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Buddhism




A religion that traces its history back to the BUDDHA, Siddhartha Gautama (c. 560–c. 480 B.C.E.). Buddhism is widely practiced throughout southeast and east Asia. It also has strong traditional ties to Tibet (see TIBETAN RELIGION). In the 20th century small but vigorous Buddhist communities were established in North America and Europe. HISTORY Siddhartha Gautama is said to have discerned the path that leads to release from suffering and rebirth (SAMSARA) at the age of 35. He lived almost to the age of 80. During his last 45 years he traveled widely in India, teaching and organizing the community of wandering ascetics (see SANGHA). By the time of his death or, as Buddhists prefer to say, his parinirvana (see NIRVANA), Buddhism was fi rmly established. During the next 1,200 years, Buddhism spread beyond India in three major waves. The fi rst wave, associated with the famed emperor of India, ASOKA, began in the third century B.C.E. The dominant form of Buddhism at that time was Theravada, "The Teachings of the Elders." This school adheres to the letter of Siddhartha's teaching. Carried along the oceanic trade routes southeast of India, Theravada became the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia (also known as Kampuchea). The second major wave of Buddhist expansion began roughly in the second century C.E. By this time Mahayana or "Great Vehicle" Buddhism had become dominant. Mahayana does not adhere strictly to the Buddha's words. It strives instead to recover the Buddha's experience of enlightenment. Carried along the land trade routes from northwest India, Mahayana became the dominant form of Buddhism in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The third wave of expansion began in the seventh century and carried Buddhism to Tibet and surrounding areas. The form of Buddhism that became dominant in these regions is Vajrayana, "Diamond Vehicle." It emphasizes the special powers of RITUALS, diagrams, and objects. In India itself Buddhism virtually died out. First it succumbed to a Hindu revival movement centered on devotion to various gods that began about the eighth century C.E. This movement, known as BHAKTI, took lay supporters away from Buddhism. Then, starting in the 12th century Muslim invaders pillaged monasteries and convents and forced MONKS AND NUNS to abandon the order. Indian Buddhism began to revive, however, toward the end of the 19th century. During the 20th century some North Americans and Europeans became very interested in Buddhism (see BUDDHISM IN AMERICA). BEL...


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Buddhism

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