Relgion 133 Version 3

Topics: Buddhism, Mahayana, Gautama Buddha Pages: 86 (29552 words) Published: March 15, 2013
The Buddhist Tradition


When the continuing-education division of an American university organized a one-day Buddhist retreat, more than a hundred students signed up within a few hours. What is the appeal of Buddhism, especially Buddhist meditation, for Westerners? Why do people who still identify themselves as Christians or Jews flock to Buddhist meditation sessions? What is it that has attracted so many Hollywood celebrities to Buddhism? To attempt to answer these questions, we need to review the 2,500-year history of Buddhism, its varieties, and its spread—first throughout Asia, then throughout the world.

With his last words to his disciples, ‘Everything that arises also passes away, so strive for what has not arisen,’ the Buddha passed into everlasting nirvana some 2,500 years ago. After a deep enlightenment experience at the age of 35, he had spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching that all worldly things are transient phenomena, caught up in a cycle of arising and passing away. He set the wheel of dharma (teaching) in motion, established a community (sangha) of disciples, and charged his followers to carry the dharma to all regions of the world. The missionary effort succeeded. Today there are Buddhists in nearly every country, and Buddhism is the dominant religion in many parts of East, South, and Southeast Asia. Buddhism has three main traditions or ‘vehicles’, all of which originated in India. The earliest is Theravada (also known as Hinayana), which spread to Southeast Asia; the second is Mahayana, which became the principal school in East Asia; and the third is Vajrayana, which developed out of Mahayana and became closely associated with the Himalayan region. All three traditions also have followers in Europe and North America. Buddhists say they ‘take refuge’ in the ‘Triple Gem’: (1) the Buddha, (2) the dharma, and (3) the sangha. As they progress along the path to enlightenment, they seek to become more compassionate, more generous, more detached from desire and hatred, more focused mentally, more pure of mind and more spiritually wise.

Religious Life in Ancient India
The area along the Ganges River was a hotbed of economic activity in the seventh and sixth centuries bce. Agriculture flourished on large estates owned by ruling-class landlords and worked by commoners; a thriving caravan trade crossed the region from east 3

l Timeline
c. 531 (or 589 or 413) bce c. 496 (or 544 or 368) bce c. 395 bce c. 273 bce c. 225 bce c. 100 ce c. 200 c. 350 372 c. 500 604 c. 750 806 845 1173 1222 1603 c. 1617 Shakyamuni’s enlightenment His parinirvana or passing First Buddhist council Accession of King Ashoka Mahendra takes Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka Emergence of Indian Mahayana Nagarjuna, Madhyamika philosopher Asakga and Vasubandhu, Yogacara philosophers Buddhism introduced to Korea from China Emergence of tantra in India Prince Shotoku, Japanese regent and patron of Buddhism, issues Seventeen-Article Constitution Padmasambhava takes Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet Shingon (tantric) Buddhism is introduced to Japan Persecution of Buddhism in China Birth of Shinran, Japanese Pure Land thinker (d. 1262) Birth of Nichiren, Japanese sectarian Buddhist leader (d. 1282) Start of Tokugawa regime, Japanese state control of Buddhism Dalai Lamas become rulers of Tibet



l Table 8.1

Buddhist vehicles and schools

1. Theravada (sometimes called Hinayana, the ‘Little Vehicle’), now dominant in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia: the only survivor of the 18 sects that existed in the third century bce 2. Mahayana (the ‘Great Vehicle’), now dominant in East Asia and Vietnam: • Madhyamika in India, Sanlun in China • Yogacara in India, Faxiang in China • Tiantai in China, Tendai in Japan • Huayan in China, Kegon in Japan • Zhenyan in China, Shingon in Japan • Pure Land, Jingtu in China, Jodo in Japan • Chan...
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