practices. However, the foundation of Buddhist practices and traditions are primarily based on the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Dharma (also known as the teachings), and the Sangha (also known as the community) (Fisher, 1997).
Adhering to the three jewels is considered a declaration as well as commitment to the ways of the Buddha and generally distinguishes a follower from a non-Buddhist. Other rituals would depend on a particular branch of Buddhism and include practices like ethical precepts, meditation, monastic communal support, renunciation of conventional living and becoming a monastic, cultivation of spiritual wisdom and discernment, devotional practices, studying of scriptures and invocation of Buddha and bodhisattvas common among the Mahayana followers (Keown & Prebish, 2004).
Conclusion Buddhism will continue penetrate other cultures because of philosophical and religious nature. The three Jewels of Buddhism are all-encompassing and answers most of our problems. The Buddha provides us with the spiritual nourishment; the dharma provides ideas for our most controversial issues like abortion and bioethics while sangha provides understanding of our social life and world.
Buddhism is not only the way of life a few Asian population but would continue to spread due to its more embracing and simplistic nature. References Fisher, M. P. (1997). Living Religions: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Faiths. I. B. Tauris: New York. Keown, D. & Prebish, C. S. (eds. ) (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Routledge: London Robinson, R. H. & Willard L. J. (1970; 3rd ed. , 1982). The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA (Shimano Roshi, personal communication, July 25, 2010)
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