Thomas F. O'Neill
Spirituality, a growing interest in China
I recently read a survey that was conducted in China in 2006 it measured the religious beliefs of the average Chinese people. The survey was conducted in five major cities in China and it revealed that 69 percent of people who took the survey consider themselves Buddhists.
Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in China. However, most of the Buddhist practitioners do not conceder Buddhism as a religion but rather a system of thought or Spirituality.
I have learned that the Chinese Government does not look at this resurgence in Buddhism as a threat. On the contrary most of China’s government officials understand the importance spirituality has on society. It provides the Buddhist practitioners with a deeper meaning and purpose in life.
The economic growth in China is providing people with more leisure time and a growing number of the Chinese are using that time for self-enrichment and for exploring spiritual matters. I found this to be intriguing because growing up in America I was told that China is a godless country. It wasn’t until I moved to China that I learned there is freedom of religion here and like America the Chinese government does not endorse one religion over the other.
The Chinese people have the freedom to worship as they please as long as they don’t use their religious freedom to organize against the Chinese government. Before moving here I was told the majority of the Chinese are atheists that statement is far from the truth. The majority do however view Christians as living in a superstitious mindset that does not necessarily make non-Christian believers atheists.
Many of the Chinese youth are turning to Buddhism as an intellectual pursuit - a way of exploring their spirituality. They are also searching for deeper meaning on their path in life. Most Buddhist make a distinction between religion and spirituality. In the west if you tell someone you are non-religious you will find yourself being labeled an atheist. Christian Fundamentalists in America have labeled China an atheistic godless country due to the fact that the majority of China are non-Christian Buddhists.
There is a growing concern among government officials here in China about the western cultural influence on China’s youth. They fear that as China’s economy continues to grow people here will become more, materialistic, and greed driven - with a winner takes all type of mindset. This stands in total contrast of the Chinese Government’s socialist philosophy.
People here certainly have more disposable income and the youth are getting caught up, for the first time, in the media glitter. We in the west have been exposed to the pop culture for generations now but China is beginning to see the negative effects of the western materialistic mindset.
Many Government officials in China have a naiveté belief that the popularity of Buddhism will somehow restore a balance in their society or place the Chinese genie back in the bottle. They desperately want the Chinese youth to understand the important role that they as individuals have on society as a whole. In other words their individual development is codependent on China’s national development. They are hoping the Buddhism of old will help the current and succeeding generations understand that Spirituality is not centric. It should not lead a person to be purely self-centered or looked upon as simply an intellectual pursuit. True spirituality should lead towards civic responsibility making our society in which we live a better place.
China, however, has been placed on fast forward for the past decade and many here are trying desperately to hold on to the traditions of old. They are seeing some of their traditions being discarded, and swept away by the media driven youth. There is also a huge gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s.’ There are millions of people here who have very little in terms of the materialistic toys of the wealthy and the growing middle class. This dichotomy in China is also a concern among the government officials they want desperately to spread the wealth to raise the standard of living for everyone.
The officials here feel it’s the government’s responsibility to prepare their youth for a better tomorrow through education, moral, and ethical character building. They believe it’s also their civic responsibility to see to it that their nation as a whole is on the right path in order to enhance the lives of the many rather than the few.
I mentioned in one of my classes that it's also the parents responsibility to be their children's roll models rather than relying on the schools and government to put the polices into effect in order to mold and produce future leaders.
The Chinese also understand implicitly their economy is co-depended on being a major competitor on the global stage. Most people in China already understand the position China has on the global market. They can also see the road China is on towards global economic dominance.
China is far from being a perfect country but no nation is because nations are made up of human beings. In all societies there are people with severe character flaws. We as American’s witnessed those character flaws in many of our corporate heads. They savored huge bonuses while their companies were being driven into the ground by shear greed.
China, on the other hand will continue to grow as an economic superpower and more people will economically prosper. The divide between those who have ‘much’ and those who have ‘less’ will continue as well because greed is part of the human fabric.
The Wall Street bailout in America was due to corporate greed and most of our national struggles are due to greed. While the middle class in America is shrinking due to economic hard times. The middle class in China is growing exponentially due to profit-sharing. Most companies in China are doing well and everyone in the companies in China profit from the corporate wealth. Profit-sharing is intricately woven into China’s economy. China understands the profit-sharing system all too well because it’s part of the socialist model.
One of the fears China has over its growing wealth is that people will continue to want more. This will drive people to become more ego-centric. The government’s fear is that in time as people begin to prosper more they will have less concern for societies greater good. That is why the China government is encouraging Buddhist interests among China’s youth. They want the youth to grow in knowledge whereby they put the needs of society before their own wants.
The growing economy in China has become the government’s means to enrich society as a whole. They fear however that in the future it may become a means to enrich the few on the backs of the many. That is what we in America have witnessed time and time again. China feels they can learn from America’s mistakes and misfortune.
The question that some Chinese economists are asking,
Will greed become an intricate part of China’s developing future, economic growth, and wealth?
I say only time will tell.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
Phone: (800) 272-6464
China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link: http://thomasfoneill.blogspot.com
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