Buddhism has a history dating back 2,500 years. It's antiquity can
be traced back to the 6th century BCE, making it one of the oldest religions
in the world. It all began with the birth of prince Siddhartha who later
came to be known as Buddha, the enlightened one. Since its beginning, the
faith travelled to many places around the world and was established as a
religion. Though it had its foundation in India, it also added to its domain
Central Asian, East Asian and Southeast Asian cultural elements. A number of
movements characterised the religion, giving rise to schism such as
Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
The Royal Patronage of King Ashoka
Buddhism seemed to be a smaller phenomenon until it got the royal patronage
of Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE. The Mauryan emperor had a change
of heart after the bloody battle of Kalinga. Remorse engulfed him and he
chose to follow Buddhism for the rest of his life and lead a peaceful life.
He set out on his mission to erect Buddhist stupas and pillars and display
the teachings of Lord Buddha. The great stupa in Sanchi is a fine example of
such stupas. He himself observed equality and respect for all forms of life.
Later on, he sent his emissaries to far off countries to spread the message
of Buddhism. This was first time when Bodhi teachings reached to countries
Buddhism - Beyond India
Buddhist councils were held. The noble messages reached to countries like
Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea, China, Tibet, Nepal, Burma, Ceylon, Combodia,
Parthia, Tarim Basin etc. Japan got acquainted with the religion during the
6th century when the Korean monks made a trip to the islands along with
ancient scriptures and works of art. Between the 5th and the 13th centuries,
Southeast Asia rose to eminence and became hugely involved in Buddhist art
and architecture. India, however, always played a major role all the way
long. The unity in India spanned for more than a thousand years and thus it
greatly influenced other countries which were eager to welcome the religion
and its artistic and architectural creation.
Buddhism - Prayers & Meditation
has a distinctive culture of its own. Buddhists do not worship the Creator
God. They practice meditation which however can be compared to it to some
extent. Prayer forms may vary from country to country depending on the
prevailing customs and traditions. For instant, Tibetans chant mantras while
they pray. They believe that reciting mantras give rise to beneficial
vibrations within a person. And these vibrations could ultimately lead to
opening the mind to a certain level of consciousness which is beyond words
and thoughts. In Japan, you can notice Buddhists praying to the Armida
Buddha, the Buddha of infinite Light. Belief exists that Armida has created
a Pure Land in the west. And those who pray to him and recite his name would
be taken to the Pure Land. At the same time, they also believe that Armida
is nowhere but within themselves.
Buddhist Shrines & Images
The shrines and images that you can come across with in Buddhist homes or
temples mainly include the image of Buddha. They keep the image only to
remind and recollect the noble qualities of Lord Buddha. Besides the images
you can also find some ancient scriptures or photographs of Buddhist monks.
These assist the devotees and followers to gain inspiration from the
enlightened beings of the past and thus continue on their path to Dharma,
Buddhist festivals are a crucial part of the Buddhist culture. The
festivals are joyful occasions that are celebrated by the Buddhist community
all across the globe. The Vesak Festival is held in the month of May to
commemorate Lord Budhha, his enlightenment and his noble teachings. People
meditate and participate in chanting. Sermons are delivered and followers
listen to it with all respect. Most of the temples and Buddhist sites
welcome non-Buddhists. Rituals comprise offering incense, chanting of texts
from holy Sutras and meditation.