Point of view:
Beijing Olympics and Buddhism
As the Beijing Olympic games approach and the west is exposed to
Chinese culture to a much greater extent, the treatment of Buddhist
Tibetans has some westerners shaking their heads. World leaders ponder
how to respond in a way that will put pressure on China to stop their
human rights abuses, but not disrupt the games. It is a delicate
As our media has become more global, and our understanding of
international disputes increases, so has our exposure and understanding
of distant cultures.
Recently released data from Statistics Canada indicate the largest
growth in religious affiliations in Canada occurred among Muslims, more
than doubling in 1991 to 2001 from 253,300 in 1991 up to 579,600 in
2001, or about 2% of the population. The number of Buddhists increased
84% to about 300,300 during the same period, translating to about a 1%
Immigration factors are largely responsible for the increase in
groups such as Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in Canada. The
number of multi-faith immigrants entering Canada has increased
continually since the 1960s.
Buddhists now account for about 5% of the 1.8 million new immigrants
who came to Canada during the 1990s. This data suggests that Buddhism
has been consistently spreading across Canada in the last decade.
Further analysis of different provinces, indicate that in Ontario,
Buddhists have almost doubled (96.4% increase) during this period.
Interestingly, in British Columbia (BC) Buddhists have more than doubled
(134.8% increase) from 1991-2001, the highest increase seen by any
religion studied in BC during that decade.
Since the last analysis, Buddhism has become increasingly popular in
Canada but there is currently no data available to estimate this
increase through the years 2001-2008.
In light of this, the question becomes why are people drawn to a
philosophy or spirituality such as Buddhism? Exactly what is Buddhism?
According to Dalai Lama, the spiritual figurehead of Tibetan
Buddhism, “Some people consider Buddhism not to be a religion. Buddhism
is the science of mind.”
Some also regard Buddhism as the ultimate psychotherapy of the mind.
Buddhists believe that true happiness comes from ‘letting go’ rather
than ‘getting more.’ Generally, ‘getting more’, is how the Western world
views achieving happiness.
Buddhists believe that all living beings have the same basic wish to
be happy and avoid suffering. They believe happiness and suffering are
states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the
mind. The real source of happiness is inner peace.
If our mind is peaceful, we shall be happy all the time, regardless
of external conditions.
If that happiness is disturbed or troubled in any way, happiness can
never be attained no matter how good our external conditions are, such
as large homes, cars, and excessive amounts of money.
One way to achieve this internal peace is through meditation. Buddha
taught many profound methods of spiritual training, including ways to
purify and control our minds. Buddhists believe that if these methods
are practiced, a special experience of mental peace can be achieved and
then inner peace will grow.
External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful.
The benefits of Vipassana (insight, or to see things as they are)
meditation are not new to Buddhists, but are to most westerners.
In March 2008, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
showed for the first time that cultivating compassion and kindness
through Buddhist meditation affects brain regions that can make a person
more empathetic to other peoples’ mental states.
An example of the benefits of Vipassana is demonstrated in a just
released movie titled “The Dhamma Brothers”. The New York Times recently
printed a review of the movie, filmed at the Donaldson Correctional
Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, one of the most violent prisons in North
The film follows a small group of men through a course of Vipassana
meditation. For nine days the men abstained from talking and followed a
strict schedule of meals, rest and ‘noble silence’.
The film depicts how they reconnect to humanity in the hopeless
setting of human warehousing. “According to the convicted murderer Grady
Bankhead, those nine days were tougher than his eight years on Death
Vipassana meditation has also proven to be an alternative for
individuals who do not wish to attend, or have not succeeded with
traditional addiction treatments.
One study evaluated the effectiveness of a Vipassana meditation
course on substance use and psychosocial outcomes in a population that
Results indicated that after release from jail, participants in the
Vipassana meditation course, as compared with those in a
treatment-as-usual control condition, showed significant reductions in
alcohol, marijuana, and crack cocaine use.
Vipassana meditation participants showed decreases in alcohol-related
problems and psychiatric symptoms as well as increases in positive
Buddhist principles of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can help
in many stressful conditions including anxiety and depression.
Meditation was recommended as the third line of treatment in 2006-2007,
under the Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines.
The Harvard Gazette reported in its Feb 2006 edition, that:
“Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the
physical structure of our brains.
Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted
increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and
processing sensory input.” In effect, people who meditate grow bigger
Previous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation interventions
can help improve psychological functioning, better sleep, reduce stress
levels, enhance coping skills, and well-being in cancer patients. These
studies were conducted mainly in breast and prostate cancer patients.
The reason for this may be a result of possible changes in the
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning.
Renowned Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm, who will be speaking in Toronto
in June says, “I believe there is a longing by people living in this
fast-paced technologically driven world today to find peace and
“As a result we are seeing a rise in people searching for peace and a
greater meaning to life.”
To answer the initial question, what draws people to a philosophy
such as Buddhism Ajahn Brahm believes the attraction to Buddhist
teachings today is, “the call for one ‘to investigate for him.’ Buddhism
tells you ‘how to do it’ rather than ‘what to do.’”
“This is the basic difference in the Buddhist teachings compared to
other religions,” he says. “The core practice of Buddhism is centred on
meditation practice and it ultimately trains you to become ‘your own
Indeed with the rise in popularity of Buddhism it would appear there
is a very deep interest in learning how to meditate, both to overcome
stress and anxiety, and to deepen one’s spiritual experience.