And finally, a bit of a cheat, because the fourth opportunity I perceive is the realization that the four challenges I listed are also potential boons for Buddhism as well, if navigated carefully and intelligently. The passing of 20th-century Buddhist giants will be sad, of course, but it also provides younger leaders with new perspectives the chance to steer the future course of Buddhism. Military and social tensions imperil Buddhism and Buddhists, but Buddhism may be able to help diffuse conflicts, or, if necessary, respond to them in mindful and effective ways, increasing local and international respect for the religion and pushing it toward positive contributions to society. Christianity's challenge to Buddhism can be seen as the necessary spur to induce Buddhist innovation, solidarity, and organizational efforts; dialogue with less aggressive forms of Christianity offers the opportunity to learn from other people also struggling with religious life in the contemporary world. Others may have practices or approaches that can be productively adapted and applied in a Buddhist context. And finally, the decline in religious values is also a moment of potential for Buddhism, if handled properly. The growing number of "unchurched" persons in both Asia and the West are a large pool of possible new converts, especially for those who are willing to present aspects of Buddhism, such as meditation, pragmatically, without expecting adherence to more rounded and traditional approaches. And materialism may have built into itself the seeds of its own destruction: if the Buddhists are right, then ultimately material values will prove dissatisfying and secularized people will begin searching for greater meaning, in which case the Buddhists will have a ready-made explanation for the ennui and disappointment that speaks to the spiritual condition of such seekers. 

 

Jeff Wilson is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. He is the author of Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America and the founding chair of the Buddhism in the West program unit of the American Academy of Religion.