Benefits of American Buddhism on Society

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Buddhism has become common in the US as more Americans are adopting the religious practices. The religion was introduced in the United States by the Americans who have Korean, Japanese, or Chinese heritage. Buddhism teachings and practices have been noted to have an impact on health and illness. The practice of Buddhism is controlled by Buddha teachings which are believed to be the essential four noble truths of suffering. “Four noble truths as preached by Buddha are that the life is full of suffering, that there is a cause of this suffering, it is possible to stop suffering, and there is a way to extinguish sufferings,” (Aich 165). The rules and laws of Buddhism prohibit lying, stealing, taking life, sexual misconduct, and intake of intoxicants.  The paper will focus on the benefits of American Buddhism influences on the well-being of individuals and society.

i.    Background and History of Buddhism   

The founder of Buddhism was a royal prince named Buddha Shakyamuni from Lumbini, Nepal. At 29 years old, the prince decided to follow a spiritual path of meditation in a forest. It is believed that after six years, he received enlightenment when he was under the Bodhi Tree which was located in Bodh Gaya, India. As a response to a request to start teaching, Buddha ended his meditation and began to teach the first wheel of Dharma. His teachings entail the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths and other topics which are considered the primary sources of Hinayana.

Buddha continued with his teachings which included the Sutra Discriminating the intention and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. The lessons are considered the primary sources of Mahayana.  In the Hinayana teachings, Buddha describes ways of obtaining liberation from suffering for the sake of oneself. In the Mahayana teachings, he mentions ways of attaining full enlightenment for other people. Both traditions grew in Asia and the surrounding nations. Currently, the traditions are being practiced by some Americans. Buddha’s main intention was to direct human beings to permanent liberation from suffering. He believed that temporary liberation from difficulties and suffering is insufficient.  He was motivated by compassion and love to assist human beings to have nirvana (lasting peace).

ii.    Beliefs of Buddhism

Similar to other religions practiced globally, Buddhism has a variety of traditions. Reincarnation is considered an example of the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism. Reincarnation refers to the ability of people being reborn after they die. Buddhists believe that the terms rebirth and reincarnation have different definitions. Reincarnation implies that a person may recur several times while rebirth suggests that when a person returns to Earth, he or she may not come back as the same entity. It is believed that a person attains Nirvana when he or she has utterly no attachment to the self and desire.

Buddhists believe in three training which includes Sila, Samadhi, and Prajna. Sila refers to morality, ethical conduct, and virtue. Samadhi entails mental development, meditation, and concentration. Prajna involves enlightenment, wisdom, insight, and discernment. The Four Noble Truths mainly discuss the suffering of human beings. Dukkha states that suffering exists in almost every part of the world, Samudaya states that each suffering has a cause, Nirodha states that every suffering comes to an end eventually, and Magga says that for suffering to come to an end, individuals need to adhere to the Eightfold Path. There are five precepts believed and obeyed by Buddhists. They forbid killing, stealing, lying, misuse of sex, and consumption of intoxicants like alcohol.

The three prongs for this paper include ways in which American Buddhists practice their religion, ways in which Buddhism enhances the wellbeing of human beings, and the differences and similarities between Buddhist healthcare approach and contemporary medicine. Although some religions can hinder the delivery of health care, American Buddhism immensely influences the enhancement of the well-being of people and societies.

Practices carried out by American Buddhists

American Culture immensely influences Buddhism practices. The American Buddhists entail second-generation Korean-Americans and fifth generation Americans who have Japanese and Chinese heritage. The views of Buddhists who practice different traditions and different races reflect the society. American Buddhists have molded the religion to match some of the American values.  “American in seven claims to have had a fair amount of contact with Buddhists…have had an important influence on his or her religion or spirituality,” (Wuthnow 363).  Elite Buddhism is an example of a type of Buddhism that has been affected by American culture. It is practiced by mostly well educated, financially stable, and white demographic. Elite Buddhism focuses on self-reflection and meditation.

Western medication has been accepted and is being used by Buddhists. Generally, Buddhists have never been against medication and prevention of diseases. They understand that the mind and body are vulnerable to illness, aging, and death. There are no prohibitions to the use of medication except those connected with the five precepts. As long as the treatment does not entail stealing, killing or harming another person, then it is accepted. 

Both intellectual and pragmatic approaches are implemented in Buddhism. The pragmatic approach advocates for the practice of Buddha teachings with the goal to get rid of suffering and bring about inner peace. Individuals with mature intellectual approach seek knowledge of the details and intricacies of Dharma. In this way, they are able to understand the teachings clearly and can easily incorporate them in their daily lives.

American Buddhists aim at being mindful in their eating. In the book “Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food,” Susan Albers provides an outline of how Buddhism connects with the eating practices of American Buddhists. When eating, American Buddhists have to be mindful of thoughts, body, mind, and feelings. It is believed that when they are mindful, they will naturally develop healthy eating habits (Albers 24). Most Americans tend to overeat because of what they see, their mind and their hearts. However, Buddhist doctrines aim at eradicating attachments and teaching mindfulness. Being mindful means being able to tell when one is hungry, when one is full, and having complete awareness of the body. Alcohol, caffeine, and drugs are believed to minimize an individual’s ability to understand their body sensations. American Buddhists require a balance in their feeding; they can neither eat too much nor too little. It is because; too much or too little food makes the body weak and thus unhealthy.

American Buddhists prefer cooking their food. They not only practice cooking, but also ensure that through cooking they benefit both their bellies and their hearts. When cooking, they emphasize local and organic ingredients (Albers 45). Mindful cooking entails presence while cooking, having complete engagement with the meal being prepared and one’s relationship to it. An individual is expected to be aware of the meal with all their senses. American Buddhists believe that when cooking, there is a transfer of energy from one’s hands to the food and from the food to one’s hands. For this reason, they ensure that only positive and vital energies are transferred since they affect the meal and its consumer.

The diet eaten by American Buddhists should be non-harmful. For this reason, most of them practice vegetarianism. They also believe that the life of animals needs to be protected. It is due to their belief in reincarnation and the need to reduce suffering. Consumption of meat is discouraged to reduce the exploitation of animals.

Ways in Which the Wellbeing of Americans is affected by Buddhism

    Buddhism has a positive impact on the wellbeing of Americans. The religion advocates for the enhancement of the holistic view of health. It involves the practice of specific dietary and nutritional procedures. “Buddhists will mostly be vegetarian. Meals will vary considerably depending upon their country of origin,” (Rumun 41). In Buddha’s teachings, the necessity of having a strong body is emphasized. Buddhism has an association with “11% increase in the odds of being in good to excellent health,” (Wiist 132).

   Healthy behavior is incorporated into the Buddhists’ life patterns. Wiist states, “A one-point increase on a Buddhist Devoutness Index was associated with a 15% increase in the odds of being a non-smoker,” (Wiist 132). Furthermore, religion supports respect for nature, one-self, and other people. In the use of medications and drugs, Buddhism encourages people to take caution. The medications should be in line with the five precepts of Buddhism. Through meditation, Buddhism promotes inner-peace and stress-free life. Also, Buddhism encourages the practice of perseverance to attain health goals.

    Buddhism practices also have a negative effect on the wellbeing of individuals in the United States. The acts of compassion and wisdom are overshadowed by religious rituals and chanting. “Some form of chanting may be used to influence the state of mind at death so that it may be peaceful,” (Rumun 42). The religion is believed to promote psychological disturbance and egocentrism which damages its adherents psychologically. Furthermore, it is believed that religion is quasi-irrational, pessimistic, and separated from objective moral standards, objective truth, and objective reality. Most of the beliefs of Buddhism are in superstitions instead of pragmatic medication. “Some Buddhists may not wish to have sedatives or pain-killing drugs administered at this time,” (Rumun 41). They refuse to use painkillers as they believe that it may be against some of their traditions. Buddhism is in support of the use of medications to relieve pain as long as it is in line with the five precepts.

Comparison and contrast between Buddhist Healthcare Approach and Contemporary Medicine

    Both Buddhist healthcare approach and contemporary medicine practice the principle of non-maleficence. Here, the relationship between the physician and patient is considered fiduciary (Carr 20). The patient tends to trust and believe that the physician will employ his expertise in the best interest of the patient. Also, the patients believe that the physician will not do anything to harm or inflict evil in them. When harm is inflicted, it will lead to pain which in turn will result in distress.

    Both cases incorporate the principle of beneficence. Beneficence refers to the acts of charity, kindness, and mercy. It promotes love, selflessness, humanity, and the good for other people. Furthermore, it involves every type of action that is meant to encourage the good of other individuals. The principle of beneficence can be defined as a moral obligation to carry out activities that benefit others by removing any form of harm that may cause them pain.

    In both cases, the patients have the right to autonomy. Autonomy can be defined as an individual’s rule that is not interfered by others or personal constraints which may hinder important decision making. An autonomous person will act intentionally with full awareness and understanding and will not be influenced by anything.  Both Buddhist healthcare approach and contemporary medicine respect autonomy. The patients are usually provided with an environment that promotes autonomous choice.    

    Both cases advocate and promote patient justice. Justice refers to the moral obligation to function based on fair adjudication between the presented claims. It mainly entails equality, entitlement, and fairness. The scarce resources must be equally distributed, individual’s rights respected, and morally acceptable laws must be obeyed.

    In both Buddhist healthcare approach and contemporary medicine, the patient’s right to receive courteous, respectful, and considerate care is obeyed. The patient can accept or refuse the care as stated in the law (Carr 34). He or she is provided with information on the consequences of refusing to receive certain care. However, Buddhism healthcare approach relies on superstition while contemporary medicine believes in the healing power of medical procedures and medication.


    Although there is a possibility of some religions hindering the delivery of healthcare service, American Buddhism has a significant contribution in the enhancement of the well-being of both the people and the society. The paper has explored ways in which American Buddhists exercise their religion, how the wellbeing of individuals is promoted by Buddhism and the comparison and contrast between Buddhist healthcare approach and contemporary medicine.

    Religion can be incorporated in healthcare by encouraging believers to get medical care when they need it. Human beings are bound to fall sick at some point, and not all illnesses can be cured naturally. Some may need medical attention for the individual to get better. Buddhism permits believers to have artificial reproductive procedures, genetic engineering, and blood transfusion. The decision to refuse lifesaving procedures is usually made by the patient’s wishes at times the religious leader offering support and care to the patient is consulted. Some Buddhists believe that organ transplant may interfere with the consciousness of the decent since some of their traditions believe in its possibility. Painkillers are accepted as long as they adhere to the five precepts.  Proper training should be provided to health care practitioners through workshops which will enable them to understand the different religions and beliefs.



Works Cited

Aich, Tapas. "Buddha philosophy and western psychology." Indian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 55(suppl 2) (2013): 165-170.

Albers, Susan. Eating mindfully: How to end mindless eating and enjoy a balanced relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications, 2012.

Carr, Mark, Nam, Julius and Sorajjakool, Siroj. World Religions for Healthcare Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.

Rumun, Akpenpuun. "Influence of Religious Beliefs on Healthcare Practice." International Journal of Education and Research, vol.2, no.4 (2014): 37-48.

Wheat, Kay. "Applying ethical principles in healthcare practice." British Journal of Nursing, vol.18, no.17 (2013): 1062-1063.

Wiist W.H., Sullivan, B.M., St. George, D.M., & Wayment, H.A. "Buddhists' religious and health practices." Journal of Religion and Health

(2012): 132-147.

Wuthnow, Robert. America and the challenges of religious diversity. Princeton University Press, 2011.

August 14, 2023




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