The Influence of Buddhism on the New Age Movement

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"The experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet"

On May 25th 1880 the well known Victorian spiritual philosopher Madame Blavatsky and New Age icon and Colonel Olcott, took the three refuges and the five precepts from a Buddhist priest in a temple in Sri Lanka, before a large crowd of Sri Lankan Buddhists. When they had finished the last of the Silas and offered flowers in the customary way there was a mighty shout from the crowd.

Olcott and Blavatsky were the founders of the Theosophical Society, one of the most important influential religious movements of the late 19th Century and in this ceremony Olcott became the first American and Blavatsky the first European to formally to convert to Buddhism. Thus the two legacies of theosophy are the introduction of Buddhism to the West and the diversity set of beliefs and practices which are now known as 'the New Age'.

Buddhism and the New Age have been associated ever since that time, converging most triumphantly in the counter-culture of the 1960's leading to a close, entangled and ambiguous relationship between British Buddhism and the New Age. This conjunction has led to popular perception of Buddhism as a part of the same movement as New Age. There is also the assumption on the part of many 'New Age' adherents that Buddhism supports their outlook and in return the minority influence of New Age ideas and practices on Buddhists' understanding of their own heritage.

Neverheless Buddhism and the New Age are very different. Buddhism and New Age have emerged from very different roots and have traveled on somewhat different paths. Over the last 20 years British Buddhist groups and New Age activities have moved from closeness to a conscious differentiation, followed by a divergence of approaches. The initial closeness honed in the counter-culture trends of the 1960s was to thrust both Buddhism and the New Age to prominence.

A period of separation occurred in the 1970s as Buddhists bought to establish their own identity. But by the 1990s alienation from conventional religions, politics and the conditions of consumer capitalist society have generated renewed interest in both movements bringing them together once more and in the last few years we have seen a number of Buddhist initiatives in New Age venues.

"What we think, we become"

Buddha

What is the New Age?

"Even truth needs to be clad in new garments if it is to appeal to a new age."

The difficulties in defining what is New Age is at the very heart of its nature for there are no definite set of beliefs or practices which are held in common by everyone to whom the term New Age may be applied. What are the distinguishing characteristics of New Age? What are the under attribution and ideas of New Age practices?

Most writers date the emergence of a distinct New Age tradition from the work of the American Theosophist Alice Bailey (1880-1949). This new age tradition mixed together occultism, spiritualism and apocalyptic vision with the anticipating Zeitgeist.

So it might be said that The New Age is the product of mid-20th century America, becoming noticeable in the late sixties and more pronounced since then the New Age boomers grow up.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate." Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. "

"The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind."

Core Principles of New Age Philosophy and Commonalities between New Age and Buddhism

  • All life is the manifestation of Spirit, the Unknowable, of the supreme consciousness known by many different names in different cultures.
  • The purpose and dynamic of all religions is to bring Love, Wisdom and Enlightenment to full reality.
  • All religions are manifestations of this same inner reality.
  • All life, as we perceive it with the five human senses is only the outer veil of an inner, causal reality.
  • Human beings are two-fold animals with an outer temporary personality and a multi-dimensional inner being.
  • The outer personality is limited in scope and trends towards materialism.
  • The inner personality is seemingly unlimited and trends towards love.
  • Our spiritual teachers are those beings who have liberated themselves from the need to incarnate and can express unconditional love, wisdom and enlightenment. Some of these humans are well-known and have inspired the world religions. Some are unknown and work unseen.
  • All life in all its different existences are interconnected energy-and this includes our actions feelings and thoughts.
  • Although our existence is held in the dynamic of cosmic love, we are jointly responsible for the state of ourselves, and of our environment and of all life on the planet.

During this period of time the evolution of our planet and human kind has reached a point when we are undergoing a fundamental spiritual change in our individual and mass consciousness. This is why we speak of a 'New Age' '.

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.

Dalai Lama



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