When we talk about “world religions,” we’re talking about Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism by and large. Most western countries are highly familiar with Christianity. Most known little about the three world religions, Buddhism receives the least attention in the education settings, and in the daily life of most people who live in the the Western countries.
However, since the 1970s, Buddhism has grown in popularity in the United States. Buddhism gained some basic recognition in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the “Beat Generation.” Writers such as Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsurg helped to bring basic Buddhist principles into popular poetry and writings: the idea that the divine is within ourselves, and not outside of us. Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, traveled throughout Buddhist countries in 1969 and 1970 in search of information about Buddhism; he was delighted by the principles of compassion, kindness, concern for others, and meditation that he found. Merton died in an accident and his writings on Buddhism were not published for many years. Buddhism, however, steadily spread to the west largely as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the exile of thousands of Buddhist monks to Europe, India, and the U.S.
The basic theme of Buddhism is the idea that everyone and everything is interconnected. Therefore, kindness and compassion are the only ways to treat other people, and to treat ourselves. in Buddhism there is no God outside of ourselves, and no God to tell us how to live. We are each perfect, and need to meditate and be aware of that perfection within us. The covering up of our perfection from self-doubt, poor treatment by others, and life experience needs to be slowly peeled away through meditation to find the divine within.
In addition, because we are all interconnected, our actions always affect others. This cause-and-effect is called karma. Karma is simply the idea that every action we take can have positive or negative effects. That’s it. When we choose to act in a way that has negative effects, we bring that negativity on ourselves, and make it harder to achieve our innate perfection. The word “karma” is used a great deal in western society as a substitute for comeuppance, or for punishment. “That’s karma” is thrown out when someone gets their just desserts for a negative or nasty action. However, karma works in both negative and positive ways. If you choose “right action” or to act in positive ways toward others, you accumulate positive karma. This positive karma can help you in getting closer to the natural great perfection within you.
The fourteenth Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959; he is the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhism is simply one denomination of Buddhism; Zen Buddhism is another popular form. As a world religion, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing in western society, and understanding its basic principles in key to examining the world and its future.
Extend reading: Objective of Buddhism