By Melvin McLeod, Editor-in-Chief of the Shambhala Sun
It wasn’t so long ago that most Americans took their religion for granted. You were born into a religion, you lived in it, and you died in it. It’s the way humans have related to religion for thousands of years.
Until now. Today, a significant and growing number of Americans do not identify themselves as members of any specific religion. Yet many continue to yearn for something more than a life of materialism, for something that gives deeper meaning and happiness, for something they describe as “spiritual.”
Some thirty million Americans maintain some type of spiritual belief and practice, even though they no longer feel at home in a church, synagogue, or mosque. These are the famous “spiritual but not religious,” philosophically the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. Generally, they’re educated, liberal, and open-minded, with a deep sense of connection to the Earth and a belief that there’s more to life than what appears on the surface.
Perhaps this describes you. In which case you’ll find that Buddhism has a lot to offer your life and spiritual practice, without some of the downsides of institutionalized religion.
To put it another way: Is Buddhism the religion for people who don’t like religion?
Buddhism is unique among the world’s major world religions, for one big reason. Buddhism is the one world religion that has no God. It is the nontheistic religion.
That changes everything. Yes, like other religions Buddhism describes a nonmaterial, spiritual reality (perhaps the realer reality), and addresses what happens after we die. But at the same time, it is down-to-earth and practical: it is about us, our minds, and our suffering. It’s about being fully and deeply human, and it has something to offer everyone. Because who doesn’t know the value of being present and aware. Of having an open mind and loving heart. And a proven path to get there.
Buddhism is about realization and experience, not institutions or divine authority. This makes it ideal to those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. In the coming days here, we’ll tell you the 10 top reasons why. So check back here (or at least follow us on Twitter!) for updates.
Melvin McLeod’s “10 Reasons” article is also available in its entirety now as part of a digital booklet, “Buddhism for the Spiritual but not Religious,” free to new subscribers to the Shambhala Sun. Also included are “How it Helps Me,” featuring six non-Buddhists on how Buddhism has benefited their lives; three experts on whether Buddhism is a religion or not; and easy-to-follow instructions for getting started with meditation right now.