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Buddhism is currently one of the five largest religions in the world today with over 520 million believers. It is associated with various spiritual practices, traditions, and ceremonies that are based on the teachings of the Buddha. Having originated in India, this belief system has evolved over the centuries to give rise to different groups with diverse ideologies, ideas, and values. Different regions have adopted specific ways of being religious that have been influenced by the cultural attributes of the people, influence from other religions, and the ideas associated with various Asian philosophies. This paper discusses the major regions that have developed their religious practices and the reasons for emphasizing specific aspects of Buddhism over others.
The story of Buddhism revolves around the life of Siddhartha Guatama who wanted to find enlightenment or nirvana. Followers of this religion narrate his experiences and practical encounters to help others of attain it (Williams 12). This achievement is viewed as the solution to all forms of diseases, challenges, and plagues humans encounter in their lives. The major ways of being religious are all aimed at honoring the Buddha’s achievements, values, teachings, and compassion (Wright 56).
Followers of this religion are expected to engage in actions that can draw them closer, be grounded, or participate in the Buddha’s state. Over the years, these notions have revolutionized with this religion’s expansion. Nonetheless, Buddhists in different parts of the world continue to emphasize or follow these three unique approaches in order to remain religious: meditation, ritual activities, and merit. Specific regions have been observed to concentrate on a given way and not the others.
Regions and Ways of Being Religious: Discussions
Devotion is a critical practice that followers of this religion should take into consideration. They can achieve this goal by considering specific observances and commitments that resonate with the qualities outlined by the Buddha. The first group that has a distinctive belief system and procedures for being religious is that follows the Mahayana Buddhism (Williams 49). Followers of this faith focus mainly on the ideas of merit and ritual activities.
This school of thought focuses on the best approaches to overcome human suffering and the reincarnation cycle. Monks take the concept of merit seriously to guide followers to attain nirvana. This has been observed as the path to human liberation. Those who embrace these approaches for being religious within the Buddhist community are found in China and other countries in East Asia, such as Mongolia and Tibet.
The Theravada school of thought focuses on meditation as the primary practice or approach for being religious. Followers consider the teachings contained in the Pāli Canon (Wright 69). Buddhists belonging to this sect are encouraged to observe monastic discipline and promote doctrinal matters. The Theravada meditation is common practice that believers take into consideration. The major regions associated with this religion group include the countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Laos. Many citizens in Sri Lanka also practice or follow this ideology.
Vajrayana is another way of remaining religious within the wider Buddhist culture. This school of thought is believed to follow the teachings popularized in India during the ancient time. Many historians have gone further to explain why people should treat it as a different branch from the Mahayana Buddhism. Believers focus on ritual activities as the best approaches for remaining religious. Some of the common practices include mandalas, mudras, mantras, and dharanis (Wright 72).
People are encouraged to create mental visions of Buddha and religious deities. These strategies are viewed as critical or essential routes towards the attainment of nirvana. Despite having emerged from ancient India, this religious belief has spread to other parts of Asia. Presently, it is practiced in Bhutan, Tibet, some regions in China, Mongolia, and Russia (Williams 93). This thought has been disseminated to many countries across the world but with a minimum number of followers.
The final approach for being religious and pursuing nirvana is that of Navayana. It is presently pursued in the Indian region of Maharashtra (Wright 68). Although this is a modern approach or religion in Buddhism, it emphasizes the concept of meditation while at the same time allowing believers to pursue merit and various ritual activities. These discussions reveal that Buddhism has expanded to become a diverse religion whose followers focus on specific notions and ideas for being religious.
There are specific factors that might have influenced or informed such developments. Firstly, cultural infiltration and immigration encourages people from one region to travel to another country. Such individuals carried with them their religious texts. Over the years, they borrowed and dropped some of the beliefs and ideas, thereby supporting the establishment of new procedures for worshipping and pursuing their religious aims (Wright 92).
In China, the dominance of Buddhism has encouraged more people to consider the power of merit and meditation. This fact explains why such practices at taken seriously by followers of Mahayana Buddhism. Similarly, Navayana emerged during the colonial days in India. Believers of this faith analyzed the ideas associated with Christianity and merged them with the attributes of Buddhism. Its founder, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, was also keen to borrow some aspects from Hinduism and make them part of this faith.
The cultural influence, views, and philosophies practiced in China and the Entire East Asia have been instrumental in dictating the practices many Buddhists pursue. Some of them include Taoism and Confucianism. Such ideas have continued to reshape people’s beliefs and worship systems. The abandonment of the original approaches to enlightenment associated with the Buddha has continued to diminish (Williams 127).
Consequently, many sects or groups of Buddhism have emerged in different countries and regions that emphasize these diverse approaches for being religious as followers of the religion: merit, meditation, and ritual activities. The religious ideals that have been practiced in different countries in the wider Asian region have continued to influence these religious practices associated with different groups in Buddhism. Some of them include Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Jainism, Shinto, and Sikhism.
The above discussion has identified Buddhism as a religion whose followers consider specific approaches for attaining nirvana and realizing their religious aims. Due to the influences and ideas gained from other major religious and cultural practices in Asia, Buddhism has been split into different schools of thoughts that pursue unique practices for being religious. The regions and philosophical aspects associated with them have also contributed to the above differences. These attributes reveal that additional approaches or thoughts might emerge in the future and continue to make Buddhism one of the most diverse religions in the world.
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Williams, Michael. Buddhism: Beginner’s Guide to Understanding & Practicing Buddhism to Become Stress and Anxiety Free. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Wright, Robert. Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Simon & Schuster, 2017.