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About 2500 years ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama began to question his sheltered, luxurious life in the palace. He left the palace and saw four sights: a sick man, an old man, a dead man and a monk. These sights are said to have shown him that even a prince cannot escape illness, suffering and death. The sight of the monk told Siddhartha to leave his life as a prince and become a wandering holy man, seeking the answers to questions like "Why must people suffer?" "What is the cause of suffering?" Siddartha spent many years doing many religious practices such as praying, meditating, and fasting until he finally understood the basic truths of life. This realization occurred after sitting under a Poplar-figtree in Bodh Gaya, India for many days, in deep meditation. He gained enlightenment, or nirvana, and was given the title of Buddha, which means Enlightened One.

Buddha discovered Three Universal Truths and Four Noble Truths, which he then taught to the people for the next 45 years.

Buddha then taught people not to worship him as a god. He said they should take responsibility for their own lives and actions. He taught that the Middle Way was the way to nirvana. The Middle Way meant not leading a life of luxury and indulgence but also not one of too much fasting and hardship. There are eight guides for following the Middle path.

Meditation is an essential practice to most Buddhists. Buddhists look within themselves for the truth and understanding of Buddha's teachings. They seek enlightenment, or nirvana, this way. Nirvana is freedom from needless suffering and being fully alive and present in one's life. It is not a state that can really be described in words -- it goes beyond words.

Meditation means focusing the mind to achieve an inner stillness that leads to a state of enlightenment. Meditation takes many forms:

After Buddha died, his teachings were gradually written down from what people remembered. The ripitaka, or The Three Baskets, is a collection of Buddha's sayings, his thoughts about them, and rules for Buddhists monks. The Ripitaka was first written on palm leaves which were collected together in baskets.

There are over 500 million Buddhists today. After Buddha's death, some of his followers had some differences of opinion which eventually led to their breaking away and forming separate kinds of Buddhism. There are two main types, Theravada, which spread to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and Mahayana which spread to Nepal, Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan. Mahayana took on aspects of the cultures where it was practiced and became three distinct branches: Vajrayana Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Even though each form of Buddhism took on its own identity, all Buddhists follow a set of guidelines for daily life called the Five Precepts. These are:

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Buddha wasnt chubby

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Despite the stature of the laughing statue that you see at your favorite Chinese food takeout place, the first Buddha was known to survive on one grain of rice per day. and ancient texts refer to him as being so skinny that his bones showed. So how did the commonplace depiction of a rotund, laughing Buddha become so associated with this historical figure? When Buddhism spread to China, the image of the Buddha was conflated with a Chinese God, Budai, who is fat, bald, and travels with a large sack, says Jim Wasserman, a retired comparative religion professor and co-owner (with his wife) of Your Third Life. Chinese immigrants were the first to bring the notion of Buddhism to America, so people thought that this version of a fat Buddha was the only one. If one looks at the older, Theravadan branch of Buddhism (common to Thailand or India), one sees the older, slimmer Buddha. Buddha is just one of 10 historical figures youve been picturing all wrong.

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Many, if not most Buddhists are vegetarian and believe that animals are nonhuman people who cannot be killed for food. That said, according to the Humane Societys Buddhist Teachings on Animals, there are exceptions to this ideology. In ancient times, eating meat was strictly forbidden by Buddha, except in the case of monks, who traditionally begged for the one meal they ate each day. The monks were allowed to eat meat if it was placed in their bowls, provided that they had no reason to believe that an animal was specifically killed in order to provide them with food. Some modern-day Buddhists interpret this practice so as to believe that they can eat meat from supermarkets and restaurants, for this same reason.

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Believe it or not, many Buddhists own cars, homes, jewelry, and more. Because so many vocal Buddhists in America are practicing monks, or wealthy people rejecting materialism to go meditate, we assume all Buddhists are like that, says Wasserman. Travel to a Buddhist country, and you will not see people rejecting the material world, but rather, praying to win the lottery or be successful, just like other religions, he adds.

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Introduction to Basic Beliefs and Tenets of Buddhism

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Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in the fifth century B.C. in what is now Nepal and northern India. He came to be called "the Buddha," which means "awakened one," after he experienced a profound realization of the nature of life, death, and existence. In English, the Buddha was said to be enlightened, although in Sanskrit it is "bodhi," or "awakened."

For the rest of his life, the Buddha traveled and taught. However, he didn't teach people what he had realized when he became enlightened. Instead, he taught people how to realize enlightenment for themselves. He taught that awakening comes through your own direct experience, not through beliefs and dogmas.

At the time of his death, Buddhism was a relatively minor sect with little impact in India. But by the third century B.C., the emperor of India made Buddhism the state religion of the country.

Buddhism then spread throughout Asia to become one of the dominant religions of the continent. Estimates of the number of Buddhists in the world today vary widely, in part because many Asians observe more than one religion and in part because it is hard to know how many people are practicing Buddhism in Communist nations like China. The most common estimate is 350 million, which makes Buddhism the fourth largest of the world's religions.

Buddhism is so different from other religions that some people question whether it is a religion at all. For example, the central focus of most religions is one or many. But Buddhism is non-theistic. The Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment.

Most religions are defined by their beliefs. But in Buddhism, merely believing in doctrines is beside the point. The Buddha said that doctrines should not be accepted just because they are in scripture or taught by priests.

Instead of teaching doctrines to be memorized and believed, the Buddha taught how to realize truth for yourself. The focus of Buddhism is on practice rather than belief. The major outline of Buddhist practice is the Eightfold Path.

In spite of its emphasis on free inquiry, Buddhism might best be understood as a discipline and an exacting discipline at that. And although Buddhist teachings should not be accepted on blind faith, understanding what the Buddha taught is an important part of that discipline.

By themselves, the truths don't seem like much. But beneath the truths are countless layers of teachings on the nature of existence, the self, life, and death, not to mention suffering. The point is not to just "believe in" the teachings, but to explore them, understand them, and test them against your own experience. It is the process of exploring, understanding, testing, and realizing that defines Buddhism.

About 2,000 years ago Buddhism divided into two major schools: Theravada and Mahayana. For centuries, Theravada has been the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, (Myanmar) and Laos. Mahayana is dominant in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam. In recent years, Mahayana also has gained many followers in India. Mahayana is further divided into many sub-schools, such as Pure Land andTheravada Buddhism.

Vajrayana Buddhism, which is chiefly associated with Tibetan Buddhism, is sometimes described as a third major school. However, all schools of Vajrayana are also part of Mahayana.

The two schools differ primarily in their understanding of a doctrine called "anatman" or "anatta." According to this doctrine, there is no "self" in the sense of a permanent, integral, autonomous being within an individual existence. Anatman is a difficult teaching to understand, but understanding it is essential to making sense of Buddhism.

Basically, Theravada considers anatman to mean that an individual's ego or personality is a delusion. Once freed of this delusion, the individual can enjoy the bliss of Nirvana. Mahayana pushes anatman further. In Mahayana, all phenomena are void of intrinsic identity and take identity only in relation to other phenomena. There is neither reality nor unreality, only relativity. The Mahayana teaching is called "shunyata" or "emptiness."

It is said that wisdom and compassion are the two eyes of Buddhism. Wisdom, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, refers to the realization of anatman or shunyata. There are two words translated as "compassion": "metta and "karuna." Metta is a benevolence toward all beings, without discrimination, that is free of selfish attachment. Karuna refers to active sympathy and gentle affection, a willingness to bear the pain of others, and possibly pity. Those who have perfected these virtues will respond to all circumstances correctly, according to Buddhist doctrine.

There are two things most people think they know about Buddhismthat Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that all Buddhists are vegetarian. These two statements are not true, however. Buddhist teachingson rebirth are considerably different from what most people call "reincarnation." And although vegetarianism is encouraged, in many sects it is considered a personal choice, not a requirement.

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Buddhism Facts for Kids

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Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism teaches people how to end their suffering by cutting out greed, hatred and ignorance. When people do bad things, they will get bad consequences. When people do good things, they will get good consequences. Good and bad things do not cancel out.

This cause-and-effect chain is reflected in the endless cycles of life, death and rebirth. Buddhism believes in reincarnation (rebirth). The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to reach the state of enlightenment (Nirvana) and liberate oneself from endless reincarnation and suffering. Some see Buddhism as a religion, others see it is a philosophy, and others think it is a way of finding reality. Some think that it is unnecessary to label Buddhism.

Gautama Buddha a man who lived between about 563 BCE and 483 BC was born in Lumbini, Nepal, as a rich prince. He gave up everything to find a way to end suffering. His teachings spread, after his death, through most of Asia, to Central Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and the East Asian countries of China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan and have now spread to the west.

The Buddha's teachings are about suffering and how to overcome it. According to the Buddha, overcoming suffering allows a person to be truly happy. The Buddha taught that if people make good decisions they would be happy and have peace of mind. The Buddha taught that life is imperfect and that we will suffer. He taught that we suffer because of desire, anger and stupidity, and he showed that we could end our suffering by letting go of desires and overcoming anger and stupidity. The complete letting go of these negative influences is called Nirvana, meaning "to extinguish", like putting out the flame of a candle. The end of suffering, when one is fully awake (put an end to one's own ignorance) and has let go of all desire and anger, is also called Enlightenment. In Buddhism Enlightenment and Nirvana mean the same thing.

Buddhism teaches non-harm and moderation or balance, not going too far one way or the other. Buddhists often meditate while sitting in a special or specific way. They often chant and meditate while walking. Buddhists sometimes do these things to understand the human heart and mind. Sometimes they do these things to understand the way the world works. Sometimes they do these things to find peace.

Buddhism does not say if gods exist or not, but one can read many stories about gods in some Buddhist books. Buddhists do not believe that people should look to gods to save them or bring them enlightenment. The gods may have power over world events and they might help people, or they might not. But it's up to each person to get to enlightenment. Many Buddhists honor gods in ritual. Other Buddhists believe the stories about gods are just there to help us learn about parts of ourselves.

Buddha is a word in the very old Nepalese and Indian languages Pli and Sanskrit which means "Enlightened one". The word "Buddha" often means the historical Buddha named Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama), but "Buddha" does not mean just one man who lived at a certain time. It is used for a type of person, the equivalent of a prophet, and Buddhists believe there have been many - that there were Buddhas a very long time ago and there will be for a long time in the future.

Buddhists do not believe that a Buddha is a god, but that he is a human being who has woken up and can see the true way the world works. They believe this knowledge totally changes the person. Some say this puts them beyond birth, death, and rebirth. Others think this represents the final extinction of desire. This person can help others become enlightened too.

According to Buddhism, there were countless Buddhas before Gautama Buddha and there will be many Buddhas after him. In short, he is not the first, nor will he be the last.

The first Buddha in Buddhavamsa sutta was Tahakara Buddha, The Mahapadana sutta say the first Buddha was Vipassi Buddha, however, counting from the present kalpa (the beginning of our present universe) Buddha Gautama is considered the fourth Buddha. The first is Kakusandho Buddha, second Konakamano Buddha and the third Kassapo Buddha. The last Buddha of this kalpa will be Maitreya Buddha. Then the universe will renew itself and from then begins a new kalpa.

Old stories say that Siddhrtha Gautama was born around the 6th century BC. He was the one who would become the first Buddha in written history. Some Buddhists believe that Siddhrtha Gautama was a perfect person.

He was born a prince and was unsure about if he wanted to become a religious man or a prince. At age 29 he noticed pain and suffering. He then wanted to learn the answer to the problem of human suffering, or pain. He gave up all his money and power, and became a monk without a home. He walked from place to place, trying to learn the answers to life.

At last he found enlightenment while sitting under a big tree called the Bodhi Tree. He was the first person to teach Buddhism to the people, and Buddhists love him for that. A cutting was made from the Bodhi Tree and planted in Sri Lanka. When the original tree died, a cutting from the Sri Lankan tree was planted in the original spot and so today there is a second-generation clone of the first tree in the Indian city of Bodh Gaya.

After Siddhrtha Gautama died, his students taught the Buddha's teaching to more people. After a long time, they wrote down the things that he may have said.

Buddhists often talk about the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The Dharma is the way the Buddha taught to live your life. The Sangha is the group of monks and other people who meet together, like a congregation.

Buddhists say "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha." This means that these three things keep them safe. They give themselves up to the community and teachings inspired by the Buddha.

The Buddha's first and most important teachings are the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha told people to follow a special way of life called the Noble Eightfold Path if they want to understand the Four Noble Truths. These are:

Buddhists are encouraged to follow five precepts, or rules, that say what not to do.

If a person wants to be a monk or nun, he or she will follow other precepts as well.

"The Great Departure", relic depicting Gautama leaving home, first or second century (Muse Guimet).

Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, India, where the Buddha gave his first sermon. It was built by Ashoka.

Buddha statue depicting Parinirvana (Mahaparinirvana Temple, Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India).

The Buddha teaching the Four Noble Truths. Sanskrit manuscript. Nalanda, Bihar, India.

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Thangka depicting the Wheel of Life with its six realms

Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where Gautama Buddha attained nirvana under the Bodhi Tree (left)

Dna or charitable giving to monks is a virtue in Buddhism, leading to merit accumulation and better rebirths.

Relic depicting footprint of the Buddha with Dharmachakra and triratna, 1st century CE, Gandhra.

Monks performing a ceremony in Hangzhou, China

Statue of the Buddha in meditation position, Haw Phra Kaew, Vientiane, Laos

Statue of Buddha in Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Phitsanulok, Thailand

Monks debating at Sera Monastery, Tibet

The Great Statue of Amitbha in Kamakura, Japan

Bhatti (devotion) at a Buddhist temple, Tibet. Chanting during Bhatti Puja (devotional worship) is often a part of the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.

The Tripiaka Koreana in South Korea, an edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon carved and preserved in over 81,000 wood printing blocks.

The Buddhist "Carpenter's Cave" at Ellora in Maharashtra, India

Buddha at Xumishan Grottoes, ca. 6th century CE.

A Buddhist triad depicting, left to right, a Kushan, the future buddha Maitreya, Gautama Buddha, the bodhisattva Avalokitevara, and a monk. Secondthird century. Guimet Museum

The spread of Buddhism at the time of emperor Ashoka (260218 BCE).

Coin depicting Indo-Greek king Menander, who, according to Buddhist tradition records in the Milinda Panha, converted to the Buddhist faith and became an arhat in the 2nd century BCE . (British Museum)

Distribution of major Buddhist traditions

The ideas of the 2nd century scholar Nagarjuna helped shape the Mahayana traditions.

7th-century Potala Palace in Lhasa valley symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Ginkaku-ji, a Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan

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Buddhism Books Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning "the awakened one". According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving by way of understanding and the se Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning "the awakened one". According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving by way of understanding and the seeing of dependent origination, with the ultimate goal of attainment of the sublime state of nirvana. ...more

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Statue of the Buddha at the Buddha Memorial Hall, Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan.

Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pli/Sanskrit "the awakened one"). The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.[1] He is recognized by adherents as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering, achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Buddhism is traditionally conceived as a path of liberation attained through insight into the nature of the mind.[2]

Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravda ("The School of the Elders") and Mahyna ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravda, the oldest surviving branch, has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications, a third branch, Vajrayana, is recognized, although many see this as an offshoot of the Mahayana. While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world at between 230 million and 500 million.[3][4][5][6]

Buddhist schools vary significantly in the exact nature of the path of liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices.[7] The foundation of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).[8][9] Taking refuge in the triple gem has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-buddhist.[10] Other practices may include renunciation, meditation, cultivation of mindfulness and wisdom, study of scriptures, physical exercises, devotion and ceremonies, or invocation of bodhisattvas.

Conventional narratives on the Buddha's life such as the following, draw heavily on Theravada Tipitaka scriptures. Later texts, such as the Mahayana Lalitavistara Sutra, give different accounts.

According to the conventional narrative, the Buddha was born in Lumbini, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu; both in modern-day Nepal.[11][12]

Shortly after Siddhartha's birth, an astrologer visited the young prince's father, King uddhodana, and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.

uddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father's efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters - known in Buddhist literature as the Four sights[13] - he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama eventually to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

Gautama first attempted an extreme ascetic life and almost starved himself to death in the process. But, after accepting milk and rice from a village girl in a pivotal moment, he changed his approach. He concluded that extreme ascetic practices, such as prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain, brought little spiritual benefit. He saw them as forms of self-hatred that were therefore counterproductive.[14] He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way: a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. So, at the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree, also known as the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he finally awakened to the ultimate nature of reality, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being. Soon thereafter he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, travelling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent,[15][16] and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.

Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order but do not consistently accept the details in his biographies.[17][18] According to author Michael Carrithers, a widely published expert on Buddhism, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, "the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching [and] death."[19]

Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work)[20] is the force that drives Samsra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (Pli: kusala) and bad, unskillful (Pli: akusala) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth.[21] The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called la (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).

In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (cetana),[22] and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, phala)[23] or result (vipka). Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines its effect.

In Theravda Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's Karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the make up of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions however hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative Karma. In like fashion, some forms of Buddhism (e.g. East-Asian tantric Buddhism) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma.[24] Similarly, the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the Karma that would otherwise bind one in Sasra.[25][26]

Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception[27] to death. It is important to note, however, that Buddhism rejects concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Christianity or even Hinduism. As there ultimately is no such thing as a self (anatta) according to Buddhism, rebirth in subsequent existences must rather be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of "dependent arising" (Prattyasamutpda) determined by the laws of cause and effect (Karma) rather than that of one being, "jumping" from one existence to the next.

Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms, according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools.[28][29] These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence:[30]

Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the uddhvsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by angmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arupa-jhnas.

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tib. Bardo) between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravda commentorial position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravda tradition is based), that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an intermediate stage between one life and the next.[33][34]

Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth to death. In being controlled by these attitudes, they perpetuate the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering (Sasra), and produce the causes and conditions of the next rebirth after death. Each rebirth repeats this process in an involuntary cycle, which Buddhists strive to end by eradicating these causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddhists.

According to the Pali Tipitaka, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana.[35] They are sometimes considered as containing the essence of the Buddha's teachings and are presented in the manner of a medical diagnosis and remedial prescription a style common at that time:

Described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (e.g., the Dalai Lama).[36]

According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars,[37] the "truths" do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:

Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism[38] they are

The early teaching[39] and the traditional Theravda understanding[40] is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.[41] They are little known in the Far East.[42]

The Dharmachakra represents the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truths, is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word samyak (Sanskrit, meaning correctly, properly, or well,[43] frequently translated into English as right), and presented in three groups (NB: Pli transliterations appear in brackets after Sanskrit ones):

The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.

In the early sources (the four main Nikayas) the Eightfold Path is not generally taught to laypeople, and it is little known in the Far East.[52]

An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way, which is said to have been discovered by Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment (bodhi). The Middle Way or Middle Path has several definitions:

Debating monks at Sera Monastery, Tibet

Buddhist scholars have produced a remarkable quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, e.g., Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages. The concept of Liberation (Nirvana), the goal of the Buddhist path, is closely related to the correct perception of reality. In awakening to the true nature of the self and all phenomena one is liberated from the cycle of suffering (Dukkha) and involuntary rebirths (Samsara).

Impermanence is one of the Three Marks of Existence. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded or conditioned phenomena (things and experiences) are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything we can experience through our senses is made up of parts, and its existence is dependent on external conditions. Everything is in constant flux, and so conditions and the thing itself are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Nothing lasts.

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. The doctrine further asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Suffering or Dukkha (Pli ; Sanskrit dukha; according to grammatical tradition derived from dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted") is a central concept in Buddhism, the word roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration.

Although dukkha is often translated as "suffering", its philosophical meaning is more analogous to "disquietude" as in the condition of being disturbed. As such, "suffering" is too narrow a translation with "negative emotional connotations" (Jeffrey Po),[54] which can give the impression that the Buddhist view is one of pessimism, but Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. Thus in English-language Buddhist literature dukkha is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.[55][56][57]

Anatta (Pli) or antman (Sanskrit) refers to the notion of "not-self". In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called tman (that is, "soul" or metaphysical self), which refers to an unchanging, permanent essence conceived by virtue of existence. This concept and the related concept of Brahman, the Vedantic monistic ideal, which was regarded as an ultimate tman for all beings, were indispensable for Brahminical metaphysics, logic, and science; for all apparent things there had to be an underlying and persistent reality, akin to a Platonic form. Buddhists reject all these concepts of tman, emphasizing not permanence, but changeability. Therefore, all concepts of a substantial Self are incorrect and formed in the realm of ignorance.

In the Nikayas, anatta is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions "I have a Self" and "I have no Self" as ontological views that bind one to suffering.[58] By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (skandhas) of a person or object, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a Self.

The doctrine of prattyasamutpda (Sanskrit; Pali: paticcasamuppda; Tibetan: rten.cing.'brel.bar.'byung.ba; Chinese: ), often translated as "Dependent Arising," is an important part of Buddhist metaphysics. It states that phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. It is variously rendered into English as "dependent origination", "conditioned genesis", "dependent co-arising", "interdependent arising", or "contingency".

The best-known application of the concept of Prattyasamutpda is the scheme of Twelve Nidnas (from Pli nidna "cause, foundation, source or origin"), which explain the continuation of the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara) in detail.[59]

The Twelve Nidnas describe a causal connection between the subsequent characteristics/conditions of cyclic existence, each giving rise to the next:

Sentient beings always suffer throughout samsara, until they free themselves from this suffering by attaining Nirvana. Then the absence of the first Nidna, ignorance, leads to the absence of the others.

Mahyna Buddhism received significant theoretical grounding from Ngrjuna (perhaps c. 150250 CE), arguably the most influential scholar within the Mahyna tradition. Ngrjuna's primary contribution to Buddhist philosophy was the systematic exposition of the concept of nyat, or "emptiness," widely attested in the Prajpramit sutras which were emergent in his era. The concept of emptiness brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anatta (no-self) and prattyasamutpda (dependent origination), to refute the metaphysics of Sarvastivada and Sautrantika (extinct non-Mahayana schools). For Ngrjuna, as for the Buddha in the early texts, it is not merely sentient beings that are empty of tman; all phenomena (dharmas) are without any svabhva, literally "own-nature" or "self-nature", and thus without any underlying essence; they are empty of being independent; thus the heterodox theories of svabhava circulating at the time were refuted on the basis of the doctrines of early Buddhism. Ngrjuna's school of thought is known as the Mdhyamaka. Some of the writings attributed to Ngrjuna made explicit references to Mahyna texts, but his philosophy was argued within the parameters set out by the agamas. He may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the Canon. In the eyes of Ngrjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Mdhyamaka system.[65]

Sarvstivda teachings, which were criticized by Ngrjuna, were reformulated by scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asaga and were adapted into the Yogcra (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school. While the Mdhyamaka school held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some exponents of Yogcra asserted that the mind and only the mind is ultimately real (cittamatra). Not all Yogcrins asserted that mind was truly existent; Vasubandhu and Asanga in particular did not.[66] These two schools of thought, in opposition or synthesis, form the basis of subsequent Mahyna metaphysics in the Indo-Tibetan tradition.

Besides emptiness (nyat), Mahyna schools often place emphasis on the notions of perfected spiritual insight (prajpramit) and Buddha-nature (tathgatagarbha). According to the tathgatagarbha sutras, the Buddha revealed the reality of the deathless Buddha-nature (tathgatagarbha - which means 'Buddha embryo' or 'Buddha-matrix'), which is said to be inherent in all sentient beings and enables them all eventually to reach complete enlightenment, i.e. Buddhahood. Buddha-nature is stated in the Mahyna Angulimaliya Sutra and Mahaparinirvana Sutra not to be nya, but to be replete with eternal Buddhic virtues. In the tathgatagarbha sutras the Buddha is portrayed proclaiming that the teaching of the tathgatagarbha constitutes the "absolutely final culmination" of his Dharmathe highest presentation of truth (other stras make similar statements about other teachings) and it has traditionally been regarded as the highest teaching in East Asian Buddhism. However, in modern China all doctrines are regarded as equally valid.[67] The Mahyna can also on occasion communicate a vision of the Buddha or Dharma which amounts to mysticism and gives expression to a form of mentalist panentheism (God in Buddhism).

Decisive in distinguishing Buddhism from other schools of Indian philosophy is the issue of epistemological justification (from epistemology, theory of knowledge). While all schools of Indian logic recognize various sets of valid justifications for knowledge, or pramana, Buddhism recognizes a smaller set than do the others. All accept perception and inference, for example, but for some schools of Buddhism the received textual tradition is an equally valid epistemological category.[68]

According to the scriptures, during his lifetime the Buddha remained silent when asked several metaphysical questions. These regarded issues such as whether the universe is eternal or non-eternal (or whether it is finite or infinite), the unity or separation of the body and the self, the complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and death, and others. One explanation for this silence is that such questions distract from activity that is practical to realizing enlightenment[69] and bring about the danger of substituting the experience of liberation by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith.[70] Another explanation is that both affirmative and negative positions regarding these questions are based on attachment to and misunderstanding of the aggregates and senses. That is, when one sees these things for what they are, the idea of forming positions on such metaphysical questions simply does not occur to one.[71] Another closely related explanation is that reality is devoid of designations, or empty, and therefore language itself is a priori inadequate.[72]

Thus, the Buddha's silence does not indicate misology or disdain for philosophy. Rather, it indicates that he viewed these questions as not leading to true knowledge.[72] Dependent arising is, according to some, one of the Buddha's great contributions to philosophy, and provides a framework for analysis of reality that is not based on metaphysical assumptions regarding existence or non-existence, but instead on direct cognition of phenomena as they are presented to the mind. This informs and supports the Buddhist approach to liberation via ethical and meditative training known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha of the earliest Buddhists texts describes Dharma (in the sense of truth) as "beyond reasoning", or "transcending logic", in the sense that reasoning is a subjectively introduced aspect of the way humans perceive things, and the conceptual framework which underpins it is a part of the cognitive process, rather than a feature of things as they really are. "Beyond reasoning" means in this context penetrating the nature of reasoning from the inside, and removing the causes for experiencing any future stress as a result of it, rather than functioning outside of the system as a whole.[73]

Most Buddhists agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, words are inadequate to describe the goal of the Buddhist path, but concerning the usefulness of words in the path itself, schools differ radically.[74]

In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha insists that, while pondering upon Dharma is vital, one must then relinquish fixation on words and letters, as these are utterly divorced from liberation and the Buddha-nature. The tantra entitled the "All-Creating King" (Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, a scripture of Tibetan Buddhism) also emphasizes how Buddhist truth lies beyond the range of discursive/verbal thought and is ultimately mysterious. The Supreme Buddha, Samantabhadra, states there: "The mind of perfect purity ... is beyond thinking and inexplicable ...."[75] Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist practitioner (yogi) and teacher, mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his six words of advice.

Professor C. D. Sebastian describes the nature of enlightenment according to one Mahayana text:

"Bodhi is the final goal of a Bodhisattva's career and it is indicated by such words as buddha-jnana (knowledge of Buddha), sarvjnata (omniscience), sarvakarajnata (the quality of knowing things as they are), ... and acintyam jnanam (inconceivable knowledge) ... Bodhi is pure universal and immediate knowledge, which extends over all time, all universes, all beings and elements, conditioned and unconditioned. It is absolute and identical with Reality and thus it is Tathata. Bodhi is immaculate and non-conceptual, and it, being not an outer object, cannot be understood by discursive thought. It has neither beginning, nor middle nor end and it is indivisbile. It is non-dual (advayam)... The only possible way to comprehend it is through samadhi by the yogin"[76]

The early texts, in contrast, contain explicit repudiations of attributing omniscience to the Buddha.[77][78] Furthermore, the non-duality ascribed to the nature of enlightenment in the early texts is not ontological.[79]

Mahayana often adopts a pragmatic concept of truth:[80] doctrines are "true" in the sense of being spiritually beneficial. In modern Chinese Buddhism, all doctrinal traditions are regarded as equally valid.[67]

Theravda promotes the concept of Vibhajjavada (Pli), literally "Teaching of Analysis" to non-Buddhists. This doctrine says that insight must come from the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith. As the Buddha said according to the canonical scriptures:[81]

Do not accept anything by mere tradition ... Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures ... Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions ... But when you know for yourselvesthese things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happinessthen do you live acting accordingly.

However The Buddha only said this when speaking to the Kalamas, a group of non-believers, non-Buddhists, he never spoke this way when talking to his disciples, and this message is only said once in the entire Pali canons by The Buddha. The Buddha told his disciples that faith was important.

Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, where Buddha attained Nirvana under the Bodhi Tree (left)

Nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali Nibbana) means "cessation", "extinction" (of craving and ignorance and therefore suffering and the cycle of involuntary rebirths Samsara), "extinguished", "quieted", "calmed";[82] it is also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. Buddhists believe that anybody who has achieved nirvana is in fact a Buddha.

Bodhi (Pli and Sanskrit, in devanagari: ) is a term applied to the experience of Awakening of arahants. Bodhi literally means "awakening", but is more commonly referred to as "enlightenment". In Early Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implies the extinction of raga (greed, craving),[83] dosa (hate, aversion)[84] and moha (delusion).[85] In the later school of Mahayana Buddhism, the status of nirvana was downgraded in some scriptures, coming to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained nirvana, and that one needed to attain bodhi to eradicate delusion:

An important development in the Mahayana [was] that it came to separate nirvana from bodhi ('awakening' to the truth, Enlightenment), and to put a lower value on the former (Gombrich, 1992d). Originally nirvana and bodhi refer to the same thing; they merely use different metaphors for the experience. But the Mahayana tradition separated them and considered that nirvana referred only to the extinction of craving (passion and hatred), with the resultant escape from the cycle of rebirth. This interpretation ignores the third fire, delusion: the extinction of delusion is of course in the early texts identical with what can be positively expressed as gnosis, Enlightenment.

Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the arahant has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattva not only achieves nirvana but full liberation from delusion as well. He thus attains bodhi and becomes a buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion.

The term parinirvana is also encountered in Buddhism, and this generally refers to the complete nirvana attained by the arhat at the moment of death, when the physical body expires.

Gautama Buddha, 1st century CE, Gandhara

In Theravada doctrine, a person may awaken from the "sleep of ignorance" by directly realizing the true nature of reality; such people are called arahants and occasionally buddhas. After numerous lifetimes of spiritual striving, they have reached the end of the cycle of rebirth, no longer reincarnating as human, animal, ghost, or other being. The commentaries to the Pali Canon classify these awakened beings into three types:

Bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from craving, hate, and delusion. In attaining bodhi, the arahant has overcome these obstacles. As a further distinction, the extinction of only hatred and greed (in the sensory context) with some residue of delusion, is called anagami.

In the Mahayana, the Buddha tends not to be viewed as merely human, but as the earthly projection of a beginningless and endless, omnipresent being beyond the range and reach of thought. Moreover, in certain Mahayana sutras, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are viewed essentially as One: all three are seen as the eternal Buddha himself.

Celestial Buddhas are individuals who no longer exist on the material plane of existence, but who still aid in the enlightenment of all beings.

Nirvana came to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana. Bodhi became a higher attainment that eradicates delusion entirely.[86] Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi.

Bodhi is attained when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and all karma has reached cessation. Although the earliest sources do not have any mention of Paramitas,[87][88] the later traditions of Theravada and Mahayana state that one also needs to fulfill the pramits. After attainment of Bodhi, it is believed one is freed from the compulsive cycle of sasra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth, and attains the "highest happiness" (Nirvana, as described in the Dhammapada). Belief in self (tmn, Pli att) has also been extinguished as part of the eradication of delusion, and Bodhi thus implies understanding of anatt (Sanskrit: Anatman).

Some Mahayana sources contain the idea that a bodhisattva, which in other Mahayana sources is someone on the path to Buddhahood, deliberately refrains from becoming a Buddha in order to help others.[89][90]

Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") is an inclusive, cosmically-dimensioned faith characterized by the adoption of additional texts. Mahayana Buddhists place emphasis on the Bodhisattva ideal. Mahayana practitioners are less concerned with the traditional early Buddhist emphasis on release from suffering (dukkha) characteristic of the Arahant, and instead vow to remain in the world to liberate all beings, without exception, from suffering. Mahayana is further typified by a pantheon of quasi-divine Bodhisattvas devoting themselves to personal excellence for the sake of rescuing others from suffering and delivering them into the bliss of Nirvana. The quest of the Bodhisattvas is for ultimate Buddhic knowledge so as to be able to effect the salvation of all humanity (and indeed all living beings, including animals, ghosts and gods).

The Mahayana branch emphasizes infinite, universal compassion (maha-karuna) or the selfless, ultra-altruistic quest of the Bodhisattva to attain the "Awakened Mind" (bodhicitta) of Buddhahood so as to have the fullest possible knowledge of how most effectively to lead all sentient beings into Nirvana.

The method of self-exertion or "self-power" without reliance on an external force or being stands in contrast to another major form of Buddhism, Pure Land, which is characterised by utmost trust in the salvific "other-power" of Amitabha Buddha. Pure Land Buddhism is a very widespread and perhaps the most faith-orientated manifestation of Buddhism and centres upon the conviction that faith in Amitabha Buddha and the chanting of homage to his name will liberate one at death into the "happy land" () or "pure land" () of Amitabha Buddha. This Buddhic realm is variously construed as a foretaste of Nirvana, or as essentially Nirvana itself. The great vow of Amitabha Buddha to rescue all beings from samsaric suffering is viewed within Pure Land Buddhism as universally efficacious, if only one has faith in the power of that vow or chants his name.

Nearly all Chinese Buddhists accept that the chances of attaining sufficient enlightenment by one's own efforts are very slim, so that Pure Land practice is essential as an "insurance policy" even if one practises something else.[91]

Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha was the first to achieve enlightenment in this Buddha era and is therefore credited with the establishment of Buddhism. A Buddha era is the stretch of history during which people remember and practice the teachings of the earliest known Buddha. This Buddha era will end when all the knowledge, evidence and teachings of Gautama Buddha have vanished. This belief therefore maintains that many Buddha eras have started and ended throughout the course of human existence.[92][93] The Gautama Buddha, then, is the Buddha of this era, who taught directly or indirectly to all other Buddhas in it (see types of Buddhas).

In addition, Mahayana Buddhists believe there are innumerable other Buddhas in other universes.[94] A Theravada commentary says that Buddhas arise one at a time in this world element, and not at all in others.[95]

The idea of the decline and gradual disappearance of the teaching has been influential in East Asian Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism holds that it has declined to the point where few, if any, are capable of following the path, so most or all must rely on the power of the Buddha Amitabha. Zen and Nichiren traditionally hold that most are incapable of following the "complicated" paths of some other schools and present what they view as a simple practice instead.

Mahayana Buddhism puts great emphasis and, in fact, encourages anybody to follow the path of a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva means either "enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva)" or "enlightenment-being" or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)". Another translation is "Wisdom-Being".[96]

The various divisions of Buddhism understand the word Bodhisattva in different ways. Theravada and some Mahayana sources consider a Bodhisattva as someone on the path to Buddhahood, while other Mahayana sources speak of Bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood,[97][98] but especially in Mahayana Buddhism, it mainly refers to a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others. So the Bodhisattva is a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other sentient beings to become liberated themselves.

While Theravada regards it as an option, Mahayana encourages everyone to follow a Bodhisattva path and to take the Bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings.

A famous saying by the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar-saint Shantideva, which the 14th Dalai Lama often cites as his favourite verse, summarizes the Bodhisattva's intention (Bodhicitta) as follows: "For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."

According to the Mahayana, a Bodhisattva practices in the six perfections: giving, morality, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom.

Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists.[99] Devotional practices include bowing, offerings, pilgrimage, and chanting. In Pure Land Buddhism, devotion to the Buddha Amitabha is the main practice. In Nichiren Buddhism, devotion to the Lotus Sutra is the main practice.

Footprint of the Buddha with Dharmachakra and triratna, 1st century CE, Gandhra.

Traditionally, the first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: tri-ratna, Pli: ti-ratana)[100] as the foundation of one's religious practice. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned[101] in the Majjhima Nikaya, recognized by most scholars as an early text (cf. Infant baptism). Tibetan Buddhism sometimes adds a fourth refuge, in the lama. In Mahayana, the person who chooses the bodhisattva path makes a vow or pledge, considered the ultimate expression of compassion. In Mahayana, too, the Three Jewels are perceived as possessed of an eternal and unchanging essence and as having an irreversible effect: "The Three Jewels have the quality of excellence. Just as real jewels never change their faculty and goodness, whether praised or reviled, so are the Three Jewels (Refuges), because they have an eternal and immutable essence. These Three Jewels bring a fruition that is changeless, for once one has reached Buddhahood, there is no possibility of falling back to suffering."[102]

The Three Jewels are:

According to the scriptures, Gautama Buddha presented himself as a model. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana. The Sangha is considered to provide a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further examples that the truth of the Buddha's teachings is attainable.

la (Sanskrit) or sla (Pli) is usually translated into English as "virtuous behavior", "morality", "ethics" or "precept". It is an action committed through the body, speech, or mind, and involves an intentional effort. It is one of the three practices (sila, samadhi, and panya) and the second pramit. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of la are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment.

la is the foundation of Samadhi/Bhvana (Meditative cultivation) or mind cultivation. Keeping the precepts promotes not only the peace of mind of the cultivator, which is internal, but also peace in the community, which is external. According to the Law of Karma, keeping the precepts are meritorious and it acts as causes which would bring about peaceful and happy effects. Keeping these precepts keeps the cultivator from rebirth in the four woeful realms of existence.

la refers to overall principles of ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, which correspond to "basic morality" (five precepts), "basic morality with asceticism" (eight precepts), "novice monkhood" (ten precepts) and "monkhood" (Vinaya or Patimokkha). Lay people generally undertake to live by the five precepts, which are common to all Buddhist schools. If they wish, they can choose to undertake the eight precepts, which add basic asceticism.

The five precepts are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate well:

The precepts are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.[104] In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower heavens is likely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice. There is nothing improper or un-Buddhist about limiting one's aims to this level of attainment.[105]

In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict, and becomes a precept of celibacy. The three additional precepts are:

Vinaya is the specific moral code for monks and nuns. It includes the Patimokkha, a set of 227 rules for monks in the Theravadin recension. The precise content of the vinayapitaka (scriptures on Vinaya) differ slightly according to different schools, and different schools or subschools set different standards for the degree of adherence to Vinaya. Novice-monks use the ten precepts, which are the basic precepts for monastics.

Regarding the monastic rules, the Buddha constantly reminds his hearers that it is the spirit that counts. On the other hand, the rules themselves are designed to assure a satisfying life, and provide a perfect springboard for the higher attainments. Monastics are instructed by the Buddha to live as "islands unto themselves". In this sense, living life as the vinaya prescribes it is, as one scholar puts it: "more than merely a means to an end: it is very nearly the end in itself."[106]

In Eastern Buddhism, there is also a distinctive Vinaya and ethics contained within the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (not to be confused with the Pali text of that name) for Bodhisattvas, where, for example, the eating of meat is frowned upon and vegetarianism is actively encouraged. In Japan, this has almost completely displaced the monastic vinaya, and allows clergy to marry.[107]

Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena.[108] According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha taught two types of meditation, samatha meditation (Sanskrit: amatha) and vipassan meditation (Sanskrit: vipayan). In Chinese Buddhism, these exist (translated chih kuan), but Chan (Zen) meditation is more popular.[109] According to Peter Harvey, whenever Buddhism has been healthy, not only monks, nuns, and married lamas, but also more committed lay people have practiced meditation.[110] According to Routledge's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, in contrast, throughout most of Buddhist history before modern times, serious meditation by lay people has been unusual.[111] The evidence of the early texts suggests that at the time of the Buddha, many male and female lay practitioners did practice meditation, some even to the point of proficiency in all eight jhnas (see the next section regarding these).[112]

In the language of the Noble Eightfold Path, samyaksamdhi is "right concentration". The primary means of cultivating samdhi is meditation. Upon development of samdhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilement, calm, tranquil, and luminous.

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For nearly 500 years after his death, the Buddha's teachings were passed through generations of the monastic community by oral tradition. In the late first century BCE they were first written down in a collection known as the Pali Canon. Since then a variety of additional texts and translations have appeared as a means for disseminating his ancient wisdom. Now in the 21st century we have the benefit of a new medium; the Internet is a resource utilized by lay practitioners and monastics alike for bringing the religion of Buddhism to the world.

One of the oldest enduring Eastern religions, Buddhism was founded in India during the sixth ... read more

During Buddhism's 2,500 year history, several thriving sects have emerged, each with a unique take on the teachings of Buddha and daily practice. In this section we'll contrast the three dominant strains of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, along with a fourth-Zen Buddhism-that grew out of Mahayana and has gained increasing popularity in the West. We'll explore these traditions' differing approaches to the dharma, their conduct of monastic practice, and the geographic boundaries that define them.

Whether you're looking for the Pali Canon, Zen parables and koans, Mahayana text, or scholarly ... read more

Many prominent Buddhist organizations host sites with information aimed at helping you further your ... read more

Whether you're looking for a statue of the Buddha to serve as inspiration in your practice, a book ... read more

Buddhism has a large, vibrant community of online practitioners. Cyberspace abounds with Buddhist ... read more

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Vajrayna (), Mantrayna, Tantrayna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayna, while in China it is generally known as Tngm Hanmi (, "Chinese Esotericism") or Mzng (, "Esoteric Sect"), in Pali it is known as Pyitsayna () , and in Japan it is known as Mikky (, "secret teachings").

Vajrayna is usually translated as Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, referring to the Vajra, a mythical weapon which is also used as a ritual implement.

Founded by medieval Indian Mahsiddhas, Vajrayna subscribes to the literature known as the Buddhist Tantras. It includes practices that make use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, mandalas and the visualization of deities and Buddhas. According to Vajrayna scriptures, the term Vajrayna refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the rvakayna (also known as the Hnayna) and Mahyna.

Tantric Buddhism can be traced back to groups of wandering yogis called Mahasiddhas (great adepts).[2] According to Reynolds (2007), the mahasiddhas date to the medieval period in the Northern Indian Subcontinent (313 cen. CE), and used methods that were radically different than those used in Buddhist monasteries including living in forests and caves and practiced meditation in charnel grounds similar to those practiced by Shaiva Kapalika ascetics.[3] These yogic circles came together in tantric feasts (ganachakra) often in sacred sites (pitha) and places (ksetra) which included dancing, singing, sex rites and the ingestion of taboo substances like alcohol, urine, meat, etc.[4] At least two of the Mahasiddhas given in the Buddhist literature are actually names for Shaiva Nath saints (Gorakshanath and Matsyendranath) who practiced Hatha Yoga.

According to Schumann, a movement called Sahaja-siddhi developed in the 8th century in Bengal. It was dominated by long-haired, wandering Mahasiddhas who openly challenged and ridiculed the Buddhist establishment. The Mahasiddhas pursued siddhis, magical powers such as flight and extrasensory perception as well as liberation.[7]

Ronald M. Davidson states that,

"Buddhist siddhas demonstrated the appropriation of an older sociological formthe independent sage/magician, who lived in a liminal zone on the borders between fields and forests. Their rites involved the conjunction of sexual practices and Buddhist mandala visualization with ritual accouterments made from parts of the human body, so that control may be exercised over the forces hindering the natural abilities of the siddha to manipulate the cosmos at will. At their most extreme, siddhas also represented a defensive position within the Buddhist tradition, adopted and sustained for the purpose of aggressive engagement with the medieval culture of public violence. They reinforced their reputations for personal sanctity with rumors of the magical manipulation of various flavors of demonic females (dakini, yaksi, yogini), cemetery ghouls (vetala), and other things that go bump in the night. Operating on the margins of both monasteries and polite society, some adopted the behaviors associated with ghosts (preta, pisaca), not only as a religious praxis but also as an extension of their implied threats."[8]

Earlier Mahayana sutras already contained some elements which are emphasized in the Tantras, such as mantras and dharani.[9] The use of mantras and protective verses actually dates back to the Vedic period and the early Buddhist texts like the Pali canon. The practice of visualization of Buddhas such as Amitbha is also seen in pre-tantra texts like the Longer Sukhvatvyha Stra.[10] There are other Mahayana sutras which contain "proto-tantric" material such as the Gandavyuha sutra and the Dasabhumika which might have served as a central source of visual imagery for Tantric texts.[11]

Vajrayana developed a large corpus of texts called the Buddhist Tantras, some of which can be traced to at least the 7th century CE but might be older. The dating of the tantras is "a difficult, indeed an impossible task" according to David Snellgrove.[12] Some of the earliest of these texts, kriya tantras such as the Majur-mla-kalpa (6th century), focus on the use of mantras and dharanis for mostly worldly ends including curing illness, controlling the weather and generating wealth.[13]

The Tattvasagraha Tantra, classed as a "Yoga tantra", is one of the first Buddhist tantras which focuses on liberation as opposed to worldly goals and in the Vajrasekhara Tantra the concept of the five Buddha families is developed.[14] Other early tantras include the Mahavairocana Tantra and the Guhyasamja Tantra.[15] The Guhyasamja is a Mahayoga class of Tantra, which features new forms of ritual practice considered "left-hand" (vamachara) such as the use of taboo substances like alcohol, sexual yoga, and charnel ground practices which evoke wrathful deities.[16] Indeed, Ryujun Tajima divides the tantras into those which were "a development of Mahayanist thought" and those "formed in a rather popular mould toward the end of the eighth century and declining into the esoterism of the left",[17] mainly, the Yogini tantras and later works associated with wandering antinomian yogis. Later monastic Vajrayana Buddhists reinterpreted and internalized these radically transgressive and taboo practices as metaphors and visualization exercises.

Later tantras such as the Hevajra Tantra and the Chakrasamvara are classed as "Yogini tantras" and represent the final form of development of Indian Buddhist tantras in the ninth and tenth centuries.[18] The Kalachakra tantra developed in the 10th century. It is farthest removed from the earlier Buddhist traditions, and incorporates concepts of messianism and astrology not present elsewhere in Buddhist literature.

According to Ronald M. Davidson, the rise of Tantric Buddhism was a response to the feudal structure of Indian society in the early medieval period (ca. 500-1200 CE) which saw kings being divinized as manifestations of gods. Likewise, tantric yogis reconfigured their practice through the metaphor of being consecrated (abhieka) as the overlord (rjdhirja) of a mandala palace of divine vassals, an imperial metaphor symbolizing kingly fortresses and their political power.[20]

The question of the origins of early Vajrayana has been taken up by various scholars. David Seyfort Ruegg has suggested by Buddhist tantra employed various elements of a pan-Indian religious substrate which is not specifically Buddhist, Shaiva or Vaishnava.[21]

According to Alexis Sanderson, various classes of Vajrayana literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and Saivism.[22] The relationship between the two systems can be seen in texts like the Majusrimulakalpa, which later came to be classified under Kriyatantra, and states that mantras taught in the Shaiva, Garuda and Vaishnava tantras will be effective if applied by Buddhists since they were all taught originally by Manjushri.[23]

Alexis Sanderson notes that the Vajrayana yogini tantras draw extensively from Shaiva Bhairava tantras classified as Vidyapitha. Sanderson's comparison of them shows similarity in "ritual procedures, style of observance, deities, mantras, mandalas, ritual dress, Kapalika accoutrements, specialized terminology, secret gestures, and secret jargons. There is even direct borrowing of passages from Saiva texts."[24] Sanderson gives numerous examples such as the Guhyasiddhi of Padmavajra, a work associated with the Guhyasamaja tradition, which prescribes acting as a Shaiva guru and initiating members into Saiva Siddhanta scriptures and mandalas.[25] The Samvara tantra texts adopted the pitha list from the Shaiva text Tantrasadbhava, introducing a copying error where a deity was mistaken for a place.[26]

Ronald M. Davidson meanwhile, argues that Sanderson's claims for direct influence from Shaiva Vidyapitha texts are problematic because "the chronology of the Vidyapitha tantras is by no means so well established" [27] and that "the available evidence suggests that received Saiva tantras come into evidence sometime in the ninth to tenth centuries with their affirmation by scholars like Abhinavagupta (c. 1000 c.e.)"[28] Davidson also notes that the list of pithas or sacred places "are certainly not particularly Buddhist, nor are they uniquely Kapalika venues, despite their presence in lists employed by both traditions."[29] Davidson further adds that like the Buddhists, the Shaiva tradition was also involved in the appropriation of Hindu and non-Hindu deities, texts and traditions, an example being "village or tribal divinities like Tumburu".[30] Davidson adds that Buddhists and Kapalikas as well as other ascetics (possibly Pasupatas) mingled and discussed their paths at various pilgrimage places and that there were conversions between the different groups. Thus he concludes:

The Buddhist-Kapalika connection is more complex than a simple process of religious imitation and textual appropriation. There can be no question that the Buddhist tantras were heavily influenced by Kapalika and other Saiva movements, but the influence was apparently mutual. Perhaps a more nuanced model would be that the various lines of transmission were locally flourishing and that in some areas they interacted, while in others they maintained concerted hostility. Thus the influence was both sustained and reciprocal, even in those places where Buddhist and Kapalika siddhas were in extreme antagonism.[31]

Davidson also argues for the influence of non-brahmanical and outcaste tribal religions and their feminine deities (Parnasabari and Janguli).[32]

According to Louis de La Valle-Poussin and Alex Wayman, the view of the Vajrayana is based on Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, mainly the Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools.[33][34] The major difference seen by Vajrayana thinkers is Tantra's superiority due to being a faster vehicle to liberation containing many skillful methods (upaya) of tantric ritual.

The importance of the theory of emptiness is central to the Tantric view and practice. Buddhist emptiness sees the world as being fluid, without an ontological foundation or inherent existence but ultimately a fabric of constructions. Because of this, tantric practice such as self-visualization as the deity is seen as being no less real than everyday reality, but a process of transforming reality itself, including the practitioner's identity as the deity. As Stephan Beyer notes, "In a universe where all events dissolve ontologically into Emptiness, the touching of Emptiness in the ritual is the re-creation of the world in actuality".[35]

The doctrine of Buddha-nature, as outlined in the Ratnagotravibhga of Asanga, was also an important theory which became the basis for Tantric views.[36] As explained by the Tantric commentator Lilavajra, this "intrinsic secret (behind) diverse manifestation" is the utmost secret and aim of Tantra. According to Alex Wayman this "Buddha embryo" (tathgatagarbha) is a "non-dual, self-originated Wisdom (jnana), an effortless fount of good qualities" that resides in the mindstream but is "obscured by discursive thought."[37] This doctrine is often associated with the idea of the inherent or natural luminosity (Skt: prakti-prabhsvara-citta, T. od gsal gyi sems) or purity of the mind (prakrti-parisuddha).

Another fundamental theory of Tantric practice is that of transformation. Negative mental factors such as desire, hatred, greed, pride are not rejected as in non Tantric Buddhism, but are used as part of the path. As noted by French Indologist Madeleine Biardeau, tantric doctrine is "an attempt to place kama, desire, in every meaning of the word, in the service of liberation."[38] This view is outlined in the following quote from the Hevajra tantra:

Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known.[39]

The Hevajra further states that "One knowing the nature of poison may dispel poison with poison."[40] As Snellgrove notes, this idea is already present in Asanga's Mahayana-sutra-alamkara-karika and therefore it is possible that he was aware of Tantric techniques, including sexual yoga.[41]

According to Buddhist Tantra there is no strict separation of the profane or samsara and the sacred or nirvana, rather they exist in a continuum. All individuals are seen as containing the seed of enlightenment within, which is covered over by defilements. Douglas Duckworth notes that Vajrayana sees Buddhahood not as something outside or an event in the future, but as immanently present.[42]

Indian Tantric Buddhist philosophers such as Buddhaguhya, Vimalamitra,Ratnkaranti and Abhayakaragupta continued the tradition of Buddhist philosophy and adapted it to their commentaries on the major Tantras. Abhayakaraguptas Vajravali is a key source in the theory and practice of tantric rituals. After monks such as Vajrabodhi and ubhakarasiha brought Tantra to Tang China (716 to 720), tantric philosophy continued to be developed in Chinese and Japanese by thinkers such as Yi Xing and Kkai.

Likewise in Tibet, Sakya Pandita (1182-28 - 1251), as well as later thinkers like Longchenpa (13081364) expanded on these philosophies in their Tantric commentaries and treatises. The status of the tantric view continued to be debated in medieval Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (10121088) held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra, as Koppl notes:

By now we have seen that Rongzom regards the views of the Sutrayana as inferior to those of Mantra, and he underscores his commitment to the purity of all phenomena by criticizing the Madhyamaka objectification of the authentic relative truth.[43]

Tsongkhapa (13571419) on the other hand, held that there is no difference between Vajrayana and other forms of Mahayana in terms of prajnaparamita (perfection of insight) itself, only that Vajrayana is a method which works faster.[44]

Various classifications are possible when distinguishing Vajrayana from the other Buddhist traditions. Vajrayana can be seen as a third yana, next to Hinayana and Mahayana. Vajrayana can be distinguished from the Sutrayana. The Sutrayana is the method of perfecting good qualities, where the Vajrayna is the method of taking the intended outcome of Buddhahood as the path. Vajrayana, belonging to the mantrayana, can also be distinguished from the paramitayana. According to this schema, Indian Mahayana revealed two vehicles (yana) or methods for attaining enlightenment: the methodof the perfections (Paramitayana) and the method of mantra (Mantrayana). The Paramitayana consists of the six or ten paramitas, of which the scriptures say that it takes three incalculable aeons to lead one to Buddhahood. The tantra literature, however, claims that the Mantrayana leads one to Buddhahood in a single lifetime. According to the literature, the mantra is an easy path without the difficulties innate to the Paramitayana. Mantrayana is sometimes portrayed as a method for those of inferior abilities. However the practitioner of the mantra still has to adhere to the vows of the Bodhisattva.

The goal of spiritual practice within the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions is to become a Sammsambuddha (fully awakened Buddha), those on this path are termed Bodhisattvas. As with the Mahayana, motivation is a vital component of Vajrayana practice. The Bodhisattva-path is an integral part of the Vajrayana, which teaches that all practices are to be undertaken with the motivation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

In the Sutrayana practice, a path of Mahayana, the "path of the cause" is taken, whereby a practitioner starts with his or her potential Buddha-nature and nurtures it to produce the fruit of Buddhahood. In the Vajrayana the "path of the fruit" is taken whereby the practitioner takes his or her innate Buddha-nature as the means of practice. The premise is that since we innately have an enlightened mind, practicing seeing the world in terms of ultimate truth can help us to attain our full Buddha-nature.[46] Experiencing ultimate truth is said to be the purpose of all the various tantric techniques practiced in the Vajrayana.

Vajrayana Buddhism is esoteric in the sense that the transmission of certain teachings only occurs directly from teacher to student during an empowerment (abhieka) and their practice requires initiation in a ritual space containing the mandala of the deity.[47] Many techniques are also commonly said to be secret, but some Vajrayana teachers have responded that secrecy itself is not important and only a side-effect of the reality that the techniques have no validity outside the teacher-student lineage.[48] In order to engage in Vajrayana practice, a student should have received such an initiation or permission:

If these techniques are not practiced properly, practitioners may harm themselves physically and mentally. In order to avoid these dangers, the practice is kept "secret" outside the teacher/student relationship. Secrecy and the commitment of the student to the vajra guru are aspects of the samaya (Tib. damtsig), or "sacred bond", that protects both the practitioner and the integrity of the teachings."

The secrecy of teachings was often protected through the use of allusive, indirect, symbolic and metaphorical language (twilight language) which required interpretation and guidance from a teacher.[50] The teachings may also be considered "self-secret", meaning that even if they were to be told directly to a person, that person would not necessarily understand the teachings without proper context. In this way the teachings are "secret" to the minds of those who are not following the path with more than a simple sense of curiosity.[51][52]

Because of their role in giving access to the practices and guiding the student through them, the role of the Guru, Lama or Vajracharya is indispensable in Vajrayana.

Some Vajrayana rituals include use of certain taboo substances, such as blood, semen, alcohol and urine, as ritual offerings and sacraments, though these are often replaced with less taboo substances in their place such as yogurt. Tantric feasts and initiations sometimes employed substances like human flesh as noted by Kahhas Yogaratnamala.[53] The use of these substances is related to the non-dual (advaya) nature of Buddhahood. Since the ultimate state is in some sense non-dual, a practitioner can approach that state by "transcending attachment to dual categories such as pure and impure, permitted and forbidden". As the Guhyasamaja Tantra states "the wise man who does not discriminate achieves buddhahood".[54]

Vajrayana rituals also include sexual yoga, union with a physical consort as part of advanced practices. Some tantras go further, theHevajra Tantra states You should kill living beings, speak lying words, take what is not given, consort with the women of others.[55] While some of these statements were taken literally as part of ritual practice, others such as killing was interpreted in a metaphorical sense. In the Hevajra, "killing" is defined as developing concentration by killing the life-breath of discursive thoughts.[56] Likewise, while actual sexual union with a physical consort is practiced, it is also common to use a visualized mental consort.

Alex Wayman points out that the symbolic meaning of tantric sexuality is ultimately rooted in bodhicitta and the bodhisattva's quest for enlightenment is likened to a lover seeking union with the mind of the Buddha.[57] Judith Simmer-Brown notes the importance of the psycho-physical experiences arising in sexual yoga, termed "great bliss" (Mahasukha): "Bliss melts the conceptual mind, heightens sensory awareness, and opens the practitioner to the naked experience of the nature of mind."[58] This tantric experience is not the same as ordinary self gratifying sexual passion since it relies on tantric meditative methods using the subtle body and visualizations as well as the motivation for enlightenment.[59] As the Hevajra tantra says:

"This practice [of sexual union with a consort] is not taught for the sake of enjoyment, but for the examination of one's own thought, whether the mind is steady or waving."[60]

Feminine deities and forces are also increasingly prominent in Vajrayana. In the Yogini tantras in particular, women and female figures are given high status as the embodiment of female deities such as the wild and nude Vajrayogini.[61] The Candamaharosana Tantra states:

In India, there is evidence to show that women participated in tantric practice alongside men and were also teachers, adepts and authors of tantric texts.[63]

Practitioners of the Vajrayana need to abide by various tantric vows or samaya of behaviour. These are extensions of the rules of the Prtimoka and Bodhisattva vows for the lower levels of tantra, and are taken during initiations into the empowerment for a particular Anuttarayoga Tantra. The special tantric vows vary depending on the specific mandala practice for which the initiation is received, and also depending on the level of initiation. Ngagpas of the Nyingma school keep a special non-celibate ordination.

A tantric guru, or teacher, is expected to keep his or her samaya vows in the same way as his students. Proper conduct is considered especially necessary for a qualified Vajrayana guru. For example, the Ornament for the Essence of Manjushrikirti states:[64]

Distance yourself from Vajra Masters who are not keeping the three vows

who keep on with a root downfall, who are miserly with the Dharma,and who engage in actions that should be forsaken.Those who worship them go to hell and so on as a result.

While Vajrayana includes all of the traditional practices used in Mahayana Buddhism such as samatha and vipassana meditation and the paramitas, it also includes a number of unique practices or "skillful means" (Sanskrit: upaya) which are seen as more advanced and effective. Vajrayana is a system of lineages, whereby those who successfully receive an empowerment or sometimes called initiation (permission to practice) are seen to share in the mindstream of the realisation of a particular skillful means of the vajra Master. Vajrayana teaches that the Vajrayana techniques provide an accelerated path to enlightenment which is faster than other paths.[65]

A central feature of tantric practice is the use of mantras, syllables, words or a collection of syllables understood to have special powers and hence is a 'performative utterance' used for a variety of ritual ends. In tantric meditation, mantric seed syllables are used during the ritual evocation of deities which are said to arise out of the uttered and visualized mantric syllables. After the deity has been established, heart mantras are visualized as part of the contemplation in different points of the deity's body.[66]

According to Alex Wayman, Buddhist esotericism is centered on what is known as "the three mysteries" or "secrets": the tantric adept affiliates his body, speech, and mind with the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha through mudra, mantras and samadhi respectively.[67] Padmavajra (c 7th century) explains in his Tantrarthavatara Commentary, the secret Body, Speech, and Mind of the Tathagatas are:[68]

The fundamental, defining practice of Buddhist Tantra is deity yoga (devatayoga), meditation on a yidam, or personal deity, which involves the recitation of mantras, prayers and visualization of the deity along with the associated mandala of the deity's Pure Land, with consorts and attendants.[69] According to Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Tantra from sutra practice.[70]

A key element of this practice involves the dissolution of the profane world and identification with a sacred reality.[71] Because Tantra makes use of a "similitude" of the resultant state of Buddhahood as the path, it is known as the effect vehicle or result vehicle (phalayana) which "brings the effect to the path".[72]

In the Highest Yoga Tantras and in the Inner Tantras this is usually done in two stages, the generation stage (utpattikrama) and the completion stage (nispannakrama). In the generation stage, one dissolves oneself in emptiness and meditates on the yidam, resulting in identification with this yidam. In the completion stage, the visualization of and identification with the yidam is dissolved in the realization of luminous emptiness. Ratnakarasanti describes the generation stage cultivation practice thus:

[A]ll phenomenal appearance having arisen as mind, this very mind is [understood to be] produced by a mistake (bhrnty), i.e. the appearance of an object where there is no object to be grasped; ascertaining that this is like a dream, in order to abandon this mistake, all appearances of objects that are blue and yellow and so on are abandoned or destroyed (parih-); then, the appearance of the world (vivapratibhsa) that is ascertained to be oneself (tmanicitta) is seen to be like the stainless sky on an autumn day at noon: appearanceless, unending sheer luminosity.[73]

This dissolution into emptiness is then followed by the visualization of the deity and re-emergence of the yogi as the deity. During the process of deity visualization, the deity is to be imaged as not solid or tangible, as "empty yet apparent", with the character of a mirage or a rainbow.[74] This visualization is to be combined with "divine pride", which is "the thought that one is oneself the deity being visualized."[75] Divine pride is different from common pride because it is based on compassion for others and on an understanding of emptiness.[76]

Some practices associated with the completion stage make use of an energetic system of human psycho-physiology composed of what is termed as energy channels (rtsa), winds or currents (rlung), and drops or charged particles (thig le). These subtle body energies as seen as "mounts" for consciousness, the physical component of awareness. They are said to converge at certain points along the spinal column called chakras.[77] Some practices which make use of this system include Trul khor and Tummo.

Another form of Vajrayana practice are certain meditative techniques associated with Mahamudra and Dzogchen often termed "formless practices". These techniques do not rely on yidam visualization but on direct Pointing-out instruction from a master and are seen as the most advanced forms.[78]

In Tibetan Buddhism, advanced practices like deity yoga and the formless practices are usually preceded by or coupled with "preliminary practices" called ngondro which includes prostrations and recitations of the 100 syllable mantra.[79]

Another distinctive feature of Tantric Buddhism is its unique rituals, which are used as a substitute or alternative for the earlier abstract meditations.Template:Itation not found They include death rituals (see phowa), tantric feasts (ganachakra) and Homa fire ritual, common in East Asian Tantric Buddhism.

Other unique practices in Tantric Buddhism include Dream yoga, the yoga of the intermediate state (at death) or Bardo and Chd, in which the yogi ceremonially offers their body to be eaten by tantric deities.

The Vajrayana uses a rich variety of symbols, terms and images which have multiple meanings according to a complex system of analogical thinking. In Vajrayana, symbols and terms are multi-valent, reflecting the microcosm and the macrocosm as in the phrase "As without, so within" (yatha bahyam tatha dhyatmam iti) from Abhayakaraguptas Nispannayogavali.[82]

The Sanskrit term "vajra" denoted the thunderbolt, a legendary weapon and divine attribute that was made from an adamantine, or indestructible, substance and which could therefore pierce and penetrate any obstacle or obfuscation. It is the weapon of choice of Indra, the King of the Devas. As a secondary meaning, "vajra" symbolizes the ultimate nature of things which is described in the tantras as translucent, pure and radiant, but also indestructible and indivisible. It is also symbolic of the power of tantric methods to achieve its goals.[83]

A vajra is also a scepter-like ritual object (Standard Tibetan: dorje), which has a sphere (and sometimes a gankyil) at its centre, and a variable number of spokes, 3, 5 or 9 at each end (depending on the sadhana), enfolding either end of the rod. The vajra is often traditionally employed in tantric rituals in combination with the bell or ghanta; symbolically, the vajra may represent method as well as great bliss and the bell stands for wisdom, specifically the wisdom realizing emptiness. The union of the two sets of spokes at the center of the wheel is said to symbolize the unity of wisdom (praja) andcompassion (karuna) as well as the sexual union of male and female deities.[84]

Representations of the deity, such as statues (murti), paintings (thangka), or mandala, are often employed as an aid to visualization, in Deity yoga. The use of visual aids, particularly microcosmic/macrocosmic diagrams, known as "mandalas", is another unique feature of Buddhist Tantra. Mandalas are symbolic depictions of the sacred space of the awakened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as of the inner workings of the human person.[85] The macrocosmic symbolism of the mandala then, also represents the forces of the human body. The explanatory tantra of the Guhyasamaja tantra, the Vajramala, states: "The body becomes a palace, the hallowed basis of all the Buddhas."[86]

Mandalas are also sacred enclosures, sacred architecture that house and contain the uncontainable essence of a central deity or yidam and their retinue. In the book The World of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama describes mandalas thus: "This is the celestial mansion, the pure residence of the deity." The Five Tathagatas or 'Five Buddhas', along with the figure of the Adi-Buddha, are central to many Vajrayana mandalas as they represent the "five wisdoms", which are the five primary aspects of primordial wisdom or Buddha-nature.[87]

All ritual in Vajrayana practice can be seen as aiding in this process of visualization and identification. The practitioner can use various hand implements such as a vajra, bell, hand-drum (damaru) or a ritual dagger (phurba), but also ritual hand gestures (mudras) can be made, special chanting techniques can be used, and in elaborate offering rituals or initiations, many more ritual implements and tools are used, each with an elaborate symbolic meaning to create a special environment for practice. Vajrayana has thus become a major inspiration in traditional Tibetan art.

The Vajrayana tradition has developed an extended body of texts:

Though we do not know precisely at present just how many Indian tantric Buddhist texts survive today in the language in which they were written, their number is certainly over one thousand five hundred; I suspect indeed over two thousand. A large part of this body of texts has also been translated into Tibetan, and a smaller part into Chinese. Aside from these, there are perhaps another two thousand or more works that are known today only from such translations. We can be certain as well that many others are lost to us forever, in whatever form. Of the texts that survive a very small proportion has been published; an almost insignificant percentage has been edited or translated reliably.[88]

Vajrayana texts exhibit a wide range of literary characteristicsusually a mix of verse and prose, almost always in a Sanskrit that "transgresses frequently against classical norms of grammar and usage," although also occasionally in various Middle Indic dialects or elegant classical Sanskrit.[89]

The Dunhuang manuscripts also contain Tibetan Tantric manuscripts. Dalton and Schaik (2007, revised) provide an excellent online catalogue listing 350 Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts] from Dunhuang in the Stein Collection of the British Library which is currently fully accessible online in discrete digitized manuscripts.[web 1] With the Wylie transcription of the manuscripts they are to be made discoverable online in the future.[90] These 350 texts are just a small portion of the vast cache of the Dunhuang manuscripts.

Although there is historical evidence for Vajrayana Buddhism in Southeast Asia and elsewhere (see History of Vajrayana above), today the Vajrayana exists primarily in the form of the two major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Esoteric Buddhism in Japan known as Shingon (literally "True Speech", i.e. mantra), with a handful of minor subschools utilising lesser amounts of esoteric or tantric materials.

The distinction between traditions is not always rigid. For example, the tantra sections of the Tibetan Buddhist canon of texts sometimes include material not usually thought of as tantric outside the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, such as the Heart Sutra[91] and even versions of some material found in the Pali Canon.[92][a]

Vajrayana Buddhism was established in Tibet in the 8th century when ntarakita was brought to Tibet from India at the instigation of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, some time before 767. Tibetan Buddhism reflects the later stages of Indian tantric Buddhist developments, including the Yogini tantras, translated into the Tibetan language. It also includes native Tibetan developments, such as the tulku system, new sadhana texts, Tibetan scholastic works, Dzogchen literature and Terma literature.

The Tibetan Buddhist schools, based on the lineages and textual traditions of the Kangyur and Tengyur of Tibet, are found in Tibet, Bhutan, northern India, Nepal, southwestern and northern China, Mongolia and various constituent republics of Russia that are adjacent to the area, such as Amur Oblast, Buryatia, Chita Oblast, the Tuva Republic and Khabarovsk Krai. Tibetan Buddhism is also the main religion in Kalmykia.

Newar Buddhism is practiced by Newars in Nepal. It is the only form of Vajrayana Buddhism in which the scriptures are written in Sanskrit and this tradition has preserved many Vajrayana texts in this language. Its priests do not follow celibacy and are called vajracharya (literally "diamond-thunderbolt carriers").

Tantric Theravada or "Esoteric Southern Buddhism" is a term for esoteric forms of Buddhism from Southeast Asia, where Theravada Buddhism is dominant. The monks of the Sri Lankan, Abhayagiri vihara once practiced forms of tantra which were popular in the island.[93] Another tradition of this type was Ari Buddhism, which was common in Burma. The Tantric Buddhist 'Yogvacara' tradition was a major Buddhist tradition in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand well into the modern era.[94] This form of Buddhism declined after the rise of Southeast Asian Buddhist modernism.

Indonesian Esoteric Buddhism refers to the traditions of Esoteric Buddhism found in the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra before the rise and dominance of Islam in the region (13-16th centuries). The Buddhist empire of Srivijaya (650 CE1377 CE) was a major center of Esoteric Buddhist learning which drew Chinese monks such as Yijing and Indian scholars like Atia.[95] The temple complex at Borobudur in central Java, built by the Shailendra dynasty also reflects strong Tantric or at least proto-tantric influences, particularly of the cult of Vairocana.[96][97]

Although no written record exists about early Buddhism in the Philippines, the recent archaeological discoveries and the few scant references in the other nations historical records can tell, however, about the existence of Buddhism from the 9th century onward in the islands. The Philippiness archaeological finds include a few of Buddhist artifacts, most of them dated to the 9th century. The artifacts reflect the iconography of the Srivijayas Vajrayana Buddhism [98][99] and its influences on the Philippiness early states. The artifacts distinct features point to their production in the islands and hint at the artisans or goldsmiths knowledge of Buddhist culture and Buddhist literature because the artisans have made these unique works of Buddhist art. The artifacts imply also the presence of Buddhist believers in the places where these artifacts turned up. These places extended from the Agusan-Surigao area in Mindanao island to Cebu, Palawan, and Luzon islands.

Hence, Vajrayana Buddhism must have spread far and wide throughout the archipelago. And Vajrayana Buddhism must have become the religion of the majority of the inhabitants in the islands. The early states trade contacts with the neighboring empires and polities like in Sumatra, Srivijaya and Majapahit empire in Java long before or in the 9th century must have served as the conduit for introducing Vajrayana Buddhism to the islands.[100]

Esoteric and Tantric teachings followed the same route into northern China as Buddhism itself, arriving via the Silk Road and Southeast Asian Maritime trade routes sometime during the first half of the 7th century, during the Tang dynasty and received sanction from the emperors of the Tang dynasty. During this time, three great masters came from India to China: ubhakarasiha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra who translated key texts and founded the Zhenyan (, "true word", "mantra") tradition.[101] Zhenyan was also brought to Japan as Shingon during this period. This tradition focused on tantras like the Mahavairocana tantra, and unlike Tibetan Buddhism, does not employ the antinomian and radical tantrism of the Anuttarayoga Tantras.

The prestige of this tradition influenced other schools of Chinese Buddhism such as Chan and Tiantai to adopt esoteric practices.[102][103][104]

During the Yuan dynasty, the Mongol emperors made Tibetan Buddhism the official religion of China, and Tibetan lamas were given patronage at the court.[105] Imperial support of Tibetan Vajrayana continued into the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Another form of esoteric Buddhism in China is Azhaliism, which is practiced among the Bai people of China.[106][107]

Esoteric Buddhist practices (known as milgyo, ) and texts arrived in Korea during the initial introduction of Buddhism to the region in 372 CE.[108] Esoteric Buddhism was supported by the royalty of both Unified Silla (668-935) and Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).[109] During the Goryeo Dynasty esoteric practices were common within large sects like the Seon school, and the Hwaeom school as well as smaller esoteric sects like the Sinin (mudra) and Ch'ongji (Dharani) schools. During the era of the Mongol occupation (1251-1350s), Tibetan Buddhism also existed in Korea though it never gained a foothold there.[110]

During the Joseon dynasty, Esoteric Buddhist schools were forced to merge with the Son and Kyo schools, becoming the ritual specialists. With the decline of Buddhism in Korea, Esoteric Buddhism mostly died out, save for a few traces in the rituals of the Jogye Order and Taego Order.[111]

There are two Esoteric Buddhist schools in modern Korea: the Chinn () and the Jingak Order (). According to Henrik H. Srensen, "they have absolutely no historical link with the Korean Buddhist tradition per se but are late constructs based in large measures on Japanese Shingon Buddhism."[112]

The Shingon school is found in Japan and includes practices, known in Japan as Mikky ("Esoteric (or Mystery) Teaching"), which are similar in concept to those in Vajrayana Buddhism. The lineage for Shingon Buddhism differs from that of Tibetan Vajrayana, having emerged from India during the 9th-11th centuries in the Pala Dynasty and Central Asia (via China) and is based on earlier versions of the Indian texts than the Tibetan lineage. Shingon shares material with Tibetan Buddhism-such as the esoteric sutras (called Tantras in Tibetan Buddhism) and mandalas but the actual practices are not related. The primary texts of Shingon Buddhism are the Mahavairocana Sutra and Vajrasekhara Sutra. The founder of Shingon Buddhism was Kukai, a Japanese monk who studied in China in the 9th century during the Tang dynasty and brought back Vajrayana scriptures, techniques and mandalas then popular in China. The school mostly died out or was merged into other schools in China towards the end of the Tang dynasty but flourished in Japan. Shingon is one of the few remaining branches of Buddhism in the world that continues to use the siddham script of the Sanskrit language.

Although the Tendai school in China and Japan does employ some esoteric practices, these rituals came to be considered of equal importance with the exoteric teachings of the Lotus Sutra. By chanting mantras, maintaining mudras, or practicing certain forms of meditation, Tendai maintains that one is able to understand sense experiences as taught by the Buddha, have faith that one is innately an enlightened being, and that one can attain enlightenment within the current lifetime.

Shugend was founded in 7th-century Japan by the ascetic En no Gyja, based on the Queen's Peacocks Sutra. With its origins in the solitary hijiri back in the 7th century, Shugend evolved as a sort of amalgamation between Esoteric Buddhism, Shinto and several other religious influences including Taoism. Buddhism and Shinto were amalgamated in the shinbutsu shg, and Kkai's syncretic religion held wide sway up until the end of the Edo period, coexisting with Shinto elements within Shugend[113]

In 1613 during the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued a regulation obliging Shugend temples to belong to either Shingon or Tendai temples. During the Meiji Restoration, when Shinto was declared an independent state religion separate from Buddhism, Shugend was banned as a superstition not fit for a new, enlightened Japan. Some Shugend temples converted themselves into various officially approved Shint denominations. In modern times, Shugend is practiced mainly by Tendai and Shingon sects, retaining an influence on modern Japanese religion and culture.[114]

Serious Vajrayana academic study in the Western world is in early stages due to the following obstacles:

Buddhist tantric practice are categorized as secret practice; this is to avoid misinformed people from harmfully misusing the practices. A method to keep this secrecy is that tantric initiation is required from a master before any instructions can be received about the actual practice. During the initiation procedure in the highest class of tantra (such as the Kalachakra), students must take the tantric vows which commit them to such secrecy.[web 2] "Explaining general tantra theory in a scholarly manner, not sufficient for practice, is likewise not a root downfall. Nevertheless, it weakens the effectiveness of our tantric practice." [web 3]

The terminology associated with Vajrayana Buddhism can be confusing. Most of the terms originated in the Sanskrit language of tantric Indian Buddhism and may have passed through other cultures, notably those of Japan and Tibet, before translation for the modern reader. Further complications arise as seemingly equivalent terms can have subtle variations in use and meaning according to context, the time and place of use. A third problem is that the Vajrayana texts employ the tantric tradition of twilight language, a means of instruction that is deliberately coded. These obscure teaching methods relying on symbolism as well as synonym, metaphor and word association add to the difficulties faced by those attempting to understand Vajrayana Buddhism:

In the Vajrayana tradition, now preserved mainly in Tibetan lineages, it has long been recognized that certain important teachings are expressed in a form of secret symbolic language known as sadhy-bh, 'Twilight Language'. Mudrs and mantras, maalas and cakras, those mysterious devices and diagrams that were so much in vogue in the pseudo-Buddhist hippie culture of the 1960s, were all examples of Twilight Language [...] [116]

The term Tantric Buddhism was not one originally used by those who practiced it. As scholar Isabelle Onians explains:

"Tantric Buddhism" [...] is not the transcription of a native term, but a rather modern coinage, if not totally occidental. For the equivalent Sanskrit tntrika is found, but not in Buddhist texts. Tntrika is a term denoting someone who follows the teachings of scriptures known as Tantras, but only in Saivism, not Buddhism [...] Tantric Buddhism is a name for a phenomenon which calls itself, in Sanskrit, Mantranaya, Vajrayna, Mantrayna or Mantramahyna (and apparently never Tantrayna). Its practitioners are known as mantrins, yogis, or sdhakas. Thus, our use of the anglicised adjective Tantric for the Buddhist religion taught in Tantras is not native to the tradition, but is a borrowed term which serves its purpose.[117]

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Description: Buddhism is an eastern religion that shares some key beliefs with Hinduism, including karma and reincarnation. It has many variations, depending on the Buddhist tradition that is practiced. Some practitioners consider Buddhism a philosophy and life practice, rather than a religion.

Founder: Siddhartha Gotama (Siddhartha Gautama in Sanskrit), who is referred to as theBuddha, which means "awakened one". Firm dates for his life cannot be established from historical information. Conventional sources say he lived from 566 - 486 BCE. Recent research suggests the dates 490 410 BCE.

Date founded: Approximately 441 BCE, according to conventional sources.

Place founded: Northeastern India, near the city of Patna.

Number of adherents: 376 million

Countries with largest number of adherents: China, Japan and Thailand

Sacred texts:

Buddhas discourses are collected into four divisions:

Digha Nikaya

Majjhima Nikaya

Anguttara Nikaya

Samyutta Nikaya Part of the canon of Buddhas discourses (also known as sutras)

Dhammapada A collection of Buddhas verses. Part of the Theravada canon.

Jataka 550 stories about the former lives of Buddha.

Branches: There are several major branches of Buddhism:

Mahayana Known as the "Greater Vehicle". Mahayana is practiced predominantly in north Asia, including Tibet, China and Japan. Schools within Mahayana Buddhism include Nichiren Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism.

Theravada ("original teaching") - Also referred to as the Lesser Vehicle. Practiced predominantly in south Asia, including Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Supreme being: Buddhism is nontheistic, since Buddha did not address the issue of the existence of a supreme being. It cannot be called atheistic, since it does not hold to the belief that there is no God.

"The Buddha rarely if ever discussed God theism is not a central part of Buddhas path to awakened enlightenment, peace, and deathless nirvana.Whether there is a God or not is one of the 14 questions that Buddha famously refused to speculate about or entertain, mainly because he was intent upon people seeking and finding the deepest truth about reality through their own experience."[1]

Buddhism includes belief in the existence of gods and spirits. "Buddha actually accepted and took for granted the existence of higher beings like Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and the other devas (long-lived gods, demigods, archangels)"[2]

Reality: Reality consists of both the material and spiritual worlds.

Nature of man: Man has no soul.

Mans primary problem: The primary problem faced by people is suffering, which is caused by desire.

Solution to mans primary problem: The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path

The Four Noble Truths, which are also called the Chatvari Arya Satyani, are:

Man is viewed as having three different paths to follow in life:

The Eight-Fold Path includes:

Afterlife: The goal of Buddhism is nirvana, which is a complete cessation of existence. It is the end of the cycle of rebirth, where all passions have been extinguished. A central aspect of Buddhism is reincarnation, where the "process of repeated rebirth is known as samsara or endless wandering, a term suggesting continuous movement like the flow of a river.All living creatures are part of this cyclic movement and will continue to be reborn until they attain nirvana."[3]

Place of worship: The communal practice of Buddhism takes place in atempleor center.

Major Holidays:

Kathina An annual festival in which Buddhist followers give material to monks for their robes.

Magha Puja Day - A day to show appreciation to Buddhist monastics for their dedication and practice.

Vesak - Buddha Day - Also known as Wesak, Visakah Puja and Buddha Day. The most sacred holy day of Theravada Buddhism. An observation of the birth, enlightenment and death of the historical Buddha. Mahayana Buddhists tend to separate these three events of the Buddha's life into three separate holidays. Buddha Day takes place on the day of the first full moon in May.

Rituals: Meditation is a central practice in Buddhism. Buddhists meditate at temples/centers, as well as in their homes. It is also a common practice for Buddhist lay people to give food, flowers and incense to a Buddhist temple.

Key Terms:

Dharma The teaching of Buddha. Dharma also means "protection". "By practising Buddhas teachings we protect ourself from suffering and problems. All the problems we experience during daily life originate in ignorance, and the method for eliminating ignorance is to practice Dharma."[4]

Karma A moral act that a person does.Good karma leads a person up the ladder of the realms of rebirth. Bad karma leads a person down the ladder of the realms of rebirth.The consequences of a persons actions may be experienced in the present lifetime and/or a future lifetime.

Monastery A place where Buddhist monks live.

Monk A person who devotes his life to Buddhist principles and practices. A monks head is shaved upon initiation. "Buddhist monks have no priestly role they are not intermediaries between God and mankind and their ordination confers no supernatural powers or authority."[5]

Nirvana "A complete cessation of being and supreme goal of Buddhist endeavor."[6]

Parinirvana The complete ending of rebirth, cessation of suffering and perfection of happiness

Samsara The cycle of rebirth. Literally means "to wander". A process of rebirth that is repeated numerous times; reincarnation. It is referred to as endless wandering. "All living creatures are part of this cyclic movement and will continue to be reborn until they attain nirvana."[7]

Realms of rebirth There are 6 realms of rebirth, from top (most desirable) to bottom (least desirable). There is no rebirth in the five highest levels.

Sutra A teaching of Buddha.

Sources:

Adherents.com http://www.adherents.com

Buddhanet http://www.buddhanet.net

Smith, Huston. The Worlds Religions. New York: Harper One, 1991.

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Trends since the 19th century

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Buddhism responded to new challenges and opportunities that cut across the regional religious and cultural patterns that characterized the Buddhist world in the premodern period. A number of Buddhist countries were subjected to Western rule, and even those that avoided direct conquest felt the heavy pressure of Western religious, political, economic, and cultural influences. Modern rationalistic and scientific modes of thinking, modern notions of liberal democracy and socialism, and modern patterns of capitalist economic organization were introduced and became important elements in the thought and life of Buddhists and non-Buddhists all across Asia. In addition, Buddhism returned to areas where it had previously been an important force (India is the major case in point), and it spread very rapidly into the West, where new developments took place that in turn influenced Buddhism in Asia.

Buddhists responded to this complex situation in diverse ways. In many cases they associated Buddhism with the religious and cultural identity that they sought to preserve in the face of Western domination. Buddhists used a variety of measures to meet the challenge posed by the presence of Western Christian missionaries, often adopting modern Christian practices such as the establishment of Sunday schools, the distribution of tracts, and the arrangement of worship areas so as to resemble churches and meeting houses. They also attempted to strengthen the Buddhist cause by promoting missionary activity in Asia and in the West. In the West they also adopted Christian forms of religious organization and practice, particularly in the United States. For example, the U.S. branch of Japanese Pure Land (Jdo Shinsh) Buddhism adopted the word church in its official name (Buddhist Churches of America) and established temples with worship areas resembling Protestant congregations. A number of societies were established to promote cooperation between Buddhists from all countries and denominations, including the Maha Bodhi Society (established in 1891 in order to win back Buddhist control of the pilgrimage site associated with the enlightenment of the Buddha), the World Fellowship of Buddhists (founded in 1950), and the World Buddhist Sangha Council (1966).

Four other responses deserve to be mentioned. In some situations Buddhists introduced reforms designed to make Buddhism a more appealing and effective force in the modern world. In the late 19th century, Buddhist leaders put forward a highly rationalized interpretation of Buddhism that de-emphasized the supernormal and ritualized aspects of the tradition and focused on the supposed continuity between Buddhism and modern science and on the centrality of ethics and morality. This interpretation represents, according to its proponents, a recovery of the true Buddhism of the Buddha.

Another response has been the development of so-called Engaged Buddhism. Those who identify with this cause include Asian Buddhists, such as the Vietnamese-born monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh, and Western converts who have developed understandings of Buddhist teachings and practice that focus on the implementation of progressive social, political, and economic activity. In some cases attention has been centred on Buddhist ideas and activities that seek to foster world peace and world justice. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (founded 1978) is one of the most-prominent organizations within this movement.

Both within Engaged Buddhism and outside it, socially active Buddhists have sought to develop Buddhist teachings as a basis for a modern democratic society. Still others have supported the development of a Buddhist-based economic system that is socially and ecologically responsible. Socially conscious Buddhists have also developed a Buddhist form of feminism and have been associated with groups that are attempting to reestablish (in the Theravada world) or to enhance (in Mahayana and Vajrayana contexts) the role of Buddhist nuns.

A third widespread pattern of Buddhist reform has involved the promotion of movements that give the laity a much stronger role than it traditionally had. In the Theravada world, lay-oriented meditation movements focusing on vipassana (Pali: insight) techniques of meditation have been successful and in some cases have found followers far beyond the borders of the Theravada community. In East Asia an anticlerical, lay-oriented trend, which appeared before the beginning of the modern period, has culminated in the formation and rapid expansion of new, thoroughly laicized Buddhist movements, particularly in Japan.

The fourth trend that can be identified stretches the usual notion of reform. This trend is exemplified in the emergence of new kinds of popular movements associated with charismatic leaders or with particular forms of practice that promise immediate success not only in religious terms but in worldly affairs as well. Since the 20th century, groups of this kind, both large and small, both tightly organized and loosely knit, have proliferated all across the Buddhist world. One example is the Dhammakaya group, a very large, well-organized, hierarchical, and commercialized sectarian group that is centred in Thailand. Sometimes labeled fundamentalist, the Dhammakaya group propagates meditational techniques that promise the immediate attainment of nirvana, as well as patterns of ritual donation that claim to ensure immediate business and financial success.

The condition of contemporary Buddhist communities and the challenges they face differ radically from area to area. There are a number of countries, for example, where previously well-established Buddhist communities have suffered severe setbacks that have curtailed their influence and seriously sapped their vitality. This situation prevails primarily in countries that are or once were ruled by communist governments that worked self-consciously to undercut Buddhist institutional power and influence. This has happened in the Mongol areas of Central Asia, in mainland China and Tibet, in North Korea, in Vietnam, in Cambodia, and in Laos. By the end of the 20th century, the pressure on Buddhist communities in many of these areas had eased, though conditions varied from country to country and from time to time. In Cambodia, Buddhism has been officially reinstated as the state religion.

A different situation exists in parts of Asia where Buddhism has remained the leading religious force and has continued to exert a strong influence on political, economic, and social life. This is the case in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where Buddhism is the dominant religion among the Sinhalese and Burman majorities, and in Thailand, where more than 90 percent of the population is counted as Buddhist. Although in the majority, Buddhists face unique challenges in these areas. In Sri Lanka, Buddhists were divided over the proper response to the civil war (19832009) between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers, a paramilitary group that sought an independent state in the north for the primarily Hindu Tamils. In Myanmar, Buddhists confronted the profound political division between the military junta, which ruled from 1962 until 2011 and sought to legitimate its dictatorship in traditional Buddhist terms, and the democratic oppositionled by Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peacewhich based its resistance on a very different version of Buddhist teaching and practice. In 2007 Buddhist monks were prominent in Myanmars so-called Saffron Revolution (named for the saffron-coloured robes traditionally worn by Theravada monks), a large demonstration in Yangon for democratic reforms that drew a harsh response from the government. That action was a catalyst helping to effect constitutional reforms in 2008 and a change in government in 2011. As the state religion of Thailand, Buddhism has retained a firm position within a relatively stable social and political order, despite deep divisions and conflicts that have developed among various groups. Buddhism is the officially recognized spiritual heritage of Bhutan, a traditionally Vajrayana Buddhist kingdom that completed its transition to parliamentary government in 2008.

A third situation occurs in societies where Buddhist traditions operate with a considerable degree of freedom and effectiveness, though Buddhisms role is circumscribed to varying degrees. This situation prevails in several of the Pacific Rim countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, and to a lesser extent in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where Buddhism is practiced by significant numbers of the large Chinese minority. The primary example, however, is Japan, where Buddhism has continued to exert an important influence. In the highly modernized society that has developed in Japan, many deeply rooted Buddhist traditions, such as Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land, and Zen, have persisted and have been adapted to changing conditions. At the same time, new Buddhist sects such as Rissh-Ksei-kai (Society for Establishing Righteousness and Friendly Relations) and Ska-gakkai (Value-Creation Society) have gained millions of converts in Japan and throughout the world. The latter, which is a variant of Nichiren Buddhism, has increased its international profile since the late 20th century under the leadership of Daiseku Ikeda.

Finally, new Buddhist communities have established roots in areas where Buddhism disappeared many centuries ago or did not exist at all before the mid-19th century. In India, for example, the Mahar Buddhist community established by B.R. Ambedkar has developed its own style of Buddhist teaching and practice that incorporates and integrates religious elements drawn from the pre-existing Mahar tradition.

In the Western world, particularly in the United States and Canada, the growth of new Buddhist communitieswhich include Buddhist immigrants from different parts of Asia, the North American-born children of immigrants, and indigenous convertshas been very rapid indeed. In these areas older Buddhist traditions have mixed and interacted in ways that have generated rapid changes in ways of thinking and in modes of practice. Many indigenous converts place greater emphasis upon the practice of meditation than upon monastic life, and since the mid-20th century a steady stream of books and other media have reflected this trend. Many other North American-born Buddhists of non-Asian descent have studied in traditional Buddhist countries, become ordained, and returned to the United States to lead and even found monasteries and Buddhist community centres. Some practicing Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism believe that the process of accomodation and acculturation in the West, and particularly in North America, is leading to a fourth turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, a new form of Buddhism that will turn out to be quite different from the traditional forms of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana while incorporating aspects of each.

For more than two millennia, Buddhism has been a powerful religious, political, and social force, first in India, its original homeland, and then in many other lands. It remains a powerful religious, political, and cultural force in many parts of the world today. There is every reason to expect that the appeal of Buddhism will continue far on into the future.

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