In Japan, Buddhists use lucky charms to bestow health, love, and business success. In America, meditation is a device used for granting wishes.
In Japan, Buddhists seek practical benefits through the use of amulets, lucky charms, magical symbols, and fortune-telling devices. The average Japanese practitioner of Buddhism uses these devices to fulfill wishes1. The Japanese appreciate the worldly benefits of Buddhism: the bestowal of health, love, business success, and protection from harm. Buddhism has adapted to Japanese culture to better provide for material benefits.
“This pattern repeats itself in modern America, but with a twist”, writes Jeff Wilson in his book Mindful America. Americans are not inclined to seek the material benefits of Buddhism through use of magical amulets, lucky charms, or fortune-telling devices–instead Americans turn to Buddhist meditation, says Wilson, which fits better into the prevailing scientific worldview. Hence, the proliferation of medicalized articles about meditation and mindfulness in the American media. Medical science is appropriated to make claims that meditation has therapeutic and practical benefits.
Mindfulness has been adopted in nearly every American institution, including clinics, hospitals, schools, corporations, prisons, military, and pop culture. Mindfulness, originally a Buddhist tradition, has been transformed to deliver the cultural benefits desired by Americans. The transformation of Buddhist tradition, or for that matter any religious tradition (including yoga, which is a transformed Hindu tradition for Americans), allows traditions to integrate and adapt to a new host culture2. For Japanese Buddhists, a physical device, an amulet or charm, grants wishes. In American culture, a mental device, mindfulness or meditation, bestows health, love, and business success.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting health, love, and material success. Humans crave to survive and thrive. But, what are our means to that end? “Luck” certainly plays a role in what we can accomplish. We have limitless methods at our disposal–such as exercise, education, and relationships. Do Americans need “sophisticated” charms, mental devices from Asia? More and more Americans are turning to Buddhist meditation and mindfulness for its practical benefits.
Questions for readers: Can practice of meditation and mindfulness help fulfill the “American Dream”? How are the goals and aims of Japanese Buddhists different from those of American practitioners?
1 Wilson, Jeff. Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. Oxford University Press. 2014. Hardcover. p5
2 ibid p6