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    I. Group Profile

    1. Name: Buddhism

    2. Founder: Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Sakyamuni (Sakya clan sage), Tathagata, the Buddha, (the "Enlightened One"), or Bhagavat ("Lord") to his followers 1, 2 . The Buddha is believed to be the fourth reincarnate of five earthly buddhas 3 .

    3. Date of Birth: Many Western scholars place the Buddha's lifetime from 563-483 BCE, while the Sri Lankan tradition believes the Buddha to have lived from 624-544 BCE 4 . More recent date setting suggests that some time around 410 BCE is more accurate 5 .

    4. Birth Place: Siddhartha was born in the kingdom of the Sakayas, his country, in the town of Kapilavastu, near the border of present day India and Nepal 6 .

    5. Year Founded: Siddhartha reached Enlightenment at the age of 35 and became a supreme buddha 7 . Depending on which set of dates one uses, the founding year could be either 528 BCE or 589 BCE.

    6. Sacred or Revered Texts: The teachings of the Buddha were not originally written down, but were transmitted in an oral tradition for several centuries. For this reason, each sutra typically begins with the phrase, "Thus have I heard" 8 . When the written teachings emerged, they were in two different forms, the Pali canon of the Theravada tradition (written down in Sri Lanka around the middle of the 1st century BCE) and the Sanskrit of the northern Mahayana tradition 9, 10 . The Pali canon is comprised of three works or "baskets" (pitaka) 11 .
      • The Sutra Pitaka - the discourses of the Buddha.
      • The Vinaya Pitaka - accounts on the origin of the sangha and the rules of monastic discipline.
      • The Abhidharma Pitaka - scholastic treatises on Buddhist psychology and philosophy 12 .
      These "baskets" make up the Tripitaka ("Three Baskets") and serve as the main body of scriptures for the Theravada tradition 13 . The Mahayana tradition believes that the early doctrines are incomplete and therefore supplement it with many shastras, "treatises that interpret and comment on the philosophical statements contained in the sutras 14, 15 .

    7. Cult or Sect:
    8. Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    9. Size of Group: Buddhism is one of the four largest active faith traditions today 16 . The precise number of followers cannot be measured because many people practice varying degrees ofBuddhism.

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    II. History

      Life in India before Buddhism

      The world to which Siddhartha Gautama was born was one of religious tormoil and change. Beginning around 1500 BCE India was influenced by the Vedic religion, or "Brahmanism," the Aryan warriors had brought to the land 17 . The syncretism of the indigenous non-Aryan traditions with Vedism eventually led to "Hinduism" after centuries of evolution. These changes and evolutions within Vedism occurred sometime between 1000 BCE and 200 BCE, for by 200 BCE the fundamentals of current day Hinduism were more or less in place 18 . Out of the philosophic revolt and rebellion against the brahmins and Vedism arose two other major Indian religions, Jainism and Buddhism. In addition, from this same period came two major Indian philosopies, that of the Ajivakas or nihilists and the Lokayatas or materialists, both of which later came to rival Hinduism 19 . Also popular at the time of Siddhartha's birth was the Samara movement, a "counter culture of homeless religious mendicants." In reaction to the existing environment, many had made the choice to renounce the world 20 . These budding traditions and philosophies came at a time when the relgious environment of India was fertile ground for new ideas .

      Birth and Life of Siddhartha Gautama

      This version of the legend of Siddhartha Gautama is based on the Pali Tripitaka and later commentaries. Siddhartha Gautama was born in the 6th or 5th century BCE in the Sakya kingdom, of which his parents were king and queen. The night before his birth, Siddhartha's mother, the queen Mahamaya, had a dream in which an elephant carrying a lotus flower in its trunk entered her womb through the right side of her body. Brahmins (Vedic priests), upon hearing of the dream, predicted that the child would become either a great monarch or a buddha 21 .

      In preparation for the birth of her child, Queen Maya left her husband, King Suddhodana, in order to travel to her parent's home. On the journey to Devadaha, they passed through Lumbini Gardens, where she gave birth to the Buddha. According to some legends, after birth, the infant walked seven steps in each of the four directions, while lotus flowers sprouted where his feet touched the earth. He is also fabled to have said, "No further births have I to endure, for this is my last body. Now shall I destroy and pluck out by the roots the sorrow that is caused by birth and death" 22 . The site of the Buddha's birth as Siddhartha Gautama is now called Rummindei and is found in present day Nepal 23 .

      Soon after his birth, 108 Brahmans were invited to the name-giving ceremony. Eight of these men were experts in interpreting bodily marks. Seven of the eight predicted that if the child remained at home, he would become a great ruler, but if the child left home, he would become a buddha. The eighth and youngest of the specialist, Kondanna, predicted that the child would definintely become a buddha 24 . Siddhartha is said to have had the traditional 32 marks indicating an Enlightened One 25 . As a result, the child was named Siddhartha (which is the Sanskrit name - in Pali it is Siddhattha), which is translated as "one whose aim is accomplished" 26 .

      The young prince was raised in great luxury and wealth, as his father, King Suddhodana, made every effort "to influence him in favor of a worldly life" 27 . According to some stories, Suddhodana was so overprotective that he filled the streets with healthy, smiling people so that Siddhartha would not be disturbed by unpleasantness 28 . The Buddha himself is reported to have said about his upbringing:

      Bhikkhus [monks], I was delicately nurtured, exceedingly delicately nurtured, delicately nurtured beyond measure. In my father's residence lotus-ponds were made: one of blue lotuses, one of red and another of white lotuses, just for my sake... Of Kasi cloth was my turban made; of Kasi my jacket, my tunic, and my cloak...I had three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season...in the rainy season palace, during the four months of the rains, entertained only by female musicians, I did not come down from the palace 29 .
      At the age of 29 Siddhartha had a revelation. Through a series of outings with his charioteer, the prince witnessed four scenes which changed his life. First was " an aged man as bent as a roof gable, decrepit, leaning on a staff, tottering as he walked, afflicted and long past his prime." On another outing he saw "a sick man, suffering and very ill, fallen and weltering in his own excreta." On the third and fourth occasion, the prince saw a dead body, and finally "a shaven- headed man, a wanderer who has gone forth, wearing the yellow robe." Struck with the ascetic's serene and self-possessed figure in the face of such worldly suffering, Siddhartha decided to make the Great Renunciation: "to give up the princely life and become a wandering ascetic." That night he left his family and began his travels south, where centers of learning and spiritual discipline flourished 30 .

      Siddhartha first went to Alara Kalama, a renowned sage, who taught him how to attain the "sphere of no-thing." Siddhartha, unsatisfied in his quest for absolute truth, moved on to become a student of Uddaka Ramaputta, another great teacher. Ramaputta showed him how to attain the "sphere of neither-perception-nor- nonperception, which was a higher mystical state than that of no-thing, but still not high enough for Siddhartha. He thus went in search for more 31 .

      On his continuing journey, Siddhartha was joined by a group of five ascetics, among whom was Kondanna, the brahman who had predicted Siddhartha's future asa buddha. For nearly six years, Siddhartha lived a life of extreme self-mortifications and severe austerities. In the Majjhima Nikaya, the Buddha described that time of his life:

      Because of so little nourishment, all my limbs became like some withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo's hoof; my back- bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared sunk deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well; my scalp became shriveled and shrunk as a bitter gourd cut unripe becomes shriveled and shrunk by sun and wind;... the skin of my belly came to be cleaving to by back-bone; when I wanted to obey the calls of nature, I fell down on my face then and there; when I stroked my limbs with my hand, hairs rotted at the roots fell away from my body 32 .

      As a result of such deprivation, Siddhartha became so weak that he realized he could not attain enlightenment through such methods. His companions, viewing this change of method as a weakness, left him to seek truth alone 33 .

      One day Siddhartha sat at the base of a pipal tree, also known as a bodhi or bo tree, and decided not to rise until he had attained enlightenment. During the night Siddhartha defeated Mara, the evil one, who was attempting to prevent Siddhartha's enlightenment. After having defeated Mara, Siddhartha learned in the first part of the night of his former existences. During the second part, he gained the power to see the passing away and rebirth of beings. In the last part of the night he realized the Four Noble Truths. According to the Buddha, "My mind was emancipated...Ignorance was dispelled, science (knowledge) arose; darkness was dispelled, light arose" 34 .

      On encountering his past companions, he told them of his experience. They were struck by the change in his demeanor and believed it to be true. The Buddha then delievered to them his first sermon, "Sermon on Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth." He explained to them that one should follow neither extreme self-indulgence nor self-mortification. Instead one should follow the middle path, which is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. With these five new disciples, the Buddha created a community and established the "Triple Jewels" in which one should take refuge. The Jewels consist of the Buddha, the Dharma, teachings, and the sangha, community 35 .

      The Buddha spent the next 45 years of his life travelling on foot through Northeastern India speaking to audiences of different backgrounds 36 . There are two theories on the death of the Buddha. The first is that while traveling from Bhoganagara to Pava the Buddha accepted food from a blacksmith. The meal was one of sukaramaddava, which means, "the soft food of a pig." It is unclear whether this means "the soft food that pigs eat" or "the soft part of the pig's flesh," so it is uncertain whether the Buddha ate mushrooms or pork. According to the first theory, the food had gone bad or was contaminated, causing the Buddha to become very ill and eventually die 37 . The second theory holds that the Buddha did become seriously ill, but he recovered, although his health was still poor. He then is said to have died of natural causes 38 .

      Near the end of the Buddha's life the question was raised as to who would be the successor or authority after the Buddha's death. In conversations with his cousin and personal attendant, Ananda, the Buddha stated that there was not a need for a successor since he had never thought of himself as the "leader." He instead instructed that the Dharma should be the guide after he was gone and that the monks should continue to uphold the Vinaya, the code of rules for monastic life. The Buddha thought that each person should think for themselves on matters of doctrine and analyze the information before accepting it as truth. As a result, there was never established a central body of authority on doctrine. No single institution has the ability to interpret or evaluate doctrine for the religion as a whole 39 .

      The Buddha died at the small town of Kusinara, almost on the border between the Brahmanical dominated country and his own homeland of the Sakyans 40 . His remains were cremated and are stored in a stupa, a bell shaped monument. The Buddha's supposed last words were, "decay is inherent in all things: be sure to strive with clarity of mind (for nirvana)" 41 .

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    III. Beliefs of the Group

      The Four Noble Truths

      In discussing the dharma, the teachings, the subject of the Four Noble Truths must first be approached. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to end the cycle of suffering and rebirth. Leading a virtuous life is only half of what is required to attain nirvana. The other component needed is wisdom, which in Buddhism means, "a profound philosophical understanding of the human condition." Wisdom is the result of long reflection and deep thought leading to insight into the nature of reality. Nirvana is the combination of virtue and wisdom and can only be attained when both elements are present 42 . So what is the wisdom that one must know? This is found in the Four Noble Truths, four interlinked propositions.

      The First Noble Truth:

      The Truth of Suffering

      "What, O Monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, sickness is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering. Pain, grief, sorrow, lamentation, and despair are suffering. Association with that is unpleasant is suffering, disassociation from what is pleasant is suffering. Not to get what one wants is suffering. In short, the five factors of individuality are suffering 43 ."

      This first truth states that suffering is an inevitable part of life and is always present. This assertion is the basis of the Buddha's teachings 44 . Not only does this principle state obvious forms of suffering, but also includes the pain of disappointment or frustration when things do not happen according to one's wishes.

      The five factors of individuality that the Buddha mentions are the five aggregates which make up human existence:

      • corporeality or physical forms,
      • feelings or sensations,
      • cognition,
      • mental formations, and
      • consciousness.

      These five aggregates are suffering in themselves because there is no mention of the existence or need for a soul or self. Without a soul or real self, human nature cannot provide eternal happiness 45 .

      The Second Noble Truth:

      The Truth of Arising

      "This, O Monks, is the Truth of the Arising of Suffering. It is this thirst or craving (tanha) which gives rise to rebirth, which is bound up with passionate delight and which seeks fresh pleasure now here and now there in the form of (1) thirst for sensual pleasure, (2) thirst for existence, and (3) thirst for non-existence 46 ."

      This second noble truth, the Truth of Arising, explains that the cycle of rebirth is a result of craving. Rebirth is caused by a strong addiction to life and the pleasant experiences it offers. Although usually thought of as taking place from life to life, rebirth is continuously happening, from second to second. This continuity of rebirth is the result of the "accumulated momentum of desire" 47 .

      Desire is of two kinds, right desire and wrong desire. Tanha is not just desire but specifically wrong desire, "desire that has become perverted in some sense, usually by being excessive or wrongly directed." In this second truth, tanha stands for the "three roots of evil," greed, hatred and delusion 48 .

      The Third Noble Truth:

      The Truth of Cessation

      "This, O Monks, is the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering. It is the utter cessation of that craving (tanha), the withdrawal from it, the renouncing of it, the rejection of it, liberation from it, non-attachment to it 49 ."

      This truth teaches that when craving is overcome, suffering ceases and as a result nirvana is attained. The term "nirvana" literally means "blowing out." During this stage it is the fire of greed, hatred, and delusion which are extinguished 50 .

      The Fourth Noble Truth:

      The Truth of the Path

      "This, O Monks, is the Truth of the Path which leads to the cessation of suffering. It is this Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of (1) Right View, (2) Right Resolve, (3) Right Speech, (4) Right Action, (5) Right Livelihood, (6) Right Effort, (7) Right Mindfulness, (8) Right Meditation 51 ."

      • Right View : "the acceptance of Buddhist teachings and their later experiential confirmation."
      • Right Resolve : "making a serious commitment to developing right attitudes."
      • Right Speech : "telling the truth and speacking in a thoughtful and sensitive way."
      • Right Action : "abstaining from wrongful bodily behaviour such as killing, stealing, or behaving wrongfully with with respect to sensual pleasures."
      • Right Livelihood : "not engaging in an occupation which causes harm to others."
      • Right Effort : "gaining control of one's thoughts and cultivating positive states of mind."
      • Right Mindfulness : "cultivating constant awareness."
      • Right Meditation : "developing deep levels of mental calm through various techniques which concentrate the mind and integrate the personality" 52 .

      The Buddha developed the eightfold path as a way of life designed to bring virtue and knowledge to fruition. The Path is known as the "Middle Way" because it is the medium between the two extremes of severe austerity and over indulgence. The eight factors are divided into the three categories of Morality, Meditation and Wisdom. These factors represent the way the three categories are to be continually nutured and not forgotten once achieved. The eightfold path is a guideline for how a buddha would live, and by living like a buddha, one will eventually become one. This path is therefore one of self-transformation in which a person's outlook is transformed from a selfish and narrow one to one of limitless opportunities 53 .


      The cycle of rebirth is called samsara, or "endless wandering." The cycle can continue for eternity and will only end when the person attains nirvana. The Indian view of reincarnation is distinct because it is determined by one's actions in this lifetime 54 . According to Buddhism, man's downfall, the reason for his sufferingis desire.

      There are five or six realms, the number depending on what sources one is using (early sources list five, but six are mentioned in later works), into which one can be reborn 55 . On the upper half are gods, titans and humans, while ghosts, animals and hell are on the bottom. Rebirth as a human is considered very desirable and difficult to reach. While there are higher levels of rebirth, human existence has the greatest potential for spiritual progress and therefore the most chance of escaping cyclic existence. Being reborn as a god, one may lose sight of the need for nirvana, of the end goal. Leading a human existence, on the other hand, provides constant reminders for the need for nirvana and allows one to learn and teach the dharma 56 .

      Karma is literally defined as "action," although in this case it is concerned with actions of a particular kind. Karma refers to moral choices and the consequent actions. Moral actions are unique in that they have both transitive and intransitive effects. Transitive effects are those that have immediate effect on others, such as killing or robbing someone. Intransitive effects are those that effect the agent. Through our decisions we shape our character and future. This can be summed up in the proverb, "sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny" 57 .

      In determining whether an action is good or bad, one must look at the intention and choice. The impact of the decision on the person or group of people must also be considered. Performing an act merely because it is considered honorable and correct does not equate morality. Moral character is based on the impact an action has on the personality of the individual. The Buddha once stated, "Be moral or virtuous without being made of morals or virtues" 58 .

      There are three good and three bad roots to motivation. Bad roots are actions motivated by greed, hatred and delusion. Those actions inspired by their opposites such as non-attachment, benevolence and understanding are good. Therefore, good intentions must lead to right actions which are those that do not harm oneself or others 59 .

      The Sangha

      The sangha, community, is the assembly of Buddhist monks which study, teach and preserve the teachings. They serve the laity through example and teachings of morality 60 . The Buddha had responded to the question of authority by citing the dharma and the discipline (vinaya) as the two guides to follow in learning. The Book of Discipline is a vast collection of rules which are not unchangeable laws legitimate for eternity. Their authority was maintained only as long as they were functional, which has led to many revisions 61 .

      After several centuries from the time of establishment, the sangha came to consist of two types of monks. The first continued the wandering way of life. This group has played a significant role in Buddhism, especially in Sri Lanka and Southeastern Asia. The second group gave up the nomadic lifestyle in trade for permanent monastic settlements (viharas). Over time, a division of labor and hierarchical structure was installed without contradicting the community's antiauthoritarian roots 62 .

      Before Buddhism, men were the primary ones involved in religious or spiritual pursuits; female involvement was very uncommon. As a result, those who joined the Order during the beginning were mostly men 63 . The Buddha believed however, in equality and tolerance for all, and five years after the order of monks was established, the Buddha created an equivalent order for nuns. Unfortunately it did not grow to the same level as the monks and in the Theravada tradition it died more than a millennium ago 64, 65 . It is significant to point out however, that "Buddhism was the first religious tradition to recognize women's ability to attain the highest spiritual status attainable by any man, including the Buddha himself, and thus one in which they actually did so" 66 .

      A Buddhist monk was initially supposed to live a life of wandering, poverty, begging, and strict sexual abstinence. They were only allowed to own three robes, one girdle, an alms bowl, a razor, a needle, and a water strainer used to filter insects from the drinking water. Although the extent is dependent on the particular school, most of the standards on poverty, begging and sexual abstinence have been loosened. Begging has generally become a mere symbolic gesture of humility. The growth of large monastaries has led to a relaxation of the rules of poverty, and in some schools sexual intercourse is allowed 67 .

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    IV. Schools of Buddhism

      IV. Schools of Buddhism

        The Three Vehicles

        The first major division in Buddhism was a result of the First Buddhist Council held in 483 BCE. This meeting was called in response to the question of the direction of Buddhism following the death of the Buddha. The decision was made at this council meeting that Buddhism would thereafter be a monastic religion in which enlightenment would be impossible to attain outside of the Order. This decision led to turmoil and a break within Buddhism, from which Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism (also sometimes referred to as Northern, Sanskrit or Indian Buddhism) arose 68 . The third major vehicle, Vajrayana, did not evolve until around 500 AD and is also known as Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism 69 .

        Madhyamika (san-lun in China, Sanron in Japan)
        Yogachara (Fa-hsiang, Hosso)
        Avatamsaka (Hua-yen, Kegon)
        Saddharmapundarika (the school of the identity of the paths to salvation) (T'ien-t'ai, Tendai)
        Pure Land (Sukhavati, Ching-t'u, Jodo, Shin, Ji)
        Dhyana (Ch'an, Zen)

        I. Hinayana Theravada

        Hinayana, "Lesser Vehicle," is concerned more with the individual than society as a whole 70 . From the Hinayana division the only surviving school is the Theravada, "Teachings of the Elders," which spread south and east of India into present day Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and Bangladesh 71 . Followers of this school trace their tradition back to the senior monks of the first sangha and rely on the Pali canon as their source of scriptures. The goal of Hinayana is to become an arhat, the "accomplished ascetic who attains nirvana through self-effort" 72 . Both women and men are able to become arhats, but monastic vows are needed first 73 .

        There are four stages through which one must traverse in order to become an arhat. The first is "that of the stream winner or stream enterer - i.e., the one who has seen the truth, who has experienced the first real intimations of nirvana." At this stage one will not experience more than seven more rebirths. The second stage is of the "once-returner - i.e., the one who has moved further toward the goal so that no more than one additional rebirth will be required to attain it fully." The third stage is that of the "non- returner," one who will either in that lifetime or before another rebirth "achieve complete release." The last stage is one's transformation to an arhat, freeing oneself from all bonds 74 . For the Theravadins, nirvana is the extermination of craving and occurs at the "complete liberation from the bonds of trishna (suffering)" 75 .

        There are seven factors of enlightenment: clear memory, the exact investigation of things, energy and sympathy, tranquility, impartiality, and a disposition for concentration. The last four factors are the "four sublime states," and are prerequisites for escaping cyclic existence 76 .

        In this tradition there are two basic forms of meditation. The first form is called jhanic. In the first stage, Through reflection, the meditator becomes detached from sensual and impure desires and thoughts. In the second stage, one's mind achieves a state of concentration and joy. The third stage leaves one indifferent to everything, as every emotion is lost. The fourth and final stage is the "abandoning of any sense of satisfaction, pain, or serenity because any inclination to a good or bad state of mind has disappeared" 77 . The second form of meditation is vipassana, or insight meditation. This type of exercise requires the use of concentration to attain one-pointedness of mind. When at this point, one can then reach Buddhist insight into the truth that "all reality is without self and impermanent and is filled with suffering" 78 .

        II. Mahayana

        Mahayana, "Great Vehicle," refers to a socially oriented attitude 79 . The tradition is believed to have developed roughly between 100 BCE and 100 AD, expanding north and east first into northwestern India and the Himalayas, Central Asia, and China, then later to Korea and Japan and eventually to Tibet in the 7th century 80 .

        In contrast to the Hinayana ideal of the arhat, followers of the Mahayana tradition strive to become bodhisattvas, "the one who possesses the innate tendency to become a buddha, a disposition inherent in all persons" 81 . A bodhisattva, "enlightenment hero," is one who has taken the vow to reach buddhahood, but foregoes entrance into nirvana so that he may remain in this world as long as there are creatures to be saved 82 . It is open to all and can be attained by both men and women, monastics and laity 83 . Motivated by compassion and selfless love, the Bodhisattva helps the unenlightened "by example, by reducing their sufferings in practical ways, by encouraging and helping them, and by teaching them the path to liberation" 84 . The Mahayanists, believe that true nirvana is reached when and as a result of the bodhisattva's deferral of nirvana in order to help others. One's willingness and desire to help others in place of oneself is proof of true compassion and freedom from desire or craving 85 .

        There are six virtues known as the six perfections (generosity, morality, patience, vigour, concentration, and wisdom) which are central to the bodhisattva's elevation to that of a buddha 86 . Once a buddha, there are three bodies, or three dimensions of existence. The first is the earthly body, which was the human body the Buddha had on earth. The second is his heavenly body found in a blissful realm, not unlike the Christian heaven. The third dimension is that of the transcendent body in which the Buddha is conceived of as one with the ultimate truth 87 .

        Mahayana Schools

        The first Mahayana school to develop is considered the Madhyamika or "Middle Way." This school was founded in the mid-2nd century by one of South India's greatest intellects, Nagarjuna. The basis for belief of this division can by summed up in the line, "Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form." They believe that "no affirmation of the nauture of things is possible, thus proving their illusory essence" 88 .

        The second school to develop under the Mahayana tradition was the Yogachara, "Application of Yoga" 89 . The establishment of this school is often attributed to the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu of the 5th century AD. Their main belief is that the mind is the ultimate reality, everything outside of it does not really exist. The universal belief that external things do exist is a mistake and can be corrected by meditation. Through the correct yogic or meditative practice, one can produce a "complete withdrawal or "revulsion" from these fictitious externals" and bring about "an inner concentration and tranquility" 90 .

        Unlike the Yogachara school, the Avatamsaka school emphasizes the "sameness of things, the presence of absolute reality in them, and the identity of facts and ultimate principles." Their core belief is that "all of the elements arise simultaneously, that the whole of things creates itself, that ultimate principles and concrete manifestations are interfused, and that the manifestations are mutually identical." This is believed to have been taught by the buddha Vairocana in the Avatamsaka sutra 91 .

        This school's teachings are based on the Saddharmapundarika sutra ("Lotus of the True Law Sutra"), otherwise known as the Lotus Sutra, which is one of the most popular doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism 92 . Central to this schoolis the threefold ptruth principle:

        1. "That all things are void, without substantial reality."
        2. "That all things have temporary existence."
        3. "That all things are in the mean or middle state, synthesizing voidness and temporary existence, being both at once" 93 .

        Pure Land
        The beliefs of the Pure Land schools are grounded int he Sukhavativyuha sutra (Pure Land sutra), which originated in Northern India before the 2nd century AD. This text contains the story of a monk, Dharmakara, who promised to fulfill a number of vows if he attained buddhahood. Dharmakara promised to create a Pure Land, sometimes referred to as the Western Paradise. Evil would not exist in this Pure Land, people would receive any and everything they wanted and would go on to attain nirvana. The school teaches that an individual obtains freedom through faith in the Buddha Amitabha and not by the accumulation of good merit. The main practice of this school is the constant invocation of the name Amitabha 94 .

        Nichiren is a combination of the Saddharmapundarika and Pure Land schools. This school also focuses on the Lotus Sutra and the repetition of a key phrase. Nichiren (1222-82) was the son of a poor fisherman and after ten years of independent searching and studying, he began teaching that the Lotus Sutra is the the ultimate teaching of the Buddha. He also believed that the only way to attain nirvana and realize one's own buddha nature is through proper worship of a mandala, which symbolizes the buddha nature that is present in all humans. The second practice is the repetition of the phrase "namu Myohorenge-kyo," proof of the follower's faith in the Lotus Sutra 95 .

        This school of Buddhism is perhaps the best known one in the West. It focuses on meditation as a method to awareness. Traditional Chinese writings credit the creation of this school to a South Indian monk, Bodhidharma, who arrived in China around 520 AD. In the 9th century two divisions developed: Lin-chi (Japanese: Rinzai) and Ts'ao-tung (Japanese: Soto). Lin-chi teachings depended on the kung-an (Japanese: koan) 96 . Perhaps the most famous koan is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The point of such a question is more to force the person to abandon their rational thought process than to produce an answer 97 . The second branch focused on tso-ch'an (Japanese: zazen), "a form of meditation done with eyes half closed and the attention focused on the breath, emptying the mind of all thoughts - or rather letting them float harmlessly by, like figures passing before a mirror" 98, 99 .

        Ch'an Buddhism was first brought to Japan in the 7th century but took until the 12th century to catch widespread attention. Two monks, Eisai and Dogen, were essential to the spread of Ch'an. In the 12th century Eisai, in an effort to return Japan to true Buddhism, traveled to China. Upon his return he began to teach a strict meditational system centered on koans, and the belief that the school "should defend the state and could observe ceremonial rules and offer prayers and incantations." Dogen, also having traveled to China, established the Soto school in the 13th century. He taught a practice of zazen without focusing on attaining enlightenment and criticized those who did not study scripture 100 .

        III. Vajrayana

        Most scholars tend to equate Vajrayana Buddhism, the Diamond Vehicle, with the traditions found in India and Tibet. This school believes that nirvana as sunyata (voidness) must be accompanied by the compassion of a bodhisattva, karuna. Sunyata is a passive wisdom which "possesses an absolutely indestructible or diamondlike (vajra) nature beyond all duality," while kurana is the dynamic element. When these two elements are realized to be one, enlightenment is attained 101 .

        Tibetan Buddhism Buddhism was first brought to Tibet in the 7th century through the king's marriage to Buddhist princesses from Nepal and China. After converting from a folk religion, the king established Buddhism as the state religion. However, Buddhism did not receive its push until 747 when a later king invited the Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava, to help complete the royal monastery. He not only aided in the completion of the monastery but also created the first community of Tibetan lamas 102 .

        The highest position in Tibetan Buddhism is the Grand, or Dalai, Lama. Close to him is the Panchen, or Bogodo, Lama. Next in line are the spiritual dignitaries, Hutukhtus, and then the bodhisattvas, or Hobilghans. These four levels are collectively called the higher clergy and are considered to be the incarnations of Buddhist saints. The lower clergy also has four levels: the novice, the assistant priest, the religious mendicant, and the teacher or abbot 103 .

      | Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Schools | Spread | Links | Bibliography |

      IV. Spread of Buddhism


        The Mahayana tradition came to China through Central Asia at the start of the common era. The translations and teachings of a monk by the name of Kumarajiva (344-413), resulted in the creation of the Chinese Madhyamaka school. During the T'ang dynasty (618-907 AD), the Buddha Dharma flourished and gained power as it experienced its golden age. Monasteries multiplied as new schools such as Pure Land and Ch'an appeared. In 845, Buddha Dharma experienced a major blow as the community came under persection and many monasteries had to be closed. Henceforth the community was never able to fully regain its previous prominence. Under communist rule in the twentieth century, the Dharma community was reduced to "a remnant," although it is still popular in Taiwan 104 .


        Buddhism was brought to Korea from China in the fourth century. The golden age for Korean Buddhism took place during the Koryo period (932-1392). Soon after for the next six centuries, Buddhism fell into the background as Confucianism became the state religion. In 1945 a revival occured with the end of Japanese rule. Currently an amalgamated Buddhism survives in Korea 105 .


        Buddhism came to Japan from Korea in 522. Regent prince Shotoku extablished Buddhism as the state religion and did much to advance the tradition in Japan. Several Pure Land sects began to thrive from the tenth to fourteenth centuries and Zen (Ch'an) entered the country from China near the end of the twelfth century. The introduction of Nichiren in the thirteenth century marked the end of developing movements until modern times 106 .


        The first step in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet was made by King Trisong Detsen (755-797). During his reign, he invited two Indian notables, Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava to his country. The first of four principal schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school, is traced to this time. The second and third schools, the Kagyu and Shakya schools, developed in the eleventh century after a period of persecution. The last of the four schools, Gelukpa, grew out of a reform movement in the fourteenth century. By the end of this twentieth century, "Buddhism in Tibet was reduced to a vestige" as a result of Chinese repression 107 .

        The West

        The first exposure of Buddhism to the Western world came in the thirteenth century when Pope Innocent IV sent religious envoys to the Mongol Khan 108 . For the next 600 years, missionaries were sent to the east and came back with more accounts of what they observed. However, it was not until the nineteenth century that the Indian sources began to be examined 109 . Since the 1930s, fairly correct translations of the texts have emerged and as a result various schools have prospered, Theravada Buddhism in the 1930s, Zen since the 1950s, and Tantric beginning in the 1970s. The spread of Buddhism in the West can also partly be contributed to the migration of "authentic Asian meditation masters" to Western countries 110 .

      | Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Schools | Spread | Links | Bibliography |

      V. Links to Buddhism Web Sites

        A Buddhist Information Network with enormous information.

        Tricycle Hub
        This address contains the interactive forum of Tricycle: The Buddhist review , "one of the most prestigious Buddhist publications."

        eDharma Buddhism Resources Magazine
        A non-sectarian Buddhist resource guide devoted to teaching and supporting people trying to maintain Buddhist beliefs in today's world.

        Women Active in Buddhism
        A collection of links and resources on contemporary Buddhist women.

        Guide to Buddhist Studies
        This site is an enormous resource of centers, information, translations of literature, books, and links to personal websites.

        Buddha's Village
        Created to help foster a sense of community, Buddha's Village facilitateson line discussion groups, a gallery of photographs, teachings and a newsletter.

        DharmaNet International
        A gateway to dharma chatrooms, teachings and teachers. Its mission is to "help build a vitaland cooperative online Buddhist community.

        About.com - Buddhism
        Links to information, movies, art and magazines among other things.

        Friends of Buddhism
        This site's mission is "to spread Buddhadharma and support all Buddhist projects worldwide." This page contains resources, and other linksto information.

        Shambhala Sun
        Buddhist inspired journal

        Cybersangha: the Buddhist Alternative Journal
        This site contains publication archives of the Cybersangha, "a journalexamining new perspectives in Western Buddhism."

        Dharma the Cat
        An explanation of Buddhist beliefs using humor and cartoons.

        Earth Sangha
        This organization is dedicated to the belief that the "Buddhistway of looking at life can play a major role in healing the planet's environmental crisis.

        The White Path Temple
        Still under construction, this site is for those interest in ShinBuddhism and will soon include a virtual temple visit.

        Nichiren's Coffeehouse and Gohonzon Gallery
        A comprehensive study of the Lotus Sutra and information on differentBuddhist movements.

        The official Soka Gakkai International website.

        Zen Buddhism WWW Virtual Library
        Virtual library with information on Zen.

        An interactive site devoted to zen and its experience. This page willguide you through a meditation and teaching session

        The NUBU Page
        This page is for those who are looking for an introduction to Buddhism, with an emphasis on zen. It contains links to informational sites and recommended books.

        Tibet Online
        Operated by the international Tibet Support Group community, which strivesto provide information on the plight and struggles of the Tibetan people.

        Milarepa Fund
        The Milarepa Fund is a non-profit organization "dedicated to the promotionof universal compassion and nonviolence." This organization was createdin 1994 in conjunction with the Beastie Boys.


      | Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Schools | Spread | Links | Bibliography |

      VI. Bibliographic Resources

        Classical Sacred Texts

        Edward Conze, ed. 1959.
        Buddhist Scriptures Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1959.

        Kronfield, Jack. 1996.
        Teachings of the Buddha. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

        Byrom, Thomas, Translator. 1993.
        The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1993.

        Cleary, Thomas, Translator. 1999.
        Pocket Zen Reader. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1999.

        Fremantle, Francesca and Chogyam Trungpa, Translators. 1975.
        Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.


        Harvey, Peter. 1990.
        An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

        Seager, Richard Hughes. 1999.
        Buddhism in America. New York: Columbia University Press.


        Kotler, Arnold. ed., 1996.
        Engaged Buddhist Reader. Parallax Press.

        Lopez, Donald S. Jr., ed. 1999.
        Asian Religions in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

        Smith, Jean. ed., 1999.
        Radiant Mind. Riverhead Books.

        Stephen Batchelor. 1997.
        Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening. Riverhead Books.

        Suzuki, D.T. 1960.
        Manual of Zen Buddhism. Grove Press.

        Suzuki, D.T. 1962.
        The Essentials of Zen Buddhism. Greenwood Press.

        Select Articles

        Lewis, Todd T. 1999.
        "Buddhist Communities: Historical Precedents and Ethnographic Paradigms." in Stephen D. Glazier, (ed). Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 319-368.


        There are many publishers that specialize in Buddhist literature. Below we list someof the more important publishers specializing in Buddhist literature. You may wish toconsult specifica publishers web sites for a more extended bibliography.

        Parallax Press
        Publishes books and tapes, particularly the works of Thich Nhat Hanh.

        Shambhala Publications
        Publishes religious and philosophical works, especially Buddhism.

        Snow Lion Publications
        Specializes in materials dealing with Tibet, Buddhism and Tibetan Culture and the His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

        Dharma Publishing
        Dedicated to the "preservation and translation of the art and texts of Tibetan Buddhism."

        Primary Point Press
        Publishing component of the Kwan Um School of Zen.

        Vipassana Research Publications of America
        Specializes in Vipassana meditation and Buddhism.

        Wisdom Publications
        Publishes Buddhist literature "for the benefit of all."


        Butterfly: The Journal of Contemporary Buddhism
        Designed for today's buddhist.

        Hundred Mountain: A Journal of the Spirit and the Arts
        An independent journal for both the beginner and advanced meditatoror practitioner.

        An e-journal published by DharmaNet International.

        For Your Information
        A monthly Singapore-based Buddhist magazine. Available in both English and Chinese.

        Indra's Network Magazine
        Produced by the Network of Engaged Buddhists in the UK. Its purposeis to "challenge and encourage all, whatever faith they belong to, who share the Network of Engaged Buddhists' belief that there needs to be an integration between spiritual and social concerns."

        Select Movies

        Directed by Martin Scorsese. Walt Disney Pictures, 1997.

        Seven Years in Tibet
        Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. TriStar Pictures, 1997.

        Little Buddha
        Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. CiBy 2000, 1993.

        Land of the Disappearing Buddha
        Produced by BBC TV. Distributed by Time-Life Films, c1979.

        Footprint of the Buddha
        Produced by BBC in association with Time-Life Television, R.M. Productions. Distributed by Time-Life Films, c1977.

        Lost Horizon
        Directed by Frank Capra. Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1937.

      | Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Schools | Spread | Links | Bibliography |

      VIII. Footnotes

      1. Occhiogrosso, Peter. "Buddhism," The Joy of Sects: a spirited guide to the world's religious traditions , 1991 p.84
      2. Keown, Damien. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction , 1996 p.16
      3. Occhiogrosso, p.87
      4. ibid
      5. Keown, p.16
      6. "The Buddha and Buddhism," The New Encyclopedia Britannica Macropaedia Knowledge in Depth , 1998 p.264
      7. Britannica, p.266
      8. Occhiogrosso, p.102
      9. Occhiogrosso, p.102-3
      10. Keown, p.17
      11. Occhiogrosso, p.104
      12. Occhiogrosso, p.103-4
      13. Occhiogrosso, p.104
      14. Keown, p.66
      15. Occhiogrosso, p.105
      16. Occhiogrosso, p. 83
      17. Herman, A.L. An introduction to Buddhist Thought ,183 p.28
      18. Herman, p.29
      19. Herman, p.30
      20. Keown, p.23
      21. Britannica, p.264
      22. http://www.edepot.com/buddha.html Received on 2/13/00, p.2
      23. Britannica, p.264
      24. ibid
      25. Occhiogrosso, p.87
      26. Britannica, p.264
      27. ibid
      28. Keown, p.21
      29. Britannica, p.264
      30. Britannica, p.265
      31. ibid
      32. ibid
      33. ibid
      34. Britannica, p.265-6
      35. Britannica, p.266-7
      36. Keown, p.28
      37. Herman, p.82
      38. Britannica, p.267
      39. Keown, p.29-30
      40. Kalupahana, David J. A History of Buddhist Philosophy , 1992 p.29
      41. Keown, p.30
      42. Keown, p.46-7
      43. Keown, p.48
      44. ibid
      45. Keown, 49-50
      46. Keown, p.51
      47. Keown, p.52
      48. Keown, p.52-3
      49. Keown, p.54
      50. Keown, p.55
      51. Keown, p.57
      52. Keown, p.57-8
      53. ibid
      54. Keown, p.31
      55. Keown, p.34
      56. Keown, p.35-6
      57. Keown, p.39-40
      58. Kalupahana, p.102
      59. Keown, p.41
      60. Britannica, p.276
      61. Kalupahana, p.28-9
      62. Britannica, p.276-7
      63. Kalupahana, p. 26
      64. Keown, p.28
      65. Britannica, p.277
      66. Kalupahana, p.27
      67. Britannica, p.277-8
      68. Herman, p.86
      69. Occhiogrosso, p.97
      70. Guenther, Herbert V. Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice , 1971 p.22
      71. Occhiogrosso, p.94
      72. Britannica, p.281
      73. Occhiogrosso, p.96
      74. Britannica, p.281
      75. Occhiogrosso, p.96
      76. Britannica, p.281
      77. ibid
      78. ibid
      79. Guenther, p.22
      80. Occhiogrosso, p.94
      81. Britannica, p.284
      82. Occhiogrosso, p.94
      83. Occhiogrosso, p.96
      84. Keown, p.61
      85. Occhiogrosso, p.96
      86. Britannica, p.284
      87. Keown, p.62
      88. Occhiogrosso, p.96
      89. Occhiogrosso, p.97
      90. Britannica, p.286
      91. Britannica, p.287
      92. ibid
      93. Britannica, p.288
      94. ibid
      95. Britannica, p.289
      96. Britannica, p.290
      97. Occhiogrosso, p.111
      98. Britannica, p.290
      99. Occhiogrosso, p.108
      100. Britannica, p.290
      101. Britannica, p.291
      102. Occhiogrosso, p.114
      103. http://www.connect.net/ron/tibetanbuddhism.htmlReceived on 5/4/00, p.1
      104. Kohn, Sherab Chodzin. "A Short History of Buddhism," Radiant Mind: Essential Buddhist Teachings and Texts , 1999 p.19-31
      105. Kohn, p.26
      106. Kohn, p.26-7
      107. Kohn, p.27-8
      108. De Jong, Jan Willem. A Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America , 1987 p.8
      109. De Jong, p.13
      110. Kohn, p.31
      111. | Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Schools | Spread | Links | Bibliography |

      Created by Teresa Nguyen
      For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Behavior
      University of Virginia
      Spring Term, 2000
      Last modified: 01/12/02