Right Thought and Right Action: Buddhist Forms of Religious Coping
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
RIDDLE, R. L. (2008). Right Thought and Right Action: Buddhist Forms of Religious Coping. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 11. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Right Thought and Right Action: Buddhist Forms of Religious Coping

Sponsored by: RUSSELL PHILLIPS (rphillips2@gmail.com)
Religious coping is rarely empirically examined in the Buddhist population. A few studies have examined morality, an important element of Buddhism, but no studies have created a scale of Buddhist coping. This study created such a measure, and provided it to 550 Buddhists in the US. Factor analysis revealed 14 types of Buddhist coping, including practicing morality (right thought and action). Practicing morality predicted outcomes from stress, better than general religious and demographic variables. Those who reported practicing morality to cope with a stressful event reported better outcomes of that stressor. Implications of the study are addressed.

The importance of religious coping in the United States has been noted in studies on Christian, Hindu and Jewish samples (Pargament, Koenig, & Perez, 2000), but not in Buddhists. Buddhist coping is relevant given the estimated 600,000 to 1.8 million Buddhists living in the United States (Smith, 2002). Morality is an important element of Buddhist coping, defined as doing no harm to self and others by engaging in loving actions, words, and vocations, and avoiding harmful substances such as drugs (Hanh, 1993). In a qualitative research study on Buddhist coping, morality was noted by 10 of the 24 participants as a way to deal with stress (Phillips et al., 2007). Therapists have begun to employ Buddhist teachings on morality in the treatment of addiction, helping addicts become aware of how their addiction is involved in their behavior, and how it harms themselves and others (Beitel et al., 2007). Thematic analysis of interviews after treatment revealed that the majority of clients in one such treatment felt they were functioning better after the intervention (Beitel et al.). These qualitative studies hint at possible benefits of Buddhist morality, but quantitative research in this area has not been conducted. The present study hopes to create a quantitative measure of Buddhist coping, including items dealing with morality. It is hypothesized that the morality items will load onto their own factor, and these items will correlate with better stress-related outcomes.


Of the 550 participants, 42.4% were male, with 85.8% European-American, and an average age of 45 years (SD=13.55). Almost one-quarter (24.2%) of the sample identified as Theraveda Buddhist, 28.4% Mahayana, 39.6 % Vajrayana, and 6% Other, practicing Buddhism an average of 12.39 years (SD=10.59). The sample reported they were moderately to very spiritual, with a mean of 3.42 on a four-point scale (SD=.716).

The Buddhist Coping measure was created from a review of the literature and from participant responses to a qualitative study on Buddhist coping (Phillips et al., under review). There were 95 items across 18 subscales (5-8 items per subscale). There were 5 items representing morality, focusing on right thought and right action (e.g., “I practice right speech”). Participants in the present study were asked to consider a stressful life event they were currently experiencing, and answer how much they were presently using each item to deal with that stressor on a four-point rating scale (‘Not at All’ to ‘A Great Deal’). To measure adjustment to the life stressor, participants completed the General Outcomes Scale, which has demonstrated good reliability and validity (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). This scale contains five items (e.g., “I felt better about myself after dealing with my stressor”), rated on a five-point Likert scale from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree”).

Approval from the University Institutional Review Board was obtained. An online survey was created on surveymonkey.com using the measures mentioned previously, as well as demographic questions and other measures of adjustment to life stress. Participants were recruited through a Buddhist group on a social website (Facebook.com) and through Buddhanet.net, which contained email addresses for sangha leaders across the U.S, who were asked to tell their members about the online survey. Those who wished to be eligible for one of three $50 gift card drawings provided their email after being directed to a second survey on surveymonkey.com.

A Principal Components Analysis was conducted with a Promax rotation because the factors were expected to correlate (Pett, Lackey, & Sullivan, 2003). The first 14 factors (all with eigenvalues over 1.0) were interpretable when using the factor loadings minimum standard for oblique rotations of 0.45 and therefore kept. One item cross-loaded on the first 14 factors, and was eliminated. Factor 1 of the factor analysis represented morality. Four of the five items dealing with morality had factor loadings greater than 0.45 on Factor 1, as did three items from the right thought subscale, which deals with having wholesome intentions in one’s actions. Thus, Factor 1 was relabeled morality and defined as: right speech, right action, and right intention (doing things for the right reasons). The average rating for the individual item on Factor 1 was 2.9, falling between the ratings of ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Quite a Bit.’ Using a hierarchical regression, morality predicted general outcomes from a stressful life event (ΔR2 = .126, p < .008), over and above demographic and general religious measures. The p value was set at .008 because a Bonferroni correction was conducted, as the present research was part of a larger study that included six dependent variables. Those participants who reported focusing on morality to deal with a stressor reported better outcomes from the stressful event (β = 0.37, p < .008).

The purpose of this study was to develop a reliable and valid measure of Buddhist coping, and to see if morality uniquely predicted outcomes from stress. Indeed, morality items formed their own factor in the factor analysis, and there was evidence of strong internal reliability. After controlling for general religious variables and demographic variables, morality predicted outcomes from stress. Those who invested more effort in right thought and right action reported better outcomes from stressful events. Conclusions should be drawn with caution, however, given the limitations of the present study. The current research had a correlational design, so no causal inferences can be drawn. Participant responses were limited to online postings, which only represents individuals with Internet access. Therefore, the responses might not be generalized to the entire Buddhist population. However, this study contributes to the understanding and assessment of religious coping by creating a reliable and valid measure of religious coping specifically for Buddhists. Future research could benefit from longitudinal studies that examine whether Buddhist coping predicts outcomes at a later point in time. Clinically, the measure of Buddhist coping created in this study can help therapists understand what forms of religious coping their Buddhists clients use. This study confirms and adds to previous research by noting the benefits of not only practicing right action, but engaging in such behaviors with wholesome intentions.

Beitel, M., Genova, M., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Arnold, R., Avants, S.K., & Margolin A. (2007). Reflections by inner-city drug users on a Buddhist-based spirituality-focused therapy: A qualitative study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(1), 1-9.Hanh, T.N. (1993). For a future to be possible. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer. Pargament, K.I., Koenig, H.G., & Perez, L.M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology 56(4), 519-543. Pett, M.A., Lackey, N.R., & Sullivan, J.J. (2003). Making sense of factor analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Phillips, R.E. III, Colvin, S.D., Abarr, A.N., Dunn, M.W., & Reed, A.S. (under review). A qualitative study of Buddhist forms of religious coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.Smith, T.W. (2002). Religious diversity in America: The emergence of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(3), 577-585.

 Factor Loadings from Factor Analysis for Morality________________________________________________________________________Morality Item             						Exploratory Factor Loadinga________________________________________________________________________15. Kept in mind the Buddhist idea of right thought.     	0.56624. I use the five precepts/mindfulness trainings as guidelines for my life.  					0.57353. I pay close attention to my motivations when I speak.   0.576 57. I practice right speech.        				1.04575. I engage in right action.        				0.95276. I strive to achieve right thought.      			0.82190. I engage in Right Livelihood.       			0.660________________________________________________________________________aFactor loading from exploratory factor analysis, principal components analysis with promax rotation.       

 Table 2Descriptive Statistics for Major Variables________________________________________________________________________Variable       				Alpha    M  	SD  	Range________________________________________________________________________Age        				N/A    45.0  	13.6  	18-75How Spiritual Are You  		N/A      3.4     	  0.7       1-4Years Practicing Buddhism  		N/A    12.4  	10.6   	  1-59 Morality     				.835    20.1  	  4.0 	  8-28General Outcomes   			.805    20.3  	  3.5 	  7-25________________________________________________________________________  

 Table 3 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting General Outcomes from the Stressful Event  ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬________________________________________________________________________Variable      				B  		SEB   		â ________________________________________________________________________  Step 1: Demographic Variables   Gender    				 0.450  	0.299   	0.063   Age              				-0.015 		0.012         	-0.058    Immigrant/US Native   		0.205 		0.440   	0.020 Step 2: Global Religious Measures      Years Practicing Buddhism           -.0.019  	0.016             	-0.057      Spirituality       			0.354  		0.206   	0.072 Step 3:     Right thought and action 1   	0.329*  	0.038*   	0.372* _______________________________________________________________________ Note. R2 = .017 for Step 1; ÄR2 = .027 for Step 2 (p < .008); ÄR2 = .126 for Step 3 (p < .008). *p< .008 

Submitted 4/24/2008 3:24:45 PM
Last Edited 4/28/2008 12:47:37 PM
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