Eastern religions and their unique belief systems are transforming many social and religious thoughts into an assortment of means for acquiring and developing innovative and contemporary spiritual growth. One of the more influential shifts in mixing religious traditions into western religious cultures may well be considered ritualistic applications, acceptance, and practicing of meditation.
Freely borrowing the principles of eastern religious traditions allows an individual extended opportunity to open a connection with his or her chosen God, or Supreme Being, by developing positive emotions, and providing a mental calmness; mean while establishing an acute mental strength within oneself. This practice of clearing the mind, projects an unfragmented focus into the inner self and ones mental intuitiveness, enabling a sharpness and keen ability to stimulate mental alertness, and even suggesting the possibility for mental self-healing.
With such widened expressions of religious flexibility, an improved and more comprehensive understanding of diverse truths of belief systems are capable of being discovered. Additionally, through the use of multiple religious observances, one can bear witness to how such effects of Hinduism and Buddhist traditions of meditation, has transformed and enhanced traditional rituals in western religious cultures. Even medicinal benefits can be achieved through the use of advanced breathing techniques, energy practices, and other mental, and physical stimulus.
The following synopsis will demonstrate the effects of how ancient beliefs and traditions have produced influences of varying proportions on western civilization. Many eastern religions play an important role in modern medicine. In the past, western medicine has incorporated eastern medicine paralleling different sacred rituals. Many Eastern religions have given birth to a medical practice of their own; one such example includes Taoism. Taoism believes in studying nature and how man is affected by its healing effects.
From this adherence to medicinal belief rose the practice of acupuncture, which consists of generating a “flow of energy,” and how those flows affect the body (Articles base, 2007). Acupuncture, another form of medicinal equivalency, has currently attracted attention and notoriety world-wide. Those who have experienced this sensation have claimed that it leaves one with a feeling of exhilaration. A study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine, who promotes acupuncture as having medicinal value, supports its true worth by assisting with such anxieties and medical dilemmas as depression during pregnancy.
According to Rachel Manber, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, stated “They hope the results will raise awareness of the problem of depression during pregnancy and provide patients and physicians and alternative to antidepressants” (Manber, 2010). As acupuncture has become popular among western cultures, other configurations of spiritual healing have surfaced, for example meditation and yoga. Through mediation, Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha, was the first person to experience full spiritual enlightenment, primarily due to the deliberate techniques applied.
Several ways that meditation can be performed come in everyday tasks such as reading, walking, swimming, and working out. “From meditation we learn to observe the sensation in the body, which are certainly related to the mind” (Fisher, 2003). Yoga is another practice that the spiritual seeker uses today in meeting the goal to receive purity, wisdom, and peacefulness of mind (Fisher, 2003). The influence of Hinduism is apparent throughout western civilizations and societies. The effects that this has had on the lifestyle and beliefs of most modern Indian are clear.
One of the main influences that have roots with Hinduism is in the practice of yoga. Yoga has become extremely popular in the west in the last several decades. Through deep breathing and mediation techniques, the exercise brings a deeper meaning within one’s self. Yoga mediation is not a separate component, but rather a distinct application of meditation. Aside from relaxing and clearing ones thoughts, there is a popular belief that yoga is an all encompassing tool to become physically fit when in fact, this is hardly the case.
Yoga meditation is a complete process to “finding oneself. ” Hindu belief in practicing yoga is predestined to guide one to absolute, pure, and eternal bliss, therefore, allowing a person to become wise, wholesome, and peaceful. The practice is one of six schools of Hindu philosophy, in which, there can be found, 196 different sutras of yoga. Each one has different forms of attaining balance, purity, wisdom, and eventually spiritual enlightenment, the essential goal. The first of many types of yoga begins with Raja Yoga.
This form of yoga deals mainly with the cleansing of the mind, and is designed to build, develop and sustain a strong mental state through discipline and purification. The way to maintain this state is to have superior health, mental, physical strength and stamina. Furthermore, yoga with such virtuous beliefs, may prove that a pure lifestyle will help in attaining this state of being. Some of the methods used are through abstaining from any influences that would detract from living a pure life such as intoxicant, while also practicing celibacy.
Another significant component of yoga is jnana yoga. jnana yoga cultivates four behaviors toward reaching the development of spiritual deliverance. The first is viveka, the ability to understand what is definite and eternal, and what is temporary. Another element of jnana yoga is vairagya. This ritual is intended to acquire an ability to remove oneself from that which is temporary, therefore preparing for the eternal life. The third state of jnana is shad-sampat, in which a person is in full control of his or her mind, a perfect state of concentration and calmness.
The fourth state is mumukshutva, a condition that releases a person from his or her temporary state and allows freedom into the eternal state of being. Each of the four sections of Jnana is a preparation toward eternal bliss, and in the end, desiring to reach nirvana. An additional, more precise version of yoga, is Karma, a belief in actions. The meaning of Karma is to do and have done, seeking to have a person behave and act in way that brings one closer to one’s duty, which is to act in an unselfish manner, and to bring peace, calmness and tranquility, with every action one takes.
The fourth type of yoga is Bhakti, an instrument of yoga that brings a person closer to God. Within this Practice are nine principles that help a person achieve this state. Although there are various types of yoga, they all parallel each other with the goal of helping to bring a person closer to a divine state with his or her God. Each of the diverse practices of yoga described is a part of modern India, and the influences from Hinduism are apparent in each one. The importance of yoga and Hinduism in India is a large part that is accepted by the society in accordance with the belief system.
The following of Yoga is not only practiced in India, but has also brought the attention to many westerner civilizations. Yoga is not a religion, but more as a means of overcoming the hectic demands of family, work, and life. Practicing yoga gives mental balance as well as a means to optimize health and well being. The effects of yoga and meditation have been proven, and positive results in aiding and nurturing the treatment of learning disabilities, nursing homes, and treatment of alcoholism, well documented.
This rich culture of ancient Hinduism has had many historical changes, challenges, and an influence is currently seen on a global scale. Zen Buddhism migrated to the United States around the 19th century. Since then, the religion has adapted to the western way of life, and has helped to evolve the religion. “As Westerners themselves are taking strong interest in Buddhism, those who have grown up as Buddhist are reassessing their religion and finding new depths in it” (Fisher, 2003, p. 182). Buddhist monasteries and retreats have emerged all throughout the United States.
From the 19th century, Buddhism has helped many American’s learn to function as valued members in society by following the meditation and Zen teachings of the religion. “Buddhism gained a foothold among a significant number of Western intellectuals and particularly during the 1960s and early ‘70s among young people seeking new forms of religious experience and expression” (Britannica, p. 2 ). Although the religion thrived during the 60s and 70s, the active Buddhist today is no longer the young, free loving individuals seen in the past.
Most modern day believers include parents, and families. Parents can bring their children to daycare at the same time as the parents go to rooms to chant and meditate. “As more Buddhist mediation centers make their homes in the suburbs, reflecting the spread of that ancient religion throughout the United States, many are adapting to American ways” (Orr, ’98, p. 2). Buddhists of today can go to retreats for weekend sessions or year long-hiatus. These retreats are not vacations because the religion is taken seriously among most practicing Americans.
Some may credit Japanese scholar D. T Suzuki (1870-1966) for bringing Buddhism to the United States, although others say it was due in part to the Chinese conquest in Tibet around 1959. Either way, there are many temples that began construction by Tibetan monks that came to the United States for refuge. “A number of the highest Tibetan lamas, forced out of Tibet, have established spiritual communities in the United States, complete with altars full of sacred Tibetan artifacts” (Fisher, 2003 p. 178). However, along with the sacred artifacts come some differences.
Most Buddhist temples do not have weekly services, but in the US, services are typically held on Sundays. A Buddhist service is normally performed in the Japanese or Chinese language, but in the US the services are predominately conducted in English. The leaders of the US temples still follow the traditional teachings, but customize it to reach out to more people in the United States. In modern day communist China, religion is viewed much differently from most places in society today. Shortly after becoming a communist state, many religions, religious practices, and texts were destroyed and suppressed.
In fact, most Taoism and Buddhism temples and texts were destroyed in China during the 1960s and 70s (Fisher, 2003). Since then China has become more westernized and recently have adopted a free market economy changing much of China’s communist ways including some religious ideals. China has even declared Taoism and Buddhist temples as historical sites and promotes building of new temples. Although this move by the government was made to promote tourism alone (Fisher, 2003). Religion today is still kept in hiding and many traditions are discouraged.
Any new religion is seen as a treat to the state and is quickly suppressed, sometimes violently. After communist China titled Confucianism as an old way and discarded it from society, parts of Confucianism are now being re-introduced back into everyday life. China was once known as one of the safest, criminal free countries in the world (Fisher, 2003). From the time when China opened its doors to the western society and to a free market, criminal activities began to rise. No longer were communist ideals keeping people from committing such crimes.
The government therefore, began to bring back teachings of Confucianism to schools and society for morale and ethical purposes, to help control such criminal behaviors. The teachings of being the best person possible and the best person to society, teachings of social harmony, and a personal sense of the meaning of life started to become very popular among communist Chinese society. China has even tried to fuse both the ideas of capitalism and Confucian together to make a “Capitalist Confucianism” (Fisher, 2003). Of course, even events such as recognizing Confusion’s birthday was re-introduced for economic reasons.
The government does keep all religious aspects of Confucianism at bay, along with the idea of free thought. Though, many intellectuals and scholars are trying to fight for freedom of thought. They argue free thought would help improve the economy even more at this time while there is a free market. Even religious practices such as meditation are starting to make a comeback in modern day communist China. Meditation is seen as a spiritual practice for people who follow Taoism and Buddhism in China and also seen as a practice to relieve stress and to relax much like it is seen in western society for others.
Since 1995 there have been many experiments on the benefits of meditation in China. Particularly types of meditation known as integrative body–mind training (IBMT) created in the 1990s have been the focus of these studies. IBMT is a type of meditation that teaches a person about a state of calm and focus without the spiritual side of meditation. This type of meditation is said to improve emotional and cognitive performance and social behavior (Posner, 2007).
Recent studies have proven that IBMT not only helps improve one’s focus and performance, but also helps a person deal with stress, tension, anger, depression, and fatigue. It also improved those people’s energy levels and made those same people have a more positive outlook on a day-to-day basis. This all come from just a five day course, two hours a day, of IBMT group practices. So meditation in Chinese culture is not only seen to help benefit one’s mental part of life, but also helps make a person become a better person too him or herself and society both mentally and physically.
With the resonating effects of eastern religion throughout the western world, social and political lives have been influenced in a variety of ways. A general open-mindness for allowing more opportunities for spiritual growth is becoming an ever-changing cause for overcoming overly rational and extreme traditions of the many religious belief systems in existence today. The availability of technology has also become instrumental in exploration of other belief systems, therefore making them within easier reach for adaptation, offering combined religious values and rituals into one belief system.
With such ease of exploration, courtesy of the Internet and widespread mobility, the range of information can enable seekers to learn about other religious traditions, therefore providing diverse individual religious expression (Guarino, 2009). Some Christian leaders however, worry that there may an increase in distractions from worshiping their true path of faith, therefore diluting Christian doctrines. Regardless of ancestral belief systems or modern paradigm paralysis, the mixtures of religions and cultures will continue the spread into western civilizations and societies