In this essay, I will discuss the many aspects and ideals of Asian Religions along with their impact and the role they play within the United States. I had a few questions that I had to try and find answers for, in order to complete the connection of Asian Religions to the United States. Why are some Americans and westerners finding Asian Religions as well as Asian thought and philosophy to be more gratifying than traditional western religions and philosophy? How are Asian Religions perceived and practiced here in the United States as opposed to its place of origination? Finally, is there further growth of the Asian Religions as well as philosophy still possible here in the United States and the west? All of the answers to these questions will try and explain the place Asian Religions have here in the United States.
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Why are some Americans finding Asian religions as well as Asian thought and philosophy to be more satisfying than traditional western religions and philosophy? One thing I might point my finger at is the expansion of religious studies within the United States. As we discussed in class, just within the past ten years the idea of religious studies (including more than just the majority religions) is just now being accepted and explored. As we have become more familiar with the many different religions that are in this world, the more we will pursue and possibly practice those religions. As the west is becoming more educated to all the different religious possibilities, I feel many people are becoming more accepting of a person who searches out these different possibilities. Technology is also a factor in the education of Asian religions. The technology we have today allows people to really explore the entire world from the tips of their fingers. Being knowledgeable that something different does exist will open your mind to different avenues. You may find a western traditional religion to be right for you, but if you are educated in many of the options you might accept the idea someone else finds your western tradition not comfortable for them.
I find many Americans searching for a higher spirituality than traditional western religions, and they can find what they are searching for in Asian religions. Alan Watts was the type of person who refused western religions and their thinking and in his search, he formed "his own hybrid spirituality a between Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, with a certain leaning towards Vedanta and Catholicism, or rather the Orthodox Church of Eastern Europe." (Beginning a Counterculture) He is like so many Asian religious devotees here in the United States that leave traditional thinking and find themselves in the middle of Asian religions.
How are Asian religions perceived and practiced here in the United States as opposed to its place of origin? I think I was like many other uneducated Americans when it came to the preconceived notions of Asian religions. I felt as though many of the religions were based on the idea to just find yourself through meditation. Now that I have taken this class it has opened my mind to the seriousness and the traditions these religions follow. While reading an article I found a few sentences that expressed that exact sentiment. "Many ideas from Asia are familiar even to westerners. They can be picked up from exposure to many aspects of Asian culture that have been influenced by theology and philosophy. Asian business methods, holistic medicine, martial arts, cooking, gardening, interior decorating, and yoga are just some of the activities that reflect the profound influence of Asian theology and philosophy and that have made an impact on the west. The original ideas do become distorted as they make their way into popular culture." (Asian Religions and the Western Mind) So, as you can see much of the way we think of Asian philosophy can be distorted. In the same respect, I feel that sometimes the Asian religions are used here in the United States just as someone would use Yoga or the tradition of martial arts. I feel that the Asian religions are somewhat being practiced as a fad or a trend within the United States. Now, some people take these religions very seriously, but I feel others use them as a workout for stress relief, just as you would use yoga.
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Another way I think westerners perceive Asian religions is as though they are only superstitions and not based on scripture, practice, and tradition. We are so familiar with our own western religions and yet so unfamiliar with eastern religions I feel many people find it hard to believe that they could be equals. Many western thinkers are very close-minded and feel Asian religions are unnecessary. Here are two examples of that thinking. A book was put out in 1967 and it "summarized and assessed major religious traditions. Its evangelical readers learned that the Hindu's god is too small and that Buddhism's goals are beyond man's ability to reach." (Fritz Ridenour's, So What's the Difference?) A similar book stated, "In the United States Zen has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. This is large because of American's disillusionment with the valueless system of society and their turning to the counterfeit values of Eastern religion and philosophy." (The Kingdom of the Cults) As you can tell these two authors were probably not educated of the Asian religions and philosophies and therefore had a distorted view. So, there is a large gap between Americans' perceptions of Asian religions and philosophy and how it is looked upon in its homeland.
Is there further growth of the Asian religions as well as philosophy still possible here in the United States and the west? The first reason I will say that there is a great possibility for further growth would be, here in America we have the right to freedom of religion. The first amendment states that we can practice any religion we would like as long as it does not interfere with any other person. Therefore there will always be a possibility that these Asian religions will flourish here in the United States. The next three reasons are already things I have discussed. As technology continues to become better so will the education we can receive. From this higher education, we will be able to form more educated opinions, and I feel these will result in a more accepting attitude of the Asian religions. The last point to make in this argument is that the Asian population here in the United States is rising at a high rate. I feel this will bring stronger traditions and practices of the Asian religions along with a large base of Asian philosophy. "This new reality is not a New York- California phenomenon of the cosmopolitan coasts of America. This is the main street phenomenon. There are Hindus, and Buddhists in Salt Lake City, in Toledo, and in Jackson, Mississippi." (Challenge of Pluralism) The other quote I got from this article has stats about the actual growth in the Asian population in the United States. "The 1965 immigration act proposed by John F Kennedy and signed into law by Lyndon Johnson set immigration on a new footing, eliminating the national origins quotas that had linked immigration to the national origins of groups already established in the United States. It is to the legislation that one can attribute the modern burst of Asian immigration- from about one million Asian Americans in 1965 to seven point three million in 1990." You can just imagine if in 1990 it was seven point three million to what it might be today in 2005. So, I feel as the Asian population rises in the United States so too will the Asian religions continue their growth.
Asian religions are prevalent here in the United States. Some people may not understand them and some may not accept them. However, if we could try to educate ourselves just a little we will find that we can make clearer decisions and have a less distorted view of these Asian religions. We really must try and learn about these many practices and philosophies for they will continue to grow within all communities in this free country, The United States.