Similarly to pop psychology, do we have the same effect for Buddhism? I have a feeling that many people subscribing to Buddhism because it seems to explain psychological phenomena that they (unfortunately) can't explain. It is also said that the Buddha taught the disciples in three levels, and in level 1 the goal is just to help the students overcome their problems in life, so I think this level is indeed pop Buddhism.

Therefore I think pop Buddhism is a version of pop psychology. I wonder if my understanding is correct.

  • What are the other two levels, or where/what is this teaching?
    – ChrisW
    Feb 10, 2019 at 17:59
  • The first level is that you accept everything is real, and the goal is just to solve the practical problems. I think this is simply a form of therapy. The second one is when you realize that dharma has no self-nature. At this level we start to use more Buddhism philosophy. The third one is to realize that the idea that everything is impermanent is also a kind of clinging. I hope that answer the question?
    – Ooker
    Feb 12, 2019 at 17:11
  • Yes it answers the question. The "dharma has no self-nature" probably implies Nagarjuna and later, which explains why I didn't recognise that "taught in three levels" as part of the Pali canon. I don't know whether what you're describing is also known as Three turnings of the Wheel.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 12, 2019 at 17:24
  • oh, I thought that "dharma has no self-nature" is a basic foundation in Buddhism? I am new to Buddhism and currently reading the Middle Way. The link seems more like a historic division, while in this case it is more about the complexity of the teaching, like how @santa100 answers.
    – Ooker
    Feb 14, 2019 at 3:15
  • I think Nagarjuna's Middle Way is influential, famous, foundational; even so I more familiar with the suttas of the Pali canon, so I didn't recognise what "the Buddha taught the disciples in three levels" was alluding to (and it seems to almost contradict some sutta where the Buddha says that he didn't keep anything important secret, so I was curious to find out what you were alluding to).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 14, 2019 at 10:43

4 Answers 4


I don't know what "pop Buddhism" means exactly but I guess yes -- I suppose I could assign one or more of the following definitions to the phrase.

"Pop Buddhism" is:

  • Any reference to Buddhism that I might encounter in a not-explicitly-Buddhist context -- for example:

    • This CBC article is "pop" Buddhism because the CBC isn't explicitly Buddhist -- but it is popular i.e. it is a national broadcaster though of a not-explicitly-Buddhist country

    • The word "zen" is now used colloquially in France -- in phrases like rester zen and être zen (i.e. "to remain zen" and "to be zen") -- as an adjective meaning something resembling calm or detached or serene or even engaged (or whatever you imagine the word "zen" might mean as an adjective) in everyday life

    • Anything like "Fake Buddha Quotes" e.g. if you see someone reposting them on Facebook, would probably have to count as "pop"

  • Any popular (though explicitly Buddhist) book, which appears to be aimed at a general non-Buddhist audience, and (especially) written by a modern author. I'd include e.g. books by the Dalai Lama (e.g. the Art of Happiness) or by Thich Nhat Hanh -- maybe also books by Alan Watts or Philip Kapleau or Daniel Ingram (not saying that all these authors are the same, nor their books).

  • I'm inclined to privilege a book like In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon as being a slightly different category -- perhaps it's aimed at a naive but interested audience (and therefore popular), but it's based on (or is nothing but, little more than) a translation of and anthology from the canon of a Buddhist school and therefore it's not exactly a "modern author". Other translations of or introductions to any canonical works might belong in this same category.

  • A comparative term ("pop" versus "non-pop"), therefore e.g. a term or form of conceit (e.g. "They practice pop Buddhism, I practice the real Buddhism")

  • There are professional (or whatever the opposite of "pop" is) psychologists -- e.g. licensed therapists (e.g. psychotherapists, or people advising schools and parents about difficult children/students), and academics (e.g. professors, researchers), not to mention any commercial and other applications. So analogously "non-pop" Buddhism might be whatever is studied and practised by some monks, perhaps studied by academics, and "pop" Buddhism is anything/everything else e.g. what is known to lay people.

I think that (some) Buddhist doctrine states that there is such a thing as properly understanding Dhamma (or the Dhamma) -- that's called the "Dhamma eye", or the arising of the Dhamma eye or something like that, and associated with "stream entry".

The Kalama sutta includes a phrase (some other suttas do too),

explained the Dhamma admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end

An interpretation of that phrase is that "pop" or "beginner" Buddhism is good and not bad (see also this answer for example).

Topics like the following might be relevant too:

The above two topic are based on Buddhism as it's described in the Pali suttas. Perhaps there's another form or school of Buddhism, called Mahayana (which may or may not include Vajrayana, depending on your taxonomy) -- and perhaps Mahayana deserves to be called (though not as a term of disrespect) "pop" Buddhism.


Not every Buddhists are ready to renounce everything and single-mindedly pursue enlightenment with all their heart and mind. Different folks have different goals and so it's only natural for for the Dhamma to benefit all followers at all levels from low to high, whether that's happiness visible in the present life, or the way to a fortunate future rebirth, or deepening one's perspective on the world and eventual attain total complete liberation. The Lotus Sutra compared the Dhamma to the rain. When it rains, plants of all types, shapes, forms, or sizes all benefit from it:

The great cloud ascended in the sky, giving out rain and moisture equally to various types of trees and plants on Earth. The various types of plants are the three kinds of medicinal herbs (i.e. superior, mediocre, or inferior) and two kinds of trees (i.e. large or small). All of them, by virtue of their distinctive natures, absorbed moisture differently and grew at varying rates. ~ Chapter 5 – Parable of Medicine Herbs ~

  • do you think that the simplification of the teaching will unavoidably make it oversimplified and misinterpreted?
    – Ooker
    Feb 14, 2019 at 3:17
  • 1
    As mentioned, the Teaching is simplified only when it needs to be simplified. It's like Mathematics. There's Algebra for grade school, Geometry for high school, Differential Equations, Toplogy, etc. for college level. But they are all Mathematics. It's just that the levels of the audience are different.
    – santa100
    Feb 14, 2019 at 14:01
  • 1
    But I think there is a difference between simplification and misinterpretation?
    – Ooker
    Feb 15, 2019 at 4:01

I don't think so. Buddhism is all about what is suffering, why we are suffering, how to get out of this suffering. That's all. Even if you understand this law or not this law of nature is there. Just like gravity even if you accept it or not gravity is there. These are eternal truths which means it will apply for all living things.

  • I see. So in your view any method to reduce sufferings is Buddhism?
    – Ooker
    Feb 28, 2019 at 2:17
  • No not something to reduce suffering. Budhism is about ending the suffering. You suffer because you get attached. Eg: when you eat a fruit if its for your liking you get attached to that experience taste. Then every time you eat same fruit in mind you try to compare with the best memory you had on that experience. Get attched again. If you dont like the experience still you get attached for thr bad feeling. All our lives we live getting attached to good or bad feeling judged by our taste buds and experiences. Its complicated to explain I would recommend talking to therawada monk about it.
    – AllSpark
    Feb 28, 2019 at 2:37
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 28, 2019 at 13:40

Recovery of an unpopular answer:

What ever Buddh-ism would be a Pop-version of Dhamma-Vinaya.

Where ever popular there will be pop-Dhamma. Asking on popular sites... what does one assume to gain in an outer land, far from borderlands, not having left popularity? Touch? Would it help?

It's the very nature of Dhamma-success to first give (up) to be able to receive.

Those teachings which are actually deed teachings are not thought for those after popular, "much after people" how the normal people are called, of householder in a deeper sense. Once householders take on something, what else than pop could it be, could it grow.

This Dhamma is not one graspable by many, yet it would make the many much busy with what they are incapable it taught just right, since they would suddenly lost interest to think that it something for them and what they are actually after.

Less are those who even come in touch with the Gems perceiving it at such. Many are those who grasp after what is populating the amass.

Searching after pop, one gains pop. So it's important to think clear of the causes of ones situation and try to uproot ones wrong tendencies being clear of where one stands.

"Through an element it is, monks, that beings flow together, meet together. Beings of low tastes flow together, meet together with them of low tastes. They of virtuous tastes flow together, meet together with them of virtuous tastes. So have they done in the past. So will they do in the future. So do they now in the present." (SN, Niddana-vagga)

[Note that this is not given toward Buddh-ism, trade, exchange and population but for liberation]

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