• Sweden's news in English
 

Bible-belt Buddhist convert 'no superhero'

Published: 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
Måns Zelmerlöw returns to hero's welcome
Måns Zelmerlöw is greeted by happy fans at Arlanda. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT

Måns Zelmerlöw returns to hero's welcome

Sweden's Eurovision 2015 winner arrives back in Stockholm to be met by delirious crowds READ  

Swedish woman shot dead in Istanbul
Istanbul photo: Shutterstock

Swedish woman shot dead in Istanbul

The woman from Götaland became caught up in a gun-fight on Saturday night, according to the Swedish Foreign Ministry. READ  

Stockholm gold store hit by masked raiders
Police outside the Kista Galleria in northern Stockholm on Sunday. Christine Olsson / TT

Stockholm gold store hit by masked raiders

A gold shop in a mall in Kista in northern Stockholm has been robbed by several masked men. The robbers beat staff, grabbed gold and then fled in a car. READ  

'Rape worse in Sweden than India', says Gandhi
Stop rape photo: Shutterstock

'Rape worse in Sweden than India', says Gandhi

India's women's minister Maneka Gandhi says that Sweden has worse problems with rape than India. READ  

How the world reacted to Sweden's Eurovision win
Måns Zelmerlöw celebrates his victory. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT / Kod 10070

How the world reacted to Sweden's Eurovision win

The world's press were - more or less - united in their praise for Måns Zelmerlöw's Heroes, Sweden's winning entry in this year's Eurovision READ  

Stockholm beggars hit in firecracker attacks
A person unrelated to the story begging in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Stockholm beggars hit in firecracker attacks

A beggar outside a Stockholm supermarket was targeted with a firecracker on Saturday, one of a spate of similar attacks. READ  

Hollywood stars join Stockholm Gumballers
Photo: TT

Hollywood stars join Stockholm Gumballers

The 17th Gumball rally starts in Stockholm on Sunday and among the more famous participants in their luxury rides are Hollywood notables Dolph Lundgren and David Hasselhoff. READ  

Armless man denied disabled parking spot
Photo: Magnus Manske/Wikipedia

Armless man denied disabled parking spot

A Swedish man has had his disabled parking permit revoked despite lacking both arms and thus unable to pay for a ticket. READ  

Armed robbers attack Stockholm money truck
Police investigating a previous raid in 2013. Photo: TT

Armed robbers attack Stockholm money truck

Police in the Swedish capital are investigating a raid on a van transporting cash in the city, with at least two robbers suspected to have made off with a bag of money. READ  

Swedes among least likely to die from cold
A woman stuck in snow in Malmö during the winter. Photo: TT

Swedes among least likely to die from cold

Cold weather kills 20 times more people as hot weather, according to a new global study, but despite Sweden's harsh climate its inhabitants are less likely to die in chilly temperatures than Brits, Spaniards or Italians. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How two million Swedes are designing a 'house of clicks'
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Sponsored Article
Kristin Amparo: 'Swedes are afraid to be proud'
National
Five facts you need to know about Sweden's Eurovision entry
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Blog updates

22 May

Editor’s blog, May 22nd (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, The hot topic in Europe this week is whether or not the UK will..." READ »

 

8 May

 (Joel Sherwood) »

"Daycare called today. They ordered me to drop all activities and come pick up my child...." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
What it's like to be a student in Malmö
National
Why do one in three Swedes want to join Nato?
Sponsored Article
'No one tells expats about unemployment benefits'
Features
What to do in Stockholm this summer
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th
National
How Sweden and Saudi Arabia got back on speaking term after row
Gallery
Property of the week: Västra hamnen, Malmö
Sponsored Article
'There is no such thing as Swedish values'
National
Why is support for the Sweden Democrats at a record high?
Sponsored Article
ConnectSweden: Examining Sweden's place in the world
Gallery
People-watching: May 15th - 17th
National
VIDEO: Swedish man's roar scares off charging bear
National
'Gang conflict' linked to latest Gothenburg attack
National
RECIPE: How to make Panna cotta with cloudberry jam
Sponsored Article
'Educated immigrants get stuck in limbo in Sweden'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Your May sun snaps
National
Sweden backs migrant sharing plan
National
Swedish boozing on the rise
National
Why Sweden's deputy PM was forced to apologize for Auschwitz analogy
National
End of the road for Julian Assange's arrest appeal?
Features
Booked to go to one of Sweden's sizzling music festivals yet?
National
Is Avicii set to play at Sweden's royal wedding?
National
Meet the Swedish boy who used to be a girl
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why is obesity ballooning in Sweden?
National
VIDEO: The bizarre Swedish nurses song that's gone viral
National
Ecuador stray dog Arthur in Swedish charity race
National
UK expert: 'Sweden's current military state is alarming'
National
Elfdalian: a real language spoken in central Sweden in 2015
National
Is King's love for house tracks behind new military music?
Gallery
Property of the week: Hjortnäs, Leksand
National
Sex-crazed grouse terrorizes Swedes
National
IN PICTURES: Sweden's King Carl XVI turns 69
National
Dolphins spotted in Baltic
Gallery
People-watching: May 1st-3rd
Sponsored Article
'Never waste a good crisis'
National
Road trippers flock to 'The Bridge'
National
Why are Swedish supermarkets banning paracetamol pills?
Gallery
People watching: April 29th
National
"In many ways Swedes and Americans are kindred spirits"
Politics
Did you know four Swedish party leaders are women?
National
Swedish rescue team stuck on way to Nepal quake zone
National
Why Sweden's brown bear population is in danger
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Forshaga
National
Here's how a Swede became the world's boxing champion
Swedish Hasbeens
Sponsored Article
Is the world wrong to connect Sweden with sex?
Sponsored Article
'Impossible' to run Skanska without Bromma Airport
Sponsored Article
Want to study in Sweden? Read why Stockholm is the best choice
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
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

3,352
jobs available
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:
psdmedia.se