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Click here for an account of the Buddha and Buddhism

A brief survey of  Buddhism...

The history of Sri Lanka is inseparably intertwined with the history of Buddhism in the island. Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is the oldest continually Buddhist country in the world, Buddhism being the major religion in the island since its introduction in the 2nd century BC. Monks from Sri Lanka have an important role in spreading both Theravada and Mahayana throughout South-east Asia. It was Sri Lankan nuns who introduced the Sangha of nuns into China in 433AD. In the 16th century the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka and savagely persecuted Buddhism as did the Dutch who followed them.

When the British won control at the beginning of the 19th century Buddhism was well into decline, a situation that encouraged the English missionaries that then began to flood the island. But against all expectations the monastic and lay community brought about a major revival from about 1860 onwards, a movement that went hand in hand with growing nationalism. Since then Sri Lankan monks and expatriate lay people have been prominent in spreading Theravada in Asia, the West and even in Africa.


Later traditions usually called the Savakayana Hinayana, a derogatory name meaning the Little or Narrow Vehicle. However the name Savakayana, meaning the Vehicle of the Hearers, is both more courteous and more accurate in that for at least the first 300 years the Buddha's teachings were orally transmitted i.e. they had to be heard in order to be learned by heart and transmitted.

The only Savakayana school that still flourishes is the Theravada which was introduced into Sri Lanka at the time of King Asoka (approximately 250 BC) and later spread from there throughout South-East Asia. The Savakayana as represented by the Theravada school is characterised by minimal doctrinal development from the earliest versions of the Buddhist teachings and by an emphasis on Vinaya by monks.

Theravada is still found in Sri Lanka and Burma, where it successfully weathered Western colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in Thailand. In Cambodia, it was decimated by Communism in the 1970s. Today, Theravada has gained many new adherents in India, Malaysia, Singapore and particularly in Indonesia. It has also gained a significant following in the West.

Brief Description of Buddhism and its philosophy

The religion and philosophy founded in India in the 6th and 5th century. B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, is now called the Buddhism. One of the great Asian religions, it teaches the practice of Meditation and the observance of moral precepts. The basic doctrines include the "four noble truths" taught by the Buddha: existence is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; there is a cessation of suffering, called Nirvana, or total transcendence; and there is a path leading to the end of suffering, the "eightfold noble path" of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Buddhism defines reality in terms of cause-and-effect relations, thus accepting the doctrine common to Indian religions of samsara, or bondage to the repeating cycle of births and deaths according to one's physical and mental actions. The ideal of early Buddhism was the perfected saint, 'arahant' or 'arhat', purified of all desires.Of the various Buddhist schools and sects that arose, the Theravada school of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) is generally accepted as representative of early Buddhist teaching. Mahayana Buddhism has as a central concept the potential Buddhahood innate in all beings. Its ideal for both layman and monk is the bodhisattva, the perfected one who postpones entry into nirvana (although meriting it) until all others may be similarly enlightened.

Buddhism was greatly strengthened in the 3d century B.C. by the support of the Indian emperor Asoka, but it declined in India in succeeding centuries and was virtually extinct there by the 13th century., while it spread and flourished in Ceylon (3d century A.D.) and Tibet (7th century A.D.). In the 1st century A.D. Buddhism entered China, where it encountered resistance from Confucianism and Taoism, and from there spread to Korea (4th century A.D.) and to Japan (6th century A.D.). Two important sects that became established in the 5th century A.D. and have greatly increased in popularity are Zen Buddhism, featuring the practice of meditation to achieve "sudden enlightenment," and Pure Land Buddhism, or Amidism, a devotional Mahayana sect centered on the worship of the Buddha Amitabha, who vowed to save all sentient beings by bringing them to rebirth in his realm, the "Western Paradise." Buddhism still flourishes in Asia and has an influence in the modern Western world.   Click below for :


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