Buddhism is the great oriental religion founded by Guatama Buddha, who lived and taught in India in the sixth century BC All Buddhists trace their faith to Buddha and "revere" his person (Frederic 15). Nearly all types of Buddhism include monastic orders whose members serve as teachers and clergy to the lay community (Maraldo 19). However, beyond these common features the numerous sects of modern Buddhism exhibit great variety in their beliefs and practices. In its oldest surviving form, known as Theravada or Hinayana. Buddhism is primarily a spiritual philosophy and system of ethics (Frederic 16). It places little or no emphasis on deities, teaching that the goal of the faithful is to achieve nirvana, a blissful state of insight and release from the bonds of the self, the world, and an endless round of births, deaths, and rebirths in successive lives (Maraldo 20).
The state of spiritual perfection is achieved through the practice of humility, generosity, mercy, abstention from violence, and above all, self-control. The latter forms of Buddhism, known as Mahayana, however, often worship a pantheon of divine Buddhas and future Buddhas (Zwalf 20). Some have a elaborate hierarchies demons as well. Several varieties of Mahayana Buddhism promise the worshiper a real paradise rather than a perfected spiritual state ( Zwalf 21).
Several sects emphasize faith more strongly than works. "One sec seeks to induce in the believer a jarring, intuitive, nonrational insight into true reality" (Maraldo 24). In all lands to which Buddhism has spread it has made adaptations to local conditions. For example, in Japan extreme nationalist sects have developed. Differences may be seen in Buddhist art, architecture, inconograph, rituals, and doctrinal emphases( Zwalf 25).
Through the variety, however, common elements of tradition and attitude have persisted, so that Buddhism in its totality is comparable to an old and strongly rooted tree that has developed numerous branches through centuries of growth (Frederic 26). Buddhism flourished in India until about AD 500. It began to decline gradually becoming absorbed in Hinduism until b y the eleventh century it had almost disappeared (Frederic 30). Meanwhile, it had spread and become influential in other lands of Central and East Asia, where it continues to maintain vitality.
Today, Buddhism survives in two major forms. The early Theravada form is practiced in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and in the Southeast Asian countries of Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia (Frederic 40). The later Mahayana form prevails in China, including Tibet, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia (Frederic 40).
The teachings of Buddha played a major role in the religion of Buddhism. Buddha's teaching was a deeper , more ethical protest against "Vedic formalism" (Snellgrove 50). Rejecting authority of both Vedas and Brahmin priests, he proclaimed a new way of deliverance discovered by himself. This was shown in his first...