Buddhism: philosophy, practice, religious views and beliefs
Introduction to Buddhism
Buddhism is one of the most inspiring world philosophies. On this site you will find information on the Buddhist path, various Buddhist traditions like Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, basic concepts and links to more information.
Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism
The main types of Buddhism today
There are basically two main streams in Buddhism today. There is Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.
Theravada Buddhism has the teachings of the Buddha as kept alive by the Sangha (Buddhist monks) and the texts in the Pali Canon as its basis. In the West it is mostly known through it's Vipassana incarnation, as well as the Mindfulness movement (a secular shoot-off).
Buddhism: where is it practiced? - Buddhist practices
In the West we are used to people being of only one religion at a time. This is changing, but it is still easy for people to give a clear answer to the question: 'are you a Christian?'. The answer to the question: 'are you a Buddhist?' is traditionally harder.
In Japan for instance it is quite normal for people to only start practicing Buddhism when they are old, or sick. Before that time the label 'Shinto' seems to fit better. In Japan, and to a lesser extent in other Asian countries, there is no sense that you have to be Buddhist OR Christian.
This means that it is especially hard to make a map of the world religions and where they are practiced. The following map is more of a 'this is where Buddhist practices and beliefs have had a historical impart or are now still alive' map. There is no claim that a majority of the people in these countries pray daily, for instance.
Adherents.com notes that the following countries have the largest Buddhist populations.
- China - 102,000,000
- Japan - 89,650,000
- Thailand - 55,480,000
- Vietnam - 49,690,000
- Myanmar - 41,610,000
- Sri Lanka - 12,540,000
- South Korea - 10,920,000
- Taiwan - 9,150,000
- Cambodia - 9,130,000
- India - 7,000,000
Note that any number given to China is speculation.
The most important Buddhist religious beliefs
The word reincarnation doesn't fit Buddhism very well - as it suggests that there is a soul that reincarnates. But since karma goes on, something is reborn nonetheless... That's why Buddhists often prefer the term 'rebirth'.
Buddhist ritual - Practices of buddhism
Buddha with Flowers
Stephane De Bourgies
In religious studies all kinds of things are ritual. Meditation for instance - is a ritual. Nothing wrong with ritual - it's just stuff people do repeatedly.
Buddhism is known in the west as a non-ritualistic religion, but that's really just the part of Buddhism that got transferred to the West. Buddhism as practiced in Asia does include a lot of ritual.I'm not going to number all the Buddhist rituals out there, just the ones that really define a Buddhist.
Two of the main rituals Buddhists performed in all Buddhist countries:
1) TO TAKE REFUGE IN THE BUDDHA, THE DHARMA, THE SANGHA
This ritual is what defines a Buddhist. To take refuge is often a ritual done more than once in a lifetime and in Theravada Buddhist countries a lot of other rituals start by taking refuge.
- Buddha stands for Gautama Buddha.
- Dharma means the Buddhist teachings (in this context)
- Sangha can stand for the fellowship of all Buddhists - but the word Sangha is also often used to refer to the Buddhist monks (and nons, if there are any).
More on taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha
2) TAKING THE FIVE PRECEPTSIn Buddhist countries there is a practice that distinguishes 'lay Buddhists' from ordinary Buddhists. It is also practiced on Buddhist holidays by serious Buddhists. This practice is the Taking of the Five Precepts.
The five precepts are:
1. Do not take life
2. Do not take what is not given
3. Do not distort facts
4. Refrain from misuse of the senses
5. Refrain from self-intoxication through alcohol or drugs
Most of these are reasonably clear, I think.
The part about not refraining from the misuse of the senses refers to unlawful sexual activities. For married people this just means they should keep it within the marriage. For monks and nuns this means refraining from sexual activity altogether.
3) TAKING THE BODHISATTVA VOW
This one is a bonus. There is no historical reason to think the Bodhisattva Vow goes back all the way to Gautama Buddha.
Still, in Mahayana Buddhism taking the Bodhisattva Vow is about as normal as taking the five precepts is in Theravada Buddhism. People vow to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
There are also rituals associated with monks and nuns. Buddhist ritual for lay people and monastics will vary a per country and tradition.
The Spiritual Retreat - a modern version of an ancient practice
Buddhism is in a process of transformation world wide. It used to be all about monks (and a few nuns). The monks were supported by lay Buddhists and the ideal life was that of the monk. In the 20th century many of the practices of monks have become part time practices for lay people as well.
Meditation is done in the home these days - but it's also taught in spiritual retreat centers.
Ashram is technically a Hindu word. The way they are run though is not unique to Hinduism. For instance Plum Village, the spiritual retreat centre of Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has features that fit the label. Except it's Buddhist. Since ashrams can also be places for general spiritual practice, it's a fading line.
Some say Buddhism is a religion. Others say it's a philosophy
There is a long tradition in the West to regard Buddhism as a philosophy. A more nuanced position is that while it can be practiced secularly, it is a religion.