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The "New Religious Consciousness"; The Spirit of the Eastern Cults in the 1970's

The three kinds of "Christian meditation" described above are only the beginning; in general, it may be said that the influence of Eastern religious ideas and practices upon the once-Christian West has reached astonishing proportions in the decade of the 1970's In particular America, which barely two decades ago was still religiously "provincial" (save in a few large cities), its spiritual horizon largely limited to Protestantism and Roman Catholicism has seen a dazzling proliferation of Eastern (and pseudo-Eastern) religious cults and movements.

The history of this proliferation can be traced from the restless disillusionment of the post-World War II generation, which first manifested itself in the 1950's in the empty protest and moral libertinism of the "beat generation," whose interest in Eastern religions was at first rather academic and mainly a sign of dissatisfaction with "Christianity." There followed a second generation, that of the "hippies" of the 1960's with its "rock" music and psychodelic drugs and search for "increased awareness" at any cost; now young Americans plunged wholeheartedly into political protest movements (notably against the war in Vietnam) on the one hand, and the fervent practice of Eastern religions on the other. Indian gurus, Tibetan lamas, Japanese Zen masters, and other Eastern "sages" came to the West and found a host of ready disciples who made them successful beyond the dreams of the westernized swamis of preceding generations; and young people travelled to the ends of the world, even to the heights of the Himalayas, to find the wisdom or the teacher or the drug that would bring them the "peace" and "freedom" they sought.

In the 1970's a third generation has succeeded the "hippies." Outwardly quieter, with fewer "demonstrations" and generally less flamboyant behavior, this generation has gone more deeply into Eastern religions, whose influence now has become much more pervasive than ever before. For many of this newer generation the religious "search" has ended: they have found an Eastern religion to their liking and are now seriously occupied in practicing it. A number of Eastern religious movements have already become "native" to the West, especially in America: there are now Buddhist monasteries composed entirely of Western converts, and for the first time there have appeared American and other Western gurus and Zen masters.

Let us look at just a few pictures descriptions of actual events in the early and mid-1970's which illustrate the dominance of Eastern ideas and practices among many young Americans (who are only the "avant-garde" of the youth of the whole world). The first two pictures show a more superficial involvement with Eastern religions, and are perhaps only a leftover from the generation of the 1960's; the last two reveal the deeper involvement characteristic of the 1970's.

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