Why So Many Americans Are Turning to Buddhism
Four in 10 American adults now say they meditate at least weekly. “Buddhism has been popular in various forms among certain celebrities and tech elites,” Olga Khazan wrote last week, “but the religion’s primary draw for many Americans now appears to be mental health.”
I am a practicing Buddhist and someone with bipolar disorder, so this article hit very close to home—and while I found it generally nuanced and well researched, there is one important issue that I feel wasn’t addressed (and a few minor doctrinal issues that pestered me).
Most important, it should be addressed that no form of Buddhist practice is a replacement for professional psychological help. Indeed, quality mental-health services in America are shamefully difficult to access for many people, and certain aspects of Buddhist teaching can prove extremely beneficial (both in lieu of other services and in addition to them), but meditation can also reinforce negative mental traits that the meditator either is unaware of or doesn’t realize the negative consequences of. Meditation itself can lead to the uncovering of very painful, traumatic experiences and emotions, and if a person is already having difficulties with mental health, there is a significant possibility that the person’s symptoms could worsen if not properly addressed. While good teachers can help guide their students through the obstacles they encounter in their practice, many—especially teachers who are not accustomed to American culture—tend to provide general recommendations that do not resolve the underlying issues, or ones that can even reinforce a person’s unskillful habits.