• Sweden edition
 
Religion in Sweden
Bible-belt Buddhist convert 'no superhero'
Satyaprabha. Photo: Ann Törnkvist

Bible-belt Buddhist convert 'no superhero'

Published: 29 Jan 2014 07:11 GMT+01:00
Updated: 29 Jan 2014 07:11 GMT+01:00

Today Martin’s name is Satyaprabha. Upon meeting, the young man for a moment defies the stereotype of the calm Buddhist when he talks about dealing with that very stereotype of the calm Buddhist.

"I can feel that it's a bit provocative when I tell someone that I meditate, and they say 'Oh, it must be so nice to relax'," says Satyaprabha, pressing his index finger and thumb together to illustrate just how little relaxation has to do with meditation.

"This much."

His irritation, however, is expressed in a mild-mannered and dry-humoured way.

”Being present is the primary thing when you meditate. Relaxation is often a positive side-effect of awareness, but it’s not guaranteed,” Satyaprabha elaborates. “It’s not about finding an off switch, but letting experience be paramount rather than trying to manipulate it.”

He’s rather accepting of misconceptions of Buddhism; Satyaprabha himself used to think that all Buddhists were monks and nuns, and his first real-life brush with the religion was a tourist stopover at a temple in Malaysia.

"I didn't even think it was particularly pretty, it was just weird and exotic," he recalls.

Martin, which was his name at the time, then headed south to Australia, spending most of his time in national parks. He took an active interest in ecology and ecosophy (the love of nature), and not until he was about 23 would he properly start to learn about Buddhism.

"It wasn't a head over heels kind of thing; there weren't fireworks. It happened quite gradually," he says.

"There had been very strong existential questions rattling about in me that Buddhism touched upon -- how to deal with life and reality as they are, not as you would like them to be," explains Satyapraba, now in his early thirties and working full-time at Stockholm's Buddhist Centre.

Rough attempts to count the number of active Buddhists in Sweden have settled on an estimate of 15,000, not including migrants from countries with strong Buddhist traditions.

Satyaprabha has noticed that many would-be converts he meets work with people; they include many social workers, psychologists, and health care professionals. Apart from that, he says there is no common denominator.

For himself, the desire to live a simple life was one inspiration.

"I never dreamed of a lot of money or expensive things, so maybe that was a bridge to Buddhism."

He became a vegetarian for environmental reasons long before his conversion, but thinks his interest in ecology ties in well with the Buddhist advice to think of and take responsibility for your actions.

READ ALSO: Teen Muslim convert defies atheist family

Satyaprabha was raised in a small town outside Jönköping, in the area known as Sweden's bible belt. His family didn't attend church regularly but "mum and dad would make sure we said evening prayers".

As his own conversion happened gradually, so did his family's realization that his new religion was there to stay.

"I don't think I came home and said 'There's something I need to tell you!'," Satyaprabha recalls with a throaty laugh. "It took a while for my family to see that Buddhism wasn't a sect, that it was positive thing. And now it's more like 'That's what he does and that's fine… I guess'."

They are not, however, particularly interested in learning more.

"We really only need a few sheets of paper to tell us that everything continually changes ," he says about the intellectual bit of his new religion. "The big bit is to get our emotions to open up and accept that same truth."

"Buddhism requires a lot of patience. You don't turn into an emotional superhero overnight, but you might notice certain behaviours’ negative consequences and start to take responsibility for changing that," he says.

As far as spirituality in modern Sweden is concerned, Satyaprabha thinks the scales have tipped too far towards scientism.

“I don’t question science and research, it’s scientism I question,” he explains. “It’s so easy to get stuck in a polemic debate about “believing and knowing’.”

Rather than finding a foe in lab-coated scientists, it’s an overarching reliance on natural sciences that Satyaprabha distances himself from. It cannot be the key to understanding everything.

"If there is no rational evidence, it's fiddlesticks," he summarizes. "It's as though we give the intellect a place in our lives and in our society that is far too big."

A person's emotional life deserves just as much curiosity and attention, Satyaprabha argues. Which raises the question: what do we learn in school?

"Our intellect invented the atomic bomb, but our emotions tell us whether to use it or not," he explains. "We are so far behind on an emotional level compared to how far we have come intellectually."

Quick to point out that he does not mean humans should look down on themselves for awful decisions in the past, Satyaprabha wants to look at how everything is connected, and how realizing that entails responsibility.

”Our lives are made up of billions upon billions of small decisions that, put together, shape our minds and how we act,” he says. “We have a responsibility to take care of each other. But that also means that we must sometimes do nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

”Just sit back and contemplate the universe,” he concludes.

This interview is the second of a series of interviews with religious converts in Sweden. About 18 percent of residents in Sweden said they believed in God when questioned about their beliefs in a Eurobarometer survey from 2010. 

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

National
Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal
A scene from a video of the attack published by Dagens Nyheter

Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal

A policewoman accused of letting her dog attack a drunk man while she repeatedly hit him with a baton, has had her conviction overturned by a court in Stockholm. READ  

Entertainment
What's On: October 31st - November 7th
Uma Thurman will soon be on her way to Stockholm. Photo: TT

What's On: October 31st - November 7th

Halloween fun and an international film festival are the big events hitting Stockholm this week. We cast our eye over the capital and the rest of the country for the best activities to check out this week. READ  

International
Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark
Gottrid Svartholm Warg. File photo: TT

Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark

Sweden's Pirate Bay Founder Gottrid Svartholm Warg was found guilty of hacking crimes in a Danish court on Thursday. READ  

National
Malmö loses out as rare toads move in
The European green toad. Photo: H. Krisp (WikiCommons)

Malmö loses out as rare toads move in

After a rare species of toad moved into southern Sweden's Malmö, builders have had to tone down massive expansion plans in the area. READ  

Politics
Palestine recognized as state by Sweden
Palestinians in Gaza last month. Photo: Adel Hana

Palestine recognized as state by Sweden

The Swedish government has officially decided to recognize Palestine, with the move announced in a speech by the country's new Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. READ  

Interview
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
For ten days, Globen is transformed into a giant pumpkin. Photo: Shockholm

Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween

American Bill Schacht missed the spooky outfits, family feasts and charity events he associated with Halloween when he moved to Sweden. So he did something about it. The Local meets the founder of the capital's annual Shockholm parade. READ  

Business & Money
Huge losses for energy giant Vattenfall
A Vattenfall plant in Germany. Photo: TT

Huge losses for energy giant Vattenfall

Swedish energy company Vattenfall has reported losses for the third quarter in a row. READ  

International
Malala donates prize winnings to Gaza
Malala receives the Children's Prize from Queen Silvia. Photo: TT

Malala donates prize winnings to Gaza

UPDATED: Girls' rights champion Malala Yousafzai, who was in Sweden to accept the World's Children's Prize on Wednesday, said she would use all her winnings to help rebuild schools in war-ravaged Gaza. READ  

Swedish Honeymoon Killing
Cape Town 'fixer' phoned Dewani before killing
Dewani in a Cape Town court. Photo: TT

Cape Town 'fixer' phoned Dewani before killing

A man jailed for killing British businessman Shrien Dewani's wife during their Cape Town honeymoon said on Wednesday they spoke shortly before the murder to discuss payment. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Blog updates

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 
 
 
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

994
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN