Buddhism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, who lived in northern India between 563 and 483 BCE. Buddhism spread throughout the ancient Indian sub-continent in the five centuries following his death. It continued to spread into Central, Southeast, East Asia, and Eastern Europe over the next two millennia. Adherents of Buddhism are called Buddhists.
There is controversy among scholars of religion concerning whether Buddhism constitutes a religion, discussions which closely follow the problem of “what is religion?” within religious studies. In any case, Buddhism is a major movement, with approximately 700 million followers. There are estimates which are double that ), the conditioned realm of karma needs to be transcended altogether in the attainment of the ineffably blissful and utterly liberated state of Nirvana and awakening. Some posit that the state of Great Perfection transcends both Samsara and Nirvana.
While Buddhism does not deny the existence of supernatural beings (e.g., the devas; indeed, many are discussed in Buddhist scripture), it does not ascribe power for creation, salvation or judgment to them. Like humans, they are regarded as having the power to affect worldly events, and so some Buddhist schools associate with them via ritual. All supernatural beings, as living entities, are a part of the six-part reincarnation cycle.
Buddhism is usually divided into two main branches: Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. The followers of Theravada Buddhism take the scriptures known as the “Pali suttas, vinaya and abhidhamma” (the Tipitaka/Tripitaka) as normative and authoritative; the followers of Mahayana Buddhism base themselves chiefly on the “Mahayana sutras” (sutra/sutta is generally a scripture in which the Buddha himself gives instruction), as well as on various versions of the vinaya. Whereas the Theravadins (followers of Theravada Buddhism) adhere solely to the Pali suttas and their commentaries, the adherents of Mahayana accept both the suttas and the Mahayana sutras as authentic and valid teachings of the Buddha, aimed at different types of person and different levels of spiritual penetration. For the Theravadins, the Mahayana sutras are deviant works of poetic fiction, not issuing from the Buddha himself; for the Mahayanists, the Pali suttas (or “agamas”, as such scriptures are also known) do indeed contain basic, foundational (or provisional) teachings of the Buddha, while for those same Mahayanists the Mahayana sutras articulate the Buddha’s higher, advanced and deeper doctrines, reserved for the more aspirational Bodhisattvas. Hence the name Mahayana, lit, the Greater Vehicle, which has room for both the general masses of sentient beings and those more developed. Some Mahayanists irreverently refer to Theravada as Hinayana, literally the Lesser Vehicle. This term is now widely seen as either inaccurate or derogatory, although it does actually appear in the famous Mahayana scripture, the Lotus Sutra (amongst others). Other adherents of Mahayana use the term Hinayana in a respectful way referring to several historical Hinayana schools that may or may not include the currently existing Theravada.
An alternative categorisation of Buddhism follows the major languages of the Buddhist canon, which exists in Pali, Tibetan, and Chinese collections. (Some texts exist in original Sanskrit.) This would serve to divide East Asian Mahayana Buddhism from the Vajrayana form of Mahayana found in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Japan (Tendai), Northern India (Sikkim & Ladakh/Leh), and Mongolia. In many works Chan (禪 or Zen) is set out as a distinct school; this is due to the fact that Chan is a heavily sinified form of Mahayana Buddhism, having developed and evolved for many centuries within China. Still some others consider Zen (the Japanese pronuciation of the character 禪) being a unique product of Japan and its island culture: fusion of Bushi ideas, Daoist philosophy, and Theravada Buddhism.
Buddhism is categorized under the Shraman Tradition (Shramaṇa Paramparā) of Indian philosophy, rather than the Vedic Tradition (Vaidika Paramparā) that is followed by Orthodox Hinduism. Buddhism is called an Ārya Dharma (Aryan religion), meaning, a noble religious way of life.
What is a Buddha?
The term “Buddha” is derived from the verbal root “budh”, meaning “to awaken” or “to be enlightened”, and “to comprehend”. It is written in Devanagari script as Hindi: बुद्ध and pronounced as /bυd-dhə/, where both “d” and “dh” are dentals, and “dh” is an aspirated stop.
The word “Buddha” denotes not just the historical Buddha Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama who lived some 2,500 years ago, but also a type of person, of which there have been many throughout the course of time. (As an analogy, the term “president” refers not just to one person, but to everyone who has ever held the office of presidency.) The historical Buddha is one member of the spiritual lineage of Buddhas, which is thought to extend beyond history into the past and into the indefinite future.
Shakyamuni Buddha did not generally claim any divine status for himself – although in some Mahayana sutras, he does declare that he is the “god above the gods – superior to all the gods” (Lalitavistara Sutra); he also did not say that he was inspired by a god or gods. He is instead Dharma (Ultimate Truth – variously construed by Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism) made manifest. A Buddha is anyone who has fully awakened to the true nature of existence, liberated himself from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, has eradicated all negative qualities and developed all positive qualities, possibly including omniscience. (Buddhas do not claim to be omnipotent, unlike the God of Christianity, Islam or Judaism.) All sentient beings can free themselves from suffering as Gautama did, regardless of age, sex, or caste. The Mahayana and Theravada schools of thought differ on whether this includes animals as well; Mayahana Buddhism holds that, despite the incredible difficulties involved, animals can achieve enlightenment. In both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, however, the Buddha is viewed as one who, in past lives, had in fact been born as an animal at various times during his progress through Samsara. But only as a human being was he able to achieve full Awakening (bodhi).
In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha (transcending his mere physical form) is viewed as a boundless, beginningless and endless being, present in all times and all places, yet beyond the reach of logic or mundane conceptualisation. He is regarded as the very embodiment of ungraspable, eternal yet realisable Dharma – ultimate Truth or “Enlightenment” (bodhi). In essence, all perfect Buddhas are seen by Mahayana Buddhism as One in nature – all are salvational channels or vessels of Dharma.
The principles by which a person can achieve enlightenment are known as the Buddhadharma, or simply—the Dharma, meaning (in this context) “law, doctrine, or truth”.
As with any history so old, there are many different stories of how Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit सिद्धार्थ गौतम, pronounced as “sιd-dhα:rthə gautəmə”; in Pāli, Siddhattha Gautama) made his way to enlightenment.
The Theravada tradition says he was born around 566 BCE. One of their legends says that his birthplace is Lumbini in the Shākya state, one of a small group of old oligarchic republics in what is now Southern Nepal at the border with India.
The state of Shākya, where he was born, was an oligarchic republic at that time, so there was no royal family of which to speak. Therefore, it is believed that the Buddha’s father was not a king in the sense of an absolute ruler, but rather an influential tribal figure. However, regardless of the details of his early life, the evidence strongly indicates that the Buddha was indeed a historical person living in approximately the same time and place in which he is traditionally placed.
It has also been suggested that the influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Bihar may have given rise to Buddhism. he is nevertheless not reported to have explictly denied the existence of a non-personal, permanent self, contrary to the popular, orthodox view of the Buddha’s teachings. Moreover, when the Buddha predicates “anātman” (anatta) with regards to the constituents of a being, there is a grammatical ambivalence in the use of the term. The most natural interpretation is that he is simply stating that “the constituents are not the self” rather than “the constituents are devoid of self”. This ambivalence was to prove troublesome to Buddhists after the Buddha’s passing. Some of the major schools of Buddhism that developed subsequently maintained the former interpretation, but other influential schools adopted the latter interpretation and took measures to establish their view as the orthodox Buddhist position.
One such proponent of this hard-line “no self” position was the monk Nagasena, who appears in the Questions of King Milinda, composed during the period of the Hellenistic Indo-Greek kingdom of the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE. In this text, Nagasena demonstrates the concept of absolute ‘no self’ by likening human beings to a chariot and challenges the Greek king “Milinda” (Menander) to find the essence of the chariot. Nagasena states that just as a chariot is made up of a number of things, none of which are the essence of the chariot in isolation, without the other pieces, similarly no one part of a person is a permanent entity; we can be broken up into five constituents — body, sensations, ideation, mental formations and consciousness — the consciousness being closest to the permanent idea of ‘self’, but is ever-changing with each new thought according to this viewpoint.
According to some thinkers both in the East and the West, the doctrine of “non-Self”, may imply that Buddhism is a form of nihilism or something similar. However, as thinkers like Nagarjuna have clearly pointed out, Buddhism is not simply a rejection of the concept of existence (or of meaning, etc.) but of the hard and fast distinction between existence and nonexistence, or rather between being and nothingness. Phenomena are not independent from causes and conditions, and do not exist as isolated things as we perceive them to be. Philosophers such as Nāgārjuna stress that the lack of a permanent, unchanging, substantial self in beings and things does not mean that they do not experience growth and decay on the relative level. But on the ultimate level of analysis, one cannot distinguish an object from its causes and conditions, or even object and subject. (This is an idea appearing relatively recently in Western science.) Buddhism thus has much more in common with Western empiricism, pragmatism, anti-foundationalism, and even poststructuralism than with nihilism.
In the Nikāyas, the Buddha and his disciples are commonly found to ask in question or declare “Is that which is impermanent, subject to change, subject to suffering fit to be considered thus: ‘This I am, this is mine, this is my self’?” The question which the Buddha posts to his audience is whether compounded phenomena is fit to be considered as self, in which the audience agrees that it is unworthy to be considered so. And in relinquishing such an attachment to compounded phenomena, such a person gives up delight, desire and craving for compounded phenomena and is unbounded by its change. When completely free from attachments, craving or desire to the five aggregates, such a person experiences then transcends the very causes of suffering.
In this way, the insight wisdom or prajñā of non-self gives rise to cessation of suffering, and not an intellectual debate over whether a self exists or not.
It is by realizing (not merely understanding intellectually, but making real in one’s experience) the three marks of conditioned existence that one develops prajñā, which is the antidote to the ignorance that lies at the root of all suffering. From the “tathagatagarbha-Mahayana” perspective (which diverges from the Theravadin understanding of Buddhism), however, a further step is requred if full Buddhahood is to be attained: not only seeing what is impermanent, suffering and non-Self in the samsaric sphere, but equally recognising that which is truly Eternal, Blissful, Self, and Pure in the transcendental realm — the realm of Mahaparinirvana.
See also: three marks of existence
The Four Noble Truths
The Buddha taught that life was dissatisfactory because of craving, but that this condition was curable by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: Ariya Atthangika Magga, Sanskrit: Arya Ashtanga Marg). This teaching is called the Four Noble Truths (Pali: Cattari Ariya Saccani, Sanskrit: Chatur Arya Satya):
- Dukkha: All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering.
- Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire (tanha) rooted in ignorance.
- Nirodha: There is an end of suffering, which is Nirvana.
- Magga: There is a path that leads out of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire and want. The central theory of Buddhist philosophy that explains the cause of suffering is Pratītyasamutpāda (in Sanskrit). It is written in devanagari as प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद and pronounced as “prətītyə səmυtpα:də”. It means “the chain of causation”, and further that everything in the world, including the soul, is only relative and momentary. The action is not independent but depends upon its cause, hence the famous Karma theory. The soul (not in the sense of an everlasting reality) goes through an eternal cycle of births and deaths because it undergoes through a series of following twelve :
- Ignorance or Avidyā
- Impressions or Samskāra
- Consciousness or Vijñāna
- Mind-Body Organism or Nāma Rūpa
- Six Senses or ŞaDāyatana
- Sense contact or Sparsha
- Sense Experience or Vedanā
- Craving or Tŗişhņa
- Mental Clinging or Upādāna
- Will to be born or Bhava
- Rebirth or Jāti
- Suffering or Jarā-maraņa.
Buddhism says that each of these causes gives effect to the next, until the twelfth gives rise to the first. This cycle of births and deaths cannot be severed until one attains Nirvana.
Note that the names are given in Sanskrit and their English meanings are only approximate.
The Noble Eightfold Path
- Main article: Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ariya atthangika magga)
In order to fully understand the noble truths and investigate whether they were in fact true, Buddha recommended that a certain lifestyle or path be followed which consists of:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Sometimes in the Pāli Canon the Noble Eightfold Path is spoken of as being a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another, but it is more usual to view the stages of the ‘Path’ as requiring simultaneous development.
The Eightfold Path essentially consists of meditation, following the precepts, and cultivating the positive converse of the precepts (e.g. benefiting living beings is the converse of the first precept of harmlessness). The Path may also be thought of as a way of developing śīla, meaning mental and moral discipline.
Buddhism and reality
In Buddhism the perceived reality is considered unreal (according to the Buddha: “Mañjushri, dreams appear but do not exist. Similarly all things, too, appear but do not exist.”..“They are illusory, like a mirage, a castle in the sky, the moon in water, a reflected image and an emanation.”)
Different schools and traditions in Tibetan Buddhism give different explanations of the mechanism producing the illusion usually called “reality”.
Practices of Buddhism
Refuge in The Three Jewels
- Main article: Refuge (Buddhism)
Buddhists seek refuge in the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism as the foundation of their religious practice. The jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the “noble” and “monastic” Sanghas (the group of beings possessing at least some degree of enlightenment and the community of monks and nuns, respectively).
The Buddha presented himself as an ideal example and entreated his followers to have faith in his example as one who was human and escaped the pain of existence. Buddhists believe that there is no otherworldly salvation from one’s karma. The suffering caused by the karmic effects of previous thoughts, words and deeds can be avoided by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. The Sangha provides a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further example that the truth of the Buddha’s teachings is attainable.
To someone who is seeking to become enlightened, taking refuge constitutes a continuing commitment to pursuing enlightenment and following in the footsteps of the people who have followed the path to enlightenment before. It contains an element of confidence that enlightenment is in fact a refuge, a supreme resort. Many Buddhists take the refuges each day, often more than once in order to remind themselves of their commitment and to direct their resolve inward toward liberation.
In all forms of Buddhism, refuge in the Three Jewels are taken before the Sangha for the first time, as a part of the conversion ritual. However, to Buddhists, the personal choice for taking refuge is more important than the external ritual.
In Buddhism, the word “refuge” should often not be taken in the English sense of “hiding” or “escape”; instead it is thought of as a homecoming, or place of healing. This simple misunderstanding has led some Western scholars to conclude that Buddhism is “a religion for sticking one’s head in the sand”, when most Buddhists would assert quite the opposite. On the other hand, the main goal of Buddhism is to escape from the suffering of cyclic existence. Some translators also translate it as “taking safe direction”.
The Five Precepts
- Main article: Pancasila
Buddhists undertake certain precepts as aids on the path to coming into contact with ultimate reality. Hence, they are also known as training rules. Laypeople generally undertake (at least one of) five precepts. The Five Precepts are not given in the form of commands such as “thou shalt not ..”, but rather are promises to oneself: “I will (try) ..”
- To refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
- To refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing).
- To refrain from sexual misconduct.
- To refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
This difference stems from the rationale behind them. While other religion institutes commandments and is based on the wishes or commands of a divine being, Buddhist precepts are based more on common sense that the Buddha highlights to Buddhists. Just as we would not want to be killed, others, cherishing their own life would not want to be killed. Hence we should not engage in harming or killing others. The same rationale applies to the second, third and fourth precepts.
The fifth and last precept involving refrain from intoxicants is unique in that the act of taking intoxicants itself is commonly not seen as an immediate or direct harm towards others. Instead it may serve as the catalyst for further acts of transgression against others in terms of either a single or possible combination of any of the first four precepts. The daily news will ascertain for us that there are daily crimes and accidents around the world that result from the consumption of alcohol or other forms of intoxicants, many of which could have been avoided if this rule was observed.
In addition to the indirect effects of intoxicants is the direct impact that intoxicants have, of dulling the mind. Mindfulness, a central teaching in Buddhism, builds upon the ability to train one’s mind and develop it to its fullest potential of enlightenment, whereas the taking of intoxicants runs counter to that and impedes mindfulness by allowing dullness and heedlessness of the mind.
The other distinguishing feature of the Buddhist precepts is that they are wider-ranging in implication than the “commandments” of some other religions. The first precept, against killing, for example, forbids the killing of animals as well as humans (but see Buddhist vegetarianism). Furthermore, in Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha indicates how all-inclusive the injunction against killing is, saying (in The Scripture of Brahma’s Net):
- “Disciples of the Buddha, should you yourself kill, wilfully cause another to kill, encourage someone to kill, extol killing, take pleasure in seeing killing take place, deliberately wish someone dead, intentionally cause death, supply the instruments or means for killing, cut off a life even when sanctioned by law, that is, participate in any way in killing, you are committing a serious offense warranting exclusion. Pray, do not intentionally kill anything whatsoever which has life.”
It should also be noted that the literal, and possibly original, meaning of the third precept covers more than the now generally standard meaning “sexual misconduct” and actually involves refraining from “wrong indulgence in all sensory pleasures”. If He created the world for any intention, this would be against His self-perfection. Yet at another instance, the Buddha had claimed that “the Supreme Reality is indescribable and inutterable”. In this sense, it is better to call Buddhism agnostic. The existence of demigods is recognized. However, in practice, Karma had taken the place of God in Theravada, and the Buddha himself is venerated like God in Mahayana.
Buddhist religious philosophy and branches
- Main article: Buddhist religious philosophy
Each branch sees itself as representing the true, original teachings of the Buddha, and some schools believe that the dialectic nature of Buddhism allows its format, terminology, and techniques to adapt over time in response to changing circumstances, thus validating dharmic approaches different from their own.
Buddhism after the Buddha
- Main article: History of Buddhism
Buddhism spread slowly in India until the powerful Mauryan emperor Ashoka converted to it and actively supported it. His promotion led to construction of Buddhist religious sites and missionary efforts that spread the faith into the countries listed at the beginning of the article.
From the 1st century BCE Buddhism started to emerge, receiving influences “from popular Hindu devotional cults (bhakti), Persian and Greco-Roman theologies which filtered into India from the northwest” (Lowenstein, 1996). Some of these influences appear on the artistic plane with the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara. Mahayana then expanded into Central Asia and to Eastern Asia.
After about 500 CE, Buddhism showed signs of waning in India, becoming nearly extinct after about 1200 CE. This was in part due to Hinduism’s revival movements such as Advaita and the rise of the bhakti movement. Over time, the local Buddhist populations gradually assimilated into Islam, hence the concentration of South Asian Islam in the far west and east of the Subcontinent.
Elements of Buddhism have remained within India to the current day: the Bauls of Bengal have a syncretic set of practices with strong emphasis on many Buddhist concepts. Other areas of India have never parted from Buddhism, including Ladakh and other areas bordering the Tibetan, Nepali and Bhutanese borders.
Buddhism also remained in the rest of the world although in Central Asia and later Indonesia it was mostly replaced by Islam. In China and Japan, it adopted aspects of the native beliefs of Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto respectively. In Tibet, the Tantric Vajrayana lineage was preserved after it disappeared in India.
Principal schools of Buddhist philosophy
- Main article: History of Buddhist schools
In his lifetime, Gautam Buddha had not answered several philosophical questions. On issues like whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite, unity or separation of the body and the soul, complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and then death, nature of the Supreme Truth, etc, the Buddha had remained silent. Hence the Buddhist missionaries often faced philosophical questions from other religions whose answers they themselves did not know. So later Buddhists made various interpretations of Buddha’s teachings and formed four major schools of thought.
- Shūnyavāda of the Mādhyamikas: this is a Mahayana school, popularized by Nagarjuna and Ashvaghosha. According to the Mādhyamikas, there is a supreme indescribable substance—Shūnyatā (lit., voidness)—which is neither true nor false. Everything in this world arises from this voidness. Hence the world is false as compared to the Shūnyatā. This concept somewhat resembles the Brahman of Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Adi Sankara. (However, Shankara had condemned Shūnyavāda to be “contradictory to all valid means of knowledge”.)
- Vijñānavāda of the Yogāchāras: this is another Mahayana school, propounded by Asanga and Vasubandhu. According to them, only the consciousness (Vijñāna) is true, and all objects of this world external to the mind are false. They believe in an absolute, permanent consciousness (similar to a soul) called Ālaya Vijñāna. This branch became famous in China, Tibet, Japan and Mongolia.
- Bāhyānumeyavāda of the Sautrāntrikas: this is a Theravada school which believes in the existence of both consciousness and material objects—but believes that the external objects can only be percieved indirectly through inference by our mind (Indirect Realism).
- Bāhya-Pratyakshavāda of the Vaibhāshikas: this is another Theravada school—based on an ancient Buddhist conference in Kashmir, which also believes in the existence of both consciousness and material objects (as composed of atoms). They believe that external objects are known through direct perception (Direct Realism).
The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka and in Pāli as the Tipitaka. These terms literally mean “three baskets” and refers to the three main divisions of the canon, which are:
- The Vinaya Pitaka, containing disciplinary rules for the Sangha of Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as a range of other texts which explain why and how rules were instituted, supporting material, and doctrinal clarification.
- The Sutta Pitaka (Pāli; Sanskrit: Sutra Pitaka), containing discourses of the Buddha.
- The Abhidhamma (Skt: Abhidharma) or commentary Pitaka, containing a philosophical systematization of the Buddha’s teaching, including a detailed analysis of Buddhist psychology. Though the Theravādin Abhidhamma is well preserved and widely known, it should be noted that a number of the early Eighteen Schools each had their own distinct Abhidharma collection with virtually no common textual material.
During the first few centuries after Gautama Buddha, his teachings were transmitted orally, but around the 1st Century CE they began to be written down. A given school of Buddhism will generally have its own distinctive canon of texts, which will partially overlap with those of other schools. The most notable set of texts from the early period is the Pali Canon, which was preserved in Sri Lanka by the Theravāda school. The sutras it contains are also part of the canon of every other Buddhist sect. Full versions of the original text and partial English translations are now readily available on the internet.
The appearance of the Mahāyāna tradition brought with it a collection of new texts, composed in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, many of which were also described as actual sermons of the Buddha. These include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, the Avataṃsaka, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakīrti Sutra, and the Nirvana Sutra. Many of the Mahayana sutras were translated into Tibetan and classical Chinese and are also now read in the West.
The Mahāyāna corpus of sutras further expanded after Buddhism was transmitted to China, where the existing texts were translated, and new texts were composed for the purpose of adapting the Indian tradition to the East Asian philosophical mindset. Some of these works are considered by modern scholars to be spurious. On the other hand, there were texts, such as the Platform Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment that did not pretend to be of Indian origin, but are widely accepted as valid scriptures on their own merits. Later writings include the Linji Lu of Chan master Linji. In the course of the development of Korean Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism, further important texts were composed. These included, for example, in Korea, some of the writings of Jinul, and in Japan, works such as Dogen‘s Shobogenzo.
Arguably the most thorough compilation of Mahayana works is found in the Tibetan canon. This is split into those texts attributed to be authored by the Buddha (Kanjur), and those texts which are understood to be commentaries by Indian practitioners (Tenjur). Vajrayāna practitioners also study the Buddhist tantras.
Recently an important archaeological discovery was made, consisting of the earliest known Buddhist manuscripts, recovered from somewhere near ancient Gandhara in northwest Pakistan. These fragments, written on birch bark, are dated to the 1st century and have been compared to the Dead Sea scrolls in importance. Donated to the British Library in 1994, they are now being studied in a joint project at the University of Washington.
Relations with other faiths
Some Hindus (primarily in the northern regions of India) believe that Gautama is the 9th incarnation (see avatar) of Lord Vishnu; there are accounts of the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu that are pro- and anti-Buddhist (i.e., either that Vishnu “really meant” what he said while incarnated as Buddha or that he was intentionally tricking those who follow unorthodox doctrines). This is not a majority view, however. The avatar theory came into existence in approximately the 9th century CE.
Traditionally, there has been a sharp distinction between Buddhism and what is today called “Hinduism”; this distinction is more accurately between Astika and Nastika philosophies, that is, philosophies in India which either affirmed the Vedas as divinely revealed scriptures or else regarded them as fallible human inventions. Thus Buddhism is theoretically a heresy vis à vis orthodox Indian philosophy, though there are many syncretic or ecumenical tendencies within either group which are accepting of the beliefs and practices of the other. Most modern Hindus deeply revere Gautama Buddha. Buddha Purnima, a festival celebrating the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most popular Hindu festivals.
In the Japanese religion of Shintoism Buddha is seen as a Kami (god). The Bahá’í Faith states he was an independent Manifestation of God. Siddhartha Gautama is thought to have been sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Josaphat based on a mistaken account of his life that made him out to be a Christian convert. Some Muslims believe that Gautama Buddha is Dhul-Kifl, one of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an.
Jainism is an ancient religion and school of thought that predates Buddhism. One of its two most revered teachers, Mahāvīra (599 – 527 BCE according to Jains, though some scholars prefer 549-477 B.C.1), was possibly a senior contemporary of the Buddha whose philosophy, sometimes described as dynamism or vitalism, was a blend of the earlier Jain teacher Pārśvanātha’s (877-777 BC) order and the reforms instituted by Mahavira himself. (The Majjhima Nikaya relates an incident wherein a disciple brings Buddha the news that the Nigantha Nattaputta, i.e. Mahavira, had passed away, thereby suggesting the latter’s seniority.) Debates between Buddhists and Jains are recorded in Jain texts, and dialogues between Jains and the Buddha are included in Buddhist texts. (See also the “Origins” section, above.)
The relationships between Taoism (Chinese folk religion still popular today) and Buddhism are complex, as they influenced each other in many ways while often competing for influence. The arrival of Buddhism forced Taoism to renew and restructure itself and address existential questions raised by Buddhism. Buddhism was seen as a kind of foreign Taoism and its scriptures were translated into Chinese with Taoist vocabulary. Zen (Chan) Buddhism in particular holds many beliefs in common with philosophical Taoism.
Confucianism also has much in common with Buddhism, and historically, people have practiced both. Some would argue however, that Confucianism is in fact not a religion, but a philosophy. Whatever the case, Buddhism shares many commonalities with Neo-Confucianism , which is Confucianism with more religious elements. In fact, the ritual of ancestor worship normally practiced by Confucianists, has been adapted to Chinese Buddhist beliefs.
Buddha Not an incarnation of Vishnu
Orthodox Hinduism in the later times has traditionally regarded Gautam Buddha to be one of the incarnations of their important deity Vishnu. In some of the Puranas of later Hinduism, Buddha has been described as an avatar of Vishnu in such a manner that many Buddhists find unacceptable and offensive—because such texts say that Vishnu had taken the Buddha-avatar to “mislead” the “demons” from the true Vedic path by deliberately propagating a false religion. Now-a-days there is a mutual understanding between Buddhists and most Hindus that Buddha is not an incarnation of Vishnu. Regarding this important and controversial point two leaders from both communities agreed on few points as below.
Joint Communiqué by Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakoti Pith and Vipassanacharya S. N. Goenka. The Maha Bodhi Society Office, Sarnath, Varanasi. 3:30 p.m., 11 November 1999. This joint communiqué is being issued after the cordial talk between Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswatiji of Kanchi Kamakoti Pith and Vipassanacharya Guruji Shri Satyanarayana Goenkaji.
Both agree and wish that there should be harmonious and friendly relations between both ancient (the Vedic and the Shramana) traditions. If there has been any misconception in this matter in the minds of the people of the neighbouring countries, it should be removed at the earliest.
The following was agreed:
- Due to whatever reason some literature was written (in India) in the past in which the Buddha was declared to be a reincarnation of Vishnu and various things were written about him. This was very unpleasant to the neighbouring countries. In order to foster friendlier ties between the two communities we decide that whatever has happened in the past (cannot be undone, but) should be forgotten and such beliefs should not be propagated.
- A misconception has spread in the neighbouring countries that the Hindu society of India is organising such conferences to prove its dominance over the followers of the Buddha. To forever remove this misconception we declare that both Vedic and æramana traditions are ancient traditions of India. Both have their own prestigious existence. Any attempt by one tradition to show itself higher than the other will only generate hatred and ill will between the two. Hence such a thing should not be done in the future and both traditions should be accorded equal respect and esteem.
- Anybody can attain a high position in the society by doing good deeds. One becomes a low (person in society) if one does evil deeds. Hence anybody can-by doing good deeds and removing the defilements such as passion, anger, arrogance, ignorance, greed, jealousy and ego-attain a high position in society and enjoy peace and happiness.
- Anybody who believed that Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu and now doesn’t because some people, some place got together and said it wasn’t so, probably didn’t believe it too much anyway.
We agree on all the three things mentioned above and wish that all the people of India from all the traditions should have cordial relations and the neighbouring countries should also have friendly relations with India.
Buddhism in the modern world
- Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.
- — Albert Einstein
Estimates of the number of Buddhists vary between 230 and 700 million, with 350 million being the most commonly cited figure.
- Mahāyāna remains the most common form of Buddhism in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore. Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asia have brought Mahayana Buddhism into Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
- Theravāda predominates in most of Southeast Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. It also has seats of recognition in Malaysia and Singapore.
- Vajrayāna is predominant in Tibet, Mongolia, portions of Russia and Siberia, and portions of India, especially those areas bordering Tibet. Kalmykia, while geographically located in Europe, is culturally closely related to Mongolia and thus its Buddhism is more properly grouped with Asian than with Western Buddhism.
While in the West, Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive; in the East, Buddhism is regarded as familiar and part of the establishment. Buddhist organizations in Asia frequently are well-funded and enjoy support from the wealthy and influential. In some cases, this has led critics to charge that certain monks and organizations are too closely associated with the powerful and are neglecting their duties to the poor.
Buddhism and the West
See also: Buddhism in Europe and Buddhism in the Americas
Occasional intersections between Western civilization and the Buddhist world have been occurring for thousands of years. Perhaps the most significant of these began in 334 BCE, early in the history of Buddhism, when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great conquered most of Central Asia. The Seleucids and the successive Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms established an important Hellenistic influence in the area, which interacted with Buddhism, as examplified by the emergence of Greco-Buddhist art. The conversion to Buddhism of the Indo-Greek king Menander (155-130 BCE) is described in Indian sources (the Milinda Panha), and echoed in Western ones (Plutarch).
In the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhism (along with many other of the world’s religions and philosophies) came to the attention of Western intellectuals. These included the pessimistic German philosopher Schopenhauer, who encountered Buddhism, and Eastern thought in general, after having devised a philosophical system of considerable compatibility; and the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who translated a Buddhist sutra from French into English. Western spiritual seekers were attracted to what they saw as the exotic and mystical tone of the Asian traditions, and created esoteric societies such as the Theosophical Society of H.P. Blavatsky. The Buddhist Society, London was founded by Theosophist Christmas Humphreys in 1924.
At first Western Buddhology was hampered by poor translations (often translations of translations), but soon Western scholars such as Max Müller began to learn Asian languages and translate Asian texts.
In 1880 the Colombo Committee designed the International Buddhist flag to celebrate the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was first hoisted on May 28, 1885 and was later modified to fit the typical proportions of national flags at the suggestion of Henry Steel Olcott. Its stripes symbolise universal compassion, the middle path, blessings, purity and liberation, wisdom, and the conglomeration of these. The flag was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress.
In 1899 Gordon Douglas became the first Westerner to be ordained as a Buddhist monk.
The first Buddhists to arrive in the United States were Chinese. Hired as cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries, they established temples in their settlements along the rail lines. See the article on Buddhism in America for further information.
During the 20th century the German writer Hermann Hesse showed great interest in Eastern religions, writing a book entitled Siddhartha. American beat generation poet Jack Kerouac became a well-known literary Buddhist, for his roman-a-clef The Dharma Bums and other works. The cultural re-evaluations of the hippie generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a re-discovery of Buddhism, which seemed to promise a more methodical path to happiness than Christianity and a way out of the perceived spiritual bankruptcy of Western life.
Many of these ‘seekers’, traveling to Asia in pursuit of gurus and ancient wisdom, first encountered Buddhism in Nepal or northern India through contact with Tibetan monks who had fled the Chinese occupancy in 1959. Within a few years Tibetan lamas such as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Geshe Ngawang Wangyal and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, were invited to teach in the West.
In addition to this a number of Americans who had served in the Korean or Vietnam Wars stayed out in Asia, seeking to understand both the horror they had witnessed and its context. A few of these eventually ordained as monks in the Theravadan tradition, and upon returning home became influential meditation teachers establishing such centres as IMS in America.
Another contributing factor in the flowering of Buddhist thought in the West was the popularity of Zen amongst the counter-culture poets and activists of the 60’s, due to the writings of Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki. Since that time Buddhism has become the fastest-growing religion in Australia and many other Western nations.
A distinctive feature of Buddhism has been the continuous evolution of the practice as it was transmitted from one country to another. This dynamic aspect is particularly evident today in the West. Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala meditation movement, claimed in his teachings that his intention was to strip the ethnic baggage away from traditional methods of working with the mind and to deliver the essence of those teachings to his western students. Another example of a school evolving new idioms for the transmission of the dharma is the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), founded by Sangharakshita in 1967. Lama Surya Das is a prominent Western-born teacher continuing to bring the teachings of Buddhism to Westerners.
Some, mainly American convert Buddhists including Jack Kerouac, are recently incorporating Jesus into Buddhism. They claim that Jesus is a bodhisattva in that he achieved a very high degree of enlightenment.
- History of Buddhist schools
- Buddhism by country
- Buddhist terms and concepts
- Buddhist texts
- Faith in Buddhism
- God in Buddhism
- List of Buddhists
Related systems and religions
- Eastern philosophy
Related modern concepts
- Simulated reality
References and Links
The following below are the references, footnotes and external links pertaining to the articles of Buddhism, Buddhists and Buddhist religious philosophy.
- K. Sri Dhammananda, . Buddhist Mission Society of Malaysia. (1964) ISBN 9834007127.
- Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Broadway Books, 1974. ISBN 0767903692.
- Walpola Rahula. What the Buddha Taught. Grove Press, 1974. ISBN 0802130313.
- Kenneth White. The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment Including a Translation into English of Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, and Sammaya-kaijo. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005. ISBN 0773459855.
- Yin Shun, Yeung H. Wing (translator). The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master. Wisdom Publications, 1998. ISBN 0861711335.
- Sarvabuddhavishayavatarajñanalokalamkarasutra as cited by Elías Capriles in : Clear Discrimination of Views Pointing at the Definitive Meaning. The Four Philosophical Schools of the Sutrayana Traditionally Taught in Tibet with Reference to the Dzogchen Teachings. Published on the Web.
- Dr. A. Berzin.
- Elías Capriles. : the Doctrine of the Buddha and the Supreme Vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. Part 1 – Buddhism: a Dzogchen Outlook. Published on the Web.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu. . Third edition, revised, 2001
- (Access to Insight)
- facts, glossary, timeline and articles.
- a news source.
- – A Buddhists Learning Community.
- – A Buddhist Web Community (with webboards, chat and reading material) under direction of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
- Worldwide organization offering courses in Vipassana Meditation, derived from the Maha-Satipatthana Sutra.
- – Scriptures and practical meditation teaching from the Tradition of the Elders.
- the Buddhist Bible by 20th century Indian Buddhist Revivalist Bodhisattva Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
- – illustrated Dhammapada
- : the Internet guide.
- – full text and appreciation of the Nirvana Sutra
- The world largest Buddhist directory with full functional search and graphical thumbnail preview.
- (Seems to contain only romanised terms)
- Deepening Zen
- a site about depression from the buddhist perspective
Boeddhisme Buddhismus بوذية Будизъм বৌদ্ধধর্ম Boudaegezh Budisme Buddhismus Buddhisme Buddhismus Βουδισμός Budism Budismo Budhismo بوداگرایی Buddhalaisuus Bouddhisme בודהיזם बौद्ध धर्म Budizam Buddhismo Budhismo Budhismo Búddismi Buddhismo 仏教 bu’ojda 불교 Bouddhisteth Religio Buddhistica Boeddhisme ພຸດທະສາດສະໜາ Budisms Buddhizmus Буддизм Agama Buddha Buddhismus Boeddhisme buddhismen Buddhisme Buddyzm Budismo Budism Буддизм Buddhism Budizem БуҘизам Buddhism พระพุทธศาสนา Budisim Budizm Phật giáo Буддизм בודהיזם 佛教