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The Impact Buddhism Has Had on the West

Shakyamuni Buddha is someone who appeared in India about 2,600 years ago. At the age of 35, Shakyamuni attained the highest level of enlightenment, which is the enlightenment of a buddha, and for 45 years from then until his death at the age of 80, he taught what is known today as ‘Buddhism’. After his death, Buddhism was conveyed from India to China, from China to Japan. Up until today, Buddhist teachings have led many people to attain true happiness. It has given people the joy of being born human that can make us shout out, “I am so glad to have been born human!”

In the modern age, Buddhism started to be conveyed to the West, which was predominantly Christian. Of course, there were various problems with the translations of the scriptures, and the true teachings of Buddhism were not conveyed. Even so, upon gaining their first glimpse at Buddhism in this modern age, many Western intellectuals were astounded by the sheer brilliance of the teachings. For example, Arthur Schopenhauer, a famous 19th Century philosopher, said this on Buddhism:

“If I were to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I would have to consider Buddhism the finest of all religion.”

(Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation)

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher who claimed that God is dead, said as follows:

“Buddhism is a hundred times as realistic as Christianity–it is part of its living heritage that it is able to face problems objectively and coolly; it is the product of long centuries of philosophical speculation.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist)

The famous English writer H.G. Wells was also a historian. He wrote a work called The Outline of History, which was originally published in 24 installments. Wells realized that Buddhism is in harmony with modern thought and that it is the most profound teaching in all of history.

“The fundamental teaching of Gautama, as it is now being made plain to us by the study of original sources, is clear and simple and in the closest harmony with modern ideas. It is beyond all dispute the achievement of one of the most penetrating intelligences the world has ever known.”

(H.G. Wells, The Outline of History)

The psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung researched the unconscious mind and established Jung psychology. He praised Shakyamuni Buddha as “a spiritual pioneer for the whole world”.

Arnold J. Toynbee is considered to have been one of the greatest historians of the 20th century. He wrote a 12-volume work called A Study of History, which details his viewpoint of the rise and fall of civilization. He is quoted as having stated the importance of Buddhism as follows:

“The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the twentieth century.”

(Arnold J. Toynbee)

Martin Heidegger, who is said to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, said upon discovering Buddhism:

“This is what I have been trying to say in all my writings.”

People around him were surprised at his words.

One of the greatest scientists of the 20th century was Albert Einstein. He developed the theory of relativity, which is one of the pillars of modern physics, all by himself. He also contributed to another pillar of physics, which is quantum theory. It is said that there is no scientific field which has no relation to Einstein. He is quoted as having said:

“If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”

This shows what high expectations he placed on Buddhism.

In this way, Buddhism is praised by Western intellectuals. It is said that Buddhism is the greatest teaching that humanity has ever arrived at. Buddhism reveals the true purpose of life, which we must achieve within the time from birth to death. It reveals the path to true happiness. When we attain that happiness, we can truly rejoice: “How wonderful it is to be born human!”


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