Hindus have regarded Buddhists as a "dissenting group". Their philosophical doctrines do not disqualify them for Hindus allow absolute freedom of thought. But like the Jains they have renounced the Hindu Dharma and substituted one of their own; they have rejected the Vedas, the Brahmins as agents of salvation, and the Hindu caste system.

Gautama Buddha: His Life and Teachings The founder of Buddhism was born about 560 B.C. into the Kshatriya caste and was destined to be a ruling prince, but in his late twenties he left his parents, wife, and son to seek release from the misery of existence by entrance into Nirvana. His first teachers were Brahmins, but he rejected their views as unenlightening. He then turned for five years to the practice of an extreme asceticism much like that of Mahavira (who was probably unknown to him). But he found this debilitating rather than enlightening. Under a tree, later known as the Bo tree (from bodhi, or enlightenment, tree), at a place renamed for him Budhgaya (the place of the Enlightenment), he sat alone pondering the reasons for his failure. The ways of salvation as people practiced them were certainly all ways out of human misery; but what was the cause of this misery, he asked. Suddenly the answer came. It was tanha (desire, thirst, passion, wanting what was not possessed). Indeed the very intensity of his desire for release was a cause of his present misery. To get rid of every desire would be to get rid of every misery. Realizing that he was then utterly without desire, he went into ecstasy, without losing “mindfulness”, and experienced bodhi, enlightenment. Nirvana, he concluded, was exactly such a state of desirelessness and utter peace. Now he would be reborn no more; he had achieved deliverance. He was a buddha ("an enlightened one").

In the deer park neat Benares he found five ascetics with whom he had earlier been associated, and preached to them his first sermon; it was on the Middle Way between sensuality and ascetic self-torture. He explained how control of desire would enable them to live in the world without being overcome by its passions. Together they formed the Sangha or Buddhist monastic order. In the 45 years remaining to him (he died about 480 B.C. at 80 years of age), the Buddha and his disciples spread the Sangha through northern India. Members of all castes and of both sexes were admitted to the order as brothers and sisters. All alike shaved their heads and wore yellow robes. They subscribed to a simple creed: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in Dhamma (Dharma), I take refuge in the Sangha.” They used the word Dharma in a sense different from that of the Hindus, meaning by it primarily the Teaching or Doctrine. Included, of course, were such instructions concerned conduct as the Ten Precepts forbidding monks and nuns to take life, indulge in sexual intercourse, steal, tell lies, eat after noon, look on at dancing, singing, or dramatic spectacles, use garlands or perfumes, sleep on high or broad beds, accept gold or silver. But a central element in the Dharma was the Four Noble Truths: (1) all life is permeated with misery, (2) the cause of such misery is desire, (3) the cure of misery lies in the overcoming of desire, (4) the overcoming of desire comes from following the Noble Eightfold Path, which may be called the road leading to no-desire. It requires right beliefs, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. Desire for these is misery reducing.

The philosophical context of the Buddhist ethical code is the conviction that all the constituents of any living being person and the whole live world are in constant flux; nothing remains immune to change except Nirvana; the permanence of the world and the self is thus an illusion. The Wheel of Time and Rebirth is ever turning. It is set spinning by a Chain of Causation, beginning in a previous existence, carrying through this, and going on into the next existence. The operative causes are linked in a “dependent origination”, each rising from the one before. They are: the basic ignorance of the impermanence of selves and all objects, the predispositions brought into this life as a result of such ignorance, the acceptance in infancy of the world and the self as real, expression of the individuality as a value, exercise of the mind and senses in such expression, making contact with other selves and with things, including the feelings when doing so, developing desires thereby, and at last clinging to existence and throwing oneself into the processes of becoming with its misery producing entailments, old age, disease, and death. The Buddha taught that all selves suffer from three defects of their existence: (1) transitoriness (anicca), (2) the basic unreality of the self (anatta), and (3) consequent misery (dukkha). In these circumstances it is best to give up the world, to renounce love for individuals, and to seek freedom from dependence and desire, until at last one attains freedom even from the desire for no-desire; which is to be in Nirvana. At the same time one must hate no one and love all without loving any one.

Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism After the Buddha’s death the monks of the Sangha came together to recite and give final form to his teachings. An oral tradition in the Pali language was thus formed. It is called the Theravada or Teaching of the Elders. Some years passed before it was written down. The Pali tradition was divided into three pitakas ("baskets"): (1) the Vinaya Pitaka, which contains the disciplinary rules for the Sangha; (2) the Sutta Pitaka or remembered discourses of the Buddha, and (3) the Abhidamma Pitaka or further expositions of the Doctrine. Each pitaka is subdivided into important individual treatises like the Majjhima Nikaya and Digha Nikaya of the second and the Dhammapada and Jataka of the third.

An important accession to Buddhism occurred with the conversion of the Emperor Asoka (264-223 B.C.). He sent missionaries into all parts of India and into Ceylon, Burma, and the Near East. The so-called Southern Buddhism (Theravada or Hinayana) thus came into existence and spread farther to Thailand, Cambodia, and other areas of Southeast Asia. To this day in these areas the highest aim is becoming an arhat or enlightened monk intent on getting himself into Nirvana. The temples, as for example those in Rangoon and Bangkok, are elaborate and filled with gold-plated images of the Buddha, but it is understood by the informed that prayers to the Buddha, while meritorious, do not reach him, since he is in Nirvana. The layman should acquire merit by learning scripture and giving gifts to the Sangha in order that he may reborn as a monk. The monk on his part should compassionately instruct laymen in the right path.

Mahayana Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism is self-named. Yana means “vehicle”, e.g. a carriage or a ferry, and maha means “great”. Hence this type of Buddhism is consciously “the great ferry”, the ferry for the many, across the river between this world and Nirvana. (Because the Mahayanists named their “vehicle” the large one, the older Buddhism came to be called, not much to its adherents’ liking, the Hinayana, i.e., the small or one-at-a-time ferry. No wonder they now prefer to be called Theravadins.) The Mahayana is sometimes called Northern Buddhism, for it spread into China, Korea, and Japan from the south, into Mongolia by way of the passes from northwest India into central Asia, and into Tibet from Nepal.

The literature of this movement was in Sanskrit rather than Pali, and was produced not only in India but also in China and Japan. Among the hundreds of works the Diamond-Cutter, the Lotus of the True Law, the Prajna-Paramita Sutras, and the Pure Land Sutra were especially influential.

The transition from original Buddhism to the Mahayana was made in northwest India. First it was asked whence Gautama Buddha had come. The answer: he must have been in the heavens, specifically the Tusita heaven, and came down out of compassion for the suffering mankind to be born from a woman. How did he get to the Tusita heaven? He rose to it after many existences as a benevolent and self-sacrificial being, sometimes human, sometimes animal. Before his appearance on earth he was, therefore, a bodhisattva, a Buddha-to-be. The next steps followed swiftly. There is a bodhisattva in the heavens now, waiting for his time; because he is full of brotherly love (maitri), his name is Maitreya. There have also been predecessors of Gautama, buddhas who came in past ages. There must also be buddhas who never leave heavens, although they send their holy spirits to earth; these are the buddhas who preside over special heavens to which they admit the faithful who call to them. There are thus three types of buddhas: (1) the manushi buddhas who have come in history and are gone to Nirvana, (2) the bodhisattvas, those who are preparing for future buddhahood, and (3) the dhyani buddhas, who live in the heavens in serene contemplation (dhyana) yet graciously bring others to their side. The Mahayanists are prepared to name names. In addition to Maitreya there are powerful bodhisattvas who make a career of aiding persons who pray to them; among them are Avalokitesvara, who appears in China, Korea, and Japan as a mother goddess, Kwan Yin or Kannon; Manjusri, a champion of the Dharma; Samantabhadra a bringer of happiness; and Kshitigabha, who guides travellers and transfers souls from hell to heaven. Of the dhyani buddhas three are widely worshiped: Vairocana, the buddha of the sun; Bhaisajyaguru, the healing buddha; and Amitabha, the kindly buddha of the Pure Land, a paradise in the western sky, whom millions have adored in China and Japan by the names Omito and Amida.

The bodhisattvas are notable for one thing: they have postponed their entrance into Nirvana indefinitely in order to be helpful to all suffering and needy souls. This same unselfishness is potential in everyone; there is a Buddha-nature is all souls. Hence, anyone, man or woman, can make a vow to be a bodhisattva, to accumulate merit through many future existences for the use of others, “until the last blade of grass is saved” - a startlingly far-looking aim!

For this tradition and ethics the Buddhist philosophers and theologians supplied a cosmic setting and a profound theory of knowledge. The Madhyamika School founded by Nagarjuna in the second century A.D. held that the world and the self known to the senses are phantasmal and void (sunya), that is, devoid of the qualities sense and reason assign to them; but the thing-in-itself (svabhava) underlying the phantasms is real, although totally unknowable to a mind not yet liberated into the world of absolute truth (Nirvana). The Yogacara School, founded by the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu, taught that the reality constituting all things is consciousness, and that there is an all-inclusive reservoir of consciousness (alaya-vijnana) from which all phenomena experienced by the individual mind flow as mental events. In a parallel development the ultimate consciousness was named Bhutatathata ("that which is such as it is"), i.e., that which is ultimately real but which finite minds misconceived as the phenomenal world and its selves. In the Prajna-Paramita Sutras it is maintained that when the individual consciousness thas experienced “the Wisdom gone to the Other Shore”, it will cast away (as having had only provisional value) Buddhism, the Buddha, and the notion of Nirvana itself. The Alaya-Vihnana or the Bhutatathata takes on a distinctly theological dimension when it is regarded as a Buddha-essence (an Adi- or Originative-Buddha) at the heart of the universe producing Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as an essential part of its nature, which in this light becomes a love principal.

The Mahayana sects are numerous. They may conveniently be grouped as follows:

The Pure Land Sects Here the motive is getting into the heaven of Amitabha Buddha. Of prime importance is faith in the grace of Amitabha. Such faith is best shown in constant repetition of the formula “All hail tho Amitabha Buddha” (in China Namu Omito Fo, in Japan Nembutsu). The chief sect in China bears the name Ching-t’u, while in Japan the Jodo and Shin sects both have large followings.

The Knowledge Sects The meditation (dhyana) leading to the trance of enlightenment requires according to these sects, the preparation provided by reading, study, and discussion, as well as performance of ceremonies and rituals. In China the T’ien-t’ai and in Japan the Tendai sects have represented the view.

The Intuition Sects: Ch’an and Zen Dhyana was pronounced ch’an in China, zen in Japan. In these sects systematic study and discussion are rejected, the emphasis lying principally on the individual experience of enlightenment through an intuitive flash of insight, known in Japan as satori. The individual must free himself from dependence on, although he is encouraged to have some knowledge of, Buddhist literature and of Ch’an and Zen “masters”. The oneness of the universe and the self is presupposed; all phenomena are alike in their Buddha-essence. The flash of insight reveals one’s own Buddha-essence. Zen in particular tries to shock the seeker by presenting him with logical paradoxes (koans) that will make him give up logical explanations and wait for the intuition of his own Buddha-essence.

The Mystery or True-Word Sects These sects combine philosophy, the idea of a regnant deity (Buddha Vairocana) and right-handed Tantrism. They emphasize a secret or true word, which can be known only by immediate intuition. There is use of rituals, gestures, allegory and symbols, and these have, at least for the common man, a magical power to promote health and prosperity. In China the chief sect was the Chen Yen, in Japan the Shingon.

The Nichiren Sect This is a Japanese sect, founded in the 13th century by Nichiren, a fiery patriot who thought he had discovered original Buddhism in the Lotus of the True Law. He thought that the other Buddhist sects had missed the true way. The implicit patriotism of this sect is seen in its three vows: “I will be a pillar of Japan; I will be eyes to Japan; I will be a great ship for Japan”. The contemporary militant Soka Gakkai movement is a revival of the Nichiren sect, even to the constant repetition of the daimoku formula: Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, “Hail to the Lotus of the True Law!”

The Vajrayana of Tibet This variety of Buddhism is also called the Mantrayana, because of its heavy use of mantras (efficacious verses of scripture). An older but inadequate name coined by Western scholar, was Lamaism. Vajrayana means “Vehicle of the Thunderbolt (or of the Diamond).” Coming late to Tibet (seventh century), Buddhism was slow even then in taking hold, and when it did, it came in a Tantric form. A typical theological formulation provided five celestial Buddhas, one at the zenith and the others in the four quarters of the heavens. Since, according to Tantric conceptions, natural forces are a union of male and female elements, each of these Buddhas was paired with a mate (a prajna, “wisdom"). All five are emanations of the Adi-Buddha, the originative Buddha-reality, and they gave rise in their turn to bodhisattvas, and these in turn to earthly incarnations. Thus according to one view, the Adi-Buddha has produced as one of his spiritual sons Amitabha, and the latter has brought into being Avalokitesvara, who in turn has had as his early incarnation Gautama Buddha. These beings are said to have a magical and irresistible substance or power (vajra) like that of a thunderbolt and a hardness like that of a diamond, besides which all other things appear soft. If the human devotee can identify himself with any one of these heavenly beings, he will himself gain magical substance and power and will know what Nirvana is. In the meantime he can ward of evil by magical gestures and by repeating, sometimes with the aid of prayer wheels, such potent formula as Om mani padme hum! ("Hail to the jewel of the lotus, hum!"), which is likely an address to Avalokitesvara.

Buddhism Today Buddhism is presently obscured behind the Chinese “bamboo curtain”. But the Theravada and the Mahayana are experiencing a resurgence. The former is supported by a new national pride in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The Mahayana is undergoing revival in Japan, and Korea, although it is at an ebb in China, Mongolia, and Northern Vietnam. The ecumenical spirit has appeared in the Buddhist world: the Theravadins and the Mahayanists have made approaches to each other in the growing conviction that their doctrinal divergences have been logical and natural and presupposed a common heritage.