Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world. It was foundedby Siddhartha Guatama (Buddha) in Northeastern India.
It arose as a monasticmovement during a time of Brahman tradition. Buddhism rejected important viewsof Hinduism. It did not recognize the validity of the Vedic Scriptures, northe sacrificial cult which arose from it. It also questioned the authorityof the priesthood. Also, the Buddhist movement was open to people of all castes,denying that a persons worth could be judged by their blood.The religionof Buddhism has 150 to 350 million followers around the world.
The wide rangeis due to two reasons. The tendency for religious affiliation to be nonexclusiveis one. The other is the difficulty in getting information from Communistcountries such as China. Its followers have divided into two main branches:Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada, the way of the elders, is dominant in India,Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Mahayana, the greater vehicle,refers to the Theravada as Hinayana, the lesser vehicle. It is dominant inIndia, Tibet, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. SiddharthaGuatama was born in Kapilivastu. His father was the ruler of the small kingdomnear the Indian/Nepal border. As a child, his future was foretold by sages.They believed that he would someday be a fellow sage or leader of a greatempire. He led a very pampered and sheltered life until the age of twenty-nine.It was at that time that he realized that he had led an empty life.
He renouncedhis wealth and embarked on a journey to seek truth, enlightenment, and thecycle of rebirths.In the first years of his journey, Siddhartha Guatamapracticed yoga and became involved in radical asceticism. After a short time,he gave up that life for one of a middle path between indulgence and self-denial.He meditated under a bo tree until he reached true enlightenment by risingthrough a series of higher states of consciousness. After realizing this religiousinner truth, he went through a time of inner struggle. Renaming himself Buddha(meaning enlightened one), he wandered from place to place, preaching, spreadinghis teachings by word of mouth.
He also gained disciples, who were groupedinto a monastic community known as a sangha.As he neared his death, Buddharefused a successor. He told his followers to work hard to find their salvation.After his death, it was decided that a new way to keep the communitys unityand purity was needed, since the teachings of Buddha were spoken only. Tomaintain peace, the monastic order met to decide on matters of Buddhist doctrinesand practice. Four of these meetings are considered to be the Four Major Councils.Thefirst major council was presided over by Mahakasyapa, a Buddhist monk. Thepurpose of the first council was to preach and agree on Buddhas teachingsand monastic discipline.
The second major council supposedly met at Vaisali,one hundred years after the first. The purpose of this council was to answerthe ten questionable acts of the monks of the Vajjian Confederacy. The useof money, drinking wine, and other irregularities were among the acts. Itwas decided that the practices were unlawful. This decision has been foundto be the cause of the division of the Buddhists. The accounts of the meetingdescribe a quarrel between the Mahasanghikas (Great Assembly) and the Sthaviras(Elders). Tensions had grown within the sangha over discipline, the role oflaity, and the nature of arhat.Pataliputra, now Patna, was the sight ofthe third council.
It was called by King Asoka in the 3rd century BC, andwas convened by Moggaliptta. The purpose was the purify the sangha of thefalse monks and heretics who had joined the order because of its royal associations.During the council, the compilations of the Buddhist scriptures (Tipitaka)and the body of subtle philosophy (abhidharma) to the dharma and monastic disciplinewere completed. Missionaries were sent forth to many countries as a resultof the council.King Kanishka patronged the fourth council in 100 AD. Historiansare not sure if it was held at either Kasmir or Jalanhar. Both divisions ofBuddhism are said to have participated in the council.
The council tried toestablish peace between them. However, neither side was willing to give in.Because of this, the religion divided into many sects, including the traditionaleighteen schools.The traditional eighteen schools of Buddhism werea result of different interpretations of Buddhist teachings. Together, thesedivisions were seen as too conservative and literal towards the teachings ofBuddha. Theravada was considered too individualistic and unconcerned withthe needs of the laity.
It caused a liberal wing of the sangha to break awayfrom the rest of the monks during the second council. Original group of monkscontinued their honoring of Buddha as a perfectly enlightened human teacher.However, the liberal Mahasanghikas developed a new interpretation. They beganto think of Buddha as an eternal, all powerful being. Believing the humanBuddha was an apparition sent down for human benefit, the Mahasanghikas beganMahayana.Not even the names of Mahayanas founders are known. Historiansargue whether or not the new sect began in southern or northwestern India.However, they have narrowed the date to in between the 2nd century BC andthe 1st century AD.
Beliefs in a godlike Buddha continued well past the eraof Christianity and came together in the Mahayana doctrine of threefold nature.Buddhismspread throughout Asia after the two divisions came about. King Asokas children,Mahinda and Sanghamitta, are responsible for the Buddhist conversion of SriLanka. During the reign of Asoka, it is said that Theravada was introducedto Burma by Sri Lanka, around 5th century AD.
Burma spread Theravada to Thailandin the 6th century. Cambodia was influenced by Mahayana and Hinduism at theend of the 2nd century. Nearly one-thousand two- hundred years later, Theravadabecame the primary religion.At the beginning of the Christian era, Buddhismwas introduced to Central Asia. From there, it entered China through traderoutes.
It influenced and adapted to Chinese culture. It was opposed by many,though, and its followers were persecuted at times. Buddhisms major Chineseinfluence ended after a great persecution in 845 AD. However, the meditativeZen sect and the Pure Land sect continued to thrive.
Despite disagreementfrom Confucian authorities, Mahayanas influence was seen in Vietnam by 189.China introduced Buddhism to Korea in 372 AD. From that point on, it wasgradually converted through Chinese influence for many centuries. Korea introducedBuddhism to Japan in 552 AD. Prince Shotoku made it the official state religionof Japan forty-one years later.
Tibet was introduced to Buddhism by foreignwives of the king starting in the 7th century AD. By the next century, ithad become an important aspect of Tibetan culture. It was spread by the Indianmonk, Padmasambhava, who had arrived there in 747 AD to spread Tantric Buddhism.Several centuries later, Tibetan Buddhists began to believed that the abbotsof its great monastaries were reincarnated bodhisattvas, individuals who haveattained perfect enlightenment but delay entry into final nirvana in orderto make possible the salvation of others who had not reached enlightenment.The chief abbots became known as the Dalai Lama, the ruler of Tibet. Theyruled as a theocracy from the 17th century until the Chinese takeover in 1950.Oneof Buddhisms greatest strengths is its ability to adapt to many conditionsunder a variety of cultures.
It is opposed to materialism. It does not recognizea conflict between itself and modern science. On the contrary, it holds thatthe Buddha applied the experimental approach to the questions of ultimate truth.Growing interest in Asian culture and spiritual values in the West hasled to the development of a number of studies and practice of Buddhism. Zenhas grown in the United States to create more than a dozen meditation centersand a number of monastaries. Interest in Vajrayana has also increased.
Asits influence in the west slowly grows, Buddhism is once again changing andadapting to the new environment. Although its influence in the United Statesis still small, it seems that if Buddhism repeats its history, new forms andsects of Buddhism may develop.Category: Religion