Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion that comprises of a variety of beliefs, practices and traditions that are heavily based on teachings ascribed to Siddhartha Gautama, usually referred to as the Buddha. He was born in Nepal to a royal family. It is believed that Buddha lived and spread his philosophy in the north-eastern part of the Indian continent presumably between the 4th and the 6th centuries BC-about 2500 years ago.
Buddhists believe that Buddha was enlightened and awakened to come to the rescue of sentient human beings from suffering-referred to as dukka in their religion, another goal was the achievement of nirvana-the beatitude which transcends a cycle of re-incarnation (heaven), and the breaking loose from sufferings in the rebirth. For the last 4000 year Buddhism has been influencing the lives of people across Asia.
Theravada Buddhism and Buddhism in general have over the years shaped many aspects of society politically, socially and economically. Many a times a question is posed as to whether Buddhism is a religion. To many people Buddhism is more than just a religion it is a way of life, it is regarded as a philosophy. This has contributed to a type of leadership in Buddhist cultural territories such as those in Thailand guided by the Theravada Buddhism philosophy on how to govern their people and also for people to know how to coexist peacefully.
Buddhism is classified into three broad branches namely: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism. The main reason for the split in Buddhism is due to the geographical separation as a result of migration. After migration communities meet new sets of conditions into which they should conform, in conformity this has led to the diversification of Buddhism. The split socially served to meet the new requirement and the resources the people had, it ensured a different way of exploiting the environment or copying with the new changes such as increase in population.
The East versus the west
Though no on a large-scale Buddhism has spread to the west, for example, it was found in the 2001 census that there are 152000 Buddhists in England. The main reason as to why this has been limited is the fact that Buddhism is restricted by Pali, the language of its propagation.
Buddhism in the west is solitarily practiced contrary with the Buddhism in the east that is social rather than solitary. The Western Buddhist practice Buddhism on the basis that it conforms to modern mysticism portrayed in a respectable name.
Dogmatically reviewing this it is observed that Buddhism is not suitable to cultures that are specialized and where people's lives, their work, relationships, pleasure, entertainment and spirituality are separated. Western Buddhism is dogmatically individualistic while Buddhism should essentially be dogmatically holistic. The Westerners model Buddhism in such a way as to accommodate their modern social lives which advocate pleasure and entertainment. Western Buddhism has undergone simplification and compartmentalization and has the heart removed. Sangha- the community has been completely scraped. Genuine Buddhists are hard to find in the west, mostly there are pseudo-Buddhists
Theravada Buddhism is the oldest branch of Buddhism and means " the Elders' or Ancient Teachings "It originated from India and is the most conservative and generally the closest form of Buddhism to the Buddhism practiced earliest in India. With time though, there has been a slight degradation as a result of western civilization some of the original cultures have been let go.
Theravada Buddhism is practiced predominantly practiced in Sri Lanka where almost 70% of the population, it is also practiced widely in South East Asia- Thailand and Cambodia. Minority practice is in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is practiced by only a few ethnic groups. The political structures of these countries are driven and developed with Buddhism as a foundation.
This school of thought was derived from The Vibhajjavada grouping, which is a doctrine of analysis and formed continuation of an older Sthavira grouping at around 250BC during the era of the Third Buddhist council, during Emperor Asoka's reign. They viewed themselves as the continuation of Sthavira orthodox, The Third council continued to refer themselves as the Sthaviras.
Due to their geographical separation VibhajjavÄdins slowly evolved into a further four grouping made up of: the TÄmraparnÄ«ya. Dharmaguptaka, Kapyapiya and the Mahisaska .The Theravada group descended from the Tamraparniya- meaning "Sri Lankan lineage" This however does not imply any change in the doctrine or the scripture, it remained the VibhajjavÄdin. These groupings have developed their governments based on the old Theravada Buddhism.
The language that Theravada Buddhists use is the Pali language which the canonical text is written. This language has been an instrumental attribute of Buddhism since the teachings were recorded in it. An English-Pali dictionary has been developed signifying the spread of Buddhism.
The Sangha systematically arranged the teachings into three "baskets":Vinaya Pitaka- discipline, this included the laws and customs, Sutta Pitaka- Basket of discourses this comprised the teachings and utterances of the Buddha and the Abhihamma Pitaka-Basket of higher doctrine. The Three are referred to as the Tipitaka - The three baskets. These together with the canonical texts which are an errant compilation of Theravada classical literature that provides guidance to Theravada Buddhists.
Buddhism does not hold belief of any supernatural solutions. It propagates the notion of awakening or enlightening from meditation. Just like any form of Buddhism Theravada Buddhism upholds these beliefs. Buddhists believe in incarnations, this is as is the case of Buddha's enlightening. They don't believe in the existence of a God. After death they believe in the transfiguration of the soul.
Theravada Buddhism lays emphasis on self-liberation as a result from the individual's efforts. The key to enlightening or awakening is only via meditation. Theravada Buddhists transform themselves by the use of meditation hence scribes and monks spend a great deal of their time in meditation .A worthy person is one who has achieved liberalization-They are referred to as Arhat.
There are numerous days when commemorations and other ceremonies are carried out by Theravada. These include: Wesak marking the birth, Enlightening is also a ceremony and Parinibbana -Commemorates the passing of the Buddha. The people converge at the temple on such events. This provides people with a social platform so that they can share their problems, meet new people and generally improve their societies
Monasteries normally have utilities for lay people to have retreats. Accommodation is offered provided they abide by the eight precepts/taboos that include: Abstaining from killing, stealing, engaging in sexual activity, careless or unskillful speech, taking intoxicating drink or drugs, eating after midday, wearing adornments, seeking entertainments, and from sleeping in soft, luxurious beds.
Mahayana practice is built around the virtue of compassion, the main goal being the development of a strong and true bodhicitta. The two most well-known scriptures used are the Heart Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. Individual schools however have their own scriptures. The Mahayana regard them as an evolution of Buddhism. They represent a very deep perceptivity of Buddha's teachings than the Theravada. The Theravada Buddhists are therefore labeled Hinayana- meaning 'lesser vehicle'. Modern teaches are however discouraging this attitude. Compassion in society is an important aspect as it allows people to coexist peacefully.
Academics consider the Vajrayana a part of Mahayana Buddhism. It is mainly practiced by Tibetan and Japanese lineage Buddhists. It differs from Theravada Buddhism in that its focus is mainly on esoteric transmission, highly particular meditative and other practices designed to directly realize Buddha hood.
Theravada Buddhism is being adopted more widely in newer parts of the world utter than Asia, there has also been a marked increase in publications on the subject. A Pali dictionary for example has been developed to increase the number of people who can study the subject.
The Social Face of Buddhism
There has been an increased integration of Buddhism in governments that has become an important aspect in the manipulation of the populace as is normal for religions to do. This has an influence on what legislations to or not to support. The 1945 nuclear attack was a failure to Buddhism as most of the military men had been given Buddhist training and in collaboration with the fascist Japanese rule Zen Buddhists were seen as a failure.
Buddhism has been used as a solution for industrial and work problems. Corporations have been known to give their employees Buddhist teaching in a bid to improve work ethics and tackle problems of social malaise, discord and dissatisfaction exhibited by practices such as concealing symptoms of illnesses. Buddhism in this case serves as an individual remedy.
I view Buddhism as a religion whose values transcend race, culture, nationality, time and even space. It preaches good morals that are universal; people should be more tolerant and respect their beliefs. Buddhists advocate and practice non-violence and compassion, this builds a tolerant society, in which coexistence is simplified. They despise revenge and hatred and with these the society is a better place.
Buddhism is an important religion in the propagation of global peace and other stability movements; they uphold environmental awareness and boost good politics. Anthropologically this is good for the society in general.