What are the main challenges facing Buddhism in the modern world and how might Buddhism respond to these challenges? What role does meditation play in modern Buddhist life?Buddhism is an ancient tradition dating back to a time of the Buddha in India, when the teachings were reintroduced to the world. Since this time, it has spread across many different countries and adapted within many different environments. Buddhism is a very influential tradition within Asia and is becoming a very popular religion worldwide. An example of this influence has been put forward by Cousins (1998, p. 369) who suggests that over 50 per cent of the population of the world lives in areas where Buddhism has at some time been the dominant religious force. Buddhism draws on the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, who advocated freedom from suffering through the cultivation of awareness, which is achieved through rigorous meditation practices. Buddhism, within the modern world, is exploring new ground while using moral precepts and traditional techniques, such as the ancient practice of meditation, to address the ills of contemporary society.
This essay will address several important areas concerned with modern Buddhism. Firstly, an examination of the challenges posed by secularisation and materialism that Buddhism must face in the modern world. Challenges such as the need to avoid extremes of total renunciation of the material and total immersion in social action and the changing role of monasticism will be looked at. Also, a discussion of how the tradition can respond to these challenges will be put forward. The role that meditation plays in modern Buddhist life, and the contribution that Buddhism and Buddhist meditation can make within a contemporary western context, will also be explored.
In recent times Buddhism has emerged from the seclusion of far-off monasteries and has spread to the west where it has had to adapt to, and develop within, new environments and cultures whilst still remaining true to the Buddhas original teachings. This has resulted in the development of new Buddhist communities and changes within existing Buddhist communities. Chopra (2003) suggest that the response to this spread is a phenomenon known as modern Buddhism and argues that:unprecendented interest in the Buddhas teachings in non-buddhist societies, as well as a re-interpretation of the dharma in traditional ones, is a significant aspect of this phenomenon that has begun to be called modern Buddhism (Chopra 2003).
As with other religions, contemporary Buddhism faces many political and social challenges which need to be addressed if Buddhism is to continue to flourish. One such challenge is to avoid the extremes between the total renunciation of worldly concerns and the total immersion in issues of social justice and social change. These extremes, known as quietist and social fallacies, present a major challenge for modern Buddhism to respond to (Jones...