Buddhism Essay, Research Paper
There were many religions that were practiced among the people of central Asia back in the early second and third centuries and forward. Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were among the main three religions practiced then. Buddhism has been around since 273 B.C. It started in India and traveled into central Asia and continued on into Korea and Japan becoming one of the major religions in all of central China. By the ninth century nine-tenths of the population in northwest China was converted to Buddhism. So let s take a closer look at Buddhism and find out who started the religion and what the beliefs are behind it. How did it become central Asia s major religion and what caused its decline?
Within the Gautama clan in India was a noble ranking man by the name of Siddhartha. According to the traditional story, Siddhartha had become distressed by all of the suffering around him. So he gave up his family and all his material comforts of life and set out on a life of wondering. It was during a time in his travels when he was close to the point of death that he sat beneath a papal tree and vowed not to move from the spot until Enlightment had been obtained. It was then that Siddhartha was known to have achieved Enlightment. From then on Siddhartha was referred to as Buddha – The Enlighten One. So how was Saddhartha s enlightment defined? It has been defined into what is known as the Four Great Truths. The first great truth is: Life is sorrow; second truth is: the cause of sorrow is desire; the third truth is: escape is only possible by stopping desire; and the fourth truth is: the cessation of desire can only be achieved by the eight fold path. A person who follows the eight – fold path must have the right belief, right ambition, right speech, right thoughts, and right pleasures, in order to reach
Nirvana (Stavrianos 84). The word Nirvana literally meant emptiness. However, it was later changed to mean an afterlife in paradise . This change was done in order for the laypeople to be able to obtain salvation through faith and good works that helped others. Through this thinking came the Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism was designed for the everyday life of the laypeople in order for them to be able to comprehend and observe Buddhism (84).
So Buddhism was started by one man s seek for truth, yet he never set out to start a religion or claimed to be a god. It was only after his death, that his disciples decided to continue preaching his teachings. His teachings continue to spread throughout India until 600 C.E. Buddhism then started to decline because it offered no ceremonies for birth, marriage or death. Failing to provide the people in India with the understanding of life, Buddhism faded within India, but then moved on into central Asia and China. The teachings of Buddha were spread by traders, missionaries, and by Chinese converter s who studied in India and traveled along the silk trade route.
When Buddhism was first presented to the Chinese, it was done so under the influence of the Taoist who used their own vocabulary for the translations. Therefore, the Chinese assumed Buddhism was only a slight variation of their own religion, when in fact they contradicted each other (Braudel 182). The Taoist believes in the absolute, which is the primary life force from which everything derives. They seek to reach the state in which there is neither present, nor past and that there is neither life nor death, it just is. Whereas the Buddhist believe in reincarnation and that life involves suffering. That the self has no real existence- they are only illusions.
Buddhism reached its peak in China around 700 C.E. From there Buddhism would then face yet another decline. The cause of the decline was due to internal decay and government
hostility. Monasteries and shrines were destroyed; nuns and monks were defrocked by the thousands. Buddhism never really recovered as the central religion of China. From then on out Buddhism would only stand as one of the three religions, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
So Buddhism continued traveling through Asia, reaching areas of Korea and then into the island of Japan. It reached Japan in the late sixth century when the Japanese at the time was under the Shinto religion. The Shinto looked entirely to the external world, one without icons, whereas Buddhism brought to the Japanese culture the words for compassion, wisdom, mercy, and kindness. It brought flexibility in the fact that there are many paths to the same final truth (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan 158).
Upon entering Japan, Buddhism was quickly adopted by the courts as the official state religion. The courts ordered temples to be built in all provinces and within the temples were countless images of Buddha, Shaka, Dainichi, and Yakushi. From within the walls of the temples sutras were designed. The sutra contained not only spells and promises of help, but passages of metaphysical doctrine, which were studied by the priest. This doctrine gave rise to the six schools of Nara Buddhism (159). By the ninth century both Shinto and Buddhism folded into one common system. A system that served as the religion for the majority of the Japanese through out history.
Buddhism continued to flourish and develop during the Hein period to the seventeenth period. It was during the Hein period that Buddhism began to change from a scholastic institution supported by the elite, into a religion of true popularity. During the thirteenth century Buddhism came close to evolving into a monotheistic religion with paradise and salvation in the afterlife. However, in the seventeenth century under the Tokugawa regime, the power of
Buddhism was broken and lost forever. Tokugawa put Buddhism as an institution under strict
government supervision. Priests and colorful figures stood out as rebels and temples were reduced in numbers. Little comfort was brought to the Buddhist religion during the Meiji Empire. It was here that the Buddhist faced yet their darkest hours. Under the Meiji Empire temples were destroyed and land was lost. The Buddhist religion would never regain it strength
Even though Buddhism declined at some point in time in all of the three countries it traveled through, it has yet to die out completely. Buddhism is slowly regaining its strength. Mahayana forms of Buddhism are still being practiced in central Asia today and there are over 350 million Buddhists worldwide. Within the last century Buddhism has arrived in the West and hundreds of Buddhist centers and groups are sprouting up across the USA.
Bowering, Richard and Kornicki, Peter, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan.