New age is a term that became current in the 1980’s to describe a nebulous, pseudo-religious set of beliefs that grew out of the Western counterculture of the 1960’s. The term alludes to the belief at that time that a new spiritual age, the so-called ‘Age of Aquarius,’ was about to dawn. Despite the fact that some Buddhist concepts and practises have been incorporated into new age spirituality, Buddhism and the new age movement have little in common.
A Buddhist can see serious problems with this movement. Its belief that a ‘new age’ was about to begin has been shown to be wrong. Tragically, there has been as much conflict, greed, hatred, hypocrisy and despair since this supposed new beginning as there was before it. New age is highly commercial and in this sense closely resembles the ‘old age’ that it claims to have superseded. A brief survey of new age fairs, shops, magazines and catalogues shows that everything on offer has a price to it, often an exorbitant one. New age has no core concepts or guiding ideals but is fad-driven. Certain beliefs or practises come into vogue (pyramids, crystals, Celtic fairies, shaman drumming, etc.) and are soon replaced by others. New age has a distinct narcissistic and ‘crank’ quality to it. People involved in new age often develop a preoccupation with their health and with diets, additives, quack medicines and treatments, etc. Perhaps more seriously, new age is also naively optimistic. It offers no solutions to the very real and serious problem of human suffering other than platitudes, wishful thinking and vague generalizations.
A Buddhist might say that the new age spirituality does little harm but little good either. One positive thing that can be said about the new age movement is this - it shows that despite the widespread rejection of conventional religion in the West, people continue to have a spiritual yearning. Hopefully, more people will look to the coherent, realistic and time-tested teachings of the Buddha to fulfil this need.
- Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.