Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "Buddha", who lived in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. He probably 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). Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: devotional practices, ritual, ethical conduct, the invocation of holy beings that help them achieve Nirvana, altruistic behaviour, renunciation of worldly matters, study, meditation, and cultivation of wisdom.
"Buddha" is actually a title, meaning the "Enlightened One" or, more literally, "Awakened One". Buddhism has spread through these main branches:
Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism doesn't have a clearly definable common core. Also, there is significant disagreement over the importance of various scriptures. For instance, the Tipitaka's Nikayas (Agamas to Mahayana Buddhists) are recognized by most Buddhist schools. However, in addition to this, the Mahayana branch regard the Mahayana sutras as more significant, scriptures that the Theravadins find irrelevant. Also, Vajrayana Buddhists find great value in the Tantras.
The following information about Buddha´s life comes from the Tipitaka (other scriptures give differing accounts).
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the city of Lumbini, Nepal, in Ancient India, and was raised in Kapilavastu. Moments after birth, according to the scriptures, he performed the first of several miracles. He took a few steps and proclaimed, "Supreme am I in the world. Greatest am I in the world. Noblest am I in the world. This is my last birth. Never shall I be reborn."
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 to take up his spiritual quest to become free from suffering by living the life of a mendicant ascetic, a highly respected spiritual practice at the time in ancient India. 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), thus 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 and vowed not to rise before achieving Nirvana. At age 35, after many days of meditation, he attained his goal of becoming a Buddha. He spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma. He died at age 80 in Kushinagara, India of 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 is the energy which drives Saṃsāra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Kusala (good or skillful) and akusala (bad or unskillful) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The content of unwholesome actions and the lower types of wholesome actions belongs to the subject of Śīla (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).
In Buddhism, Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work) is used specifically regarding those actions (of body, speech and mind) which spring from mental intent (in Pāli: cetana), and which bring about phala (from Sanskrit: fruit or consequence) or vipāka (from Pāli: result). 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 the effect. Karma can be either negative or positive; with its respective negative or positive vipāka.
The suffering caused by the karmic effects of previous thoughts, words and deeds can be alleviated by following the Noble Eightfold Path. In Theravada Buddhism there is no divine salvation or forgiveness from one's karma. In contrast, in some Mahayana sutras it is taught that powerful sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) can wholly expunge great swathes of negative karma by being heard or recited. According to the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin, the Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the karma that would otherwise bind one in samsara.
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,
According to the Pali Tipitaka, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are sometimes considered as containing the essence of the teachings of the Buddha and are presented in the manner of a medical diagnosis and remedial prescription in a style that was common at that time:
According to a common interpretation, they roughly state that:
This interpretation is followed closely by many modern Theravadins, described by early westerns scholars and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers like the Dalai Lama.
According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars and lately recognized by some western scholars as well the "truths" do not represent mere statements, but divisions or aspects of most phenomena, which falls into one of these four categories:
Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism they are
The early teaching, and the traditional understanding in the Theravada, 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 Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truths, is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). In the early sources (the four main Nikayas) it is not generally taught to laypeople, and it is little known in the Far East. It has eight sections, each starting with samyak (Sanskrit, meaning correctly, properly or well, frequently translated into English as right), and presented in three groups:
The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in one of two ways. It either requires simultaneous development—all eight items are practiced in parallel, or it is conceived as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.
More specifically, in Theravada Buddhism's Pali Canon, the Middle Way crystallizes the Buddha's Nirvana-bound path of moderation away from the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification and toward the practice of wisdom, morality and mental cultivation. In later Theravada texts as well as in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Middle Way refers to the concept, enunciated in the Canon, of direct knowledge that transcends seemingly antithetical claims about existence.
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 origination is, according to some, one of the Buddha's great contributions to philosophy, and provides a framework for analysis of reality that is not based on metaphysical assumptions regarding existence or non-existence, but instead on direct cognition of phenomena as they are presented to the mind. This informs and supports the Buddhist approach to liberation via ethical and meditative training known as the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Buddha is said not to have given lengthy descriptions of "ultimate reality." According to Karel Werner,
Experience is ... the path most elaborated in early Buddhism. The doctrine on the other hand was kept low. The Buddha avoided doctrinal formulations concerning the final reality as much as possible in order to prevent his followers from resting content with minor achievements on the path in which the absence of the final experience could be substituted by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith, a situation which sometimes occurs, in both varieties, in the context of Hindu systems of doctrine.
The Mahayana developed those statements he is said to have made into an extensive, diverse set of sometimes contrasting descriptions of reality "as it really is.
In the Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana sutras and Tantras, the Buddha is portrayed stessing that Dharma (Truth) cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic: Reality transcends all worldly concepts. What is urged is study, mental and moral self-cultivation and confidence in the sutras, which are as fingers pointing to the Truth, not the Truth itself. Then to let go of rationalizations and to experience direct Liberation itself. In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha in the self-styled "Uttara-Tantra", 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 the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism) also emphasises 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 yogi and teacher mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his 6 words of advice.
Most Buddhists agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, words are inadequate to describe the goal; schools differ radically on the usefulness of words in the path to that goal.
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, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages.
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.
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 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 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).
Theravāda promotes the concept of Vibhajjavada (Pali), literally "Teaching of Analysis". This doctrine says that insight must come from the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith.
Human beings always suffer throughout samsara, until they become free from this suffering when attaining Nirvana. Then the absence of ignorance leads to the absence of the others as above.
Nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali "Nibbana") means "cessation", "extinction" (of suffering) or (tṛṣṇā) "extinguished", "quited", "calmed; it's also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. Also, Buddhists believe that anybody who has achieved nirvana (also known as bodhi) is in fact a Buddha.
Mahayana Buddhism generally regards as its most important teaching the path of the bodhisattva. This already existed as a possibility in earlier Buddhism, as it still does in Theravada today, but the Mahayana gave it an increasing emphasis, eventually saying everyone should follow it.
In the Mahayana, the Buddha tend 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.
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 carries a meaning synonymous to Nirvana, using only some different similes to describe the experience, which implied the extinction of raga (greed), dosa (hate) and moha (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.
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 Amida 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/or the chanting of homage to his name will liberate one at death into the "happy land" (sukhavati) or "pure land" of Amitabha (called Amida in Japanese) 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 people will have faith in the power of that limitless great Vow, or will utter the liberational chant of Amida's 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.
In addition, Mahayana believes there are innumerable other Buddhas in other universes, but Theravada denies this.
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 few if any can follow the "complicated" path of some other schools, and present a "simple" practice instead.
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.
A famous saying by the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar-saint Shantideva, which the Dalai Lama often cites as his favourite verse, summarizes the Bodhisattva's intention (Bodhicitta) as follows: "For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."
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/pledge; which is considered the ultimate expression of compassion.
The "Three Jewels" are:
According to the scriptures, Gautama Buddha presented himself as a model. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana. The Saṅgha (Buddhist Order of monks) 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 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.
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. Throughout most of Buddhist history before modern times, serious meditation by lay people has been unusual.
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 ) 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 the 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 parasites that have infested the mind and 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. It should be noted that one could theoretically attain nirvana at any point of practice, while listening to a sermon, while conducting business of daily life or while in meditation.
Ch'an (Chinese) or Zen (Japanese) Buddhism (derived from the Sanskrit term, dhyana - "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 and Soto, the former greatly favouring the use in meditation on the koan (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.
The history of Indian Buddhism may be divided into the following five periods:
Certain basic teachings appear in many places throughout the early texts, so most scholars conclude that Gautama Buddha must have taught something similar to the following:
Some scholars disagree, and have proposed many other theories.
According to the scriptures, soon after the (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 northern lineages, including the Sarvastivada and Puggalavada (both branches of the ancient Sthaviras) attribute the Mahāsāṅghika schism to the '5 points' that erode the status of the arahant. 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 third century BCE, 100 to 200 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore the seven Abhidhamma 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 commonly expressed misconception that Mahayana started as a lay-inspired movement is based on a selective reading of a very tiny sample of extant Mahayana Sutra literature. Currently scholars have moved away from this limited corpus of literature, and have started to open up early Mahayana literature which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monks' life in the forest. A scholarly consensus about the origin of the Mahayana has not yet been reached, but it has been suggested that when Mahayana became popular in the fifth century AD, it had become what it originally most strongly objected to: a fully landed, sedentary, lay-oriented monastic institution. Before that, the Mahayana movement may well have been either a marginalized ascetic group of monks living in the forest, or a group of conservatives embedded in mainstream, socially engaged early Buddhist monasteries. Most scholars conclude that Mahayana remained a marginal movement until the 5th century AD.
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.
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 Aśoka the Great, 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, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and were translated into Chinese. During the Indian period of Esoteric Buddhism (from 8th century onwards), Buddhism spread from India to Tibet and Mongolia.
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 in India, is among the oldest organizations on earth.
The numbers of adherents of the three main traditions listed above are about 124, 185 and 20 million, respectively.
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.
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.
Despite some differences among the Theravada and Mahayana schools, there are, according to one Buddhist ecumenical organization, several concepts common to both major Buddhist branches:
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.
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.
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 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. For the Theravadins, however, the Mahayana sutras are works of poetic fiction, not the words of the Buddha. The Theravadins and adherents of other Early Buddhist schools are confident that the Pali Canon represents the full and final statement by Gautama Buddha of his Dhamma—and nothing more is truly needed beyond that. Anything outside of the Pali Canon and its commentaries that claims to be the word of the Buddha is treated with extreme caution if not outright rejection.
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). For Theravadins and many scholars, including A.K. Warder, however, the self-proclaimed "greatness" of the Mahayana Sutras does not make them a true account of the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha.
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.
Buddhism provides many opportunities for comparative study with a diverse range of subjects. For example, dependent origination can be considered one contribution of Buddhism to metaphysics. On the other hand, Buddhism's emphasis on the Middle way not only provides a unique guideline for ethics but it has also allowed Buddhism to peacefully coexist with various local beliefs, customs, and institutions in countries that adopted it throughout its history.
List of Buddhism related topics in comparative studies