It is a religion, a series of teachings and a way of life introduced from India in the 1st century, although it didn’t became popular until the early 4th century.
Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha (“The Enlightened One”), an Indian prince who lived in the 6th century B.C. He established monasteries and ordained many disciples while taught its beliefs that attempt to recognize the origin of human pain and provide diverse methods that are claimed to finish, or alleviate suffering.
Buddhism, also called Buddha Dharma, introduced the term Nirvana centuries after the death of Buddha. This is a particular state of blissful when the soul seems to reborn when Karmas (“actions”) are separated from the spiritual intentions. Buddhism also considers as its pillars some truths (the existence of suffering, the causes of the suffering, the desires that create the suffering and the elimination of the suffering) and paths (ethical conduct, wisdom and mental development).
Buddhism quickly was extended in India, Southeast Asia and China, but it experienced several transformations which originated various sects. The differences were principally the different ideas of what Buddha tried to say and how to execute his ideas. Later, all sects combined their beliefs into three major Buddhist divisions:
Hinayana Buddhism is a special division practiced in Burma, Thailand and in some ethnic minorities in the southwestern China.
- Mahayana: It is practiced in China, Korea and Japan. This division thrived during the Tang dynasty by the 9th century, when the Buddhist establishments were the most influential of China. The religion became well-liked among Chinese people, admired by commoners, and supported by emperors. In this period there were over three hundred thousand Buddhist monks in the country and was created the greatest Chinese religious art which include the impressive cave shrines at Luoyang, Datong and Dunhuang.
This religious acceptance continues until now, and Buddhism is still the main religion in China, despite that in the mid-20th century, the Communist government banned Buddhism and in the following Cultural Revolution numerous temples and monasteries were destroyed. The persecution lasted until the 1980s.
The mainstream of Mahayana Buddhism preserves harmonious relationships with Bodhisattvas ("Enlightens") rather than reaching Nirvana, because perfection for the individual is not always possible.
- Tantrayana: It is practiced in Tibet (Lamaism), Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. This is the more mystical form of Buddhism.
In China, there have been permanent restrictions of Tibetan Buddhism due to controversies about its hierarchy, autonomy, and the matter of the succession of Dalai Lama. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, is considered the spiritual leader and the sovereign of Tibet by its people; but he is in exile and the Chinese government is trying to choose its own 15th Dalai Lama. Furthermore, China has forbidden the reincarnation of Tibetan living Buddhas without acquiescence of the state, thus restraining the authority of Gyatso and new Tibetan Buddhist monks.
- Theravada: It became prevalent in Southeast of China and the neighboring countries.
Another interesting sect of Buddhism is Chan or Zen, a combination with Taoism. Its doctrine offers a less severe path to enlightenment. For a Chan Buddhist it was not required to become a monk or a hermit in order to reach Nirvana - instead this final state of being could be attained through life in harmony with, and in contemplation of, the Way.