Chris Nyambura was raised Catholic but over the past six months he has started calling himself Buddhist. Aged 23, he is a graduate student in chemical engineering. Like many of his generation, especially on the American West Coast, he appreciates the emphasis on mental development and self-help in the spiritual practice he has chosen.
He belongs to a group of people who turn up every Sunday evening for guided meditation sessions in a small, brightly lit studio in downtown Seattle. This is one of 38 centres across the United States (and 679 around the world) affiliated to the Diamond Way movement, which has popularised a modern form of Tibetan Buddhist practice, that emphasises the practical over the arcane. Their teacher coaches them in techniques like visualisation and chanting as well as explaining some basics of the religion to any newcomers.
Mr Nyambura eagerly lists the ways in which, he feels, this practice benefits him. First, training the mental faculties. “A lot of people take refuge in relationships, food, material things. Part of Buddhism is trying to teach me how do I take refuge in my own mind.” Second, a sharper sense of cause, effect and accountability. “One of the things when we meditate is remembering how former thoughts, actions bring you to your present state and what you do now will ultimately shape your future.” Third, learning to live in the moment. “When you meditate, one of the first things is that you calm your mind and just rest in the present…”