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Modern World Discovered the Ancient Truths of Buddhism

August 7, 2023

Buddhism is seen by many as having a special affinity for contemporary lifestyles and worldviews. It offers a religious experience that does not involve believing in supernatural creatures, making it suitable for ardent atheists who do not believe in the existence of any god. On the other hand, it also offers new-age spiritualists a connection to a deeper reality outside the purview of common observation and scientific understanding.

When I first started learning the popular teachings of Buddhism and doing meditation a few years ago, I questioned how a 2,500-year-old religion could be so wholly contemporary. There appeared to be two options for responses.

One was that via meditation, the Buddha uncovered everlasting truths that are today supported by modern philosophy and science. That was a beautiful response since it implied that he might have been correct in all of his assertions and that, as a result, we can follow his route to nirvana (the absence of pain).

The alternative explanation was that modern Buddhism was a creation that borrowed terminology and rituals from the earlier religion but gave them new interpretations. That response was somewhat disheartening since it implied that much of contemporary Buddhism might simply be an example of rude cultural appropriation that fetishizes exotic Asian spirituality and turns it into a fleeting craze among consumers.

It was amazing to me as someone who studies Buddhism’s cultural influence in the west how this old religion could be so contemporary. I then looked to academics Donald Lopez Jr., David McMahan, Jeff Wilson, and Ann Glieg who had studied the development of modern Buddhism. But I soon realised the query was more nuanced than the individual options I listed above.

As Protestant reformers had done with Christianity in Europe, visionary monks strove to bring Buddhism closer to the people in the 19th century by taking its philosophy and meditation outside the walls of monasteries. 

Western academics and spiritual seekers discovered a non-theistic religion in ancient writings at the same time, which holds that whether or not deities exist, they have no bearing on how we should live our lives. It was in line with contemporary reason because it focused on a mortal man rather than a deity.

On the one hand, all of these revivalists undoubtedly changed Buddhism and rendered it unfamiliar to many Buddhists. They created a brand-new, contemporary Buddha who was free of the rebirth, numerous realms and hells, demons, and gods that once existed. These supernatural components were either taken out of their account of Buddhist beliefs or transformed into psychological symbols rather than actual supernatural forces.

Read More: 2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Temple Unearthed in Pakistan

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