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Mahayana Buddhism, also known as the Great Vehicle, is the form of Buddhism prominent in North Asia,

including China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, and Japan. Arising out of schisms—about both doctrine and
monastic rules—within Indian Buddhism in the first century C.E., the Great Vehicle considers itself a more
authentic version of the Buddha's teachings. The Mahayana accepts the canonical texts of the Theravada
tradition (what they derisively call the Hinayana, or "lesser vehicle), but also have a vast corpus of
philosophical and devotional texts. The most distinctive teaching of the Mahayana is that the great
compassion that is an inherent component of enlightenment is manifest in bodhisattvas (enlightenment
beings); these beings postpone nirvana (final enlightenment) in order to assist and guide those beings still
suffering in the cycle of rebirths. They employ what the Mahayana calls "skillful means," which is the ability
to know the particular mental and emotional capacity of each individual, and to deliver guidance
appropriate to those capacities. The Mahayana developed a vast pantheon of bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and
other powerful beings, and an complex array of devotional and meditational practices directed toward
them. As the Mahayana moved beyond India, it took typically adopted distinct local cultural characteristics;
thus the Mahayana pantheon in China is significantly different than that found in India, or that in Japan.

Beginnings

The Mahayana emerged between 100 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. in India in the context of debate about proper
Buddhist doctrine and practice, about monastic discipline, and particularly about the ongoing presence of
the Buddha after his death as well as the nature of enlightenment itself.

The origin of Taiwan’s Buddhism dates back more than 300 years, to the time when Han Chinese began
immigrating to Taiwan during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.

Chiang Tsan-teng, a historian of Taiwanese Buddhism, subdivides the earlier forms of Buddhism in Taiwan
into “meditative Buddhism,” emanating from Chan (Zen) monasteries, and “incense-and-candles Buddhism,”
centred on ordinary people’s sacrifices and prayers for good fortune.

It was the latter which flourished in the temples of Taiwan’s western plains during the Qing dynasty,
becoming the main form of Buddhism practiced in the frontier territory, according to Chiang.

The popular zhaijiao, or vegetarian religion, movement also entered Taiwan during the mid-Qing. It attracted
a large following, especially among unmarried and widowed women, who were forbidden from becoming
monastics. The vegetarian halls in which they practiced and where some took up residence became a
distinctive feature of Taiwanese society.

Zhaijiao would continue to have a strong influence, especially when, under pressure from Japanese Buddhist
sects during the era of Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), many adherents joined Taiwan’s mainstream
Buddhist communities.
Development of Buddhism during the colonial era can be divided into three main periods. The first of these,
characterized by the authorities’ tolerance of local practices and beliefs, led to large Buddhist organizations
that transcended their original local bases.

The four largest centers were Lingchuan Chan Temple in Keelung, Lingyun Chan Temple in New Taipei City,
Fayun Temple in Miaoli County and Chaofeng Temple in Kaohsiung. Meanwhile, the Xuanjing-Chuanfang sect
that emerged from Kaiyuan Temple in Tainan was quietly expanding its influence.

This first phase ended when the Xilaian vegetarian hall in Tainan was used as a center of anti-Japanese
activities by Yu Ching-fang and his followers during the Tapani uprising of 1915.

Japanese officials reacted with fear and vigilance. After carrying out an islandwide investigation of religious
practices, they embarked on a unified and systematic attempt to bring followers of vegetarian Buddhism
under Japanese control.

Thus the second period, roughly from the end of World War I to the outbreak of World War II, was
characterized by the propagation of Japanese schools of Buddhism and establishment of “branch temples”
in Taiwan. Buddhist educational institutions were also established, with outstanding students sent to Japan
for advanced training.

“This is the first golden era in the development of Taiwan’s Buddhism,” Chiang said. “Debate over religious
practices emerged as Japanese monks, unlike their Taiwanese counterparts, were allowed to marry and eat
meat. Local Buddhist organizations started publications and for the first time sent representatives to the
East Asian Buddhist Conference in Tokyo, encouraging international dialogue and promotion of new ideas.”

The third stage coincided with the last decade of colonial rule (1936-1945), after Japan launched its armed
invasion of mainland China. To avoid Taiwanese sympathy for their besieged fellows, the imperial authorities
promoted a Japanization cultural policy.

This accelerated Japanese influence over Taiwanese Buddhism and turned the religion into a tool of state
control used, for example, in its military mobilization program. Ideological indoctrination through Buddhist
training posts established throughout Taiwan meant that, until Japan’s retreat from Taiwan in 1945,
indigenous Buddhism completely lost its autonomy.

Chiang divides Taiwan’s postwar Buddhist history into three phases. The first transitional laissez-faire stage
lasted just five years, however, and ended when the Kuomintang government began a 38-year period of
martial law in 1949.
During this second phase, monastic exiles from the civil war in mainland China, supported by the ruling KMT,
monopolized the right to transmit Buddhist teachings and took a leading role in determining the direction of
the religion’s postwar development in Taiwan.

“This led to the active destruction of any trace of Japanese Buddhism, including the selling off or rebuilding
of many beautiful Japanese-style temples,” Chiang said. “More subtly, it introduced the idea that monastic
Buddhism was superior to at-home practices.”

This was somewhat subverted, however, by the emergence of a media-savvy, touristic, showman style of
disseminating Buddhism, said Chiang. The most quintessential example was Dharma Master Hsing Yun and
his Fo Guang Shan, or Buddha Light Mountain, Monastery. Similarly, the giant concrete statue erected at Mt.
Bagua in Changhua County, in imitation of the large bronze Buddha at Kamakura in Japan, was an early
harbinger of Taiwan’s “touristic Buddhism.”

Buddhism and Hinduism have a common past, and while there are many similar beliefs between the two
religions, there are just as many differences between the Buddhist and Hindu religions.

REBIRTH, REINCARNATION, SAMSARA

Both Buddhism and Hinduism believe in an (almost) endless cycle of births, known as samsara. They also
both seek release from this cycle of rebirths.

Hindus believe in an everlasting soul (atman) that is reincarnated more-or-less intact from birth to birth.
Through spiritual practice, Hindus seek release (moksha, also known as liberation) so that the soul can join
with the Universal Divine Force (Brahman, often simply translated as God).

The Buddha, however, taught that there wasn't a constant soul, but a collection of feelings, perceptions,
senses, and other intangibles that made up all living beings. The concept of the lack of a constant sould is
known as anatta.

Hence, for Buddhists, the ultimate goal is something more abstract: ending suffering by escaping the cycle of
rebirths, and entering into a state of Nirvana. It is a common misconception to translate Nirvana as meaning
"Paradise," or as "Heaven." Nirvana itself is something of an abstract concept. One meaning is "cool," which
implies that one is far away from the fires of desire and Kilesa (defilement).

KARMA: CAUSE AND EFFECT


Both Buddhism and Hinduism believe in the concept of Karma, which states that our past actions affect our
present and future life states. One could do evil in this life and be reborn a worm in the next life. Similarly,
afflictions in this life are often explained away as the effects of Karma from a previous life (or from misdeeds
earlier in this life).

DHARMA: THE WAY OF LIFE

The word Dharma is common to both Buddhist and Hindu religions. Buddhists generally use the word
Dharma to refer to the collective teachings of the Buddha, and the Buddha used the word Dharma to
roughly mean "how the universe works."

The Hindu concept of Dharma might be thought of as being "one's role in the universe." The concept
includes not only one's performance of religious acts, but how they act in society and how they act toward
their family responsibilities.

In Hindu society, one's dharma may vary depending upon their caste, and in what stage of life they are in. An
older man from a higher caste might have a different dharma than a young man from a lower caste.

DEVOTION TO GOD

Hinduism, which has thousands of gods and goddesses, is for the most part actually a monotheistic religion.
Each god is seen as one manifestation of the one Supreme God.

In Hinduism, each family will be devoted to a particular deity. Most Hindus practice devotion (bhakti) to
either a form of Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. They see this as one essential part of religious practice.

The Buddha, on the other hand, taught that we should not concern ourselves with worship or devotion to a
particular God. The Buddha did not deny the existence of a Supreme God: he just said that we are
responsible for our on enlightenment, and not to believe that a supreme being could help us.

The Buddha did decry the practice of animal sacrifices in devotional acts to the gods and goddesses that
were commonplace. Eventually, this belief in the sacredness of all life spread to Hinduism, and animal
sacrifice became the exception instead of the norm. In fact, the Buddha's impact on Hinduism was so strong
that followers of Vishnu believe that the Buddha was one of Vishnu's avatars (a being that helps humanity in
times of distress). Buddhists do not share this belief.