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8. Buddhism


Subject Religion » Buddhism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631182757.1996.00010.x


The history of Buddhism extends over two and a half millennia. It has spread into a number of originally unrelated cultures and exercised great influence over much of Asia. No other religion has existed in such disparate cultures as a major influence for so long. Over 50 per cent of the population of the world lives in areas where Buddhism has at some time been the dominant religious force. Inevitably it has responded to differing circumstances, and local customs and ideas have influenced it in many ways. Adaptability has historically been a marked feature, arising no doubt from some of Buddhism's most distinctive and central notions. Yet there is also continuity. All forms of Buddhism today derive from the same roots. The approach adopted here is to begin with this common source in ancient Indian Buddhism and then go to describe separately the Buddhism of the three main twentieth-century geographical areas. This treatment of the subject should not blind us to the fact that most kinds of Buddhism are motivated by similar concerns. The aim is nearly always to create conditions favourable to personal meditational or spiritual development. The general understanding is that insights of the right kind can transform the individual in ways usually expressed in terms of ‘liberation’, ‘freedom’ or ‘spontaneity’. This is generally seen as requiring a long period of training. Underlying this ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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