How Buddhism Has Changed
Albert Einstein once said, “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 & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.” I though this quote was an interesting beginning into seeing how this ancient religion changed over the course of its existence. I feel that Buddhism has changed over time but has maintained that core teaching that it had with the early Indians and with the Theravada teachings. Mahayana just happens to be the more loose teachings of the Buddha. The term used in our book, The Foundations of Buddhism, defines it as the “non-canonical” sutras. This paper will hopefully give you an understanding of the teachings of the Buddha as well as see how the Theravada and the Mahayana teachings have similarities along with some differences. Buddhism, one of the major religions of the world, was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived in northern India from 560 to 480 B.C. The time of the Buddha was one of social and religious change, marked by the further advance of Aryan civilization into the Ganges Plain, the development of trade and cities, the breakdown of old tribal structures, and the rise of a whole spectrum of new religious movements that responded to the demands of the times (Conze). These movements were derived from the Brahmanic tradition of Hinduism but were also reactions against it. Of the new sects, Buddhism was the most successful and eventually spread throughout India and most of Asia. Buddhism, like many religions and philosophies, offers methods for people to attain spiritual goals. Today it is common to divide Buddhism into two main branches. The Theravada, or "Doctrine of the Elders," is the more conservative of the two. It is dominant in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand (Robinson and Johnson). This is the school of Buddhism that draws from the Tipitaka or Pali Canon. This is thought to be the earliest surviving records of the Buddha’s teachings. The Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," is more diverse and liberal; it is found mainly in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, and among Tibetan peoples, where it is distinguished by its emphasis on the Buddhist Tantras (Robinson and Johnson). The Mahayanists feel that the Theravada emphasis on arahantship or sainthood. This is seen as winning nibbana for oneself and that is a narrow or selfish goal. In recent times both branches, as well as Tibetan Buddhism, have gained followers in the West. It is virtually impossible to tell what the Buddhist population of the world is today; statistics are difficult to obtain because persons might have Buddhist beliefs and engage in Buddhist rites while maintaining folk or other religions such as Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, and Hindu (Conze). Such persons might or might not call themselves or be counted as Buddhists. Nevertheless, the number of Buddhists worldwide is frequently estimated at more than 300 million (Conze). Just how the original teaching of the Buddha is taught is now a matter of some debate. Even though the Theravada and the Mahayana are somewhat different they both still may be said to have centered on certain basic doctrines. They both teach the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path. The first of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha held, is suffering, or duhkha. By this, he meant not only that human existence is occasionally painful but that all beings; humans, animals, ghosts, hell-beings, even the gods in the heavens; are caught up in samsara, a cycle of rebirth, a maze of suffering in which their actions, or karma, keep them wandering (Robinson and Johnson). Samsara and karma are not doctrines specific to Buddhism. The Buddha, however, specified that samsara is characterized by three marks:...
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