Men and Buddhism

buddha head and golf ball. small v

Buddhism, a religion followed by over 400 million people , was founded in India by Siddhartha Gautama. It was developed sometime between 550 and 480 B.C. and its leader became known as “the Buddha,” which means “the Enlightened One.” Followers of Buddhism acknowledge The Four Noble Truths or key pillars of their belief system. These are followed by women and men, with unique roles for each gender.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the sum of all household responsibilities is to be equally split between the man and woman in a marriage. Duties may be distributed based upon a man’s ability to accomplish a task better than a woman. At the time Siddhartha Gautama began teaching in India, these duties may have included running the family business or negotiating sales with neighbors.

Buddhism teaches that men and women are of equal value. The worth of a man’s life is equal to that of a woman’s life. Men are taught to respect their wives as partners and friends, not slaves to be commanded. Karma, a key belief of Buddhist teaching, states that a person’s actions have consequences that affect him and many others. Therefore, it is with great love and respect that a man should treat his wife, not with anger or hatred.

According to Steve Biddulph (1994), the central problems of men’s lives are loneliness, compulsive competition and lifelong emotional timidity. British psychiatrist Anthony Clare (2000) points out that throughout North America, Europe and Australia male suicides outnumber those committed by women by between three and four to one. Clare also suggests that men are increasingly subject to a variety of health problems including cancer, anxiety, depression, circulatory problems and HIV-related disorders. Among the many factors that account for this is the tendency for men to be more isolated psychologically and socially than women.

 

The place that men hold in the world is increasingly uncertain. Until recently, we have taken our position in the social order as men for granted. We did not need to ask ourselves what it meant to be a man or how men should behave. This is not to say that we did not ask questions about ‘the meaning of life.’ Rather, it is to suggest that these questions and their answers were not posed in terms of being a man. The current period is the first in which we are being forced to ask about what it means to live as a man.

 

Men now have to confront questions about masculinity because the ground of prior certainty is being cut away from them by a series of social and cultural changes. A sense of loss and disorientation arises as men recognize the need to change – or are forced to do so – but have not yet forged new secure ways to be. Of particular significance here are the changes associated with work and the conduct of relationships.

 

Late-Modernity involves a loss of personal meaningfulness leading to rising levels of depression, addiction and a loss of purpose in life. Many western men have found that there experiences and a desire to seek out meaning in life have led them to embrace Buddhism as a way of structuring their life and meeting their sprituality needs. Buddhism offers men emotional self-awareness, mindfulness, self-discipline, community, increased calmness of mind and a sense of self-worth and social connectedness. In that context the discourses of Buddhism provide a narrative of hope, structure and a transformed masculinity.

 

There is now a growing body of western scientific evidence showing that meditation and mindfulness have positive psychotherapeutic value and these techniques are a growing part of what is seen as “mens work”. Perhaps the attraction of Buddhism for western men lies in its combination of individual growth in the context of emotional distress – a rather Western emphasis – and the sense of community that it engenders – a traditional Buddhist strength – that appears to many people to have been lost in the West.

 

Buddhism, a religion followed by over 400 million people , was founded in India by Siddhartha Gautama. It was developed sometime between 550 and 480 B.C. and its leader became known as “the Buddha,” which means “the Enlightened One.” Followers of Buddhism acknowledge The Four Noble Truths or key pillars of their belief system. These are followed by women and men, with unique roles for each gender.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the sum of all household responsibilities is to be equally split between the man and woman in a marriage. Duties may be distributed based upon a man’s ability to accomplish a task better than a woman. At the time Siddhartha Gautama began teaching in India, these duties may have included running the family business or negotiating sales with neighbors.

Buddhism teaches that men and women are of equal value. The worth of a man’s life is equal to that of a woman’s life. Men are taught to respect their wives as partners and friends, not slaves to be commanded. Karma, a key belief of Buddhist teaching, states that a person’s actions have consequences that affect him and many others. Therefore, it is with great love and respect that a man should treat his wife, not with anger or hatred.

According to Steve Biddulph (1994), the central problems of men’s lives are loneliness, compulsive competition and lifelong emotional timidity. British psychiatrist Anthony Clare (2000) points out that throughout North America, Europe and Australia male suicides outnumber those committed by women by between three and four to one. Clare also suggests that men are increasingly subject to a variety of health problems including cancer, anxiety, depression, circulatory problems and HIV-related disorders. Among the many factors that account for this is the tendency for men to be more isolated psychologically and socially than women.

The place that men hold in the world is increasingly uncertain. Until recently, we have taken our position in the social order as men for granted. We did not need to ask ourselves what it meant to be a man or how men should behave. This is not to say that we did not ask questions about ‘the meaning of life.’ Rather, it is to suggest that these questions and their answers were not posed in terms of being a man. The current period is the first in which we are being forced to ask about what it means to live as a man.

Men now have to confront questions about masculinity because the ground of prior certainty is being cut away from them by a series of social and cultural changes. A sense of loss and disorientation arises as men recognize the need to change – or are forced to do so – but have not yet forged new secure ways to be. Of particular significance here are the changes associated with work and the conduct of relationships.

Late-Modernity involves a loss of personal meaningfulness leading to rising levels of depression, addiction and a loss of purpose in life. Many western men have found that there experiences and a desire to seek out meaning in life have led them to embrace Buddhism as a way of structuring their life and meeting their sprituality needs. Buddhism offers men emotional self-awareness, mindfulness, self-discipline, community, increased calmness of mind and a sense of self-worth and social connectedness. In that context the discourses of Buddhism provide a narrative of hope, structure and a transformed masculinity.

There is now a growing body of western scientific evidence showing that meditation and mindfulness have positive psychotherapeutic value and these techniques are a growing part of what is seen as “mens work”. Perhaps the attraction of Buddhism for western men lies in its combination of individual growth in the context of emotional distress – a rather Western emphasis – and the sense of community that it engenders – a traditional Buddhist strength – that appears to many people to have been lost in the West.

Greg Millan

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