Australians Flock to Embrace Buddhism

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Dalai Lama has just completed a tour of Australia, boosting what is the country's fastest-growing religion. Australia has more Buddhists per capita than anywhere else in the Western world. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports on how this religion has moved beyond Asian immigrant communities and into the mainstream.

Tibetan nuns chant traditional prayers - an increasingly common sight in Australia.

There are about 350 thousand Buddhists in the country in this mainly Christian nation, and government census data indicate that number is up almost 80 percent from 1996. The Buddhist population eclipses the size of Australia's Muslim population.

Mark Allon an expert on Buddhism from the University of Sydney says the faith's roots here were established by settlers from Asia.

"We have many immigrants from Buddhist countries. Many Asian immigrants recently and even historically - they brought with them Buddhism," Allon said. "So among those communities you have an interest in Buddhism, a preservation of their religion and culture. Then you also have an interest among the wider Australian community, non-Asian community, resident community, in Buddhism and that has been going on now for almost 100 years."

Read it all.

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryAustralia / NZ* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsBuddhism

Posted June 18, 2007 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. john scholasticus wrote:

In my crude way, I always object when Buddhism is described as a religion. It isn’t: it doesn’t believe in a G/god (or gods), it doesn’t believe in any transcendental reality. It’s a sort of woozy philosophy. I have no objection to it - or to its adherents - but it’s not a religion.

June 18, 3:08 pm | [comment link]
2. Jon Edwards wrote:

I’m thinking that’s a very oversimplified view of buddhism. While the devas are clearly not powers in the sense of creator-gods, they are spiritually existant forces. Thus Buddhism has some very religious aspects for a philosophy.

June 18, 3:28 pm | [comment link]
3. Kevin Montgomery wrote:

Interesting question:  Can a philosophy/school of thought/practice be considered a “religion” without God(s)? 

Of course, with Buddhism, it just depends on the type.  Some, such as forms of Zen, might have no gods or such.  Other types, such as Tibetan Buddhism, have lots and lots of deities (or both peaceful and wrathful varieties). Some Buddhists I’ve encountered have been atheists (or rather non-theists) while others have actually been monotheists.

Kevin Montgomery

June 18, 3:51 pm | [comment link]
4. NewTrollObserver wrote:

#1 John,
Western Buddhist interpretations of Buddhism (and their non-Western comrades too much in awe of philosophical naturalism) often say that Buddhism has no God, or god, or Gods. The problem with such a statement is that the word ‘God’ has many denotations in English, and one has to find out which of those denotations do not form a part of classical Buddhism, and which do. For instance, if by ‘God’ you include a ‘transcendent’ reality, outside of time, space, and matter and energy; then Buddhism definitely has such a God—it’s called nirvana. And, to take a personal perspective (since nirvana itself is often taken to be impersonal) if by ‘God’ you include a ‘person of supreme love’; then Buddhism does include such a ‘God’—that is, the Bodhisattva and the Buddha, who embody (to one degree or another) that transcendent reality known as nirvana. Such enlightened persons, Buddhists (even many Theravadans!) believe, are forever active, in each moment, in helping to liberate all beings, in diverse ways.

One major difference appears there is talk about a ‘God’ that includes the characteristic of ‘creator out of nothing’. This is a very tricky point, since it hinges on the possibility of ‘nothing’ being truly existent—which, from certain Buddhist perspectives, would be impossible. But if one looks at the psycho-spiritual attitude that belief in a ‘creator out of nothing’ induces in the believer (the trust that everything is in God’s hands; that God is in total control; that all is ‘good’; and that nothing in the cosmos is identical to God, e.g.), then one can find similar psycho-spiritual attitudes produced in the Buddhist, but using different terms and statements (the trust that Buddha’s vow to save all beings will be fulfilled; that the Dhamma (the Teaching of the Buddha) will always remain true; that ‘dukkha’ (or suffering) is something that one imposes upon existence and not inherent to existence itself; that the realization of nirvana is possible here and now).

Having said all that, though, it is possible to practice Buddhism without being totally gung-ho about various beliefs in the supernatural (such as the existence of spirits, ghosts; or the existence of various hells and heavens—all of which are part of traditional Buddhism). Many Western Buddhists find that a ‘belief-optional’ interpretation of Buddhism very helpful, and, unfortunately, too often take that to mean that Buddhism denies a reality other than the matter-and-energy cosmos acknowledged by modern Western science.

June 18, 4:17 pm | [comment link]
5. Wilfred wrote:

It has long appeared to me that Buddhism, as practiced in the West, does not seem to make very many difficult demands on its adherents, which is why it is so popular with the Hollywood crowd.

June 18, 10:58 pm | [comment link]
6. john scholasticus wrote:

#4 and others

Thanks. Have to think about this.

June 19, 10:28 am | [comment link]
7. WestJ wrote:

“Belief optional” seems to apply to many ECUSA bishops as well.

June 19, 1:28 pm | [comment link]
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