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The History of Buddhism

The History of Buddhism

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Published by: chheyleang007 on Jun 17, 2010
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The History of Buddhism
Soon after Buddha's death or parinirvana, fivehundred monks met at the first council at Rajagrha,under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited themonastic code (Vinaya) as he remembered it. Ananda, Buddha's cousin, friend, and favoritedisciple -- and a man of prodigious memory! --recited Buddha's lessons (the Sutras). The monksdebated details and voted on final versions. Thesewere then committed to memory by other monks, tobe translated into the many languages of the Indian plains. It should be noted that Buddhism remained anoral tradition for over 200 years.In the next few centuries, the original unity of Buddhism began to fragment. The most significant split occurred after the second council, held at Vaishali 100 years after the first. After debates between a more liberal group and traditionalists, the liberal groupleft and labeled themselves the Mahasangha -- "the great sangha." They would eventually evolve into the Mahayana tradition of northern Asia.The traditionalists, now referred to as Sthaviravada or "way of the elders" (or, inPali, Theravada), developeda complex set of philosophical ideas beyond thoseelucidated by Buddha. These were collected into the Abhidharma or "higher teachings." But they, too, encouraged disagreements, so that one splinter groupafter another left the fold. Ultimately, 18 schools developed, each with their owninterpretations of various issues, and spread all over India and Southeast Asia.Today, only the school stemming from the Sri Lankan Theravadan survives. AshokaOne of the most significant events in the history of Buddhism is the chanceencounter of the monk Nigrodha and the emperor Ashoka Maurya. Ashoka,succeeding his father after a bloody power struggle in 268 bc, found himself deeply disturbed by the carnage he caused while suppressing a revolt in the land of the Kalingas. Meeting Nigrodha convinced Emperor Ashoka to devote himself to peace. On his orders, thousands of rock pillars were erected, bearing the words of the Buddha, in the brahmi script the first written evidence of Buddhism. The third council of monks was held at Pataliputra, the capital of Ashoka's empire.There is a story that tells about a poor young boy who, having nothing to give theBuddha as a gift, collected a handful of dust and innocently presented it. The
 
Buddha smiled and accepted it with the same graciousness he accepted the giftsof wealthy admirers. That boy, it is said, was reborn as the Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka sent missionaries all over India and beyond. Some went as far as Egypt,Palestine, and Greece. St.Origen even mentions them as having reached Britain. The Greeks of one of the Alexandrian kingdoms of northern India adopted Buddhism, after their KingMenandros (Pali: Milinda) was convinced by a monk named Nagasena theconversation immortalized in the Milinda Pañha. A Kushan king of north Indianamed Kanishka was also converted, and a council was held in Kashmir in about 100 ad. Greek Buddhists there recorded the Sutras on copper sheets which,unfortunately, were never recovered.It is interesting to note that there is a saint in Orthodox Christianity named  Josaphat, an Indian king whose story is essentially that of the Buddha. Josaphat isthought to be a distortion of the word bodhisattva.
Sri Lanka and Theravada
Emperor Ashoka sent one of his sons, Mahinda, and one of his daughters,Sanghamitta, a monk and a nun, to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) around the year 240 bc.The king of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa, welcomed them and wasconverted. One of the gifts they brought with them was a branch of the bodhi tree,which was successfully transplanted. The descendants of this branch can still be found on the island.The fourth council was held in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave, in the first century bc. During this time as well, and for the first time, the entire set of Sutras wererecorded in the Pali language on palm leaves. This became Theravada's PaliCanon, from which so much of our knowledge of Buddhism stems. It is also called the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka), or three baskets: The three sections of the canonare the Vinaya Pitaka (the monastic law), the Sutta Pitaka (words of the Buddha),and the Abhidamma Pitaka (the philosophical commentaries).In a very real sense, Sri Lanka's monks may be credited with saving theTheravada tradition: Although it had spread once from India all over southeast  Asia, it had nearly died out due to competition from Hinduism and Islam, as well as war and colonialism. Theravada monks spread their tradition from Sri Lankato Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, and from these lands toEurope and the west generally.
Mahayana
Mahayana began in the first century bc, as a development of the Mahasangharebellion. Their more liberal attitudes toward monastic tradition allowed the lay community to have a greater voice in the nature of Buddhism. For better or worse, the simpler needs of the common folk were easier for the Mahayanists to
 
meet. For example, the people were used to gods and heroes. So, the Trikaya(three bodies) doctrine came into being: Not only was Buddha a man who becameenlightened, he was also represented by various god-like Buddhas in variousappealing heavens, as well as by the Dharma itself, or Shunyata (emptiness), or Buddha-Mind, depending on which interpretation we look at -- sort of a Buddhist Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! More important, however, was the increased importance of the Bodhisattva. ABodhisattva is someone who has attained enlightenment, but who chooses toremain in this world of Samsara in order to bring others to enlightenment. He is alot like a saint, a spiritual hero, for the people to admire and appeal to. Along with new ideas came new scriptures. Also called Sutras, they are oftenattributed to Buddha himself, sometimes as special transmissions that Buddhasupposedly felt were too difficult for his original listeners and therefore werehidden until the times were ripe. The most significant of these new Sutras arethese:Prajñaparamitaor Perfection of Wisdom, an enormous collection of often esoterictexts, including the famous Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. The earliest known piece of printing in the world is, in fact, a copy of the Diamond Sutra, printed inChina in 868 ad.Suddharma-pundarikaor White Lotus of the True Dharma, also often esoteric,includes the Avalokiteshwara Sutra, a prayer to that Bodhisattva.Vimalakirti-nirdesha or Vimalakirti's Exposition, is the teachings of and storiesabout the enlightened householder Vimalakirti.Shurangama-samadhi or Hero's Sutra, provides a guide to meditation, shunyata,and the bodhisattva. It is most popular among Zen BuddhistsSukhavati-vyuha or Pure Land Sutra, is the most important Sutra for the PureLand Schools of Buddhism.The Buddha tells Ananda about Amitabha and his Pure Land or heaven, and how one can be reborn there.There are many, many others. Finally, Mahayana is founded on two new  philosophical interpretations of Buddhism: Madhyamaka and Yogachara.Madhyamaka Madhyamaka means "the middle way." You may recall that Buddhahimself called his way the middle way in his very first sermon. He meant, at that time, the middle way between the extremes of hedonistic pleasure and extremeasceticism. But he may also have referred to the middle way between thecompeting philosophies of eternalism and annihilationism the belief that the soul exists forever and that the soul is annihilated at death. Or between materialism

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