What Is Buddhism Today?

What Is Buddhism Today?

What Is Buddhism Today?

In the 21st century CE, it is estimated that 488 million (9-10% of the world population) people practice Buddhism. Approximately half are practitioners of Mahayana schools in China, and it continues to flourish.

The main countries that practice Buddhism currently are China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism has been adopted by international practitioners, notably westerners, in various countries.

In the 21st century CE, it is estimated that 488 million (9-10% of the world population) people practice Buddhism.

Approximately half are practitioners of Mahayana schools in China, and it continues to flourish. 

The main countries that practice Buddhism currently are China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism has been adopted by international practitioners, notably westerners, in various countries.

'Socially Engaged Buddhism',  which originated in 1963 in war-ravaged Vietnam, a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh, the international peace activist, is a contemporary movement concerned with developing Buddhist solutions to social, political, and ecological issues and global problems.

This movement is not divided between monastic and lay members and includes Buddhists from Buddhist countries and Western converts. 

However, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka are the major Buddhist countries (over 70% of the population). At the same time, Japan, Laos, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam have smaller but strong minority status.

New movements continue to develop to accommodate the modern world. Perhaps the most notable are the Dalit Buddhist Movement (Dalits are a group of Indians known as the 'untouchables' because they fall outside the rigid caste system but who are now gaining respect and status supported by the UN);

New Kadampa Tradition, led by Tibetan monk Gyatso Kelsang, which claims to be Modern Buddhism focused on lay practitioners; and the Vipassana movement, consisting of a number of branches of modern Theravada Buddhism which have moved outside the monasteries, focusing on insight meditation.

The Buddha was not concerned with satisfying human curiosity related to metaphysical speculations.

The Buddha ignored topics such as the existence of God, the afterlife, and creation stories. During the centuries, Buddhism has evolved into different branches.

Many of them have incorporated 0a number of diverse metaphysical systems, deities, astrology and other elements that the Buddha did not consider. Despite this diversity, Buddhism has relative unity and stability in its moral code.

How Buddhism Benefits Mental Health

Oṃ śhānti śhānti śhānti.” This mantra—meant to bring inner peace to those who chant it—is an example of the many connections between Buddhist teachings and mental health.

Although Buddhism is primarily known as a spiritual tradition, it is also a lifestyle that encompasses the mind in almost all forms of practice.

"Buddhism is known as the science of the mind," clarified Jude Demers, a practising Buddhist who lives with mental illness.

The practice of Buddhism puts the individual in the role of "scientist," running experiments on their mind to see what works for them.

The idea is that through this process (known as mental training), a person can achieve inner peace. And according to Buddhist doctrine, happiness comes from inner peace.

Finding Inner Peace

The main form of mental training is meditation. Studies show that meditating has many mental health benefits, such as reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

It accomplishes this over time through teaching people to experience unproductive thoughts from a different perspective.

For example, rather than letting a thought nag at someone's state of mind, meditation teaches them to recognize that it is a thought with no benefit and then release it.

Meditation is accomplished in many ways—deep breathing, yoga, chanting—its goal is to understand and control the mind to achieve enlightenment or nirvana. Nirvana is a mental state of peace and happiness; it is the highest state someone can achieve in Buddhism.

Making Connections

"Basic Buddhist teachings are about practising kindness, humour and compassion towards other people," Demers said.

One of Buddhists' primary principles is that there should be no agenda other than to help someone.

In Buddhism, all people are equal. "Buddhism gives a person a feeling like being a wave in the ocean rather than feel like one's life is an isolated phenomenon," Buddhist expert Jason Henninger explained in an interview with Health Central.

"A wave is a wave, but not separate from the rest of the ocean. So Buddhism gives its practitioners a profound feeling of connectedness without loss of identity, and never in terms of superiority or inferiority to others."

Being in Charge of Our Actions

Karma is an often-misunderstood Buddhist ideal. While most people see it as "what goes around comes around," karma in Buddhism encompasses the idea that a person can change any circumstances they face in life.

It is meant to be a doctrine of responsibility and empowerment. For a Buddhist, hope is a decision.

Who Does a Buddhist Worship?

Buddhist beliefs regarding a god or gods vary between traditions of Buddhism and even between individual practitioners.

However, Buddha is not considered a god, and Buddhists do not worship any god in the traditional sense. Instead, the foundation of Buddhism is following the teachings of Buddha.

Basis of Buddhism

The basis of Buddhism is following the teachings of Buddha, a historical human who is believed to have reached enlightenment.

The main practice of Buddhism is called taking refuge, which means depending on the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for help.

In this case, Buddha can refer to the person or the innate Buddha-nature of all humans.

Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha, which relate mostly to philosophy, meditation and appropriate behaviour.

Sangha means the community of Buddhist monks and nuns. So, none of these primary principles relates directly to gods or worship.

Different Traditions

Although all Buddhists agree on the centrality of the Buddha and his teachings, there is some variation between groups in terms of their relationship to other gods.

This is because Buddhist teachings have spread worldwide and often become incorporated with other traditional religions or philosophies.

For example, Buddha himself began life as a Hindu, as did many other early Buddhists. Incorporating the practices of other religions does not necessarily conflict with Buddhism, as long as one focuses primarily on Buddhist principles.

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, is associated with many types of gods and demi-gods.

However, these are not believed to be all-powerful beings like the monotheistic God. These gods may be included in Buddhist prayers and in shrines where offerings are made.

However, they are not worshipped in the sense of adoration since practitioners focus on the Buddha and his teachings on the method of achieving enlightenment. Modern practitioners especially may think of them more as reminders of positive qualities than as literal beings.

Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism is the type of Buddhism best known in America. It is also generally the most secular and least theistic. However, since it says little on the topic of God, individual practitioners may hold a variety of personal beliefs.

What Are The Facts About Buddhism

Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world alongside Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

With millions of followers around the globe, Buddhism has influenced many such as writers, artists, and philosophers. You may associate Buddhism with peace, and you'd be right—but what else do you know about it?

The religion of Buddhism was founded in India approximately 2,500 years ago. Buddhism follows a variety of practices, beliefs and traditions based upon the teachings of Buddha (an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama), who was born in Lumbini in about 563 BC.

Buddha had been sheltered as a young boy and not allowed to leave his palace due to his father's belief that he would become a king if he were not allowed to see what life was like outside of the palace.

Buddha did not obey his father and ventured outside several times, leading to the 'four sights', and eventually his enlightenment.

Interesting Buddhism Facts:

  • Buddha is also known as 'the enlightened one' or 'the awakened one'.
  • When Buddha ventured outside the palace walls, he saw four sights: an old man, a sick man, a poor man, and a corpse.
  • The four sights disturbed Buddha and he left home to seek enlightenment through a spiritual quest.
  • Buddha's spiritual quest began with studying meditation, then he tried prolonged fasting, holding his breath and being exposed to pain, but this did not put an end to suffering in the world as he had hoped.
  • When Buddha was 35, he meditated under a fig tree, the Bodhi tree, for several days until he had attained enlightenment.
  • Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching his followers (in the northeastern Indian subcontinent) the path of awakening.
  • Buddha lived to the age of 80. He died in Kushinagar, India, in 483 BC.
  • Approximately 360 million people in the world today follow Buddhism.
  • Buddhism is not practised much today where it was born.
  • Buddhism is popular throughout China, Southeast Asia, and Japan and is becoming more popular in western society.
  • Although Buddhist teachings vary depending on which school or sect one belongs to, they all share the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.
  • The main Buddhist divisions include Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
  • Some Buddhist teachings use meditation, rituals, devotions or combinations of these.
  • Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world.
  • Sacred texts of Buddhism include the Tripitaka (Pali Canon) and a variety of Mahayana sutras.
  • Places of ritual in Buddhism include meditation halls and temples.
  • In Theravada, the goal is to become an arhat, to escape rebirth, and achieve nirvana.
  • In Mahayana, the goal is to become a Bodhisattva and help others to achieve enlightenment or awakening.
  • Some believe that nirvana is a heavenly paradise, while others believe nirvana is the end of suffering.
  • Buddhism believes in three jewels: the Buddha, the monastic community (sangha), and truth or teachings (Dharma).
  • Buddhism believes in three delusions, including ignorance, desire, and anger/hatred.
  • Buddhism encompasses three pieces of training, including moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom.
  • In Buddhism, there are three marks of existence, including impermanence, suffering, and no-self.
  • Buddhist tradition suggests that a Buddha is a fully awakened being with a pure mind (free of the three poisons of desire), no longer bound by involuntary rebirth (Samsara), and who suffers no longer.
  • Buddhists go to a temple when they can, not at a special time of day.
  • A Buddhist temple is a Vihara and has a shrine, lecture, library, and meditation room.
  • A Buddha is not a god but a teacher.

What Are Some Things That People May Not Know About Buddhism?

Some people, especially those in the Western world, seem to be bewitched and mesmerized by the spell of Buddhism and the way it's represented in the media.

For example, we're now saturated with the promotion of mindfulness meditation, which comes from Buddhism.

But Buddhism is not all about meditation. Buddhism is an amazingly complex religious tradition.

Buddhist monks don't just sit there and meditate all day. A lot of them don't do any meditation at all. Instead, they're studying texts, doing administrative work, raising funds, and performing rituals for the laypeople, emphasising funerals.

Buddhism has extremely good press. I try to show my students that Buddhism is not so nice and fluffy as they might think. For example, Buddhism has a dark side, which we've seen in Myanmar with the recent persecution of the Rohingya people there.

It's as if we need to believe that there is a religion out there that's not as dark and black as everything else around us. But every religion is a human instrument, and it can be used for good and for bad. And that's just as true of Buddhism as of any other faith.


Why is it important to study the origin of Buddhism and other religions?

Religion plays a hugely important role in our world today. Unfortunately, sometimes it has extremely negative consequences, as evidenced by terrorism incidents such as the Sept. 11 attacks. But sometimes, it has positive consequences when it's used to promote selfless behaviour and compassion.

Religion is important to our politics. So, we need to understand how religions work. And part of that understanding involves trying to grasp how religions developed and became what they became.

This new book of essays on Mahayana Buddhism is just a small part of figuring out how Buddhism developed over time.

What is Mahayana Buddhism, and what are its distinct features?

The word Mahayana is usually translated as "the great vehicle." The word maha means "great," but the yana bit is trickier. It can mean both "vehicle" and "way," hence the title of this book.

As far as we know, Mahayana Buddhism began to take shape in the first century BCE. This religious movement then rapidly developed in a number of different places in and around what is now India, the birthplace of Buddhism.

Buddhism itself started sometime in the fifth century BCE. We now think that the Buddha, who founded the religion, died sometime in 400 BCE. As Buddhism developed, it spread beyond India. Several different schools emerged. And out of that already complicated situation, we had the rise of several currents, or ways of thinking, which eventually started being labelled as Mahayana.

The kind of Buddhism before Mahayana, which I call mainstream Buddhism, is more or less a direct continuation of the founder's teachings. Its primary idea is to attain liberation from suffering and the cycle of life and rebirth by achieving a nirvana state. You can achieve nirvana through moral striving, using various meditation techniques and learning the Dharma, which is the Buddha's teachings.

Eventually, some people said that mainstream Buddhism is all fine and well, but it doesn't go far enough. They believed that people need to liberate themselves from suffering and liberate others and become Buddhas.

Mahayana Buddhists strive to copy the life of the Buddha and to replicate it infinitely. That effort was the origin of the bodhisattva ideal. A bodhisattva is a person who wants to become a Buddha by setting out in a great way. This meant that Mahayana Buddhists were allegedly motivated by greater compassion than the normal kind of Buddhists and aimed for a complete understanding of reality and greater wisdom.

That's Mahayana in a nutshell. But along with that goes a lot of new techniques of meditation, an elaborate cosmology and mythology, and a huge number of texts written around the time of the birth of Mahayana.

What's the biggest takeaway from the latest research on the origin of Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism?

The development of Buddhism and its literature is much more complicated than we have realized. In the middle of the 20th century, scholars thought Mahayana Buddhism was developed by laypeople who wanted to make Buddhism for everybody. It was compared to the Protestant movement in Christianity. But we now know that this picture is not true.

The evidence shows that Mahayana Buddhism was spearheaded by the renunciants, the Buddhist monks and nuns. These were the hardcore practitioners of the religion, and they were responsible for writing the Mahayana scriptures and promoting these new ideas. The laypeople were not the initiators.

But the full story is even more complicated than that. Buddhism's development is more like a tumbleweed than a tree. And Mahayana Buddhism is sort of like a braided stream of several river currents, without one main current.

  • No products in the cart.