Since the 12th century, Buddhism has declined in India and currently accounts for just one per cent of its population. Despite this, Buddhism has, over the centuries, become an integral part of the spiritual. cultural and social aspects of many countries including China, Korea, Japan, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam. Sri Lanka, Central Asia, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan and, more recently, throughout the West. There are several forms of Buddhism, including:
The dominant form of Buddhism practised in Southeast Asia. Theravdan Buddhism has a lineage that began with the first followers of Buddha. Under the umbrella title of Theravdan Buddhism, this type of Buddhism takes on many forms, depending on the particular country and its cultural influences.In Thailand, for instance, there is a strong forest tradition where the practitioners following the example of the Buddha life simple, secluded lives away from the towns and cities. This tradition has many Western followers and has been popularised by the work of masters such as Ajahn Chah. Theravdan Buddhism is also practised in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Mahayana/Tantric Buddhism emphasises compassion for sentient beings as well as the concept of emptiness. A bodhisattva (a practitioner who offers the merit he derives from good deeds to bring about the enlightenment of all sentient beings) possesses the innate tendency to become a Buddha. This Buddha disposition is believed to be inherent in all people. The concept of emptiness does not deny the existence of phenomena but that they do not exist as we perceive them. Ignorance of this is a continuing cause of suffering for us. From its origin in India, Mahayanan/Tantric Buddhism has spread to Central Asia, China, Japan mainland Southeast Asia, Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka.
Zen/Japanese/Chinese / Korean Buddhism
Tradition accepts that Buddha gave the first 'Zen' teaching in front of a large group of followers. After sitting in silence for some time, the Buddha simply held up a flower for all to see. One Buddhist disciple by the name of Mahakashyapa understood what had taken place. Words were no substitute for the flower.The direct transmission from teacher to student has been the focus of Zen Buddhism since its beginnings in China in approximately AD500.Two schools remain in existence today in Japan. The Soto Buddhist School emphasises two main points: that there is no gap between enlightenment and practise, the correct behaviour is Buddhism itself .The Rinzai Buddhist School is renowned for the use of koans or discussions between master and pupil.By means of the basic practice of za-zen or sitting mediation, Zen Buddhism aims at transforming the consciousness ultimately realising the mind of a Buddha.
Pure Land /Chinese / Japanese Buddhism
For any Buddhist practitioner, the state of mind at the time of death is considered to be extremely important. A negative state of mind can throw one into a rebirth of suffering, while a positive state will throw one into a higher form of rebirth.For Pure Land Buddhist devotees, the state of mind will, if suitable, result in rebirth in a Pure Land (Sukhavati) and beyond that only one more lifetime will need to be experienced before attaining liberation or Nirvana.
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