Current issues for the religion Buddhism
Why is Buddhism the fastest growing religion in Australia?
by Darren Nelson
The answer to this inquiry is multi-layered and complex. It is a tantalising issue because it highlights the changing spiritual landscape of Australia and provides an insight into just how multicultural we have really become.
Cultures that were foreign to Anglo-European Australians are now being adopted by some of them - though not without some dissenting resistance. This level of resistance in Australian society can be seen as a litmus test, used to measure future political and religious tolerance in this country.
The story concerning the rise of Buddhism in Australia is a compelling tale of a resilient religion that has survived despite the odds. How is it possible for a 2, 500-year-old philosophy, which began five hundred years before Christianity and one thousand years before the Muslim faith, to be relevant to modern life in Australia? Considering all the other ancient religions that have faded from contemporary practice, such as the sun worshippers of Ancient Egypt, the human sacrifices of the South American Mayans and the Druids from the Dark Ages of England, Buddhism has outlasted them all.
It does not preach the dogma of a strange cult, nor seek converts with evangelistic fervour. Those Australians who actively convert to Buddhism do so voluntarily, and are usually well-educated middle-aged professionals who are attracted to a sense of inner peace. This documentary therefore, seeks to immerse itself in the substance of this seemingly magnetic Buddhist approach. Perhaps it will be like seeing Australia for the first time, through ancient eyes.
It is interesting to note that in spite of the recent increase in Buddhist numbers across Australia, Buddhism has actually played a part in Australian history for some time. It did not just suddenly arrive in a recent wave of migrants. Some anthropologists, in fact, have suggested that Buddhism was possibly the earliest non-indigenous religion to reach Australia before white settlement.
Between 1405 and 1433 the Chinese Ming emperor, Cheng-Ho, sent sixty-two large ships to explore southern Asia. Although there is evidence that several ships from that armada landed on the Aru Islands to the north of Arnhem Land, it is not known whether they reached the mainland.
One unproved hypothesis of Professor A.P. Elkin is that the belief of some Northern Territory Koorie tribes in reincarnation, psychic phenomena and mental cultivation is evidence of early contact with Buddhists. Despite certain rock paintings that possibly depict Chinese junks weighing anchor or images of the Buddha, actual material evidence remains to be seen.
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