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Buddhism

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Buddhism is usually considered a religion. On most estimates it has in the region of 350,000,000 adherents, making it the 4th or 5th largest religion in the world, and one of the three major universal religions (as distinct from those largely confined to a singkle ethnic group). It was founded by Gautama, known as the Buddha (literally Awakened One). He lived and taught in areas now in northeast India and Nepal. Historians now genrally date his death somewhere in the region of 400 BC.

There are several major branches of Buddhism, each with notable differences in teachings. Some scholars hold that they have no common core.[1] This article will not deal with different views on this point. instead it will simply describe the main forms of Buddhism, leaving readers to form their own conclusions on unity and diversity. Buddhists divide themselves into Mahayana and Theravada, the former being further subdivided.

Contents

Theravada

Somewhere in the region of a third of the world's Buddhists belong to this tradition. It teaches a path in three stages. First is morality, which is perfected in the monastic life. After this one practices forms of meditation designed to settle and focus the mind. The third stage is the development of wisdom. This starts with doctrianl study, the soil in which wisdom grows. Its roots are morality and the settled and focused mind. One practices forms of meditation designed to develop insight into the true nature of one's existence. If this process is completed one becomes an arahant (literally Worthy One).

Pure Land

Somewhere in the region of another third of the world's Buddhists follow this tradition. It believes that in these degenerate times few if any can follow paths taught by other Buddhist schools. It also believes a Buddha named Amitabha has created a Pure Land to the west of our world, and grants his devotees rebirth there. Its main practice is devotion to him. Most Pure Land Buddhists believe that, once reborn there, one must pratise the path of the bodhisattva, one dedicated to helping others. However, a school called Jodo Shinshu holds that those reborn there instantly become Buddhas.

Zen

This school emphasizes forms of meditation intended to break through conceptual thinking. This usually involves rejection of doctrinal study. the Chogye school is the main exception.

Nichiren

This school's main practice is devotion to the Lotus Sutra, its principal scripture. It regards this practice as a simple way to connect with the realm of enlightenment.

Vajrayana

This tradition emphasizes various esoteric ritual and yogic practices, which it regards as shortcuts to becoming a Buddha.


The original context of Buddhism

Although it is known that Siddhartha Gautama studied under monks of other religions in his search for spiritual revelation, little is known about those religions. It is believed that some elements may have been borrowed from or influenced by Vedic religion, and later, by Taoism, Confucianism and Islam, all of which were in turn influenced in some way by Buddhism.

The growth of Buddhism

In turn, Buddhist teachings have spread far beyond their original borders, growing into a diverse family of religions. Buddhism does not make religious conversion or evangelism a requirement, and its pacifist nature made it non-threatening to most governments, both factors which have contributed to its international growth.

There is a specific type of pluralist believer who manages to combine Buddhism with their existing religious practice: there are a variety of Buddhist-Christian movements that tie the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism into a Christian framework.


Buddhist scripture

The earliest Buddhist scriptures and text were written in Pali and Prakrit. Mahayana Buddhism traditionally recognizes the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism as in principle authentic, but regards it as merely a preliminary teaching for people not ready for the Mahayana's own teachings. Theravada traditionally does not recognize the Mahayana scriptures at all.

See also


Notes

  1. Robinson et al. Buddhist Religions, 5th ed, p xx; Philosophy East and West, vol 54, pp 269f; Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, 1st ed, pp 275f/2nd ed, p 266
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