of Buddhism has 150 to 350 million followers around the world. The wide range is due to two reasons. The tendency for religious affiliation to be nonexclusive is one. The other is the difficulty in getting information from Communist countries such as China. It's 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 in India, Tibet, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia.
Guatama was born in Kapilivastu. His father was the ruler of the small kingdom near 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 great empire. 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 renounced his wealth and embarked on a journey to seek truth, enlightenment, and the cycle of rebirths.
In the first years of his journey, Siddhartha Guatama
practiced 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 rising through a series of higher states of consciousness. After realizing this religious inner truth, he went through a time of inner struggle. Renaming himself Buddha (meaning enlightened one), he wandered from place to place, preaching, spreading his teachings by word of mouth. He also gained disciples, who were grouped into a monastic community known as a sangha.
As he neared his death, Buddha
refused 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 community's unity and purity was needed, since the teachings of Buddha were spoken only. To maintain peace, the monastic order met to decide on matters of Buddhist doctrines and practice. Four of these meetings are considered to be the Four Major Councils.
first major council was presided over by Mahakasyapa, a Buddhist monk. The purpose of the first council was to preach and agree on Buddha's teachings and monastic discipline.
The second major council supposedly met at Vaisali,
one hundred years after the first. The purpose of this council was to answer the ten questionable acts of the monks of the Vajjian Confederacy. The use of money, drinking wine, and other irregularities were among the acts. It was decided that the practices were unlawful. This decision has been found to be the cause of the division of the Buddhists. The accounts of the meeting describe a quarrel between the Mahasanghikas (Great Assembly) and the Sthaviras (Elders). Tensions had grown within the sangha over discipline, the role of laity, and the nature of arhat.
Pataliputra, now Patna, was the sight of
the third council. It was called by King Asoka in the 3rd century BC, and was convened by Moggaliptta. The purpose was the purify the sangha of the false 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...