Monday, July 25, 2011

The Dhamma In Decline?

by Venerable S. Dhammika

Recently the statistics for Singapore’s 2010 censes were released. For local Buddhists they make sad but perhaps not surprising reading. In the 10 years between 2000 and 2010 the number of Buddhists dropped from 42.5% to 33.3%. A further breakdown of the figures also showed that the older a person was and the lower their education standard the more likely they are to be Buddhist. During the same period Christianity in the republic grew from 14.6% to 18.3% and the younger a person is and the better educated, the more likely they are to be Christian. The same was true for those who described themselves as having no religion. They grew from 14.8% to 17%. The trend is clear. Even having no religion is a better option that Buddhism. Sorry to say statistics from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan show a similar trend. Buddhism is failing to speak to young, well-educated, modern people. A visit to a good number of temples and Buddhist societies will show the reasons for this trend; commercialized spirituality, absence of Dhamma education, lack of social engagement, poor leadership, etc. The almost complete absence of networking between Buddhists also doesn’t help either. ‘You do your thing. I’ll do mine’ is the norm for Buddhist groups, temples and organizations. In contrast to this Christian churches in Singapore (and everywhere else in Asia) are dynamic, socially engages, highly motivated and well-organized. Their outreach strategies are also highly effective, although some would describe them as intrusive and aggressive as well. Nonetheless, they bring in the converts. Trying to find out about Dhamma from the average Buddhist rarely works because they rarely know any. Temples and societies emphasise ritual activities rather than solid Dhamma education. During the 1980s the decline of Buddhism slowed somewhat probably because of the introduction of religious knowledge in schools. This meant that a generation of nominally Buddhist kids got from school what they never got from the temple – some basic knowledge of the Dhamma.

Of course the recent statistics could be read from another perspective. It is actually likely that there are more ‘real’ Buddhists (‘real’ in the sense that they are more than just nominal Buddhists) today than there were in 2000. It may be that nominal Buddhists are simply defining themselves differently, as non-religious or as Taoists. Whatever the case, there is no room for complacency, although I suspect that the complacency will persist.

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