The Potential Responses of Buddhism to Modernity
The Potential Responses of Buddhism to Modernity
By Venerable Master Thich Tue Uy
Over a long history of 2,500 years, the Buddha’s teaching is the timeless truth of Buddhism. His doctrine continues to provide the benefits to the Truth seekers with their various levels of understanding and spiritual maturity like a beautiful gem that is attracting people of diverse personalities. The question before me is, “What are the potential responses of Buddhism to modernity?” I believe that Buddhism itself has rich potential responses to eliminate suffering and promotes happiness for human beings in any time. However, Buddhism responds in many ways to both the pros and cons of modernity because Buddhism places a strong emphasis on rational analysis, strong ethic, devoting nonviolence, and ending human suffering. Buddhism is considered more compatible with modern science and had potential contributions to modernity.
In this study, I would like to express that Buddhism responds in many ways to both the pros and cons of modernity. I will demonstrate the potential responses of Buddhism to modernity as the follows: First, I will address Buddhism’s responses to peace and violence in modernity. Secondly, I will describe some of the potential responses of Buddhism to modernity in materialism. Thirdly, I will discuss the good health and health problems between modernity and Buddhism. Finally, I will conclude with a few additional thoughts inspired by my research on this important question.
Pros and Cons Peace and Violence
Many nations seek peace for their population’s freedom and happiness. Peace is the professed ambition of many past and present world leaders because of the world’s problems. In modernity, diplomacy is made easier because of modern telecommunications. People have modernized and developed ways to avoid international crises and wars. Each government or country practices conducting diplomatic negotiations through their representatives. Diplomacy can be used to solve the issue of peace talks, wars, economies, and moralities or religious conflicts. For example, the United Nations, headquartered in New York City, is the largest international diplomatic organization. It supports an agreement between two hostile governments or countries that normally ends armed conflicts.
Buddhism encourages diplomacy because the first precept states that we should not kill, “Do not take the lives of sentient being” (Thich, 2006, p. 23). Human beings love peace and happiness. The Buddha teaches people should love and support each other in the family, community, and in the universe “To be able to serve and support your parents, to cherish your own family, to have a vocation that brings you joy, this is the greatest happiness” (Thich, 2006, p. 88). Furthermore, in the Metta-sutta (Universal Love) the Buddha also states, “May all beings be happy and secure; may their minds be contented. Whatever living beings there may be—feeble or strong, long, stout, or medium, sort, small or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born—may all beings, without exception, be happy minded!” (Rahula, p. 97). Buddhism has the potential responses to modernity because it strongly supports and promotes peace and happiness in human beings. Actually, the world’s problems can be solved if the Five Precepts are seriously practiced in one’s daily living, “Most of the world’s problems such as wars, national conflicts, terrorism, corruption, destruction of the environment, the spread of aids, and drug abuse would been solved if the Five Precepts had been upheld and sincerely practiced in daily life by everyone” (Guruge, p. 425).
In contrast, modernity increases violence. Everyday violence is a widespread concern in the society. This concern comes from the seemingly endless flow of bad news from the mass media. Magazine articles, newspaper columns, radio, and television describe the increase of the violence in the family and the society. For example, social scientific studies of family violence in the United States started in the 1960s and expanded rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s (Gelles and Conte, p. 1045-1058). Research data of violence came from all types of societies in the modern industrial societies (Levinson, pp. 30-34).
Buddhism responds to modernity by teaching patience and non-violence via the ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. In the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Thought can use to detach selfish, hatred, anger, and violence. Wisdom will help human beings stop violence, anger, and hatred. The goal of Buddhism is to attain wisdom and everyone has the potential to realize the state of ultimate wisdom. Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Foguangshan Buddhist community, encourages and trains all his disciples and members toward achieving wisdom. They help each other in the family, society, and the whole world (Guruge, 2005, pp. 286-288).
Pros and Cons Materialism
Modernity focuses on material things. Human beings make everything that they desire. In modernity, people receive and live in a higher standard of life such as having great foods, modern cloths, houses, cars, and computers. People have more choices and freedom to do or to be what they want without religious supports, “Its ambition was to found a human order on earth, in which freedom and happiness prevailed, without any transcendental or supernatural supports – an entirely human order” (Heelas, p. 61). It shows that people put their founding axiom: human being is all-powerful. If their will is strong enough they can create themselves, and they can choose to be courageous, rich, influential, or not.
Buddhism encourages people to realize what they are and what they have in daily life “To live in a good environment, to have planted good seeds, and to realize that you are on the right path, this is the greatest happiness” (Thich, 2006, p. 88). Buddhism now is a world religion and is renown in the world. Buddhism responds to human beings more relevant today than ever before. The Buddha’s teachings help people solve many of the world’s problems by bring its doctrine to anywhere in modernity. Many E-Temples and numerous Buddhist webpage establish on the World Wide Web are accessible 24 hours a day. People can communicate, learn Buddhism, and discuss ideas in their forums or listen to their master’s preaches in front of their computers at home, such as www.HoPhap.org. From this, we know Buddhism uses the material techniques to provide guidance that enable the Buddhist to achieve interior peace and happiness.
In addition, the modern practices of the bodhisattva teach that human beings should live in rationality and morality; develop their material, ethical, and cultural life. In the early 20th century, the Yangzi River Delta has played a very important role in China’s economic. At the meantime, Buddhism has been greatly influencing China’s economic and cultural process (Guruge, 2006, p. 246). Bodhisattva philosophy encourages everybody that they can aim to become the Buddha through common daily life. In fact, Buddhism emphasizes human life and promotes humanistic Buddhism and the development and interaction of the society and economy. We can see this in the Sutra of Platform by Venerable Grand Master Hui Neng, “Buddhism is always in the human world, and never leaves the human being’s daily life. To leave from society to find the Buddhism is like looking for a horn on a rabbit (it is impossible) (Guruge, 2006, p. 258).
Modernity creates electronic theft problems because of copyright violations. According to the UCLA Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy, [On line] on December 16, 1997, President Clinton signed HR 2265 -- the 'No Electronic Theft' Act -- into law. People who intentionally distributed copied software over the Internet did not face criminal penalties if they did not profit from their actions.
In addition, modernity creases weight problems because of using too much computer or isolation caused by computer addiction. Computers can be so addictive that users have a hard time giving up their reliance on computers. The most subtle risks are the computer addiction. Young people lock themselves in their rooms all day playing computer games abound (Electronic Opium: Computer Addiction in the Internet Age [On line]).
For these modernity’s problems, Buddhism responds to teach people not to steal, to be diligent and to keep busy. The Buddhist’s second Precept is not to steal from others (Thich, 2006, p. 23). The precept of do not steal is the basic moral codes of conduct that lay Buddhists wish to observe it in the daily life. Buddhism believes that bad action causes bad effect and good action causes good effect, “every cause has an effect” (Dhammananda, p. 89). Buddhism provides many group activities to guide people do good things and avoid doing evil. For example, Buddhist Family Youth groups provide many healthy activities to keep young people busy in outdoor activities. Buddhist temples not only enhance people’s spiritual belief and provide them emotional support, such as religious events and cultural activities, but also are places to see and communicate with their friends (Thich, 2002, p. 22).
The Eightfold Path provides the right responses to modernity. The Right Effort teaches people to be diligent in daily life. The Sixth, Right Effort means 1) to prevent evil doing or thoughts form arising, 2) to eliminate evil doing or thoughts that already arisen, 3) to arise good doing and thoughts that have not arisen, 4) to develop the good doing and thoughts that have arisen (Rahula, p. 48). Buddhists practice the Eightfold Path to achieve nirvana. The order of development morality, concentration, and wisdom are the three stages on the truth way that leads to nirvana. “These three stages are embodied in the beautiful ancient verse: To cease from all evil. To cultivate good. To purify one’s mind. This is the advice of all the Buddhas” (Narada, p. 301).
Pros and Cons Health Issues
In modernity, people have a longer life expectancy because of improved health care and higher medical technology treatments. The biggest increase will be from 2010 to 2030. In 2030, Americans over the age of 65 will account for 20% of the population (Gelfand, p. 3). The size of the aging population is bigger and bigger in modern society. Men born in 1995 could expect to live 73.2 years and women 79 years (Gelfand, p. 3).
Buddhism helps aging being happier and less anxious. It also supports longevity in human live span. Religion gives benefits to society and it makes people somewhat happier on average than others, especially for the old (Argyle, pp. 154-155). We have seen that the benefits of religion were greater for those who were single, very old, fully retired, or in poor health. Both the Buddhism experience and prayers are linked to the enhancement of happiness.
On the other hand, modernity causes much stress and anxiety in the daily life because of the desire in making more money. Stress causes physical health and mental problems. According to Hersh, each year 1.25 million Americans suffer heart attacks, and about 500,000 people die from some form of cardiac-related death. 250,000 people die within an hour of an attack and about 20 percent of them die before they ever reach an emergency room (Doka, p. 17). It shows heart attack is the number one killer in modern society. Stroke is also the third most common cause of death in developed countries. In the United States 550,000 occur annually and result in about 150,000 deaths (Doka, p. 17).
For these modernity’s health problems, Buddhism responds to teach people to practice breathing relaxation techniques to reduce stress in their daily activities. Meditation (mental development) is a way of conscious effort to change how the mind works. In order to improve one’s mental health and to avoid heart attack and stroke associated with stress, anxiety, and anger, people should be aware of themselves. Meditation helps developing the awareness and the energy to overcome a particular problem or developing a particular mental state. Buddhism has many different types of meditation. However, there are two most useful types of meditation: Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapana Sati) and Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Bhavana). Meditation provides more benefits to practitioners. Dhammika states, “Meditation is now accepted as having a highly therapeutic effect upon the mind and is used by many professional mental health workers to help induce relaxation, overcome phobias and bring about self-awareness (p. 48).
From a psychotherapeutic perspective, Buddhist meditation techniques can be useful as an instrument for achieving certain clear benefits in the sphere of mental health. Meditation would have a role as a stress-reduction strategy, comparable to the modern techniques of relaxation (Guruge, p. 172). During meditation, these physical changes include reduction in oxygen consumption, lowered heart rate, decreased breathing rate and blood pressure, reduction in serum lactic acid levels, and increased skin resistance and changes in blood flow. The entirety of these physiological changes related to meditation has been called the ‘relaxation response’ (Guruge, p. 172).
In fact, Buddhism has contributed great responses to modernity and given its benefits to society. The death rates for several major diseases were much lower for church participants (Argyle, p. 156). Buddhist healing is very successful in improving subjective health. For example, lighting a candle, mentioning the names of the sick during the worship service, and saying brief prayers are all rituals practiced by Buddhist today in hopes of aiding the healing process for themselves and for their loved ones. Healing rituals continue in this day of modern medicine.
Finally, I conclude with a few additional thoughts on this important question. I have described the potential responses of Buddhism to modernity. I have made the effort to describe some of Buddhism’s doctrines based on the true reality of nature in its totality available to human beings in modernity.
Obviously, the potential responses of Buddhism in this paper are both pros and cons to modernity in peace and violence, materialism, and health problems. Modernity is neither “good” nor “bad.” Only human beings judge it and for whom that become useful, beneficial, or harmful. Modernity’s benefits or harmfulness is depended on a person use it for what purposes. Dhammananda states, “peace and happiness are possible and always available to us if we make the effort to gain them. When mistakes arise, we need to recognize them and view things in their proper perspective” (Dhammananda, p. 380). It means happiness is available. War cannot bring peace and anger destroys love and compassion.
I work hard to preserve and develop the noble doctrine of the Buddha in the modern society. Indeed, to share the Dharma is a very great merit. The Buddha has even said, “The gift of Dharma excels all other gifts” (Plamintr, p. 141). I have shared the Buddhism in this paper from what I have studied and practiced in Buddhism. I hope that the readers will enjoy Buddhism in their modern life.
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Venerable Master Thich Tue Uy is a Buddhist monk ordained in the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Order in Vietnam and serves as abbot and CEO of Tu Vien Ho Phap Monastery in Los Angeles, California. He is also a founder of the Vietnamese Sangha Unit Ministry of America, as well a Buddhist chaplain and an advisor to the Buddhist Psychology and Counseling Center and in the community. He currently work as mental health therapist at Pacific Clinics. As a boat people Venerable Master Thich Tue Uy came to the United States with dreaming of freedom of religion in 1994. He gained BA degree in 2000 and master degree in 2002 at California State University Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years as a Buddhist monk, 7 years training as an US service man, and 7 years working as a mental health therapist in Pacific Clinics, he believes that he could educate and help the community much better and successfully. Master Thich Tue Uy is currently a Ph.D. student in Buddhist Studies in University of The West.
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