By Nhat Quan
More and more Americans and Westerners know more about Buddhism. Although Buddhism came to American society later than all other religions, Buddhism is growing very firmly and is also very harmonious in Christian society in America and in the West.
In recent years, you find that in most countries in Europe, Catholicism is not as influential as it was a few decades ago. Partly because governments have enacted constitutions with freedoms, including freedom of religion, people are free to follow any religion they like. Partly because the churches had lost control of the people's psyche, the missionaries could no longer force people to follow only one church. For example, in Italy in 1976 the Vatican had to agree to review the 1929 agreement with the government at the request of parliament, parties, and the population, according to which Catholicism was no longer the state religion.
Remember the 1929 compromise signed by the Fascist regime of dictator Benito Mussolini granted the Holy See many privileges such as:
- Recognize the Vatican as an independent state within the Italian nation, and profess Catholicism as the state religion.
Partly because of the restrictive, hard but mysterious dogma to bind people. Vague explanations, unscientific fantasies; Groundless arguments that contradicted the facts no longer won the people's faith. Especially the intelligentsia in an increasingly advanced civilized society, and in the era of growing science. Although the church has reformed and corrected a lot of flaws through the Vatican communities in the last two decades.
Partly because Westerners have stripped away their pride in mechanical science. Since then, they mistakenly believe that all Western thought, philosophy, and religion are the most civilized. When rushing to the East, they brought with them the thought that they would civilize the people here. But time is an opportunity for them to contact and learn about the Orient. They realize that they have made progress in science and technology, but in the field of thought, philosophy, and religion in the East, the West is still at a lower level. The richness of the East, most notably Buddhism, can also complement science. Only at this time did they admire and massively return to Buddhism. Meanwhile, Buddhism is penetrating deeply and firmly into the stronghold of Christianity.
In England, Buddhism was warmly received. The number of followers increases dramatically every year. To date, there are about two million (2,000,000) Buddhists. Because Buddhist teachings are taught at universities, it also attracts many professors and students. At prestigious universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, professors and students are interested in studying Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism. They established organizations such as the Buddhist Friendship Association, the Association for the Study and Propagation of Buddhist Studies, and the Association for Meditation Practices. Scholars also give lectures and introduce Buddhism to the public almost daily in Hyde Park.
In France, Buddhism flourished in the capital and central France through the organization Les Amis Bouddhiques. The French government also appoints Buddhist dignitaries to the Vincennes International Buddhist Commission in Paris.
In West Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and the Nordic countries, Buddhism is also admired. Particularly in Denmark, it is strange that an entire village of nearly three thousand (3,000) people are Buddhists.
In Italy, it is the bastion of Catholicism, but Buddhism is also growing in a society where Catholicism was once considered the national religion of this country. Even in the Roman capital next to the Vatican, symbolizing the cradle of global Catholicism, there are more than twenty thousand (20,000) Italian Buddhists living for their Buddhism. Student Giovani Pertini says:
- Italy is the recipient of Buddhism perhaps after all the other countries in Western Europe. In the 1970s and 71s, Buddhism was introduced here, but the people who had direct contact were professors and students because Buddhism was only taught at universities during this time through Oriental philosophy.
Although considered a philosophy, Buddhism is also an experimental science, astronomical science, and other sciences. Matters such as atomism, relativism, the elements and composition of the human body, the gravitational pull of the earth, the planets, cosmology, and many more were talked about by the Buddha in his sutras almost 26 centuries before modern scientists. There are things the Buddha said that are older and more accurate than the science of our time. Ms. Maria Fortani, President of the Union of Buddhist Students, said:
- Buddhism is something new but authentic that people today need and must have. We have neglected or ignored Buddhism for a long time. And when we have the opportunity to learn, we must admit that Buddhism is a religion that is superior to all other religions.
After three Buddhist institutions were established in Rome, Milan, and Turin, the fourth one in Sicily was inaugurated by German Reverence Anuruddha and British Venerable Khema and is currently led by Professor Giuseppe Tucci. The professor, 57 years old, certainly has a lot of missionary experience, as he is a former Catholic monk who has been ordained a bishop by the Holy See and is assistant to the Archbishop of Naples. Three years ago, this former Bishop had a crisis of faith due to many events, including the study of Buddhism, so he decided to resign and convert to Buddhism after many discussions with high-ranking dignitaries above. The Church insisted on keeping him, but he decided to leave. The abandonment of Catholicism to Buddhism by a bishop, that is, a high-ranking official in the hierarchy, shocked and excited Italy for a time. Professor Giuseppe Tucci currently teaches Buddhist philosophy at many universities in Southern Italy. This professor also said that his intention is to become a monk to build and develop Buddhism in Italy. The professor has been approved by the abbot of a temple in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to allow him to study in the near future.
In the communist countries of Eastern Europe, Buddhism does not have any activities because the government prohibits it. The religions that have existed for a long time here, too, do not seem to have any activities. But in Poland and Czechoslovakia being more open than in other communist countries, religions still have some form of belief. Because of this permissiveness, a small group of Polish Buddhists also established Buddhist ceremonies, and practiced Zen alternately in the private homes of those in the group, as the authorities did not allow the construction of institutions of religion. But the group's activities have also been strictly banned since there was opposition to the government of the Polish solidarity movement in which several of its members were involved.
Back in the United States, when studying the history of Buddhism, people found that this religion was the latest to be introduced into the United States after Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Orthodoxy, and Islam. The religions mentioned above came to America three to four hundred years before Protestantism and Catholicism, or even a century ago such as Judaism, Orthodoxy, and Islam. Buddhism has only been introduced to the United States for decades, especially after World War II. Although it is the religion that comes after all other religions, Buddhism has the third largest number of followers in the United States after Protestants and Catholics but before Judaism, Orthodoxy and Islam. The number of American Buddhists has reached ten million, including the number of Asian Buddhist immigrants and refugees about two million. Observe the rapid growth of Buddhism, typically in San Francisco. During her presentation at the Northern California Buddhist Conference, Mrs. Clarissa McDaniel, Vice President of the San Francisco Buddhist Association in her report said:
- In 1950 in San Francisco, there was not a single American who became a Buddhist except for a few Japanese and Chinese Buddhists. Buddhism was introduced here in 1951, and at first, only 74 Americans followed Buddhism. Two years later, the number of Buddhists had grown to 2,600. By the end of 1983, that is, after 32 years of Buddhism in San Francisco, the number of American Buddhists had reached more than one million. The number of followers has increased dramatically over the years.
Another good example is in the eastern part of Rochester there is a Buddhist center surrounded by 300 families. At first, they were people of other religions, that is, none of them were Buddhists. But the image of peace and serenity, the compassionate posture, and the equanimity of the monks made them pay attention and come to the center. Guided by monks and taught about Buddhism, gradually all 300 families became Buddhists. Every Sunday morning or on Buddhist holidays, they go to the center for religious activities, especially to practice Zen. From babies to old people, when they come to the door of the Zen room, they are ready to put themselves in silence. They took off their shoes, put on their robes, and found a suitable spot around the fragrant lotus flowers. When sitting in meditation, the eyes are half closed, soberly bringing the mind back to silence, and nothingness.
In Los Angeles as far as I know, in addition to the meditation centers founded by the Japanese, there are places that do not say that it is a centers of Buddhist practice, but when people come and feel very peaceful. Especially the road from downtown Los Angeles to the beach has parks along both sides of the road, including meditation halls for those who want to sit quietly and find peace of mind. Although there is no sign of a monk or a nun, everyone adheres to the principle of silence. Those who want to calm their mind can just sit down, then just get up and leave.
In Orange County, there was a Buddhist institution called Orange County Buddhist Church. As Jon Turner, a monk at OCBC said:
- What makes many people like Buddhism is that we don't have many rules to force you to follow this or that. Therefore, there were many friends who felt that they did not fit the Christian mold, so they turned to Buddhism. This is the case with Hector Ortiz. Originally an evangelical believer. He says:
- What I find reasonable is that on the spiritual side, I have to take responsibility for my actions and for my outlook on life, instead of relying on others or looking outside to find personal happiness. Buddhism inspires me by acting as a personal responsibility and accepting myself from within. On the spiritual side, I feel that I have come to Buddhism as I have returned home.
But becoming a Buddhist does not mean leaving behind the religion of the past. Ortiz played the piano and harp at OCBC's weekly services, which was his previous job at the Evangelical synagogue since he was a child.
And according to Mr. Saldana, a member of OCBC, a Mexican-American and Protestant who is married to a Japanese-American Buddhist woman. In the 1980s, he was a Marine and was stationed in Japan for two years. During that time he attended Buddhist festivals and visited the temple almost weekly. So Saldana was already familiar with Buddhism when he became a friend of OCBC five years ago. He said his decision to become a Buddhist was because Buddhism emphasizes research and inquiry. He says:
- When I was growing up, with 17 years of Protestantism, I was not allowed to ask questions. I'm not allowed to question my religion, the bible, the preaching, or anything. Because that's an insult. But in Buddhism, I am encouraged to inquire, to ask questions. That's why I came to Buddhism.
Particularly in the city of Anchorage in the frozen region of Alaska, Buddhism is also present here, but the strange thing is that the Buddha did not sit solemnly in the main hall like the present of the Duoc Su Temple and the Ten Thousand Medicine Buddhas Temple, or in one of those warm meditation halls, but a white Buddha carved out of Non-Nuoc Stone in central Vietnam sitting dignified in an American-owned Café. The story is:
The white stone statue of Buddha has traveled from central Vietnam to the city of Anchorage in the frozen region of Alaska. This Buddha statue was reluctantly settled in an American coffee shop and became a symbol of peace for anyone who has visited the coffee shop: Side Street Espresso located on G Street.
This white stone seated Buddha weighs nearly 700 pounds, or more than 310 kilograms, and is about one meter high. After the statue had been in the coffee shop for a long time, in the summer of 2011, journalist Julia O'Malley wrote an article in Anchorage Daily News about the statue and who brought it to Alaska.
Julia said that a few years earlier, Mr. Suel Jones, a retired mechanic who worked for the oil company BP, fell in love with a Buddha statue carved by an artisan on the roadside on Marble Mountain. Westerners call it Marble Mountain. That day Mr. Suel traveled to the outskirts of Da Nang.
Mr. Suel told Julia that:
- I just looked at the statue and knew that I liked it better than the other statues sitting around. I can't explain why I like that Buddha statue, maybe because of the facial expression, maybe because of the material, I don't really understand.
Mr. Suel added:
- Maybe it's because this statue reminds me of a troubled past when I was a young Marine who had just arrived in Vietnam. I remember very well, one day about 40 years ago when my comrades and I entered a village called Cam Lo, I saw a temple that had been blown to pieces. In that ruined temple, I saw a Buddha statue sitting firmly, serenely amidst the ruins of war. That makes me think of what is happening to the country of Vietnam, to its people, and to their ancient traditions.
The white stone Buddha image looked familiar to me for that reason. Perhaps because the smile of the Buddha, like the Buddha I had seen for the first time 40 years ago, suddenly returned to me. I felt in my heart a gratitude I never thought I had before, for Buddha's presence in my life. So I agreed to buy the Buddha statue for $500 dollars. It cost me twice as much to have the statue shipped to Alaska.
When I bought the statue, I didn't really know what I was going to do with it. I think:
- I probably put this Buddha statue outside my garden in Glacier View.
My home is about 100 miles from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. When the Buddha arrived in Alaska, I drove a pickup and carried the statue in the back for several days. Wherever I drive, I attract everyone's attention. Everyone was curious to see the white Buddha statue sitting on my pickup. At red-light intersections and at gas stations, strangers approached and asked me about the statue. Everyone wondered why I brought this Buddha statue to Alaska, many people did not hesitate to walk up and touch the Buddha statue behind my pickup, Mr. Suel said.
Mr. Suel then drove White Stone Buddha to Side Street Espresso coffee shop, where he has been a regular customer for over 20 years. Mr. Suel wants owners George Gee and Deb Seaton to see the statue. Mrs. Deb Seaton thinks the statue should be placed in a museum.
Mrs. Deb told journalist Julia:
- I was so moved that I wanted to cry, the Buddha statue is so beautiful.
Mrs. Deb told more journalist Julia:
Then Mr. Suel reconsidered, thinking that this white stone Buddha cannot be placed in a secluded garden. Because in recent times, he spent half a year at Glacier View and the other half in Vietnam, where he worked with American veterans' groups. He founded an organization dedicated to helping veterans in Alaska, no matter what war they returned from in the world. In Vietnam, he assisted in demining mines and building playhouses for children.
So, at first, he thought of selling this white stone Buddha to raise funds for the association, and use some of the money to do more charity work in Vietnam. So I and my husband suggested Mr. Suel let Buddha stay in the coffee shop while waiting for the buyer.
Previously, Mr. Suel used a crane to lift the white stone Buddha onto his pickup, but now he and two friends do not have a crane to carry the statue down. So they mobilized a few more friends to help bring the Buddha statue down for pickup. However, the 700-pound statue can only be brought from the pickup to the ground, but cannot be carried inside the coffee shop. People brainstorm and come up with ideas. However, every proposal failed, because the statue was too heavy for their strength.
Then, just when everyone had to give up, because they didn't know how to move the Buddha image into the shop, suddenly two men in leather jackets rode their motorbikes past and then turned around because they wanted to observe a statue that they found strangely appearing there. Every man has muscular arms full of strong muscles like a football player. When these two men knew that Mr. Suel's group needed to carry the statue into the shop, the two motorcyclists were ready to help.
The two men almost carried the Buddha inside on their own, without anyone's help, Mr. Suel recalled. So Buddha was seated in a Side Street Expresso coffee shop. They placed the statue between a refrigerator and a table with a checkered towel over it.
Two years on, we have had no luck in selling the statue, Mr. Suel said. It's like the statue has decided to stay here, not wanting to go anywhere.
Side Street Expresso coffee shop has a lot of regular customers, and almost everyone feels familiar with the statue. They often stroke the folds of clothes on the statue. Buddha's shoulders are no longer shiny because there are too many handprints on them. Then they gradually put more candles next to the statue, put more wreaths on the Buddha, and turned this small corner into a place of worship.
When asked what you think about the statue attracting people so much, Mr. Suel replied:
- Maybe our America is going through too many confusing problems.
He mentioned that the economy was not doing well, the politics were divided, and there were many veterans returning from the last two wars. Everyone tries to understand what is happening around them. And he commented:
- People are in need of anything that can give them a sense of peace and quiet.
Owner George Gee gets up early every day to paint a portrait and write the menu for the day's special on a small board. Mr. George Gee says:
- The statue of Buddha has become so familiar to him in times when he needs to think about the difficulties of the day.
The cafe has always had a source of energy of its own, said Mr. George Gee, and the Buddha statue fits perfectly in this space. The statue seems to have possessed a mysterious power for a long time. That force has caused heroic motorcyclists to leave their bikes and may have also prompted one person to decide to take the 700-pound statue halfway around the world to the Side Street Expresso coffee shop, Mr. George thinks so.
Around June 2011, the shop's customers quickly spread the word that someone had bid for the Buddha image and was about to leave the cafe with the statue. They feel nostalgic at the thought of one day Buddha no longer sitting in his usual place in the shop. Then about two weeks later, a client came in for coffee as usual. When he opened his wallet to pay for the drink, he took out $3,000.00 and said he wanted to buy the Buddha statue on one condition, Mr. George said. The only condition is that Buddha must stay in this shop, not going anywhere.
Mr. Suel agreed and the money from the sale of the statue was brought to Central Vietnam by Mr. Suel to continue the charity work of the Veterans Association for Peace.
So the Buddha is still sitting in a coffee shop located on G Street in Anchorage, Alaska, not sitting in a temple, or somewhere far from the world. The Buddha sat there, continuing to meditate with a compassionate gaze on those who were leisurely enjoying a warm cup of coffee, or busy looking at the screen of their phones, with bright beautiful faces, and with a smile that always brings peace to everyone.
Today, many Americans turn to Buddhism, including young people. Particularly, young people before they were depressed and desperate because they couldn't find their ideals and realized that life was fake and meaningless. Many people have suicidal thoughts in order to find something beyond life, which shows their lack of ability and irresponsibility about their lives. Coming to Buddhism, the human source of teachings showed them how to change their life, give up pessimistic thinking, and take responsibility for their own lives.
The traditional Buddhist path is only practice, not theory. A middle path that transcends space and time. Many young people have failed but have followed the advice of the venerable ones who have sought out Buddhism. Now they become calm, no longer impulsive, and depressed as before. Many create homes with one or two children and join American Buddhist communities
The laws of Buddhism such as impermanence, no-self, and patience have been recognized by many scholars around the world and will still influence the perception of Americans. From there, they will find a simple, idyllic life and believe in themselves.
The late Prime Minister of Israel Mr. Ben Gourion, during his lifetime, and the president of the United States Supreme Court Mr. Warren E. Burger are famous Zen practitioners who also recognize that Zen has helped them a lot in their spiritual lives, and helped to solve many complications due to their positions. In the book titled:
- Towards the East
Dr. Henry Cox, a professor of Zen at Harvard University praised the spirit of Buddhism. He describes Buddhist Zen as a step towards the destruction of illusion and egoism and thereby attaining a high spiritual level of holiness.
In short, Buddhism is a religion that brings something important to Americans, and Americans themselves realize that besides Buddhism, there is also spiritual Buddhism. Mr. Joseph Lippmom, a senior member of Congress in the United States who turned to Buddhism through his two children, one of whom is now the abbot of a temple in California, said:
- The overwhelming suffering of the latter part of the 20th century was caused by selfish ambitions. Buddhism teaches people to live less with material things and reduce personal pleasures. Consumption is just a way to make people happy. The ultimate human goal is to seek maximum spiritual happiness with minimal material consumption.
And millions of American parents have been disappointed in their children because they refused to follow the traditions of Christianity or Judaism. But later, they also became followers of Buddhism. The joy of parents is a sign to you that Buddhism is bringing to America a new phase of faith that their children will eventually follow.
Buddhism in Sanskrit is an awakening religion founded by Prince Siddhartha almost 26 centuries ago. Buddhism believes that once you are enlightened, you will attain liberation. Absolutely do not mention God to ask for help, but emphasize the wisdom and enlightenment of each person to reach liberation as the Buddha taught:
- All have Buddha nature and you will become a Buddha if you persevere in practice.
It can be said that Buddhism in the United States has its own characteristics compared to Buddhism in Asia. Less mythical, more focused on meditation, more democratic, deeply social, and especially the role of women is more prominent. It can be said that:
- Buddhism has, is, and will bring true happiness to Americans and help people identify themselves in life and in the universe.
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