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Posted by kaori 03/13/2009 @ 21:09

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Kate Moss 'Turns To Buddhism To Help Chill Out' - Entertainmentwise
Kate Moss has taken an interest in Buddhism in a bid to help herself chill out, according to reports. The supermodel is said to have bought a 4ft by 2ft bronze Buddha for her living room, along with literature about the religion....
Tamil Politicians Struggle to divide the Country and the people ... - Lankaweb
They took revenge from the Buddhist Priests by changing the Clause five of the Kandyan Convention signed in 1815, which held Buddhism inviolable, requiring its temples and priests protected and maintained as before. The British changed it to read the...
A small Somerville publisher helps the Dalai Lama share his teachings - Boston Globe
Inspired by them, McNeill took a course in meditation and introduction to Buddhism, a family of beliefs that help people develop wisdom and compassion. "I found Buddhism to be fascinating as a philosophy," recalled McNeill, a New York-reared Catholic....
Does real Buddhism exist in the West? - Newspaper Tree
by Brad Warner As Buddhism becomes more widely accepted, guys trying to make a fast buck on people's misconceptions about it are going to keep crawling out of the manure. It's really a buyer-beware situation. If you think enlightenment is something...
What It's Like to Spend Five Months in Silence - Huffington Post
Natural selection does not favor Buddhism. So while "letting go" may sound pleasant and relaxing, it runs against aeons of biological conditioning. But it is possible. For example, many times on retreat I would taste a delicious food, and be able just...
Ask Your Friendly Local Lama or Shaman - Transitions Online
A formerly nomadic people of Mongol origin, the Buryats have their own language and have maintained ties to Buddhism and shamanism, even through the Soviet period of religious persecution. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, both Buddhism and...
Choosing Our Imaginary Communities and Identities - Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
In June 1983 I arrived in Sri Lanka with a starry-eyed commitment to grassroots Buddhist social change, and a lot of romanticism about national liberation movements and Asian Buddhism. The Sri Lankan civil war that started five days later forced me to...
Celebrating Buddha's birthday at Whittier Narrows - Whittier Daily News
The founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha, was born 2600 years ago in Nepal. Sunday's celebration was jointly held by Buddhist temples and organizations from all around Southern California, including the Fo Guang Shin Hsi Lai Temple, Fa-Kwan Temple and...
Buddhists invite public to meditate for peace - Pittsburgh Post Gazette
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Buddhists from throughout the region will gather tomorrow in Shadyside to celebrate the life of Siddhartha Gautama and meditate for world peace. This is the first time local Buddhists from disparate traditions...
Marin gives birth to a new sound - dharma music - Marin Independent-Journal
Eve Decker, who grew up in Mill Valley, has recorded what is believed to be the first dharma album, 'Commentary on Perfections of the Heart,' an acoustic folk-pop album based on the 10 teachings of Buddhism. Marin has a national reputation for its...


Chinese Seated Buddha, Tang Dynasty, Chinese Buddhism is of the Mahayana tradition, with popular schools today being Pure Land and Zen.

Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices considered by most to be a religionand is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "The Buddha" (the Awakened One), who was born in what is today Nepal. He lived and taught in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent and likely died around 400 BCE.

Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving Nirvana. Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas, renunciation of worldly matters, meditation, physical exercises, study, and the cultivation of wisdom.

While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world.

Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism does not have a clearly definable common core. Significant disagreement also exists over the importance and canonicity of various scriptures.

Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million and 500 million. While formal conversion or membership varies between communities, basic lay adherence is often defined in terms of a traditional formula in which the practitioner takes refuge in The Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the Teaching of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the Community of Buddhists).

The following information about Buddha's life comes from the Tipitaka (other scriptures, such as the Lalitavistara Sutra, give differing accounts).

Shortly thereafter, a wise man visited his father, King Śuddhodana. The wise man said that Siddhartha would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a holy man (Sadhu) based on whether he saw life outside of the palace walls. Determined to make Siddhartha a king, Śuddhodana shielded his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Years after this, Gautama married Yasodhara, with whom he had a son, Rahula, who later became a Buddhist monk.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha ventured outside the palace complex several times, despite his father's wishes. As a result, he discovered the suffering of his people through encounters with an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These are known among Buddhists as "The Four Sights", one of the first contemplations of Siddhartha. The Four Sights eventually prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest to free himself from suffering by living the life of a mendicant ascetic—a respectable spiritual practice at the time. He found companions with similar spiritual goals and teachers who taught him various forms of meditation, including jhāna.

Ascetics practised many forms of self-denial, including severe undereating. One day, after almost starving to death, Gautama accepted a little milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. After this experience, he concluded that ascetic practices such as fasting, holding one's breath, and exposure to pain brought little spiritual benefit. He viewed them as counterproductive due to their reliance on self-hatred and mortification. He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on anapanasati meditation (awareness of breathing), thereby discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

After discovering the Middle Way, he sat 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 Nirvana. At age 35, after many days of meditation, he attained his goal of becoming a Buddha. After his spiritual awakening he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. He spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma, travelling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent.

He died at the age of 80 (405 BCE) in Kushinagar, India, from food poisoning.

Scholars are increasingly hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of Gautama Buddha's life. According to Michael Carrithers, 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, death." Most historians accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order, but do not consistently accept most details in his biographies.

Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work) is the energy which drives Saṃsāra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (Pāli: kusala) and bad, unskillful (Pāli: akusala) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called Śīla (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).

In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (Pāli: cetana), and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, Sanskrit: phala) or result (Pāli: vipāka). 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 Theravada Buddhism there is no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's Karma. Some Mahayana traditions 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. Similarly, the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the Karma that would otherwise bind one in Saṃsāra.

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 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), rebirth in subsequent existences must rather be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of "dependent arising" (Pratītyasamutpāda) determined by the laws of cause and effect (Karma) rather than that of one being, "jumping" from one existence to the next.

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

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state between one life and the next, but Theravada rejects this.

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 (Samsara), 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 Buddha.

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

The early teaching and the traditional Theravada understanding 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. They are little known in the Far East.

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.

Buddhist scholars have produced a prodigious 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 (Pāli दुक्ख; Sanskrit दुःख duḥkha; 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), 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. .

Anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the notion of "not-self". In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called ātman (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 ātman for all beings, were indispensable for mainstream Indian 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 ātman, emphasizing not permanence, but changeability. Therefore all concepts of a substantial personal 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. 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 pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit; Pali: paticcasamuppāda; Tibetan: rten.cing.'brel.bar.'byung.ba; Chinese: 緣起), 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 Pratītyasamutpāda is the scheme of Twelve Nidānas (from Pali nidāna "cause, foundation, source or origin"), which explain the continuation of the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara) in detail.

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

Mahāyāna Buddhism received significant theoretical grounding from Nāgārjuna (perhaps c.150–250 CE), arguably the most influential scholar within the Mahāyāna tradition. Some of the writings attributed to him made explicit references to Mahāyāna texts, but his philosophy was argued within the parameters set out by the agamas. Nāgārjuna asserted that the nature of the dharmas (hence the enlightenment) to be śūnya (void or empty), bringing together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anātman (no-self) and pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination). His school of thought is known as the Madhyamaka. 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 Nagarjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Madhyamaka system.

Sarvāstivāda teaching, which was criticized by Nāgārjuna, was reformulated by scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asaṅga and were adapted into the Yogācāra (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school. While the Madhyamaka school held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some exponents of Yogācāra asserted that the mind and only the mind is ultimately real. Not all Yogācārins asserted that mind was truly existent, Vasubandhu and Asaṅga in particular did not. These two schools of thought, in opposition or synthesis, form the basis of subsequent Mahāyāna metaphysics in the Indo-Tibetan tradition.

In the Mahayana school, emphasis is also often placed on the notions of Emptiness (shunyata), perfected spiritual insight (prajnaparamita) and Buddha-nature (the deathless tathagatagarbha, or Buddha womb, inherent in all beings and creatures). In the tathagatagarbha sutras the Buddha is portrayed proclaiming that the teaching of the tathagatagarbha constitutes the "absolutely final culmination" of his Dharma—the highest presentation of Truth (other sūtras make similar statements about other teachings). This has traditionally been regarded as the highest teaching in East Asian Buddhism. However, in modern China all doctrines are regarded as equally valid. The Mahayana 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, Greek: 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.

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 and bring about the danger of substituting the experience of liberation by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith. 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. Another closely related explanation is that reality is devoid of designations, or empty, and therefore language itself is a priori inadequate.

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. 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.

Accordingly, 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.

In the Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana Sutras and Tantras, the Buddha is portrayed stressing that Dharma (in the sense of truth) cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic—reality transcends all worldly concepts.

In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra's self-styled "Uttara-Tantra", 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 Bodhi 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 ...." Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist practitioner (yogi) and teacher, mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his 6 words of advice.

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

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 yourselves—these 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 happiness—then do you live acting accordingly.

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

Bodhi (Pāli and Sanskrit, in devanagari: बॊधि) 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), dosa (hate, aversion) and moha (delusion). 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 . 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.

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 (see Dharmakaya) 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 eradicate delusion entirely. Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi.

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" (安樂) or "pure land" (淨土) 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.

Buddhists believe the 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. 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. A Theravada commentary says that Buddhas arise one at a time in this world element, and not at all in others.

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".

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, 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.

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. Devotional practices include bowing, offerings, pilgrimage, 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.

Traditionally, the first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: tri-ratna, Pāli: ti-ratana) as the foundation of one's religious practice. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned 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.

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.

Śīla (Sanskrit) or sīla (Pāli) 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 pāramitā. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of śīla are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment.

Śīla is the foundation of Samadhi/Bhāvana (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.

Śīla 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. 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.

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.

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 (see vegetarianism in Buddhism). In Japan, this has almost completely displaced the monastic vinaya, and allows clergy to marry.

Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena. According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha taught two types of meditation, samatha meditation (Sanskrit: śamatha) and vipassanā meditation (Sanskrit: vipaśyanā). In Chinese Buddhism, these exist (translated chih kuan), but Chan (Zen) meditation is more popular. 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. 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. 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 jhānas (see the next section regarding these).

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

Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration (jhāna, Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna), his mind is ready to penetrate and gain insight (vipassanā) into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering. The cultivation of mindfulness is essential to mental concentration, which is needed to achieve insight.

Samatha Meditation starts from being mindful of an object or idea, which is expanded to one's body, mind and entire surroundings, leading to a state of total concentration and tranquility (jhāna) There are many variations in the style of meditation, from sitting cross-legged or kneeling to chanting or walking. The most common method of meditation is to concentrate on one's breath (anapanasati), because this practice can lead to both samatha and vipassana'.

In Buddhist practice, it is said that while samatha meditation can calm the mind, only vipassanā meditation can reveal how the mind was disturbed to start with, which is what leads to knowledge (jñāna; Pāli ñāṇa) and understanding (prajñā Pāli paññā), and thus can lead to nirvāṇa (Pāli nibbāna). When one is in jhana, all defilements are suppressed temporarily. Only understanding (prajñā or vipassana) eradicates the defilements completely. Jhanas are also resting states which Arahants abide in order to rest.

In Theravāda Buddhism, the cause of human existence and suffering is identified as craving, which carries with it the various defilements. These various defilements are traditionally summed up as greed, hatred and delusion. These are believed to be deeply rooted afflictions of the mind that create suffering and stress. In order to be free from suffering and stress, these defilements need to be permanently uprooted through internal investigation, analyzing, experiencing, and understanding of the true nature of those defilements by using jhāna, a technique which is part of the Noble Eightfold Path. It will then lead the meditator to realize the Four Noble Truths, Enlightenment and Nibbana. Nibbana is the ultimate goal of Theravadins.

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) means wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, The Four Noble Truths and the three marks of existence. Prajñā is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about bodhi. It is spoken of as the principal means of attaining nirvāṇa, through its revelation of the true nature of all things as dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence) and anatta (not-self). Prajñā is also listed as the sixth of the six pāramitās of the Mahayana.

Initially, prajñā is attained at a conceptual level by means of listening to sermons (dharma talks), reading, studying, and sometimes reciting Buddhist texts and engaging in discourse. Once the conceptual understanding is attained, it is applied to daily life so that each Buddhist can verify the truth of the Buddha's teaching at a practical level. Notably, one could in theory attain Nirvana at any point of practice, whether deep in meditation, listening to a sermon, conducting the business of one's daily life, or any other activity.

Zen Buddhism (禅), pronounced Ch'an in Chinese or Zen in Japanese (derived from the Sanskrit term dhyana, meaning "meditation") is a form of Buddhism that became popular in China and Japan and that lays special emphasis on meditation. Zen places less emphasis on scriptures than some other forms of Buddhism and prefers to focus on direct spiritual breakthroughs to truth.

Zen Buddhism is divided into two main schools: Rinzai (臨済宗) and Soto (曹洞宗), the former greatly favouring the use in meditation on the koan (公案, a meditative riddle or puzzle) as a device for spiritual break-through, and the latter (while certainly employing koans) focusing more on shikantaza or "just sitting".

Zen Buddhist teaching is often full of paradox, in order to loosen the grip of the ego and to facilitate the penetration into the realm of the True Self or Formless Self, which is equated with the Buddha himself. Nevertheless, Zen does not neglect the scriptures.

Though based upon Mahayana, Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism is one of the schools that practice Vajrayāna or "Diamond Vehicle" (also referred to as Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism, or esoteric Buddhism). It accepts all the basic concepts of Mahāyāna, but also includes a vast array of spiritual and physical techniques designed to enhance Buddhist practice. Tantric Buddhism is largely concerned with ritual and meditative practices. One component of the Vajrayāna is harnessing psycho-physical energy through ritual, visualization, physical exercises, and meditation as a means of developing the mind. Using these techniques, it is claimed that a practitioner can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime, or even as little as three years. In the Tibetan tradition, these practices can include sexual yoga, though only for some very advanced practitioners.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism is the earliest phase of Buddhism, recognized by nearly all scholars. Its main scriptures are the Vinaya Pitaka and the four principal Nikayas or Agamas.

Some scholars disagree, and have proposed many other theories.

According to the scriptures, soon after the parinirvāṇa (from Sanskrit: "highest extinguishment") of Gautama Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held. As with any ancient Indian tradition, transmission of teaching was done orally. The primary purpose of the assembly was to collectively recite the teachings to ensure that no errors occurred in oral transmission. In the first council, Ānanda, a cousin of the Buddha and his personal attendant, was called upon to recite the discourses (sūtras, Pāli suttas) of the Buddha, and, according to some sources, the abhidhamma. Upāli, another disciple, recited the monastic rules (vinaya). Scholars regard the traditional accounts of the council as greatly exaggerated if not entirely fictitious.

According to most scholars, at some period after the Second Council the Sangha began to break into separate factions. The various accounts differ as to when the actual schisms occurred. According to the Dipavamsa of the Pāli tradition, they started immediately after the Second Council, the Puggalavada tradition places it in 137 AN, the Sarvastivada tradition of Vasumitra says it was in the time of Asoka and the Mahasanghika tradition places it much later, nearly 100 BCE.

The root schism was between the Sthaviras and the Mahāsāṅghikas. The fortunate survival of accounts from both sides of the dispute reveals disparate traditions. The Sthavira group offers two quite distinct reasons for the schism. The Dipavamsa of the Theravāda says that the losing party in the Second Council dispute broke away in protest and formed the Mahasanghika. This contradicts the Mahasanghikas' own vinaya, which shows them as on the same, winning side. The Mahāsāṅghikas argued that the Sthaviras were trying to expand the vinaya and may also have challenged what they perceived to be excessive claims or inhumanly high criteria for arhatship. Both parties, therefore, appealed to tradition.

The Sthaviras gave rise to several schools, one of which was the Theravāda school. Originally, these schisms were caused by disputes over vinaya, and monks following different schools of thought seem to have lived happily together in the same monasteries, but eventually, by about 100 CE if not earlier, schisms were being caused by doctrinal disagreements too.

Following (or leading up to) the schisms, each Saṅgha started to accumulate an Abhidharma, a detailed scholastic reworking of doctrinal material appearing in the Suttas, according to schematic classifications. These Abhidharma texts do not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or numerical lists. Scholars generally date these texts to around the 3rd century BCE, 100 to 200 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore the seven Abhidharma works are generally claimed not to represent the words of the Buddha himself, but those of disciples and great scholars. Every school had its own version of the Adhidharma, with different theories and different texts. The different Adhidharmas of the various schools did not agree with each other. Scholars disagree on whether the Mahasanghika school had an Abhidhamma Pitaka or not.

The period of Early Mahayana Buddhism concerns the origins of Mahayana and the contents of early Mahayana Sutras. The development of the various Early Buddhist Schools and the arising of Mahayana were not always consecutive. For example, the early schools continued to exist alongside Mahayana.

The earliest Mahayana Sutras are called the Proto-Mahayana Sutras such as the Ajitasena Sutra which contains a mixture of Mahayana and pre-Mahayana ideas. It occurs in a world where monasticism is the norm, which is typical of the Pali Suttas; there is none of the usual antagonism towards the followers of the Early Buddhist Schools or the notion of Arahantship, which is typical of many Mahayana Sutras such as the White Lotus, or Vimalakirti Nirdesha. However, the sutra also has an Arahant seeing all the Buddha fields, it is said that reciting the name of the sutra will save beings from suffering and the hell realms, and a meditative practice is described which allows the practitioner to see with the eyes of a Buddha, and to receive teachings from them that are very much typical of Mahayana Sutras. Some early Mahayana Sutras are Ratnagunasamcayagatha and the Astasaharika.

Some scholars contend that the Mahayana sutras were mainly composed in the south of India, and that later the activity of writing additional scriptures was continued in the east and north of India.

During the period of Late Mahayana Buddhism, four major types of thought developed: Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha, and Buddhist Logic as the last and most recent. In India, the two main philosophical schools of the Mahayana were the Madhyamaka and the later Yogacara. According to Dan Lusthaus, Madhyamaka and Yogacara have a great deal in common, and the commonality stems from early Buddhism. There were no great Indian teachers associated with tathagatagarbha thought.

Scholarly research concerning Esoteric Buddhism is still in its early stages and has a number of problems which make research difficult:.

Buddhism may have spread only slowly in India until the time of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, who was a public supporter of the religion. The support of Aśoka and his descendants led to the construction of more stūpas (Buddhist religious memorials) and to efforts to spread Buddhism throughout the enlarged Maurya empire and even into neighboring lands – particularly to the Iranian-speaking regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia, beyond the Mauryas' northwest border, and to the island of Sri Lanka south of India. These two missions, in opposite directions, would ultimately lead, in the first case to the spread of Buddhism into China, and in the second case, to the emergence of Theravāda Buddhism and its spread from Sri Lanka to the coastal lands of Southeast Asia.

This period marks the first known spread of Buddhism beyond India. According to the edicts of Aśoka, emissaries were sent to various countries west of India in order to spread Buddhism (Dharma), particularly in eastern provinces of the neighboring Seleucid Empire, and even farther to Hellenistic kingdoms of the Mediterranean. This led, a century later, to the emergence of Greek-speaking Buddhist monarchs in the Indo-Greek Kingdom, and to the development of the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhāra. During this period Buddhism was exposed to a variety of influences, from Persian and Greek civilization, and from changing trends in non-Buddhist Indian religions – themselves influenced by Buddhism. It is a matter of disagreement among scholars whether or not these emissaries were accompanied by Buddhist missionaries.

The Theravada school spread south from India in the 3rd century BC, to Sri Lanka and Thailand and Burma and later also Indonesia. The Dharmagupta school spread (also in 3rd century BC) north to Kashmir, Gandhara and Bactria (Afghanistan). In the 2nd century AD, Mahayana Sutras spread from that general area to China, and then to Korea and Japan, and were translated into Chinese. During the Indian period of Esoteric Buddhism (from 8th century onwards), Buddhism spread from India to Tibet and Mongolia.

By the late Middle Ages, Buddhism had become virtually extinct in India, and although it continued to exist in surrounding countries, its influence was no longer expanding. It is now again gaining strength in India and elsewhere. Estimates of the number of Buddhist followers by scholars range from 230 million to 500 million, with most around 350 million. Most scholars classify similar numbers of people under a category they call "Chinese folk" or "traditional" religion, an amalgam of various traditions that includes Buddhism. One Buddhist organization claims the total could be as much as 1.691 billion.

According to one analysis, Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism . The monks' order (Sangha), which began during the lifetime of the Buddha, is among the oldest organizations on earth.

Most Buddhist groups in the West are at least nominally affiliated with one of these three traditions.

At the present time, the teachings of all three branches of Buddhism have spread throughout the world, and Buddhist texts are increasingly translated into local languages. While, in the West, Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East, Buddhism is regarded as familiar and traditional. Buddhists in Asia are frequently well organized and well funded. In a number of countries, it is recognized as an official religion and receives state support. In the West, Buddhism is recognized as one of the growing spiritual influences.

There is an overwhelming diversity of recent forms of Buddhism.

Buddhists generally classify themselves as either Theravada or Mahayana This classification is also used by some scholars and is the one ordinarily used in the English language. An alternative scheme used by some scholars divides Buddhism into the following three traditions or geographical or cultural areas: Theravada, East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Some scholars use other schemes. Buddhists themselves have a variety of other schemes. Hinayana (literally "lesser vehicle") is used by Mahayana followers to name the family of early philosophical schools and traditions from which contemporary Theravada emerged, but as this term is rooted in the Mahayana viewpoint and can be considered derogatory, a variety of other terms are increasingly used instead, including Śrāvakayāna, Nikaya Buddhism, early Buddhist schools, sectarian Buddhism, conservative Buddhism, mainstream Buddhism and non-Mahayana Buddhism.

Not all traditions of Buddhism share the same philosophical outlook, or treat the same concepts as central. Each tradition, however, does have its own core concepts, and some comparisons can be drawn between them.

Mahayana Buddhism shows a great deal of doctrinal variation and development over time, and even more variation in terms of practice. While there is much agreement on general principles, there is disagreement over which texts are more authoritative.

Theravāda ("Doctrine of the Elders", or "Ancient Doctrine") is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism. This school is derived from the Vibhajjavāda grouping which emerged amongst the older Sthavira group at the time of the Third Buddhist Council (c. 250 BCE). This school gradually declined on the Indian subcontinent, but its branch in Sri Lanka and South East Asia continues to survive.

The Theravada school bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the Pāli Canon and its commentaries. After being orally transmitted for a few centuries, its scriptures, the Pali Canon, were finally committed to writing in the last century BCE, in Sri Lanka, at what the Theravada usually reckon as the fourth council. It is also one of the first Buddhist schools to commit the complete set of its canon into writing. The Sutta collections and Vinaya texts of the Pāli Canon (and the corresponding texts in other versions of the Tripitaka), are generally considered by modern scholars to be the earliest Buddhist literature, and they are accepted as authentic in every branch of Buddhism.

Theravāda is primarily practiced today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia as well as small portions of China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bangladesh. It has a growing presence in Europe and America.

Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India from the fifth century AD onwards, during the dynasty of the Guptas. Mahāyāna centres of learning were established, the most important one being the Nālandā University in north-eastern India.

Mahayana schools recognize all or part of the Mahayana Sutras. Some of these sutras became for Mahayanists a manifestation of the Buddha himself, and faith in and veneration of those texts are stated in some sutras (e.g. the Lotus Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra) to lay the foundations for the later attainment of Buddhahood itself.

Native Eastern Buddhism is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, parts of Russia and most of Vietnam. The Buddhism practiced in Tibet, the Himalayan regions, and Mongolia is also Mahayana in origin, but will be discussed below under the heading of Northern Buddhism. There are a variety of strands in Eastern Buddhism, which in most of this area are fused into a single unified form of Buddhism. However, in Japan they form separate denominations. The five major ones are the following.

In Korea, nearly all Buddhists belong to the Chogye school, which is officially Son (Zen), but with substantial elements from other traditions.

The Vajrayana school of Buddhism spread both to China and Tibet. In Tibet, Vajrayana has always been a main component of Tibetan Buddhism while in China, it formed a separate sect. However, Vajrayana Buddhism became extinct in China but survived in Japan as Shingon sect and Tendai sect, which incorporated Vajrayana element into their practice.

There are differing views as to just when Vajrayāna and its tantric practice started. In the Tibetan tradition, it is claimed that the historical Śākyamuni Buddha taught tantra, but as these are esoteric teachings, they were written down long after the Buddha's other teachings. Nālandā University became a center for the development of Vajrayāna theory and continued as the source of leading-edge Vajrayāna practices up through the 11th century. These practices, scriptures and theory were transmitted to China, Tibet, Indochina and Southeast Asia. China generally received Indian transmission up to the 11th century including tantric practice, while a vast amount of what is considered to be Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayāna) stems from the late (9th–12th century) Nālandā tradition.

In one of the first major contemporary academic treatises on the subject, Fairfield University professor Ronald M. Davidson argues that the rise of Vajrayana was in part a reaction to the changing political climate in India at the time. With the fall of the Gupta dynasty, in an increasingly fractious political environment, institutional Buddhism had difficulty attracting patronage, and the folk movement led by siddhas became more prominent. After perhaps two hundred years, it had begun to get integrated into the monastic establishment.

Vajrayana combined and developed a variety of elements, a number of which had already existed for centuries. In addition to the Mahāyāna scriptures, Vajrayāna Buddhists recognise a large body of Buddhist Tantras, some of which are also included in Chinese and Japanese collections of Buddhist literature, and versions of a few even in the Pali Canon.

Buddhist scriptures and other texts exist in great variety. Different schools of Buddhism place varying levels of value on learning the various texts. Some schools venerate certain texts as religious objects in themselves, while others take a more scholastic approach. Buddhist scriptures are written in these languages: Pāli, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, along with some texts that still exist in Sanskrit and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.

Unlike many religions, Buddhism has no single central text that is universally referred to by all traditions. However, some scholars have referred to the Vinaya Pitaka and the first four Nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka as the common core of all Buddhist traditions. However, this could be considered misleading, as Mahāyāna considers these merely a preliminary, and not a core, teaching, the Tibetan Buddhists have not even translated most of the āgamas, though theoretically they recognize them, and they play no part in the religious life of either clergy or laity in China and Japan. Other scholars say there is no universally accepted common core. The size and complexity of the Buddhist canons have been seen by some (including Buddhist social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar) as presenting barriers to the wider understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

The followers of Theravāda Buddhism take the scriptures known as the Pāli Canon as definitive and authoritative, while the followers of Mahāyāna Buddhism base their faith and philosophy primarily on the Mahāyāna sūtras and their own vinaya. The Pāli sutras, along with other, closely related scriptures, are known to the other schools as the āgamas.

Over the years, various attempts have been made to synthesize a single Buddhist text that can encompass all of the major principles of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, condensed 'study texts' were created that combined popular or influential scriptures into single volumes that could be studied by novice monks. Later in Sri Lanka, the Dhammapada was championed as a unifying scripture.

Dwight Goddard collected a sample of Buddhist scriptures, with the emphasis on Zen, along with other classics of Eastern philosophy, such as the Tao Te Ching, into his 'Buddhist Bible' in the 1920s. More recently, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar attempted to create a single, combined document of Buddhist principles in "The Buddha and His Dhamma". Other such efforts have persisted to present day, but currently there is no single text that represents all Buddhist traditions.

According to the scriptures, soon after the death of the Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held; a monk named Mahākāśyapa (Pāli: Mahākassapa) presided. The goal of the council was to record the Buddha's teachings. Upāli recited the vinaya. Ānanda, the Buddha's personal attendant, was called upon to recite the dhamma. These became the basis of the Tripitaka. However, this record was initially transmitted orally in form of chanting, and was committed to text in the last century BCE. Both the sūtras and the vinaya of every Buddhist school contain a wide variety of elements including discourses on the Dharma, commentaries on other teachings, cosmological and cosmogonical texts, stories of the Gautama Buddha's previous lives, and various other subjects.

The Theravadins, then, may have added texts to the Canon for some time, but they do not appear to have tampered with what they already had from an earlier period.

The Mahayana sutras are a very broad genre of Buddhist scriptures that the Mahayana Buddhist tradition holds are original teachings of the Buddha. The adherents of Mahayana accept both the early teachings and the Mahayana sutras as authentic teachings of Gautama Buddha, and claim they were designed for different types of persons and different levels of spiritual understanding.

The Mahayana sutras often claim to articulate the Buddha's deeper, more advanced doctrines, reserved for those who follow the bodhisattva path. That path is explained as being built upon the motivation to liberate all living beings from unhappiness. Hence the name Mahāyāna (lit., the Great Vehicle).

According to Mahayana tradition, the Mahayana sutras were transmitted in secret, came from other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or were preserved in non-human worlds because human beings at the time couldn't understand them. Approximately six hundred Mahayana sutras have survived in Sanskrit or in Chinese or Tibetan translations. In addition, East Asian Buddhism recognizes some sutras regarded by scholars to be of Chinese rather than Indian origin.

Generally, scholars conclude that the Mahayana scriptures were composed from the first century CE onwards, five centuries after the historical Gautama Buddha, with some of them having their roots in other scriptures, composed in the first century BCE. It was not until after the fifth century CE that the Mahayana sutras started to influence the behavior of mainstream Buddhists in India. These texts were apparently not universally accepted among Indian Buddhists when they appeared; the pejorative label 'Hinayana' was applied by Mahayana supporters to those who rejected the Mahayana sutras.

Only the Theravada school does not include the Mahayana scriptures in its canon. As the modern Theravada school is descended from a branch of Buddhism that diverged and established itself in Sri Lanka prior to the emergence of the Mahayana texts, debate exists as to whether the Theravada were historically included in the 'hinayana' designation; in the modern era, this label is seen as in any case derogatory, and generally avoided.

Buddhism provides many opportunities for comparative study with a diverse range of subjects. For example, dependent origination can be considered one of Buddhism's contributions to metaphysics. Additionally, Buddhism's emphasis on the Middle way not only provides a unique guideline for ethics but has also allowed Buddhism to peacefully coexist with various differing beliefs, customs and institutions in countries in which it has resided throughout its history. Also, Its moral and spiritual parallels with other systems of thought—for example, with various tenets of Christianity—have been subjects of close study.

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Buddhism in the United States

Covering 15 acres (61,000 m²), California's Hsi Lai Temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the western hemisphere.

Buddhism is a religion with millions of followers in the United States, including traditionally Buddhist Asian Americans as well as non-Asians, many of whom are converts. The U.S. presents a strikingly new and different environment for Buddhists, leading to a unique history and a continuing process of development as Buddhism and America come to grips with each other.

Occasional intersections between Western civilization and the Buddhist world have been occurring for thousands of years. Perhaps the most significant of these began in 334 BC, early in the history of Buddhism, when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great conquered most of Central Asia. The Seleucids and successive kingdoms established an important Hellenistic influence in the area, which interacted with the Buddhism that had been introduced from India to produce Greco-Buddhism.

In the Christian era, Buddhist ideas would periodically filter into Europe via the Middle East. A notable example is the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, folk heroes who were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and whose story is believed to be an altered account of the life of Siddhartha Gautama, translated from Persian to Arabic to Greek. The first direct encounter between European Christians and Buddhists to be recorded was in 1253 when the king of France sent William of Rubruck as an ambassador to the court of the Mongol Empire. Later, in the 17th century, a group of Mongols practicing Tibetan Buddhism established Kalmykia, the only Buddhist nation in Europe, at the eastern edge of the continent.

Because the above examples produced very little real religious interaction, the European settlers who would come to colonize the Americas had virtually no exposure to Buddhism. This almost complete isolation would last largely undisturbed until the 19th century, when significant numbers of immigrants from East Asia began to arrive in the New World. In the United States, the first immigrants from China entered around 1820, but they began to arrive in large numbers following the California Gold Rush of 1849. The first Buddhist temple in America was built in 1853 in San Francisco by the Sze Yap Company, a Chinese American fraternal society. Another society, the Ning Yeong Company, built a second in 1854; by 1875, there were eight such temples, and by 1900 there were approximately 400 Chinese temples on the west coast of the United States, most of them containing at least some Buddhist elements. These temples were often the subject of suspicion and ignorance by the rest of the population, and were dismissively referred to as joss houses.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 curtailed the growth of the Chinese American population, but large-scale immigration from Japan began in the late 1880s and from Korea around 1903. In both cases, immigration was at first limited primarily to Hawaii. Populations from other Asian Buddhist countries followed, and in each case, the new communities established Buddhist temples and organizations. For instance, the first Japanese temple in Hawaii was built in 1896 near Paauhau by the Honpa Hongwanji branch of Jodo Shinshu. In 1898, Japanese missionaries and immigrants established a Young Men's Buddhist Association, and the Rev. Sōryū Kagahi was dispatched from Japan to be the first Buddhist missionary in Hawaii. The first Japanese Buddhist temple in the continental U.S. was built in San Francisco in 1899, and the first in Canada was built at the Ishikawa Hotel in Vancouver in 1905 . The first Buddhist clergy to take up residence in the continental U.S. were Shuye Sonoda and Kakuryo Nishimjima, missionaries from Japan who arrived in 1899.

At about the same time that Asian immigrants were first starting to arrive in America, some American intellectuals were beginning to come to terms with Buddhism, based primarily on information reaching them from British colonial possessions in India and East Asia. The Englishmen William Jones and Charles Wilkins had done pioneering work translating Sanskrit texts into English. The American Transcendentalists and associated persons, in particular Henry David Thoreau took an interest in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. In 1844, The Dial, a small literary publication edited by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, published the first English version of a portion of the Lotus Sutra; it had been translated by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody from a French version recently completed by Eugène Burnouf (this translation is often attributed to Thoreau himself, but this appears to be erroneous). His Indian readings may have influenced his later experiments in simple living: at one point in Walden he wrote: "I realized what the Orientals meant by contemplation and the forsaking of works." The poet Walt Whitman also admitted to an influence of Indian religion on his writings.

The first prominent American to publicly convert to Buddhism was Henry Steel Olcott. Olcott, a former U.S. army colonel during the Civil War, had grown increasingly interested in reports of supernatural phenomena that were popular in the late 19th century. In 1875, he, along with Helena Blavatsky and William Quan Judge founded the Theosophical Society, which was dedicated to the study of the occult and was partly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. The group's leaders believed or claimed to believe that they were in contact, via visions and messages, with a secret order of adepts referred to as the "Himalayan Brotherhood" or "the Masters". In 1879, Olcott and Blavatsky travelled to India and then, in 1880, to Sri Lanka, where they were met enthusiastically by local Buddhists, who saw them as allies against an aggressive Christian missionary movement. On May 25 of that year, Olcott and Blavatsky took the pancasila vows of a lay Buddhist before a monk and a large crowd of onlookers. Although most of the Theosophists appear to have counted themselves as Buddhists, they held idiosyncratic beliefs that separated them from all known Buddhist traditions; only Olcott was enthusiastic about following mainstream Buddhism. He would return to Sri Lanka on two further occasions, where he worked to promote Buddhist education, and also visited Japan and Burma. Olcott authored a Buddhist Catechism, stating his view of the basic tenets of the religion.

A series of new publications greatly increased public knowledge of Buddhism in 19th century America. In 1879, Edwin Arnold, an English aristocrat, published The Light of Asia, an epic poem he had written about the life and teachings of the Buddha, expounded with much wealth of local color and not a little felicity of versification. The book became immensely popular in the United States, going through eighty editions and selling more than 500,000 copies. Dr. Paul Carus, a German American philosopher and theologian, was at work on a more scholarly prose treatment of the same subject. Carus was the director of Open Court Publishing Company, an academic publishing house specializing in philosophy, science, and religion, and editor of The Monist, a journal with a similar focus, both based in La Salle, Illinois. In 1894, Carus published The Gospel of the Buddha, which was compiled from a variety of Asian texts and, true to its name, presented the Buddha's story in a form resembling the Christian Gospels.

Perhaps the most significant event in the 19th century history of Buddhism in America was the Parliament of the World's Religions, held in Chicago in 1893. Although most of the delegates to the Parliament were Christians of various denominations, the Buddhist nations of China, Japan, Thailand, and Sri Lanka sent representatives. Buddhist delegates included Soyen Shaku, a Japanese Zen abbott; Zenshiro Noguchi, a Japanese translator; Anagarika Dharmapala, a Sri Lankan associate of H. S. Olcott's; and Chandradat Chudhadharn, a brother of King Chulalongkorn of Thailand. Paul Carus also attended as an observer. The Parliament provided the first major public forum from which Buddhists could address themselves directly to the Western public; Dharmapala was particularly effective in this role because he spoke fluent English.

A few days after the end of the Parliament, in a brief ceremony conducted by Anagarika Dharmapala, Charles T. Strauss, a New York businessman of Jewish descent, became, it is believed, the first person to formally convert to Buddhism on American soil. A few fledgling attempts at establishing a Buddhism for Americans followed. One of the most interesting, in fact, had initially appeared prior to the Parliament, met with little fanfare, in 1887: The Buddhist Ray, a Santa Cruz, California-based magazine published and edited by Phillangi Dasa, born Herman Carl (or Carl Herman) Veetering (or Vettering), a recluse about whom little is known. The Ray's tone was, in the words of Rick Fields, "ironic, light, saucy, self-assured ... one-hundred-percent American Buddhist" (Fields, 1981), which was by all means a novel development in that time and place. It ceased publication in 1894. Elsewhere, six white San Franciscans, working with Japanese Jodo Shinshu missionaries, established the Dharma Sangha of Buddha in 1900 and began publishing a bimonthly magazine, The Light of Dharma. In Illinois, Paul Carus wrote further books about Buddhism and attempted setting portions of Buddhist scripture to Western classical music.

In the first half of the 20th century, it would prove to be Buddhist teachers from Japan who played the most active role in disseminating Buddhism to the American public, perhaps because Japan was the most developed and self-confident Buddhist country at the time. In 1905, Soyen Shaku was invited to stay in the United States by a Mr. and Mrs. Russell, a wealthy American couple. He lived for nine months in their home near San Francisco, where he established a small zendo in their home and gave regular zaz lessons, making him the first Zen Buddhist priest to teach in North America. This short sojourn eventually produced an effect on American Buddhism that continues to the present. Shortly after Shaku settled in to his erstwhile home, he was followed by Nyogen Senzaki, a young monk from Shaku's home temple in Japan. Senzaki briefly worked for the Russell family and then, expressing his desire to stay in America, he was reportedly advised by Shaku to spend seventeen years as an ordinary worker before teaching Buddhism. Thus, it was in 1922 that Senzaki first rented a hall and gave an English talk on a paper by Soyen Shaku; his periodic talks at different locations became known as the "floating zendo". In 1931, he established a permanent sitting hall in Los Angeles, where he would teach until his death in 1958.

Another Zen teacher, Sokatsu Shaku, one of Soyen Shaku's senior students, arrived in late 1906, founding a Zen meditation center called Ryomokyo-kai. Although he stayed only a few years and had limited contact with the English-speaking public, one of his disciples, Shigetsu Sasaki, made a permanent home. Sasaki, better known under his monastic name Sokei-an, spent a few years wandering the west coast of the United States, at one point living among American Indians near Seattle, and reached New York City in 1916. After completing his training and being ordained in 1928, he returned to New York to teach. In 1931, his small group incorporated as the Buddhist Society of America, later renamed the First Zen Institute of America. By the late 1930s, one of his most active supporters was Ruth Fuller Everett, a British socialite and the mother-in-law of Alan Watts. Shortly before Sokei-an's death in 1945, he and Everett would wed, at which point she took the name Ruth Fuller Sasaki.

In 1914, under the leadership of Koyu Uchida, who succeeded Shuye Sonoda as the head of Jodo Shinshu missionary effort in North America, several Japanese Buddhist congregations formed the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA). This organization would later form the basis of the Buddhist Churches of America, currently the largest and most influential ethnic-based Buddhist organization in the U.S. The BMNA focused primarily on social and cultural activities for and ministering to Japanese American communities. In the late 1920s, it first began to develop programs to train English-speaking priests, for the benefit of the growing number of American-born parishioners. Also, in 1927, the Soto sect of Japanese Zen opened its own mission with Zenshuji temple in Los Angeles, although it did not make attempts at the time to attract non-Japanese members.

One American who made his own attempt to establish an American Buddhist movement was Dwight Goddard (1861 – 1939). Goddard had been a Christian missionary to China, when he first came in contact with Buddhism. In 1928, he spent a year living at a Zen monastery in Japan. In 1934, he founded "The Followers of Buddha, an American Brotherhood", with the goal of applying the traditional monastic structure of Buddhism more strictly than Senzaki and Sokei-an. The group was largely unsuccessful: no Americans were recruited to join as monks and attempts failed to attract a Chinese Chan (Zen) master to come to the United States. However, Goddard's efforts as an author and publisher bore considerable fruit. In 1930, he began publishing ZEN: A Buddhist Magazine. In 1932, he collaborated with D. T. Suzuki (see below), on a translation of the Lankavatara Sutra. That same year, he published the first edition of A Buddhist Bible, an anthology of Buddhist scriptures focusing on those used in Chinese and Japanese Zen, which was enormously influential.

However, another Japanese person, also an associate of Soyen Shaku's, had an even greater literary impact. This was D. T. Suzuki. At the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, Paul Carus befriended Soyen Shaku and requested his help in translating and preparing Oriental spiritual literature for publication in the West. Shaku instead recommended Suzuki, then a young scholar and former disciple of his. Starting in 1897, Suzuki worked from Dr. Carus's home in Illinois; his first projects were translations of the Tao Te Ching and Asvaghosa's Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana. At the same time, Suzuki began writing his first major book, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, which was published in 1907. Suzuki returned to Japan in 1909 and married an American Theosophist and Radcliffe graduate in 1911. Through English language essays and books, such as Essays in Zen Buddhism (1927), he established himself as the most visible literary expositor of Zen Buddhism, its unofficial goodwill ambassador to Western readers, until his death in 1966. His 1949 book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, featured a 30-page introduction by Carl Jung, an emblem of the deepening relationship between Buddhism and major Western thinkers.

Buddhist American scholar Charles Prebish believes there are three broad types of American Buddhism. The oldest and largest of these is "immigrant" or "ethnic Buddhism", those Buddhist traditions that arrived in America along with immigrants who were already believers and that largely remained with those immigrants and their descendants. The next oldest and arguably the most visible group Prebish refers to as "import Buddhists", because they came to America largely in response to the demand of interested American converts who sought them out, either by going abroad or by supporting foreign teachers; this is sometimes also called "elite Buddhism" because its practitioners, especially early in the process, tended to come from social elites. The newest trend in Buddhism is "export" or "evangelical Buddhist", groups based in another country and but who actively recruit members in the US from various backgrounds. By far, the most successful of these has been Soka Gakkai.

Immigrant Buddhist congregations in North America come in an extremely wide variety, exactly as wide a variety as exists in the different peoples of Asian Buddhist extraction who have settled there. The New World is home to Chinese Buddhists, Japanese Buddhists, Korean Buddhists, Sri Lankan Buddhists, Vietnamese Buddhists, Thai Buddhists, and Buddhists with family backgrounds in nearly every Buddhist country and region in the world. The passage of the 1965 Immigration Act in the United States greatly increased the number of immigrants arriving from China, Vietnam, and the Theravada-practicing countries of southeast Asia.

It is common for Buddhist temples and societies to serve as foci for the social life of an immigrant community, helping to maintain a connection to Old World traditions in a foreign environment. However, as the passing of time produces congregations increasingly dominated by persons born in America, which is especially common among Japanese Buddhists, questions arise about how their religious customs should adapt.

The largest and most influential national immigrant Buddhist organization in the United States is the Buddhist Churches of America and the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. The BCA is an affiliate of Japan's Nishi Hongwanji, a sect of Jōdo Shinshū, which is in turn a form of Pure Land Buddhism. Tracing its roots to the Young Men's Buddhist Association founded in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century and the Buddhist Mission of North America founded in 1899, it took its current form in 1944. All of the Buddhist Mission's leadership, along with almost the entire Japanese American population, had been interned during World War II. The name Buddhist Churches of America was adopted at Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah; the use of the word "church", which normally implies a Christian house of worship, was significant. After internment ended, some members returned to the West Coast and revitalized churches there, while a number of others moved to the Midwest and built new churches. During the 1960s and 1970s, the BCA was in a growth phase and was very successful at fund-raising. It also began to publish two periodicals, one in Japanese and one in English. However, since 1980, BCA membership has declined markedly. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii has 36 temples throughout the state of Hawaii. The history and organization of the Mission is quite similar to the BCA.

It is interesting to note that, while a very large majority of the Buddhist Churches of America's membership are ethnically Japanese, it does have some members from non-Asian backgrounds. Thus, it can be seen as having some, currently very limited, aspects of an export Buddhist institution. As declining involvement by its ethnic community creates questions about its future, there has been internal discussion as to whether it should devote more attention to attracting the broader public.

See also Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Buddhism below.

Another institution with some appeal both to a specific ethnic group as well as to Americans generally is Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. Hsi Lai is the American headquarters of Fo Guang Shan, an enormously successful modern Buddhist group in Taiwan. Hsi Lai was built in 1988 at a cost of $10 million and is often described as the largest Buddhist temple in the Western hemisphere. Although it continues to cater primarily to Chinese Americans, it also has regular services and outreach programs in English. Hsi Lai was at the center of a bizarre incident in the history of American Buddhism when a 1996 fund-raising event by Vice President Al Gore provoked a controversy; at the time Hsi Lai was often referred to in the media as simply "the Buddhist temple".

Since Henry Steele Olcott travelled to Sri Lanka in 1880, interested Americans have sought out Buddhist teachers from a variety of countries in Asia, many of which have now established their teachings in America. The three most notable trends of this type are Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and Vipassana, which is an outgrowth of Theravada Buddhism. Because its membership tends strongly to be among educated, white, native English speakers, import Buddhism has come to enjoy a higher level of prominence and prestige than other types of Buddhism in America.

Beginning with Soyen Shaku's invitation to San Francisco and then the ministries of Nyogen Senzaki and Sokei-an, Zen Buddhism was the first import Buddhist trend to put down roots in North America. In the late 1940s and 1950s, writers associated with the Beat Movement, including Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Kenneth Rexroth, took a serious interest in Zen, which helped increase its visibility. In 1951, an octogenarian Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki returned to the United States to take a visiting professorship at Columbia University.

Settling in the United States even earlier was Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, who established the Chicago Buddhist Temple in 1949 (now the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago) and was a great dynamic influence in both America and Japan, lecturing and providing Zen training to many people. Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi served as superintendent and abbot of the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple and Zen Center. The Temple was headquarters to Zen Centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Everett, Washington. Matsuoka-Roshi was born in Japan into a family that has a history of Zen priests dating back six hundred years. Matsuoka attended Komazawa University in Tokyo, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree. He was sent to America to serve as a founder of temples both in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He then furthered his extensive graduate work at Columbia University with Dr. D.T. Suzuki. Finally, he established the Temple at Long Beach in 1971, where he resided until his passing in 1998.

Sanbo Kyodan Zen is a contemporary Japanese Zen lineage which has had an impact in the West disproportionate to its size in Japan. It is rooted in the reformist teachings of Harada Daiun Sogaku (1871-1961) and his disciple Yasutani Hakuun (1885-1971), who argued that the existing Zen institutions of Japan, the Soto and Rinzai sects, had become complacent and, with few exceptions, were unable to teach real Dharma. Harada had studied with both Soto and Rinzai teachers and Yasutani founded Sanbo Kyodan in 1954 to preserve what he saw as the vital core of teachings from both schools. Sanbo Kyodan's first American member was Philip Kapleau, who first traveled to Japan in 1945 as a court reporter for the war crimes trials. In 1947, Kapleau visited D. T. Suzuki at Engaku-ji in Japan and in the early 1950s, he was a frequent attendee of Suzuki's Columbia lectures. In 1953, he returned to Japan, where he met with Nakagawa Soen, a protégé of Nyogen Senzaki. At Nakagawa's recommendation, he began to study with Harada and later with Yasutani, whose disciple he became. In 1965, he published a book, The Three Pillars of Zen, which recorded a set of talks by Yasutani outlining his approach to practice, along with transcripts of dokusan interviews and some additional texts.

The book quickly became popular in America and Europe, contributing to the prominence of the Sanbo Kyodan approach to Zen. Later in 1965, Kapleau returned to America and, in 1966, established the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, New York, making him the first American-born Zen priest to found a training temple. In 1967, Kapleau had a falling out with Yasutani over some of Kapleau's moves to Americanize the style of his temple, after which it became independent of Sanbo Kyodan. The Rochester Zen Center is now part of a network of related centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and New Zealand, referred to collectively as the Cloud Water Sangha. One of Kapleau's most notable early disciples was Toni Packer, who herself left Rochester in 1981 to found a nonsectarian meditation center, not specifically Buddhist or Zen.

Robert Aitken is another important American member of Sanbo Kyodan. He was first introduced to Zen as a prisoner in Japan during the Second World War. After returning to the United States, he began studying with Nyogen Senzaki in Los Angeles in the early 1950s. In 1959, while still a Zen student himself, he founded the Diamond Sangha, a zendo in Honolulu, Hawaii. Three years later, the Diamond Sangha hosted the first U.S. visit by Yasutani Hakuun, who would visit various locations in the U.S. six more times before 1969. Aitken traveled frequently to Japan and became a disciple of Yamada Koun, Yasutani's successor as head of the Sanbo Kyodan. Aitken became a dharma heir of Yamada's, authored more than ten books, and developed the Diamond Sangha into an international network with temples in the United States, Argentina, Germany, and Australia. In 1995, he and his organization split with Sanbo Kyodan in response to reorganization of the latter following Yamada's death. The Pacific Zen Institute led by John Tarrant, Aitken's first Dharma successor continues as an independent Zen line.

Soto Zen Priest Shunryu Suzuki (not to be confused with D.T. Suzuki) arrived in San Francisco in 1959, where he quietly began teaching a growing number of native-born American students, who would go on to form the core of the San Francisco Zen Center and its eventual network of Zen centers across the country, including the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, one of the first Zen training centers in the Western world. His low-key teaching style became widely know to the public with the publication of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a compilation of Zen talks given by this highly influential roshi.

Another influential Japanese Zen teacher was Taizan Maezumi, who arrived as a young priest to serve at Zenshuji, the North American Sōtō sect headquarters in Los Angeles, in 1956. Like Shunryu Suzuki, he showed considerable interest in teaching Zen to Americans of various backgrounds and, by the mid-1960s, had formed a regular zazen group. In 1967, he and his supporters founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He was later instrumental in establishing the Kuroda Institute and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, the latter an organization of American teachers with ties to the Soto tradition. In addition to his membership in Soto, Maezumi was also recognized as an heir by a Rinzai teacher and by Yasutani Hakuun of the Sanbo Kyodan. Maezumi, in turn, had several American dharma heirs who have become prominent, such as Bernie Glassman, John Daido Loori, Charlotte Joko Beck, and Dennis Genpo Merzel. His successors and their network of centers have organized as the White Plum Sangha.

Among the most influential Rinzai Zen teachers to establish their lineages in United States have been Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Eido Tai Shimano Roshi, and Omori Sogen Roshi. Sasaki founded the Mount Baldy Zen Center and its branches after coming to Los Angeles from Japan in 1962. One of his most famous students was the Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen. Eido Roshi founded Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji, an influential training center in New York state. Omori Roshi founded Daihonzan Chozen-ji, the first Rinzai headquarters temple established outside of Japan, in Honolulu, HI; under his students Tenshin Tanouye Roshi and Dogen Hosokawa Roshi, several other training centers in the USA were established including Daiyuzenji in Chicago, IL.

Not all the successful Zen teachers in the United States have been from Japanese traditions. There have also been teachers of Chinese Zen (also known as Chan), Korean Zen (or Seon), and Vietnamese Zen (or Thien).

The first Chinese Buddhist priest to teach Westerners in America was Hsuan Hua, a disciple of the preeminent 20th century Chan master, Hsu Yun. In 1962, Hsuan Hua moved to San Francisco's Chinatown, where, in addition to Zen, he taught Chinese Pure Land, Tiantai, Vinaya, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Initially, his students were mostly ethnic Chinese, but he eventually attracted a range of followers. In 1970, Hsuan Hua founded Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco and in 1976 he established a retreat center, the City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas, on a 237 acre (959,000 m²) property in Talmage, California. These monasteries are noted for their close adherence to the vinaya, the austere traditional Buddhist monastic code. Hsuan Hua also founded the Buddhist Text Translation Society, which works on the translation of scriptures into English.

Another Chinese Chan teacher with a Western following is Sheng-yen, a master trained in both the Caodong and Linji schools (equivalent to the Japanese Soto and Rinzai, respectively). He first visited the United States in 1978 under the sponsorship of the Buddhist Association of the United States, an organization of Chinese American Buddhists. In 1980, he founded the Ch'an Mediation Society in Queens, New York. In 1985, he founded the Chung-hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in Taiwan, which now sponsors a variety of Chinese Zen activities in the United States..

The most prominent Korean Zen teacher in America was Seung Sahn. Seung Sahn had been the abbot of a temple in Seoul and had also lived in Hong Kong and Japan when, in 1972, not speaking any English, he decided to move to America. On the flight to Los Angeles, a Korean American passenger offered him a job at a laundry in Providence, Rhode Island, the city which was to become the headquarters of Seung Sahn's Kwan Um School of Zen. Shortly after arriving in Providence, he attracted a group of America students and founded the Providence Zen Center. The affiliated Kwan Um School now has more than 100 Zen centers on six continents. Another notable Korean Zen teacher in America is Samu Sunim, who moved to America in 1968 and founded Toronto's Zen Buddhist Temple in 1971. He is now the head of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom, which has temples in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Mexico City.

Two notable Vietnamese Zen teachers have been influential in America: Thich Thien-An and Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Thien-An came to America in 1966 as a visiting professor at UCLA and taught traditional Thien meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh was a monk in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, during which he was a peace activist. In response to these activities, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, he left Vietnam in exile and now resides at Plum Village, a monastery in France. He has written more than one hundred books about Buddhism, which have made him one of the very few most prominent Buddhist authors among the general readership in the West. In his books and talks, Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes mindfulness (sati) as the most important practice in daily life. His monastic students live and practice at two centers in the United States: Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA, and Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY.

Perhaps the most widely visible Buddhist teacher in the world is Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, who first visited the United States in 1979. As the exiled political leader of Tibet, he has become a popular cause célèbre. His early life was depicted in glowing terms in Hollywood films such as Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet. He has attracted celebrity religious followers such as Richard Gere and Adam Yauch. The first Western-born Tibetan Buddhist monk was Robert A. F. Thurman, now a noted academic supporter of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama maintains a North American headquarters at Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York.

The best-known Tibetan Buddhist lama to live in the United States was Chögyam Trungpa. Trungpa, part of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, moved to England in 1963, founded a temple in Scotland, and then relocated to Barnet, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado in 1970. He established a series of what he named Dharmadhatu meditation centers, which were eventually organized under a national umbrella group called Vajradhatu (later to become Shambhala International). The methods and techniques he developed for teaching Westerners he termed Shambhala Training. He founded The Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in Boulder, CO in the late seventies. Naropa is well known as a premier choice for those seeking undergraduate or graduate degrees in Buddhism, Transpersonal and Buddhist Psychology as well as Creative Writing. The writing program at Naropa (The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) was founded by Alan Ginsberg, a Buddhist and close friend of Trungpa. Following Trungpa's death, his followers built the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, a traditional reliquary monument, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. Consecrated in 2001, it is the largest stupa in the United States.

The first Tibetan Buddhist lama to come to the United States was Geshe Ngawang Wangyal, a Kalmyk-Mongolian of the Gelug lineage, who came to the United States in 1955 and founded the "Lamaist Buddhist Monastery of America" in New Jersey in 1958. Among his students were the future western scholars Robert Thurman, Jeffrey Hopkins and Alexander Berzin. Other early arrivals included Deshung Rinpoche, a Sakya lama who settled in Seattle, WA, in 1960, and Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, the first Nyingma teacher in America, who arrived in the U.S. in 1968 and established the "Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center" in Berkeley, California in 1969.

There are four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: the Gelug, the Kagyu, the Nyingma, and the Sakya. Of these, the greatest impact in the West was made by the Gelug, which is led by the Dalai Lama, and the Kagyu, specifically its Karma Kagyu branch, which is led by the Karmapa. As of the early 1990s, there were several significant strands of Kagyu practice in the United States: Chögyam Trungpa's Shambhala movement; Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a network of centers affiliated directly with the Karmapa's North American seat in Woodstock, New York; a network of centers founded by Kalu Rinpoche.

In the 21st century, the Nyingma lineage is increasingly represented in the West, by both Western and Tibetan teachers. Lama Surya Das is a Western-born teacher carrying on the great rimé, or non-sectarian, branch of Tibetan Buddhism. H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, before his death in 2002, founded centers in Seattle and Brazil. Khandro Rinpoche is a modern female Tibetan teacher who has a strong presence in America. Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, in 1988, was the first Western woman to be recognized and enthroned as a Tulku, has also established Nyingma Kunzang Palyul Choling centers in Sedona, AZ and Poolesville, MD.

The Gelug tradition is most strongly represented in America by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa. Another prominent Gelugpa teacher is Geshe Michael Roach, the first American to be awarded a Geshe degree, who has established centers in New York, NY, and at Diamond Mountain University in Arizona.

Also quite active in the United States is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) established by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. An offshoot of the Gelug school founded in the 1990s in the UK, the NKT has over 50 Kadampa (NKT) Buddhist Centers and branches in the United States. Most members of the organization are Westerners or in the far east, principally in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Also active in the United States is the Diamond Way organisation founded and directed by Ole Nydahl.

Vipassana, also referred to by the rough translation "insight meditation" is an ancient meditative practice described in the Pali Canon of the Theravada school of Buddhism, and in similar scriptures of other schools. Vipassana also refers to a distinct movement which was begun in the 20th century by reformers such as Mahāsi Sayādaw, a Burmese monk. Mahāsi Sayādaw was a Theravada bhikkhu and Vipassana is rooted in the Theravada teachings, but its goal is to simplify ritual and other peripheral activities in order to make meditative practice more effective and available both to monks and to laypeople. This openness to lay involvement is an important development in Theravada, which has sometimes appeared to focus exclusively on monasticism.

In 1965, monks from Sri Lanka established the Washington Buddhist Vihara in Washington, D.C., the first Theravada monastic community in the United States. The Vihara was fairly accessible to English-speakers, and naturally vipassana meditation was part of it activities. However, the direct influence of the Vipassana movement would not reach the U.S. until a group of Americans returned there in the early 1970s after studying with Vipassana master in Asia. Joseph Goldstein, after journeying to Southeast Asia with the Peace Corps, had lived in Bodhgaya, where he was a student of Anagarika Munindra, the head monk of Mahabodhi Temple and himself a student of Māhāsai Sayādaw's. Jack Kornfield had also been in the Peace Corps in Southeast Asia, after which he studied and ordained in the Thai Forest Tradition under Ajahn Chah, who was perhaps the most influential figure in 20th century Thai Buddhism. Sharon Salzberg went to India in 1971 as a spiritual seeker and studied with Dipa Ma, a former Calcutta housewife trained in vipassana by Māhāsai Sayādaw.

Goldstein and Kornfield met in 1974 while teaching at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. The next year, Goldstein, Kornfield, and Salzberg, who had very recently returned from Calcutta, along with Jacqueline Schwarz, founded the Insight Meditation Society on an 80 acre (324,000 m²) property near Barre, Massachusetts. IMS became the central Vipassana instituation in America, hosting visits by Māhāsi Sayādaw, Munindra, Ajahn Chah, and Dipa Ma. In 1981, Kornfield moved to California, where he founded another Vipassana center, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Marin County. In 1985, Larry Rosenberg founded the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Another important Vipassana center is the Vipassana Metta Foundation, located on Maui.

In 1989, the Insight Meditation Center established the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies near the IMS headquarters, with the goal of promoting scholarly investigation of Buddhism from various perspectives. It director is Mu Seong, a former Korean Zen monk.

S. N. Goenka is a Burmese-born meditation teacher who can also be considered part of the Vipassana movement. His teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma, was a contemporary of Māhāsi Sayādaw's, and taught a style of Buddhism with similar emphases on simplicity and accessibility to laypeople. Goenka has established a method of instruction which has proven very popular in Asia and throughout the world. In 1981, he established the Vipassana Research Institute based in Igatpuri, India. He and his students have built several active centers in North America.

Although ethnic-based institutions, such as Hsi Lai Temple and the Buddhist Churches of America, show some evangelical tendencies, there is only one Buddhist group in North America which has focused on recruiting converts from among the general public and been successful: Soka Gakkai, a Japan-based society which promotes Nichiren Buddhism.

Soka Gakkai, which literally means "Society of Value Establishment Studies", was founded in Japan in 1930 as a fraternal auxiliary to Nichiren Shoshu, a minor sect of Nichiren Buddhism. It was perhaps the most successful of Japan's new religious movements, which enjoyed tremendous growth after the end of the Second World War. During the occupation of Japan, some American soldiers became aware of it, and it was the Japanese wives of veterans who became the first active Soka Gakkai members in the West. A U.S. branch was formally organized on October 13, 1960. Its Korean-Japanese leader took the name George M. Williams to emphasize his commitment to reaching the English-speaking public. Soka Gakkai expanded rapidly in the U.S. One of the results of this outreach is that Soka Gakkai has been much more effective than any other group at attracting non-Asian minority converts, chiefly African American and Latino, to Buddhism. It has also been successful in attracting the support of celebrities, such as Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, and Orlando Bloom.

Soka Gakkai has no priests of its own and was originally part of Nichiren Shoshu, a formal religious sect in Japan. In fact, its United States branch was originally named Nichiren Shoshu America (NSA). However, in 1991 Soka Gakkai split from Nichiren Shoshu and became a separate organization; at that time, the U.S. branch changed its name to Soka Gakkai International—United States of America (SGI-USA). Nichiren Shoshu proper maintains six temples of its own in the U.S. and another Nichiren group exists which is primarily the domain of ethnic Japanese.

The main religious practice of Soka Gakkai members, like other Nichiren Buddhists, is chanting the mantra Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and sections of the Lotus Sutra. Unlike import Buddhist trends such as Zen, Vipassana, and Tibetan Buddhism, Soka Gakkai does not teach meditative techniques other than chanting.

According to a 2007 poll conducted by the CIA, Budhism is the fourth largest religion in the US after Christianity, no religion and Judaism.

It is not easy to arrive at an accurate idea of the number of Buddhists in the United States. The simplest reason is that it is not at all clear how to define who is and who is not a Buddhist. The easiest and most intuitive definition is one based on self-description, but this has its pitfalls. Because Buddhism exists as a cultural concept in American society, there may be individuals who self-describe as Buddhists but have essentially no knowledge of or commitment to Buddhism as a religion or practice; on the other hand, others may be deeply involved in meditation and committed to the Buddhadharma, but may refuse the label "Buddhist". Despite these difficulties, several scholars have investigated this question. Most studies have indicated a Buddhist population in the United States of between 1 and 4 million. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2004 indicates that 2% of the U.S. population is Buddhist, which would mean a total of 5,973,446 Buddhists. Other estimates, perhaps relying on a greater degree of intuition, are larger: in the 1990s, Robert A. F. Thurman stated his opinion that there were 5 to 6 million Buddhists in America, and others might speculate there are more. Whatever the total number, it appears that roughly 75 to 80 percent of Buddhists in the U.S. are of Asian descent and inherited Buddhism as a family tradition; the remaining 20 to 25 percent are non-Asians.

Discussion about Buddhism in America has sometimes focused on the issue of the visible ethnic divide separating ethnic Buddhist congregations from import Buddhist groups. Although many Zen and Tibetan Buddhist temples were founded by Asians, they now tend to attract very few Asian-American members. With the exception of Soka Gakkai, almost all active Buddhist groups in America can be readily classed as either ethnic or import Buddhism based on the demographics of their membership. There is often very limited contact between these Buddhists of different ethnic groups. This divide can be disturbing in view of the historical necessity of relying on Asian peoples to transmit Buddhism, and in light of ongoing and complex tensions surrounding ethnicity and immigration in America. Some Asian-American Buddhists feel that their non-Asian counterparts ignore the many contributions of their ethnic communities toward the development of American Buddhism.

However, the cultural divide should not necessarily be seen as pernicious. It is often argued that the differences between Buddhist groups arise benignly from the differing needs and interests of those involved. Convert Buddhists tend to be interested in meditation and philosophy, in some cases eschewing the trappings of religiosity altogether. On the other hand, for immigrants and their descendants, preserving tradition and maintaining a social framework assume a much greater relative importance, making their approach to religion naturally more conservative. Further, Kenneth K. Tanaka suggests, based on a survey of Asian-American Buddhists in San Francisco, that "many Asian-American Buddhists view non-Asian Buddhism as still in a formative, experimental stage" and yet they believe that it "could eventually mature into a religious expression of exceptional quality".

Strand, writing for Tricycle (an American Buddhist journal) in 2004, notes that SGI has specifically targeted African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, and other writers have noted that this approach has begun to spread, with Vipassana and Theravada retreats aimed at non-white practitioners led by a handful of specific teachers.

A key question is the degree of importance ascribed to discrimination, which is suggested to be mostly unconscious, on the part of white converts toward potential minority converts. To some extent, the racial divide is indicative of a class divide, because convert Buddhists tend strongly to be drawn from the more educated segments of society. Among the African American Buddhists who have commented on the dynamics of the racial divide in convert Buddhism are Jan Willis and Charles R. Johnson.

An important trend that has developed in Buddhism in the West is socially engaged Buddhism. While some critics have asserted that the term is redundant, as it is mistaken to believe that Buddhism in the past has not affected and been affected by the surrounding society, others have suggested that Buddhism is sometimes seen as too quietistic and passive toward public life. This is particularly true in the West, where almost all converts to Buddhism come to it outside of an existing family or community tradition. Engaged Buddhism is an attempt to apply Buddhist values to larger social problems, including war and environmental concerns. The term engaged Buddhism was coined by Thich Nhat Hanh, who developed the idea during his years as a peace activist in Vietnam. The most notable engaged Buddhist organization is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, which was founded in 1978 by Robert Aitken, Anne Aitken, Nelson Foster, and others and received early assistance from Gary Snyder, Jack Kornfield, and Joanna Macy. Another engaged Buddhist group is the Zen Peacemaker Order, which was founded in 1996 by Bernie Glassman and Sandra Jishu Holmes.

A variety of Buddhist groups have established institutions of higher learning in America. The first four-year Buddhist college in the U.S. was the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University), which was founded in 1974 by Chögyam Trungpa. It has enjoyed consistent involvement both from convert Buddhists and counterculture personalities, such as Allen Ginsberg, who christened the Institute's poetry department the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics". Naropa is currently fully accredited and offers degrees in some subjects not directly related to Buddhism. Another Buddhist university is the University of the West, which is affiliated with Hsi Lai Temple and was, until recently called Hsi Lai University. Soka University of America, in Aliso Viejo California, was founded by the Soka Gakkai as a secular school closely committed to philosophic Buddhism. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is the site of Dharma Realm Buddhist University, a four-year college teaching courses primarily related to Buddhism but including some general-interest subjects. The Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, in addition to offering a Masters Degree in Buddhist Studies acts as the ministerial training arm of the Buddhist Churches of America and is affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union. The school recently moved into its new headquarters within the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley.

The first Buddhist high school in the United States, Developing Virtue Secondary School, was founded in 1981 by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association at their branch monastery in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California. A second Buddhist high school, Tinicum Art and Science, which combines Zen practice and traditional liberal arts, opened in Ottsville, Pennsylvania in 1998. It is associated informally with the World Shim Gum Do Association in Boston. The Pacific Buddhist Academy, opened in Honolulu, Hawai'i in 2003. It shares a campus with the Hongwanji Mission School; an elementary and middle school. Both schools are affiliated with the Honpa Hongwanji Jodo Shinshu mission.

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Buddhism in Thailand


Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school. Nearly 95% of Thailand's population is Buddhist of the Theravada school, though Buddhism in this country has become integrated with folk beliefs such as ancestor worship as well as Chinese religions from the large Thai-Chinese population. Buddhist temples in Thailand are characterized by tall golden stupas, and the Buddhist architecture of Thailand is similar to that in other Southeast Asian countries, particularly Cambodia and Laos, with which Thailand shares cultural and historical heritage.

Thai Buddhism was based on the religious movement founded in the sixth century B.C. by Siddhartha , later known as the Buddha, who urged the world to relinquish the extremes of sensuality and self-mortification and follow the enlightened Middle Way. The focus of this religion is on man, not gods; the assumption is that life is pain or suffering, which is a consequence of craving, and that suffering can end only if desire ceases. The end of suffering is the achievement of nirvana (in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, nibbana), often defined as the absence of craving and therefore of suffering, sometimes as enlightenment or bliss.

By the third century B.C., Buddhism had spread widely in Asia, and divergent interpretations of the Buddha's teachings had led to the establishment of several sects. The teachings that reached Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) were given in a final written form in Pali (an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit) to religious centers there in the first century A.D. and provided the Tipitaka (the scriptures or "three baskets"; in Sanskrit, Tripitaka) of Theravada Buddhism. This form of Buddhism reached what is now Thailand around the sixth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism was made the state religion only with the establishment of the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai in the thirteenth century A.D..According to many historians around 228 BC Sohn Uttar Sthavira ( one of the royal monks )to Ashoka the great came in Thailand (Suvarnabhumi or Suvannabhumi) with other monks and sacred books.

The details of the history of Buddhism in Thailand from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century are obscure, in part because few historical records or religious texts survived the Burmese destruction of Ayutthaya, the capital city of the kingdom, in 1767. The anthropologist-historian S.J. Tambiah, however, has suggested a general pattern for that era, at least with respect to the relations between Buddhism and the sangha on the one hand and the king on the other hand. In Thailand, as in other Theravada Buddhist kingdoms, the king was in principle thought of as patron and protector of the religion (sasana) and the sangha, while sasana and the sangha were considered in turn the treasures of the polity and the signs of its legitimacy. Religion and polity, however, remained separate domains, and in ordinary times the organizational links between the sangha and the king were not close.

Among the chief characteristics of Thai kingdoms and principalities in the centuries before 1800 were the tendency to expand and contract, problems of succession, and the changing scope of the king's authority. In effect, some Thai kings had greater power over larger territories, others less, and almost invariably a king who sought successfully to expand his power also exercised greater control over the sangha. That control was coupled with greater support and patronage of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. When a king was weak, however, protection and supervision of the sangha also weakened, and the sangha declined. This fluctuating pattern appears to have continued until the emergence of the Chakkri Dynasty in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

By the nineteenth century, and especially with the coming to power in 1851 of King Mongkut, who had been a monk himself for twenty-seven years, the sangha, like the kingdom, became steadily more centralized and hierarchical in nature and its links to the state more institutionalized. As a monk, Mongkut was a distinguished scholar of Pali Buddhist scripture. Moreover, at that time the immigration of numbers of monks from Burma was introducing the more rigorous discipline characteristic of the Mon sangha. Influenced by the Mon and guided by his own understanding of the Tipitaka, Mongkut began a reform movement that later became the basis for the Dhammayuttika order of monks. Under the reform, all practices having no authority other than custom were to be abandoned, canonical regulations were to be followed not mechanically but in spirit, and acts intended to improve an individual's standing on the road to nirvana but having no social value were rejected. This more rigorous discipline was adopted in its entirety by only a small minority of monasteries and monks. The Mahanikaya order, perhaps somewhat influenced by Mongkut's reforms but with a less exacting discipline than the Dhammayuttika order, comprised about 95 percent of all monks in 1970 and probably about the same percentage in the late 1980s. In any case, Mongkut was in a position to regularize and tighten the relations between monarchy and sangha at a time when the monarchy was expanding its control over the country in general and developing the kind of bureaucracy necessary to such control. The administrative and sangha reforms that Mongkut started were continued by his successor. In 1902 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) made the new sangha hierarchy formal and permanent through the Sangha Law of 1902, which remained the foundation of sangha administration in modern Thailand.

Three major forces have influenced the development of Buddhism in Thailand. The most visible influence is that of the Theravada school of Buddhism, imported from Sri Lanka. While there are significant local and regional variations, the Theravada school provides most of the major themes of Thai Buddhism. By tradition, Pāli is the language of religion in Thailand. Scriptures are recorded in Pāli, using either the modern Thai script or the older Khom and Tham scripts. Pāli is also used in religious liturgy, despite the fact that most Thais understand very little of this ancient language. The Pāli Tipitaka is the primary religious text of Thailand, though many local texts have been composed in order to summarise the vast number of teachings found in the Tipitaka. The monastic code (Patimokkha) followed by Thai monks is taken from the Pāli Theravada—something that has provided a point of controversy during recent attempts to resurrect the bhikkhuni lineage in Thailand.

The second major influence on Thai Buddhism is Hindu beliefs received from Cambodia, particularly during the Sukhothai period. Vedic Hinduism played a strong role in the early Thai institution of kingship, just as it did in Cambodia, and exerted influence in the creation of laws and order for Thai society as well as Thai religion. Certain rituals practiced in modern Thailand, either by monks or by Hindu ritual specialists, are either explicitly identified as Hindu in origin, or are easily seen to be derived from Hindu practices. While the visibility of Hinduism in Thai society has been diminished substantially during the Chakri dynasty, Hindu influences, particularly shrines to the god Brahma, continue to be seen in and around Buddhist institutions and ceremonies.

Folk religion—attempts to propitiate and attract the favor of local spirits known as phi—forms the third major influence on Thai Buddhism. While Western observers (as well as urbane and Western-educated Thais) have often drawn a clear line between Thai Buddhism and folk religious practices, this distinction is rarely observed in more rural locales. Spiritual power derived from the observance of Buddhist precepts and rituals is employed in attempting to appease local nature spirits. Many restrictions observed by rural Buddhist monks are derived not from the orthodox Vinaya, but from taboos derived from the practice of folk magic. Astrology, numerology, and the creation of talismans and charms also play a prominent role in Buddhism as practiced by the average Thai—topics that are, if not proscribed, at least marginalized in Buddhist texts.

Additional, more minor influences can be observed stemming from contact with Mahayana Buddhism. Early Buddhism in Thailand is thought to have been derived from an unknown Mahayana tradition. While Mahayana Buddhism was gradually eclipsed in Thailand, certain features of Thai Buddhism—such as the appearance of the bodhisattva Lokesvara in some Thai religious architecture, and the belief that the king of Thailand is a bodhisattva himself—reveal the influence of Mahayana concepts. The only other bodhisattva prominent in Thai religion is Maitreya; Maitreya is called (Thai: พระสังกัจจายน์), from a verb meaning to beam, emit, radiate, broadcast. Statues of Phra Sangkrachai can be found in most Thai Buddhist temples and on amulets as well. Thais sometimes pray to be reborn during the time of Maitreya, or dedicate merit from worship activities to that end.

In modern times, additional Mahayana influence has stemmed from the presence of Chinese immigrants in Thai society. While some Chinese have "converted" to Thai-style Theravada Buddhism, many others maintain their own separate temples in the East Asian Mahayana tradition. The growing popularity of the goddess Kuan Yin in Thailand (a form of Avalokitesvara) may be attributed to the Chinese Mahayanist presence in Thailand.

While Thailand is currently a constitutional monarchy, it inherited a strong Southeast Asian tradition of Buddhist kingship that tied the legitimacy of the state to its protection and support for Buddhist institutions. This connection has been maintained into the modern era, with Buddhist institutions and clergy being granted special benefits by the government, as well as being subjected to a certain amount of government oversight.

In addition to the ecclesiastic leadership of the sangha, a secular government ministry supervises Buddhist temples and monks. The legal status of Buddhist sects and reform movements has been an issue of contention in some cases, particularly in the case of Santi Asoke, which was legally forbidden from calling itself a Buddhist denomination, and in the case of the ordination of women- monks attempting to revive the Theravada bhikkhuni lineage have been prosecuted as though attempting to impersonate members of the clergy.

In addition to state support and recognition—-in the form of formal gifts to monasteries made by government officials and the royal family (for example, Kathin)—-a number of special rights are conferred upon Buddhist monks. They are granted free passage on public transportation, and most train stations and airports have special seating sections reserved for members of the clergy. Conversely, ordained monastics are forbidden from standing for office or voting in elections.

In 2007, calls were made by some Thais for Buddhism to be recognized in the new national constitution as a state religion. This suggestion was initially rejected by the committee charged with drafting the new constitution. This move prompted a number of protests from supporters of the initiative, including a number of marches on the capital and a hunger strike by twelve Buddhist monks. Some critics of the plan, including scholar and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa, have claimed that the movement to declare Buddhism a national religion is motivated by political gain, and may be being manipulated by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra.

The Constitution Drafting Committee later voted against the special status of Buddhism, provoking the religious groups. The groups condemned the Committee and the constitution draft. On August 11, Sirikit, the Queen of Thailand, expressed her concern over the issue. According to her birthday speech, Buddhism is beyond politics. Some Buddhist organizations announced the break of the campaigns a day after.

Like in most other Theravada nations, Buddhism in Thailand is represented primarily by the presence of Buddhist monks, who serve as officiants on ceremonial occasions, as well as being responsible for preserving and conveying the teachings of the Buddha.

Up until the latter half of the 20th century, most monks in Thailand began their careers by serving as dek wat (Thai: เด็กวัด) (literally, 'child of the wat'). Dek wat are traditionally no younger than eight, and do minor housework around the temple. The primary reason for becoming a dek wat is to gain a basic education, particularly in basic reading and writing and the memorization of the scriptures chanted on ritual occasions. Prior to the creation of state-run primary schools in Thailand, village temples served as the primary form of education for most Thai boys. Service in a temple as a dek wat was a necessary prerequisite for attaining any higher education, and was the only learning available to most Thai peasants. Since the creation of a government-run educational apparatus in Thailand, the number of children living as dek wat has declined significantly. However, many government-run schools continue to operate on the premise of the local village temple.

After serving (typically for four years or more) as a dek wat, a future monk typically ordains as a novice (samana in Pāli, or (Thai: สามเณร (สามะเนน)) samanen, but often shortened to nen (Thai: เณร (เนน)). Novices live according to the Ten Precepts, as do monks, but are not formally required to follow the full range of monastic rules found in the Patimokkha (Buddhist monastic code). There are a few other significant differences between novices and monks. Novices often are in closer contact with their families, spending more time in the homes of their parents than monks. Novices do not participate in the recitation of the monastic code (and the confessions of violations) that take place on the uposatha days. Novices technically do not eat with the monks in their temple, but this typically only amounts to a gap in seating, rather than the separation observed between monks and the laity.

Young men typically do not live as a novice for longer than one or two years. At the age of 20, they become eligible to receive upasampada, the higher ordination that establishes them as a full bhikkhu. A novice is technically sponsored by his parents in his ordination, but in practice in rural villages the entire village participates by providing the robes, alms bowl, and other requisites that will be required by the monk in his monastic life.

Temporary ordination is the norm among Thai Buddhists. Most young men traditionally ordain for the term of a single rainy season (known in Pāli as vassa, and in Thai as phansa). Those who remain monks beyond their first vassa typically remain monks for between one and three years, officiating at religious ceremonies in surrounding villages and possibly receiving further education in reading and writing (possibly including the Kham or Tham scripts traditionally used in recording religious texts). After this period of one to three years, most young monks return to lay life, going on to marry and begin a family. Young men in Thailand who have undergone ordination are seen as being more suitable partners for marriage; unordained men are euphemistically called 'raw', while those who have been ordained are said to be 'cooked'. A period as a monk is a prerequisite for many positions of leadership within the village hierarchy. Most village elders or headmen were once monks, as were most traditional doctors, spirit priests, and some astrologists and fortune tellers.

Monks who do not return to lay life typically specialize in either scholarship or meditation. Those who specialize in scholarship typically travel to regional education centers to begin further instruction in the Pāli language and the scriptures, and may then continue on to the major monastic universities located in Bangkok. The route of scholarship is also taken by monks who desire to rise in the ecclesiastic hierarchy, as promotions within the government-run system is contingent on passing examinations in Pāli and Buddhist philosophy.

Monks who specialize in meditation typically seek out a known master in the meditation tradition, under whom they will study for a period of years. 'Meditation monks' are particularly revered in Thai society as possessing great virtue and as potential sources of supernatural powers. Ironically, monks of the Thai Forest Tradition often find themselves struggling to find time and privacy to meditate in the face of enthusiastic supporters seeking their blessings and attention.

Unlike in Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka, the female Theravada bhikkhuni lineage was never established in Thailand. As a result, there is a wide-spread perception among Thais that women are not meant to play an active role in monastic life; instead, they are expected to live as lay followers, making merit in the hopes of being born in a different role in their next life. As a result, lay women primarily participate in religious life either as lay participants in collective merit-making rituals, or by doing domestic work around temples. A small number of women choose to become Mae Ji, non-ordained religious specialists who permanently observe either the eight or ten precepts. Mae Ji do not generally receive the level of support given to ordained monks, and their position in Thai society is the subject of some discussion.

Recently, there have been efforts to attempt to introduce a bhikkhuni lineage in Sri Lanka as a step towards improving the position of women in Thai Buddhism. Unlike similar efforts in Sri Lanka, these efforts have been extremely controversial in Thailand. Women attempting to ordain have been accused of attempting to impersonate monks (a civil offense in Thailand), and their actions have been denounced by many members of the ecclesiastic hierarchy. Most objections to the reintroduction of a female monastic role hinge on the fact that the monastic rules require that both five ordained monks and five ordained bhikkhunis be present for any new bhikkhuni ordination. Without such a quorum, critics say that it is not possible to ordain any new Theravada bhikkhuni. The Thai hierarchy refuses to recognize ordinations in the Taiwanese tradition (the only currently existing bhikkhuni ordination lineage) as valid Theravada ordinations, citing differences in philosophical teachings, and (more critically) monastic discipline.

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Buddhism in Bangladesh

Buddha giving the first sermon

Buddhism is the third largest religion in Bangladesh with about 0.7% of population adheres to the Theravada Buddhism. Most of the practitioners are from the south-eastern district of Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Most of the followers of Buddhism in Bangladesh live in the south-eastern region, especially in the Chittagong and Comilla district. There are also people of Arakanese descent living in the subtropical Chittagong Hill Tracts. Most of these people belong to the Chakma, Chak, Marma, Tenchungya and the Khyang, who since time immemorial have practiced Buddhism. Other tribals, notably those who practice Animism, have come under some Buddhist influence, and this is true in the case of the Khumi and the Mru, and to a lesser extent on the other tribes.

Bangladesh (historical Bengal) has a unique place in the history of Buddhism, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, Bengal was the last stronghold of Indian Buddhism where it could survive as a socio-cultural force until the 12th century, despite its disappearance from other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Secondly, it is generally believed that Bengal was the home of a form of Buddhism, namely, the Tantric Buddhism. Tantric Buddhism is a later development in Bengal and therefore it remains to be seen what specific factors are responsible for turning the pure form of Buddhism into tantricism and whether the mystic and esoteric practices in the Buddhism of Bangladesh are of distinctively Bengali origin.

In the early days of Buddhism, many kings and rulers like Bimbisara, Ashoka, Kanishka patronized the spread of Buddha's teaching. This continued until the Palas and Chandras of Bengal in the 12th century. Of course, Buddhism faced hostility from some of the rulers, but throughout the first millennium and beyond, Buddhism thrived in Bengal.

It is possible that Buddhism entered Bengal before Asoka's time. After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon at Saranath and then moved to Magadha, Kosala, Vaishali and other places within what was known as Majjhimadesha or Madhyadesha. In the Divyavadana, the eastern boundary of the Majjhimadesha is said to have extended as far as Pundravardhana (North Bengal). Furthermore, the Buddha is said to have received considerable support from King Bimbisara of Magadha who not only dedicated Venuvana as a residence for monks, but also remained his close friend and a great patron of his Dhamma throughout his life. Since Bengal was adjacent to Magadha, it is possible that the Buddha had visited parts of Bangladesh as suggested by Hiuen Tsang, who notes that Asoka had erected stupas at various places in Bengal and Orissa to commemorate these visits.

Asoka's Reign and the Post-Maurya Period Epigraphic and other sources reveal that Buddhism had established a powerful footing in Bengal during Asoka's reign. The discovery of a Mauryan inscription in Brahmi characters at Mahasthangarh in the district of Bogra bearing the name Pudanagala (Pundranagara) and the recovery of many Mauryan coins and other artifacts dating from the fourth and third centuries BC suggest that the Gangetic delta was under the control of the Mauryan empire. The Chinese traveller, I-tsing, is said to have noticed Asoka's stupas near tamralipti (Tamluk) and Karnasuvarna (modern Burdwan and Murshidabad districts) in current West Bengal, in Pundravardhana (North Bengal) and in Samatata (Bangladesh). The port of Tamralipti to the west of the Bhagirathi-Hooghli river, in particular, played an important role during Asoka's rule. It was from here, according to Mahavangsa, that the Buddhist mission from Asoka's capital city, Pataliputra, sailed for Sri Lanka to spread the message of the Buddha.

With the decline of the Maurya Empire, Buddhism lost the royal patronage which it once enjoyed. Pusyamitra, after killing his master, Brhadratha, declared himself the emperor and ascended the throne of Magadha. He founded the Sunga dynasty in the 2nd century BC. With the resurgence of the Sungas, Buddhism met with its first major setback. Buddhism, once a thriving religion, declined in the absence of the royal patronage, as also because of the unfavourable attitude of the Sunga kings towards Buddhism and the Sangha.

Contrary to this position, some Indian scholars are of the view that the orthodox Sunga kings were not intolerant towards Buddhism, and that Buddhism continued to prosper even during the time of the Sunga kings. During the Sunga period, Buddhism was in existence in Bengal, and this can also be inferred from a terracotta tablet that was found at a place called Tamralipti. This terracotta tablet is currently on exhibit at the Asutosh Museum, University of Calcutta.

The Kushana period (around 1st century) gave further impetus to Buddhism when Kanishka raised Buddhism to the status of the state religion , erected stupas and chaityas, built monasteries and, like Asoka, sent missions abroad. The discovery of Buddha images, copper and gold coins and inscriptions, belonging to this period, indicate the flourishing status of Buddhism during the reign of Kaniska.

Kings of the Gupta dynasty were devout adherents of a Hindu faith, sometimes called as Parama Bhagavatas, and they patronized and revived Hinduism, but they also possessed a tolerant outlook which allowed Buddhism to flourish. In the meantime, rise of the two powerful Hindu cults of Saivism and Vaisnavism, brought Buddhism closer to Hinduism. In its spiritual nihilism, Buddhism was approximated to the Bhakti movements so much so that, by the middle of the 6th century, the Buddha was accepted as an avatar of Vishnu.

According to Chinese sources, Maharaja Gupta, also known as Shri Gupta, the first ruler of the Gupta dynasty, built a Buddhist temple and offered it to Buddhist monks from China along with a gift of twenty four villages. This temple is believed to have remained a sacred place till the 7th century. Samudra Gupta, although a devout worshipper of Vishnu, also proved to be a great patron of Buddhism. It was during his reign that cultural relations between India and Ceylon were established. His teacher and guide, the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu, was appointed minister, and, with the permission of the Ceylonese King Meghavanna, a monastery was built at Bodh Gaya for the monks and pilgrims of Ceylon. Chandra Gupta II who, like his father Samudra Gupta, was a devout Vaisnava by faith, gave full freedom to the practice of other faiths in his empire.

During his visit to Bengal, Fa Xian is said to have travelled eastward along the course of the Ganges river, and during his journey, he came across Buddhist stupas and monks at several places. In a place named Tamralipti, Fa Xian is said to have spent two years, and visited twenty-two monasteries, inhabited by monks who lived in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya.

Archaeological evidences also support Fa Xian's account about the thriving state of Buddhism in the Gupta period. An inscription found at Gunaigarh near Comilla, bearing the year 188 of the Gupta era (corresponding to 506 or 507 of the Christian era), records a gift of land by Maharaja Vainya Gupta in favour of the Buddhist Avaivarttika Sangha of the Mahayana sect. The Sangha, founded by the Acharya Shantideva and housed in a monastery called Ashrama Vihara, was dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. The inscription also refers to other Buddhist monasteries, one of which was known as Raja Vihara, which literally translates into Royal Vihara. Two Buddhist sculptures, a standing image of the Buddha found at Biharail in Rajshahi district and a gold-plated bronze image of Manjushri discovered at Balai Dhap mound at Mahasthana in Bogra, also bear testimony to the flourishing state of Buddhism during the rule of the Gupta kings.

Both the Hinayana and Mahayana sects of Buddhism flourished during the Gupta period. A number of Buddhist inscriptions, seals, images and manuscripts in Gupta characters, discovered at various archaeological excavations sites, testify to the thriving state of the early Hinayana schools, namely, the Sarvastivadins, the Sammatiyas (or the Vatsiputriyas) and Sthavirvadins. Gradually, Hinayana lost its hold, and Mahayana took ascendancy over Hinayana. Mahayana, with its ultra-altruistic principles, its scope for devotion and worship, and its opening of the state of Bodhisattvahood began to capture the imagination of common people, and acquired the status of an important religious movement. As Mahayana grew popular, Bodhisattvas such as Manjusri, Avalokitesvara and the goddess Prajnaparamita rose to occupy important positions. The Adi Buddha and Amitabha Buddha also received special attention. Worship of Bodhisattva images along with the image of the Buddha turned into a common practice. The Mahayanists are said to have revered the Prajna texts just as the Hinayanists revered their Vinaya and Abhidharma books. The Mahayanists are also said to have practised spells (dharanis) for religious purposes.

Hiuen Tsang visited India in the 7th century and visited almost all the major places associated with Buddhism in Bangladesh. According to him, there were six or seven Buddhist monasteries at Kajangala near Rajmahal, housing over three hundred monks. In the northern part of the country, he also claimed to have seen a belvedere built of stone and brick, with a broad and high base, artistic ornamentation and distinct carved images of the Buddha and the devas. At Pundravardhana he is said to have found twenty Buddhist monasteries with more than 3,000 monks who practised both Hinayana and Mahayana. The magnificent Po-shi-po, with spacious halls and storeyed chambers, occupied by over 700 monks, was located in the vicinity of the capital of Pundravardhana. There is also mention of a temple with an image of Avalokitesvara not far from this establishment, which attracted visitors from far and near.

Fa Xian visited India in the 5th century, and found that some of the old Buddhist centres like Kapilavastu and Saraswati were in a neglected and ruinous state, while Pataliputra, Mathura, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Nalanda were flourishing as active centres of Buddhism. The great monastery of Nalanda, which was founded by Kumara Gupta Mahendraditya, rose to prominence in the Gupta period and in course of time turned into a university and became the greatest centre of Buddhist learning in Asia. From an early date, the Buddhists of Bengal were closely linked with this great institution, although it was situated in Magadha. Prior to Hiuen Tsang's visit to Nalanda, Acharya Dharmapala had been the high priest of its monastery. He was succeeded by his disciple Acharya shilabhadra, a scion of a Brahmana king of Samatata. It was under Silabhadra's guidance that Hiuen Tsang studied Buddhist philosophy, including the vedas and Sangkhya Shastras, for five years. Not only scholars from Bengal but also its kings, the Guptas, the Palas etc., contributed to the development of the great institutions at Nalanda.

During the post-Gupta period, Harsavardhana gave Buddhism a new impetus. But, in the 7th century, Shashanka came to the throne, who is claimed to have been hostile to Buddhism. According to Hiuen Tsang's account, Shashanka ordered the extermination of the Buddhist monks in and around Kushinagar; he cut down the holy Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya and threw into the Ganges a sacred stone bearing the footprints of the Buddha. He is also said to have removed a Buddha image from a temple close to the Bodhi tree and replaced it with an image of Hindu god Lord Shiva.

Contrary to this, the reign of Emperor Harsavardhana (606-647) was one of resurgence and renewed progress and development. Despite being a worshipper of Shiva and Surya, Harsavardhana had great leanings towards Buddhism, and his elder brother, Rajyavardhana, and sister Rajyashri both were being devout Buddhists. Harsa was at first a follower of the Hinayana sect, but, in later life, became an ardent follower of Mahayana. Some of his notable contributions to the cause of Buddhism include erecting stupas on the banks of the Ganges, building monasteries at places sacred to Buddhism, and forbidding the slaying of animals. Another of his important contributions to Buddhism was his convening regularly the quinquennial convocation in which he gave away in religious alms everything he possessed. Harsa used to summon Buddhist monks once a year for religious discussions. Harsa was specially attached to Nalanda and extended help liberally.

After Harsavardhana, the Khadga dynasty is said to be the first Buddhist dynasty to rule an independent Bengal between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The discovery of two copperplates, one at Ashrafpur, 30 miles north-east of Dhaka and another at Deulbari, 14 miles south of Comilla, gives valuable information about this royal dynasty. These copperplates mention the names of three kings, Khadgodyama, Jatakhadga and Devakhadga, and include the names of the queen and the son of Devakhadga, Prabhavati and Rajaraja or Rajarajabhata. I-tsing's account notes that as many as fifty-six Buddhist priests from China visited India and its neighbouring areas in the latter half of the 7th century AD. One of these monks, Sheng-chi, who visited Samatata, mentions Rajabhata as its king and describes him as an ardent worshipper of the three gems (Triratna), that is, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. There were 30 monasteries with more that 4,000 monks in Samatata alone during the pilgrim's visit. It is clear from all these that during the reign of the Khadga kings, Buddhism continued to flourish in Bengal during the 7th century AD.

The Pala Dynasty ruled Bengal from 8th to 12th century, and this period is regarded as the golden age of Buddhism in Bengal. The Pala rulers were devout Buddhists (Parama-saugata), and were also equally sympathetic to other religious faiths. Palas invoked the Buddha at the beginning of their official records and proceedings. Under the royal patronage of the Pala kings, Buddhism and all institutions associated with Buddhism continuously flourished and thrived in Bengal for four centuries under the patronage of the Pala kings. During the same period, Buddhism was almost wiped out in other parts of the Indian subcontinent, and at the same time, it also became a dominant force in neighbouring regions, extending its influence to Tibet in the north and the Malaya peninsula in the south.

Archaeological and epigraphic discoveries indicate the generous support of the Pala rulers towards Buddhism, and instances of the Palas' patronage of Buddhism are numerous. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, King Gopala (750-770) built a monastery at Nalanda and established many schools for dissemination of Buddhist principles. According to Taranatha, many distinguished Buddhist teachers flourished during the reign of King Gopala, prominent among them were Danashila, Vishesamitra, Sura and Praj�avarman. The Odantapuri Vihara was an example of rare architectural beauty. The famous Sam-ye monastery of Tibet is believed to have been built on the model of this great Vihara.

King Dharmapala (770-781) continued the religious policy of his father, and he also extended liberal support to Buddhist establishments. He founded the famous Vikramshila Vihara on a hill top on the bank of the Ganges river in Magadha. This Vihara soon rose to prominence as an international centre of learning and emerged as a university, second only to Nalanda. Vikramshila University maintained contact with Tibet and several Tibetan scholars participated in the affairs of the university throughout the rule of the Pala dynasty. Several of Vikramashila scholars, who once numbered 3000 in the 12th century, composed numerous books in Sanskrit, and also translated them into Tibetan. The curricula of the university included logic, metaphysics, grammar, tantras, and rituals. Importantly, the reigning monarch of the land awarded degrees to the students.

A monastery, built by King Dharmapala at Somapura Rajshahi district, and now better known as the Somapura Mahavihara (Naogaon) and which became a model for many such monasteries in South-east Asia, stands as a magnificent testament to the Pala patronage of Buddhism. King Dharmapala is also said to have established at least fifty religious schools designed to teach Buddhist philosophy, and to study Prajnaparamita in particular. He was a great patron of the Buddhist writer, Haribhadra, and, during his reign, as in his father's, many distinguished Buddhist teachers, such as Purnavardhana, Prabhakara, Kalyanagupta, Sagaramegha, Bhuddhaj�apada, flourished.

Under King Devapala (810-850), the Pala empire reached the zenith of its glory, and Bengal became a paramount power. King Devapala is said to have granted an endowment of five villages for the upkeep of a monastery founded by King Balaputradeva of Java, Sumatra and Malaya. Not only did he complete the Somapura establishment, he also showed keen interest in the well-being of the Vikramshila Vihara. Mahipala I, the ninth king of the Pala dynasty and rightly called the founder of the second Pala empire, is responsible for the revival of the past glory of the Buddhist establishments. He repaired the Buddhist monuments at Nalanda and constructed two new temples at Bodh Gaya. Many famous monasteries were built during the Pala period of which mention may be made of Jagaddala, Traikutaka, Pandita, Devikota, Pattikeraka, Sannagara, Phullahari and Vikramapuri.

Buddhism flourished during the reign of the Chandra dynasty in Harikela (eastern and southern parts of Bengal). The discovery of a large Buddha stupa, Salbana Vihara and other inscriptions at the Mainamati hills, four miles to the west of Comilla, still bears testimony to the condition of Buddhism during the Chandra kings. According to Tibetan sources, Buddhist tantricism flourished under the Chandra rule. The famous Buddhist scholar of Vikramapura, Atisha Dipankara Srijnana, is believed to be related to the Chandra dynasty.

The Pala Kingdom was not only the last stronghold of dying Buddhism in India, it was also responsible for the rise of Tantric Buddhism. This new phase of Mahayana Buddhism has been variously designated by Charles Eliot and others as 'late', 'degenerate', and 'corrupt'. Such allegations are based on the assumption that when Buddhism entered Bengal, it gradually came under the powerful influence of tantric beliefs and practices, including what are known as sexo-yogic practices, which made it fall away from the purity of its early form and eventually develop into what came to be known as esoteric or magical Buddhism.

Professor Trevor Ling opines that in Bengal from the time of Asoka to the Pala period, both the Hinayana and Mahayana, not the tantric, forms of Buddhism were practised. He describes the classical pattern of Buddhism as a three-cornered relationship between Sanga, king and people and emphasizes that the Buddhism of the Pala period was a true representative example of this classical pattern. Trevor Ling and many others believe that the Pala rule in Bengal heralded an era of progress in culture, religion, education, literature, art and sculpture. Amongst other achievements of the Palas, Ling has particularly mentioned their active patronage of Bangla language and literature. It was in a popular new language, a proto-Bangla form, that the Buddhist poets composed what are known to be the first poems of Bangla literature, the famous charyapada, a Tantric work of twenty-three Buddhist Tantrikists known as Siddhas.

The Sena Dynasty gained prominence after the decline of the Palas. The Senas were orthodox followers of Saivaism or Vaisnavism. Under them, the royal support for Buddhism ended. As a consequence, Buddhism soon began to decline and disintegrate. The biggest factor of course was the advent of Islam through the subsequent defeat of the Sena dynasty at the hands of the Turkish invader Bakhtiyar Khalji, whose fources vandalized and destroyed several Buddhist universities, including Nalanda and Vikramshila. After that, many of the surviving Buddhist monks fled to Nepal, Tibet or Bhutan. The Buddhist laity were either converted to Islam or were integrated into the fold of Hinduism. Buddhism, as a separate entity, was almost extinct, surviving in many debased forms of popular practices such as dharma thakur puja or the puja of Jagannath.

The decline of Buddhism, however, did not result in its total disappearance from the land of its birth, and it continued to survive in various forms of popular worship, rites and rituals until its resurgence in modern India. With its rediscovery in its parent country, the traditions of Buddhism were significantly recognized so that the Asokan pillar, the sacred Wheel of Law (Dharmachakra) and the Singhanada sculpture from Saranatha are now a part of Indian national life and heritage. The renewal of Buddhism in India today is attributed to Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, who led the mass conversion of millions of untouchables or 'Scheduled Castes' to Buddhism in 1956. In Bengal, however, the revival of Buddhism seems to have taken place centuries before Dr BR Ambedkar's introduction of the neo-Buddhist movement in Maharastra and other places. In the districts of Chittagong and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the south-eastern parts of Bangladesh, a Buddhist minority had been practising Theravada long before the Moghuls and the British arrived in Bengal. In course of time, these Buddhists reformed their Sangha and in 1887 founded the Chittagong Buddhist Association, believed to be the first Buddhist society to be formed in the South Asian sub-continent.

There are several monasteries in the Chittagong Hills area, and in most Buddhist villages there is a school (kyong) where boys live and learn to read Burmese and some Pali (an ancient Buddhist scriptural language). It is common for men who have finished their schooling to return at regular intervals for periods of residence in the school. The local Buddhist shrine is often an important center of village life.

Essentially tolerant, Buddhism outside the monastic retreats has absorbed and adapted indigenous popular creeds and cults of the regions to which it has spread. In most areas religious ritual focuses on the image of the Buddha, and the major festivals observed by Buddhists in Bangladesh commemorate the important events of his life. Although doctrinal Buddhism rejects the worship of gods and preserves the memory of the Buddha as an enlightened man, popular Buddhism contains a pantheon of gods and lesser deities headed by the Buddha.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs provides assistance for the maintenance of Buddhist places of worship and relics. The ancient monasteries at Paharpur (in Rajshahi Region) and Mainamati (in Comilla Region), dating from the seventh to ninth century A.D., are considered unique for their size and setting and are maintained as state-protected monuments.

This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain.

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