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Siddartha guatama in modern day north america

For over 2000 years Buddhism has existed as an organized religion. By

religion we mean that it has a concept of the profane, the sacred, and approaches to

the sacred. It has been established in India, China, Japan and other eastern cultures

for almost 2000 years and has gained a strong foothold in North America and

Europe in the past few centuries. However, one might ask; what fate would

Buddhism face had Siddartha Guatama been born in modern times; or more

specifically in modern day North America? Would his new found enlightenment

be accepted now as it was thousands of years ago? Would it be shunned by society

as another "cult" movement? What conflicts or similarities would it find with

modern science; physics in particular? The answers to these questions are the aim

of this paper, as well as a deeper understanding of modern Buddhism.

Although I will stick with traditional ideas raised by Buddhism, one detail in

the story of Siddartha Guatama must be addressed in order for it to be relevant to

the main question being asked: What obstacles would Siddartha Guatama face had

he been born in modern day North America. Primarily, it must be recognized that

rather than being born into the Hindu religion (which in itself is mystical),

Siddartha would have most likely been born into a Christian family. This in itself

presents the first obstacle, that being that Christianity is a strictly monotheistic and

non-mystical faith. Hence from the outset, although in the traditional story

Siddartha faced a conflict with his father (Ludwig 137), in the North American

scenario the conflict would have been heightened by the fact that his search for

enlightenment was not even closely similar to the Christian faith.

As with science, changes in religious thought are often met with strong

opposition. It is interesting to note though, that many parallels can be found

between modern physics and Eastern Mysticism. As Fritjof Capra writes:

The changes, brought about by modern physics . . . all seem to

lead towards a view of the world which is very similar to the

views held in Eastern Mysticism. The concepts of modern

physics often show surprising parallels to the ideas expressed in

the religious philosophies of the Far East. (17-18)

Thus by examining some of the obstacles imposed by typical western thought on

modern physicists attempting to develop new theories, we can apply the same

conclusions to the situation that would be faced by Siddartha Guatama in modern

day North America. Traditionally, western thought can be summed up by French

philosopher RenJ Descartes' famous saying, "Cogito ergo sum" or "I think therefor

I exist". That is, typically, western man has always equated identity with his mind,

instead of his whole organism (Capra 23). This same line of thought can be found

in traditional Newtonian Mechanics in which the observer of an event is never

taken into account when describing the event. Rather, all things are said to occur at

an "absolute time" in space, never taking into account the observer's position or

speed relative to the event or the rest of the Universe. However, in the beginning of

the 20th century, new developments in physics began to shake the framework of the

scientific world. Due mostly to work by Albert Einstein, but also Ernest

Rutherford and others, the scientific view of the universe took a drastic turn. These

scientists recognized flaws in the classical Newtonian view of the universe. The

recognition of these flaws led to the development of the Quantum Theory of Matter

as well as Einstein's Relativity Theory. These theories, as well as the discoveries

that they led to, incorporated the entire universe as being comprised of energy, and

that particles, time, and space, are just different representations of this energy.

Naturally this faced strict opposition. So much so that in spite of it's

ground-breaking nature as well as the fact that it had been proven, Einstein's

Special Theory of Relativity failed to earn him the Nobel Prize. Even to this day

many find it difficult to comprehend these more abstract theories.

Both concepts - that of empty space and that of solid material

bodies (Newtonian Mechanics) - are deeply ingrained in our

habits of thought, so it is extremely difficult for us to imagine a

physical reality where they do not apply (Capra 64).

Thus, by applying the obstacles faced by modern physicists, it easy to see

how a more close-minded western way of thought would be skeptical of

Siddartha's new philosophy. Rather than accept, or even recognize, the more

abstract theory of reality that Siddartha would be presenting, western society would

rather push it off to the side and stick with it's more concrete concept; that being

Christianity. However, as with modern physics, this opposition would not be out of

stubbornness but simply out of a lack of the ability to grasp the concepts that

Siddartha would be trying to portray.

By hypothesizing what would happen had Buddhism been formed in 20th

century North America rather than 5th century BCE India, we would be putting

Buddhism into a category of Fringe religions. By Fringe religions we mean:

all those groups not accorded full social respectability nor

recognized as being of equal status with those religious groups

in which most important societal spokespersons participate and

with which they identify (Shupe 7).

Since Buddhism, had it been formed by Siddartha in 20th century North America,

would be viewed as a Fringe religion at first, we can also apply western societies

reaction towards actual Fringe religions to the thesis.

It is not a far leap of imagination to move from the observation

that a fringe religious group is "odd" to a sense that its religious

challenge really possess a serious potential threat to one's way

of life and valued social relations (Shupe 27).

It is this common misconception, imposed upon virtually all new religions, that

would prove to be the main obstacle in the formation of Buddhism. Currently such

religious movements as the Jehovah's Witness, the Church of Jesus Christ of the

Latter Day Saints, and the Black Muslims - established and relevant as they are -

face this type of obstacle (Shupe 7). Be it through negative exposure by the media

or trouble with the law (one is reminded of Waco Texas) these new Fringe religious

face a constant barrage of opposition. The opposition can often get so trumped up,

especially by the media, that the religion will often be dismissed as a cult.

the media picked up on the term (cult) undoubtedly because of

it's vaguely exotic, unsavory connotation . . . in the 1970's,

many "cults" included Mormon's, Jehovah's Witnesses . . . and

Zen Buddhists . . . irrespective of their differing affinities to

Judeo-Christian tradition (Shupe 8).

With such a backlash against new religions, it is amazing that Buddhism was even

able to get a foothold in North America, despite being a established religion for

over 2 millenniums.

Despite having these obstacle to overcome, Siddartha's new found religion

would not have to fight on it's own. As stated earlier, there are many parallels that

can be drawn between Buddhism and modern physics. As a matter of fact,

Siddartha Guatama stated over 2000 years ago what has only come into realization

by physicists today:

He proclaimed it as shiki soku zeku and ku soku zeshiki1. Ku,

literally "emptiness" or "void," does not mean "nothingness"

but "equality." Shiki soku zeku indicates the idea that all things

. . . originate from the same foundation . . . Similarly, ku soku

zeshiki means that all things . . . are produced by ku, and

therefore ku is identical with shiki (Niwano 207).

It is through this main parallel that it is likely that scientists, physicists in

particular, would embrace this new concept of reality. Through personal

experience it is my interest in modern physics that piqued my interest in Eastern

Mysticism. Therefor through the western ideal of attaining as much knowledge of

the universe as possible (read: space exploration, particle accelerators, etc) it is

quite possible that Buddhism, had it been formed in 20th century North America,

could become a mainstream religion after surviving the initial onslaught of

opposition.

Thus, had Siddartha Guatama been born in modern day North America,

there would be a number of obstacles for him to face in the founding of Buddhism.

He would have to overcome the problems of being born into a Christian

family/society; a society not used to such abstract ideas of reality, the close-minded

nature of western thought, and the problems posed by a media that likes to jump on

anything new and unusual and tear it to shreds. However, if it were to overcome

these obstacles it is quite probable that it would become a deeply rooted religion in

North America due to the likely support it would gain from the scientific

community.

Bibliography

Capra, Fritjof. The Tao Of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern

Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Berkley: Shamhala Publications, 1975

Ludwig, Theodore M. The Sacred Paths: Understanding the Religions of the World.

New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996

Niwano, NikkyÇ. Buddhism For Today: A Modern Interpretation of the Threefold Lotus

Sutra. New York: WeatherHill, 1980

Richardson, Allen E. East Comes West: Asian Religions and Cultures in North America.

New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1985

Shupe Anson D. Six Perspectives On New Religions: A Case Study Approach.

New York::

Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/siddartha-guatama-in-modern-day-north-america.php



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