The Buddhist Element

As we know, there are many denominations of Christianity, and although they all believe in God, they are also theologically different. The same would apply for Buddhism. In my final post for this module I'm going to try to demonstrate how Buddhism varies across countries - particularly in Asia - despite them all being, well, Buddhism. And what better way to show this than through the differing Buddhist art (mainly architecture, through temples) across the various countries? Because I don't want to make this post too wordy, I'll only be introducing Buddhism from five countries (six if you count Tibet as not part of China) and not all the countries which I have shared on the Tumblr blog.

Tibetan Buddhism

Buddhism in Tibet is centered around Mahayana Buddhism, "with with Tantric and Shamanic, and material from an ancient Tibetan religion called Bon." At one point in time, it was believed that one sixth of men in Tibet were monks. Tibetan Buddhism is most closely associated with Vajrayana Buddhism (a form of Mahayana Buddhism) which is the "most mystical and esoteric of the schools" and diverges so much from the original Buddhism that it is sometimes not accepted as a form of Buddhism at all.

A unique feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the Dalai Lama, whom the Tibetan Buddhists believe "to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet". The Tibetan Buddhists also believe in "the reincarnations of scholar-adepts that has been of immense help to both the Dharma and sentient beings".

Buddhism in Thailand

Around 95% of the people in Thailand follow Theravada Buddhism, which is also the country's official religion. Buddhism has a long history in Thailand, and it is said that it was brought from India to central Thailand in around 200 BCE, and it became the state religion during the Sukhothai kingdom in the thirteenth century.

Buddhism in Japan

Although Buddhism in Japan is slowly dying out, it has a long history in the country since arriving from Korea in the sixth century. Buddhism just about flourished in Japan from its introduction during the Kofun period until the Momoyama period, preceding the Edo era, when Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi both actively sought to suppress Buddhism for political reasons. Buddhism never really became prominent after that; it was replaced with Confucianism and the Shinto religion.

Chinese Buddhism

There are an estimated 20 million Buddhists in China, which is not surprising since Buddhism had been around in China from as early as the 1st century CE and the prospect of "eternal salvation" appealed greatly to the Chinese. The "development and expansion of Buddhism dominated Chinese religious culture" for several centuries following the demise of the Han dynasty (Schuman, "Confucius the King", pp. 55), although many Chinese still practice their folk religion. During the Cultural Revolution, the government tried to "eradicate all religion", and Buddhist temples and sites bore the brunt of their rage. However, in recent years, Buddhism is again on the rise.

Buddhism in Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma) is not called "the land of the golden pagoda" for nothing. Like in Thailand, the main religion in Myanmar since the eleventh century is Theravada Buddhism. A long line of devout Burmese kings and their citizens built numerous monuments in profession of their devotion. Buddhism had become so integrated with the Burmese identity that "nationalism took on specific Buddhist associations".

Buddhism in South Korea

Buddhism came to Korea from China in the fourth century, but in North Korea "religious freedom remains non-existent". As of 2005 43% of South Koreans are Buddhists, and although Protestantism is on the rise, Buddhism still remains prevalent. Unlike in Japan, Korean rulers mostly continued to promote Buddhism (along with Confucianism), which is one of the reasons why it has been so long-lasting.

References

All photographs used on the Tumblr blog are credited in their individual posts (permalink page). All text references are hyperlinked to their sources.