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Buddhism and Western Civilization – Essay Sample

Buddhism and Western Civilization – Essay Sample

Many of the most basic points of Buddhism seem negative to the western mind. This is due to the fact that the Eastern mindset, the way of viewing the world, is drastically different from the Western mindset. One of the main points on which the western and eastern mindset diverge is in the idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the rebirth of the soul. In Buddhism, it is believed that souls are reborn after a body dies. Buddhism also states, however, that the world is in a constant state of flux, continuously changing from one moment to the next. Since the soul is part of the world, it is also in a state of flux so the soul that is reborn is not exactly the same as the soul it was before. This has led to the mistaken belief that Buddhists do not believe in a soul. What is true is that their belief in what a soul is just different from the western understanding of what a soul is. How a person views their experiences in this life, then, have a lot to do in what they believe the purpose of this life is.

In the East, where Buddhism is practiced, the world is seen as a stage through which the soul must pass during its own evolution, which is of an infinitely long time. “This uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by karma, and not limited only to the present life, but having its source in the beginning-less past and its continuation in the future — is the Buddhist substitute for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other religions (Thera, 2011).” Thus, in the west while the purpose of life is to gain entrance into the heavenly realm based on experiences gained in the earthly realm, in the east, the purpose of life is such as the purpose of a river, to flow and ebb in the interconnected circle of life, death and rebirth.

In the west,  the soul is seen as unique and individual, and each person alive today is a unique person from any other person who has ever lived. Thus, it is believed that the experiences one has in this life are the only ones that they will ever have.  Souls that have already been alive are thought to reside in another world, such as a Heaven in Christian myth. This causes a great attachment to the world, in which worldly goods, property and people are often jealously guarded over. The contrasting belief in Buddhism is that there is no permanence so there is no point in worrying about processions and ownership since these are only illusions of the mind caused by the emotion of attachment. The Dali Lama, a Buddhist monk, has always warned against attachment to worldly goods. He himself has actually very little in the way of personal belongings. His freedom from attachment has resulted in having very little to worry about. The lack of worry has given him a composure of peace and contentment.

When I view the world through eastern eyes the world that I view is actually one I find much easier to navigate. Choices do not carry the same life or death finality, since the experience can be viewed as part of a much larger picture.  Letting go of an attachment to material possessions free’s me from worrying about how much ‘stuff’ I have and from the need to constantly gather and protect it.  There is much stress and anxiety that comes from ownership of any kind. This stress and anxiety can cause health problems, both physically and emotionally. The less you have the less you have to worry about.  The less worry in your life, the more peace and contentment begins to flow in.

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