Major Religions & Spiritual Beliefs
Buddhism in the Modern World
Buddhism in the modern world. Estimates of the number of Buddhists vary between 230 and 500 million, with 350 million as the most commonly cited figure.
While in the West Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East Buddhism is regarded as familiar and part of the establishment. Buddhist organizations in Asia frequently are well-funded and enjoy support from the wealthy and influential. In some cases, this has led critics to charge that certain monks and organizations are too closely associated with the powerful and are neglecting their duties to the poor.
Buddhism and the West
A hallway in California's Hsi Lai TempleIn 1899 Gordon Douglas became the first Westerner to be ordained as a Buddhist monk.
The first Buddhists to arrive in the United States were Chinese. Hired as cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries, they established temples in their settlements along the rail lines.
The Buddhist Society, London was founded by Christmas Humphreys in 1924.
The cultural re-evaluations of the hippie generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s included a renewed interest in Buddhism, proclaimed by some of them as a natural path to awareness, and enlightenment. Many people, including celebrities, traveled to Asia in pursuit of gurus and ancient wisdom. Buddhism had become the fastest-growing religion in Australia and many other Western nations by the 1990s, in contrast to the steady decline of traditional western beliefs (see Christianity).
A distinctive feature of Buddhism in the West has been the emergence of groups that, while drawing on traditional Buddhism, attempt to create a new form of Buddhist practice. Examples include the Shambala movement, founded by Chögyam Trungpa, and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, founded by Sangharakshita.