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Some religions spread through its followers actively seeking out new followers. Some religions do their own thing and inspire others to join. Some religions preach openly to people and let them decide. Some religions cannot be joined unless you know someone who is already in it. Some religions do not have any agenda when it comes to recruiting.

What is the ideal manner in which Buddhism is to be spread to others?

  • Could you clarify what is your criteria for ideal? Is it (1) maximizing the number of Buddhists, (2) spreading the purest Dharma, (3) getting people Enlightened [is this the same as (2)?], or (4) adhering to some authority on the right way to spread it? Depending on how you define ideal, the answer to how to spread it can differ dramatically. – R. Barzell Dec 19 '14 at 23:36
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It varies by sect. These questions generally attract a bunch of people who think you are advocating in-your-face Christian style evangelism.

The patterns I'm going to describe appear to be true for the US, Europe and Russia.

SGI. Works the hardest to gain new members and at least back in the 70s (80s?) was willing to send people out to interact with strangers on the street. It's what makes SGI special, their outreach has reached a broader demographic than just about anyone and what also makes people think SGI is a cult. I'm not SGI, but I think they're far from a cult. They try the hardest to gain members and seem to have had some success.

"Ethnic Buddhist." Some people don't like the word, but it describes communities of recent immigrants who set up Buddhist temples, target recent immigrants, practice in their home language and generally make no effort to involve the "host" community.

State Buddhism. This has been how Buddhism spread in the past. For example in Japan, it used to be that the government assigned you to the local temple. There is some vestigial form of this in modern Japan, most people often don't know what sort of Buddhist temple their family temple is. This means of spread is a nonstarter in the US and Christians are already up in arms about attempts to teach secularized mindfulness in schools.

"(Upper) Middle Class" Buddhism. Generally educated people who are well read and familiar with a variety of world religions and who have chosen Buddhism. This spreads via books and meditation classes.

As for what normatively should be done to spread Buddhism, it's hard to say. On the internet, generally people get bogged down in "respect for autonomy", they have a hypersensitive trigger for seeing someone being forced to do this, or required to do that against their will, or in the case of religion, how teaching religion is some sort of child abuse.

The historical Buddha sent his sangha in every direction to enthusiastically spread the word. Mahayana Buddhism makes teaching (i.e. spreading Buddhist ideas), essentially a requirement, it is mentioned many times in the BNS precepts. Historically Buddhist governments saw no problem with making it a state religion and funding it. I think it would be hard to say Buddhism as a organization, sangha or movement doesn't care about spread, it clearly does. But how to do it, isn't so clear.

Personally, I think Buddhism should be marketed like any other idea and using means that work for a given community in a given time. Some people will buy your book & read it. Some people will go to a book club. Some people read posts on the web. Some people will go to a meditation class if it's advertised in the local community events page.

  • For fairness, I find it best to wait a day or two before marking as answer – Yoda Bytes Dec 19 '14 at 21:09
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    Compared to stackoverflow, the Buddhist website feels like it has a lot of questions that never get an answer marked as the answer or look like there can't be a single best answer. – MatthewMartin Dec 19 '14 at 21:22
  • @MatthewMartin good point and so true. For a while, StackOverflow users were particularly vocal about telling people to accept answers to questions, but I haven't seen that kind of pressure here. Maybe if more people put that kind of pressure on people, this would improve? – R. Barzell Dec 19 '14 at 23:38
  • I believe Fo Guang Shan has also a strong[er] outreach movement. – Thiago Dec 20 '14 at 2:48
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    @YodaBytes, the "ignorant" asker can still rely on the votes being given by others, those votes being independent of what the original asker thinks. But ultimately only the original asker knows the extent to which their question is answered for them by any given answer. That's why it's possible to see an answer marked as "The Answer" by the original asker still have a lot fewer votes than some other answer which "the community as a whole" prefers. When I look at answers, I focus on the ones with the highest votes first, and the one marked by the original asker second. – tkp Dec 24 '14 at 23:06
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Different schools approach this in different ways.

The best method of teaching is by example and by teaching what you practised and have verified at the experiential level / empirically.

First you should practice and then teach what was beneficial to you and what you have verified 1st hand.

Through your practice there should be a visible change in you to inspire other. When you have experienced the benefits 1st hand you should get inspired to share this with loved ones and friends. Sharing the benefits and experience should be the motivating factor to teach.

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I searched for the word "proselytize" on accesstoinsight and found it in only two articles. One is Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi saying (talking about religion in general in the modern world, not only about Buddhism),

The two religious phenomena that in my view are false detours which must finally be rejected are fundamentalism and spiritual eclecticism. Both have arisen as reactions to the pervasive secularism of our time; both speak to the widespread hunger for more authentic spiritual values than our commercial, sensualist culture can offer. Yet neither, I would argue, provides a satisfactory solution to our needs.

Fundamentalism no doubt bears the character of a religious revival. However, in my opinion it fails to qualify as a genuinely spiritual type of religiosity because it does not meet the criterion of true spirituality. This criterion I would describe, in broad terms, as the quest to transcend the limitations of the ego-consciousness. As I understand fundamentalism, it draws its strength from its appeal to human weakness, by provoking the ego-consciousness and the narrow, volatile interests of the small self. Its psychological mood is that of dogmatism; it polarizes the human community into the opposed camps of insiders and outsiders; it dictates a policy of aggression that entails either violence against the outsiders or attempts to proselytize them. It does not point us in the direction of selflessness, understanding, acceptance of others based on love, the ingredients of true spirituality.

Spiritual eclecticism — omnipresent in the West today — is governed by the opposite logic. It aims to amalgamate, to draw into a whole a sundry variety of quasi-religious disciplines: yoga, spiritualism, channeling, astrology, faith healing, meditation, I Ching, special diets, Cabbala, etc. These are all offered to the seeker on a pick-and-choose basis; everything is valid, anything goes. This eclecticism often reveals a longing for genuine spiritual experience, for a vision of reality more encompassing than pragmatic materialism. It fails because it tears profound disciplines out from their context in a living faith and blends them together into a shapeless mixture without spine or substance. Its psychological mood is that of a romantic, promiscuous yearning for easy gratification rather than that of serious commitment. Owing to its lack of discrimination it often shades off into the narcissistic and the occult, occasionally into the diabolical.

I think that's saying that a "fundamentalist" (and ego-maniacal) view divides the world into insiders and outsiders (e.g. Buddhists and non-Buddhists), and attempts to proselytize the outsiders, instead of being selflessness, understanding, and accepting of others based on love.

Another is this Personal Observation

When I first came to Sri Lanka from America, I had just about given up all hope of living. The doctors in America had provided me with maybe twenty-five different drugs for a very bad heart condition and other ailments. We fled America, my husband and I, to live out our lives among peaceful surroundings — in the heart of Buddha-land. Shortly after arrival, what with the long trip and thoughts of death, I truly was dying. I had a myocardial infarction and was taken to the hospital. I found the hospital conditions so deplorable, I felt it would be better to die in bed at home. Consequently, I left the hospital. My husband had found a lovely home for us and there I waited to die. After much pain and emotional upheaval my husband found an anagarika, a Buddhist lay brother, who came to our home and performed a miracle, or to state it better, pointed out to me the "path" that I shall follow for the rest of my days here on earth. This monk-like follower of the Buddha, the Anagarika Tibbotuwawa, instructed me in meditation.

We went through four stages and in time I threw out all drugs, and the life "here and now" became clear and meaningful. Many strange things began to occur in the course of meditation. First I began to feel that I was on another plane of consciousness. I no longer had a self, sick or otherwise. I was at one with all, all of us in a new world, with all non-beings too. I found that the "ego" that nearly wrecked my life was now gone. I felt reborn, and extended my meditation to vibrations of loving-kindness. Thought messages I call them. Then one morning a friend called from America. On the phone he said that he had received my message. He was elated beyond belief, thanked me and promised to come here in the near future. The strangest of all was a telegram from my sister. She asked if we could accommodate her at our home in three weeks. I nearly had a heart attack! My sister is seventy-eight years old. I had heard no word from her for fifteen years. Yet I had been sending her "thought messages" of loving-kindness, and her image was growing clearer and clearer — even before arrival. She was "with me" even before arrival. At age seventy-eight she had traveled half-way around the world to see me. When she arrived she said she had had a compelling urge to see me. We were both delighted and, to my amazement, she meditated each evening with me and said she had never known such "peace and love" as she found in our home.

She could not remain with us, as I had hoped, but had responsibilities at home that she felt better able to cope with now. She left, adding, "I have promises to keep — and many miles to go before I sleep."

These few experiences have been so uplifting that now, even though I never proselytize, many young people come to me for instruction in meditation. Recently a young man from Switzerland came to our home. He felt he was dying of rabies ("rabbits" he called it in broken English). I was so sure he did not have this disease that I suggested that he meditate with me and Anagarika that day, and he seemed pleased with the experience. Well, this young man came not only each evening, but also every morning at 5:30 a.m. bringing fresh flowers for the Buddha. He left, after three weeks of intensive meditation and instruction and reading of the Dhamma, well and happy and full of ideas to help suffering humanity.

There are, of course, many ideas I have omitted which are advanced procedures in insight meditation, the three stages which usually follow the concentration on breathing. These are body, feelings, perceptions and consciousness, ultimately expressing themselves in "the mind experiencing pure mind." I feel, however, that the reader can find these steps in many publications that have been released on this subject. If this booklet helps the beginner with just a little insight into the "way" and the "why" of meditation, this will be my happiness.

Apart from the fact that she "never proselytizes" there's the story of the "Buddhist lay brother" in the first paragraph: i.e. a person who needed him went looking for him.

Perhaps the best way to spread Buddhism is to cultivate it within yourself (?and make yourself available).


I've also seen "Dharma books" being spread: e.g. I have a book published by these people in Taiwan, which I found free of cost from a temple in Canada. Or in the same way that Gideon Bibles are famously found for free in hotel rooms, in some countries (Singapore) you find a Buddhist 'bible' in the hotel room.


Finally, I presume that what is said about Right Speech is applicable to talking about Dharma.

  • I don't think the questioner is suggesting that we should be a parody of evangelical fundamentalists in the spread of the dharma including aping their ignorant ideology. – MatthewMartin Dec 20 '14 at 14:34
  • Yes, I don't know why you'd think that. And the answer suggests that's not recommended. Are you saying you don't like my using "proselytize" as a synonym for "actively seeking out new followers" and "preach openly to people and let them decide"? Can you think of a better single word (search term) to use in a search? Other words are (also) problematic used as search terms, e.g. when "preach" is used in a text that's often used when someone is preaching "to the choir"; or "spread" is often in a historical survey. – ChrisW Dec 20 '14 at 15:37
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Long answer:

First start with learning about your self.

By:

practicing compassion to beings around you.

Eventually, one learns that one's presence is just as "important" as all other beings around you.

Henceforth brings to the realization that: your compassion to other beings benefits also yourself.

You would then be spreading the word, without even having to utter one.

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The best way to convey Buddhism is by setting a good example. These days many people are learning Buddhism online at Buddhism.link or whywelive.org

The more compassion we exercise, the more we see how we are all connected. We are one.

  • The phrase "We are one" does not seem to be part of the Buddha's teaching. – Lanka May 26 '17 at 12:12
  • @Lanka maybe it is though, in a way, It's anatta. You are as much everything an you are just Lanka. – Lowbrow Jun 12 '17 at 23:06
  • If a bear wants to eat a monist, should he let him, given that he and the bear are already 'one'? – Simon H Jun 13 '17 at 12:58
  • I think We are one phrase belongs to Advait Vedanta & Kashmiri Shaivism, not Buddhism. – user10804 Jun 20 '17 at 19:12
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It's a very interesting question. I put a lot of stock in the actual 'seeking of refuge' in the 3 jewels when this subject arises.

I lost everything in a 13-15 month period. My marriage, my family, my career, my father passed away, my mother was committed to a home and was beyond communication, and I had 2 heart attacks. And died twice. It was from the bottom of this pit that I sought my answers.

Now I consider myself fortunate. The job of stripping my life bare and relinquishing attachments had been done. It really gave me an advantage in being able to build myself back up. I likened it to the period where Siddartha experimented with asceticism. I went thru all that torture and found my bare essence. And I sought the wisdom of the Buddha from that point as I had discarded my old religious beliefs years before and was living as an atheist.

I sought the dharma by following my own intellectual curiosity. I tried to follow what I felt to be the most true and accurate representations of Buddha Sakyamuni's original thoughts. This led me to the dhammapadda, then the upanishads. Then I took to reading the entire tipitaka. I read some texts and brochures for the lay Buddhist and that seemed like drivel compared to actually developing my own views based on what was said by Buddha, Ananda, Maha or anyone in the Sutta Pitaka.

Of course I have so much more to learn but every once in awhile I will compare my understanding by looking to various koans and I feel right on track with both modern answers as well as those from 3,500 years ago. Following my inner self as a guide and using my curiosity has served me well. But I had the advantage of starting from scratch.

Thus I consider myself a sort of boddhisattva. And my special path will add to those others have cleared/traversed finding their way here on their own. Then as I draw refuge in their company, my sangha, we can share our experiences and gain from them all.

So I consider it a balance like all things. But I prefer the breadcrumb option and let people gather strength of will from their journey as well as new experiences to add to the future sutta.

  • Jeff Messer

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