Why so many Americans are turning to Buddhism

Buddhism has been popular in various forms among certain celebrities and tech elites, but the religion’s primary draw for many Americans now appears to be mental health. The ancient religion, some find, helps them manage the slings and arrows and subtweets of modern life. Many people are stressed out by the constant drama of the current administration, and work hours have overwhelmed the day. There’s something newly appealing about a practice that instructs you to just sit, be aware, and realize nothing lasts forever. Perhaps the comfort comes simply from knowing that the problems that bedevil humans have been around since long before Gmail.

A few themes and ideas seem to unite the disparate experiences of the people I interviewed. The Buddha’s first “noble truth” is that “life is suffering,” and many of Buddhism’s newly minted Western practitioners have interpreted this to mean that accepting emotional pain might be preferable to trying to alleviate it. “Buddhism admits that suffering is inevitable,” says Daniel Sanchez, a 24-year-old in New Jersey. “I shouldn’t focus on avoiding suffering, but learn how to deal with suffering.”…

What’s different—and perhaps reassuring—about Buddhism is that it’s an existing religion practiced by half a billion people. Because relatively few Caucasian Americans grew up Buddhist, they generally don’t associate any familial baggage with it like some do with, say, the Christianity or Judaism of their childhoods. While liberating, this also means that the practice of secular Buddhism often differs dramatically from the religion itself. All of the secular practitioners I spoke with for this piece are reading different books, listening to different podcasts, and following different teachers and traditions. Their interpretations of Buddhist teachings aren’t necessarily consistent with one another or with traditional texts.