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Later Developments: Modern Buddhism In Asia And Buddhism In The West

Buddhism, like all other religions, has been influenced by the forces of modernity. These forces—including scientific materialism, secularism, technological advances, and the ideologies of democracy, equality, Marxism, and so on—arrived in the traditionally Buddhist Asian countries in the forms of Western imperialism and colonialism and the Christian missionary movement that often accompanied them. In Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, the coming of Western influences disrupted the traditional structural alliances between Buddhist monastic institutions and the government. Buddhist revivals in places like Sri Lanka and Thailand resulted in what has been called a new "Protestant" form of Buddhism that emphasizes rationality and deemphasizes the split between monastics and laity. Buddhism also often became associated with cultural and emerging national pride in the battle against the colonial powers and their impact. In Japan and Korea, Buddhist influences combined with modern concepts and in some cases Christian influences to give rise to a slew of new religious movements. And in China and Tibet, where Chinese Communist regimes have not often been favorably disposed to Buddhism, the religion survives in a much-weakened condition in comparison to its earlier influence.

Buddhism in the modern West comprises two very different kinds of groups. On the one hand, it has come to North America and Europe as the religion of Asian immigrants. For these new arrivals, Buddhism provides a sense of cultural community, continuity, and tradition in new and often challenging circumstances. Often over time the Buddhism practiced in these immigrant communities increasingly takes on the shape of Christian church worship, with the introduction of scripture reading, sermons, and youth education ("Sunday school").

The other form of Buddhism in the West is made up of Western converts who are almost always attracted not to the devotional or even the communal element of Buddhist religion as much as to the philosophical and especially meditative component. For these Western lay practitioners (there are at present very few Western Buddhist monastics), the practice of Buddhism means first and foremost meditation, a dimension of the religion formerly in Asian contexts confined almost exclusively to the monastics.


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Brian Smith

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Boolean algebra to Calcium PropionateBuddhism - The Buddha And The Fundamental Doctrines Of Buddhism, Formation Of Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhist Doctrines And Traditions