You may wish to recall, that the monastics who set up the notion of "humanistic buddhism" had all passed through at least a brutal invasion (especially nasty if you lived around Jiangsu, where Ven Hsing Yun and Ven Sheng Yen are from, or Zhejiang - like Ven Yin Shun), followed by a brutal civil war. And when they got to Taiwan, the "white terror" of the nationalists.
Fair enough. I understand their perspectives were heavily influenced by the times in which they found themselves in. Their success stories likewise reflect that, indeed, their approach was found useful and agreeable to millions of people in Taiwan and elsewhere.
In other words, they didn't need to point out the horrors of samsara to the people they were talking to. They were living it.
However, besides those older generations, the rest of people now have no point of reference. The younger generation in Taiwan especially have enjoyed the fruits of an industrialized nation without having to have gone through the brutal years of Guomindang rule and the harsh poverty of previous decades. The stable and secure life of the middle class in a country where civil disturbance and war are distant memories await them. They don't need to worry about communist insurrections or the central government brutally cracking down on suspected dissidents. People worry about mortgages and careers now.
Foguangshan, which I think represents Humanistic Buddhism best, as far as I've seen it at least, hardly ever alludes to samsara and suffering. I discussed this with some monks and nuns at FGS a few months ago and the answers I received were usually something to the effect that ordinary people would be scared away from Buddhism if you spoke of suffering. Basically, the idea is that common people are too timid and ignorant to handle what Buddha taught (suffering and the end of suffering), so you give them the light version. There is a lot of compromise. Maybe in the 50's and 60's you didn't need to tell people about suffering when third world conditions and were were everyday life or in recent memory, but nowadays with that point of reference gone, there is a vision of the Buddhadharma without the key component of dukha.
However, to a totally different audience like yourself, you may not have that background. But 99% of "humanistic buddhism" is directed towards those that do.
Indeed, but then as I outlined above, younger generations, to which Humanistic Buddhism is directed nowadays, likewise don't have that background.
But probably more importantly, the Buddha himself never began teaching lay people about "the horrors of samsara". He taught them giving and charity, an ethical lifestyle, and possibly - for those who were up to it, and there would be the minority - the dangers of over indulgence in sensual pleases. This is known as the "gradual teaching".
He also summed up his teachings as suffering and the end of suffering. I can understand that one has to present people the appropriate teachings, but I don't think enough credit is given to the intelligence of the common lay Buddhist. They're already aware of the teachings on karma so on. Expand on it. Most can handle it I'm sure.
Now, the vast majority of "Humanistic Buddhism" teachings that are easily available are for the lay community, the former teaching. Which is pretty much what the Buddha taught. As for those teachings for the monastic community in Humanistic Buddhism, you'd probably have to go through the training at the Buddhist Colleges there, and be part of the community. That content doesn't make it into the publicly available books and literature.
That's what I mean -- the working assumption is that the non-monastic population is too stupid and timid to get taught the actual Four Noble Truths. It is reserved for those in robes.
But then again, my Taiwanese friend who is a devoted member of FGS told me once that he doesn't care for meditation. He likes volunteer work because you can see the immediate results of it (fund raising for a building which gets built for example). I think if you told him how futile his life pursuits are and what samsara potentially has in store, he'd understand what you're saying, but the former "Pure Land on Earth" vision is far more emotionally appealing and satisfying.
Do volunteer work, keep basic precepts, do your nianfo
念佛 and everything will be okay because you're guaranteed rebirth in the Pure Land. There is great emotional appeal to such an approach. You first of all don't need to worry about suffering post-mortem because your teachers have guaranteed you that you'll take rebirth in the Pure Land where retrogression will never occur. You're also not expected to toil with meditation or other practises which are emotionally and psychologically demanding. Volunteer work while tough at times isn't that hard. It makes you feel good and you get to socialize with your friends. The organization will also reward you with prestige, reputation and maybe even a paid position. You can still lead a normal consumer lifestyle in a capitalist market economy. Have your kids, car, house, career, etc... it's all good. The future is bright.
I personally find that approach difficult to swallow. However, if it works for others (and it evidently does), then all the power to them. I think the Four Noble Truths are not so emotionally appealing... the truth of dukha and the truth of the cause of that dukha are initially quite unappealing. That what is normally perceived of as happiness is delusional misperception of suffering is not readily acceptable to most people. But if you're going to teach Buddhism to people then you'll need to tell them this sooner or later. Keeping them under the illusion that all is well is not doing anyone any favours.
The belief in being plucked from suffering by grace of a Buddha and deposited in a utopia also doesn't work well with my understanding of karma and the metaphysics behind rebirth.