1. Mahayana Buddhism The religion of Buddhism was founded by a person named Siddhartha. Later in his life he was known as Gautama. He traveled with a guru for a while and then he practiced as asceticism. He did these two things to find enlightenment. These things did not lead to enlightenment so he ate and sat down to meditate under a fig tree. He received enlightenment through a vision and he received the title Buddha. After Buddha died, his followers disagreed about the meaning of his teachings. They had two councils and after the second council Buddhism was divided into two camps.
One camp is called Hinayana and they are conservative. The other camp is liberal and they are called Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism has three principles that they believe. The first principle is Buddha did some teachings in secret to a few followers, who could comprehend these secret teachings. Mahayanists use the example that Buddha picked up a handful of leaves. The leaves in his hand are less than all the leaves in the forest just like his public teachings are less than the total of truth that was given in secret.
This belief allowed the Mahayanist to add different conclusions to the concepts that Buddha thought. I will now discuss the second principle. Another principle of Mahayana Buddhism is that Gautama was more than a man. This principle asserts that Gautama was almost divine. Due to his love for humans, this almost divine being came to earth looking like a man in order to help humans. The Mahayanist had a third principle, which is that there are other Buddhas besides the Gautama.
The Mahayanist teaches that in different areas of this planet and in the heavens there are Buddhas that exist. These other Buddhas have the ability to help humans, who are seeking enlightenment. This idea made the religion of Buddhism more desirable. A benefit of this third principle is that missionaries could go into other countries and not ask the native to give up his/her religion. The missionary would explain to the native that the native’s god or gods are all forms of Buddhas. The spread of Mahayana Buddhism began between the first and third c e.
Hinayana Buddhism was carried to China in the first century c e. Mahayana Buddhism came to China in the third century and upon its arrival the religion began to grow. After China, Mahayana Buddhism spread to Korea and then Japan. The religion was spread by missionaries or by new converts to Mahayana Buddhism. As Mahayana Buddhism was growing in other countries, it was slowly being swallowed up by Hinduism in India. Mahayana Buddhism changed into sects as it spread in other nations. One of the more popular sects of Mahayana Buddhism is the Pure Land sect.
The goal of the Pure Land sect believers is to reach paradise called “ the Land of Bliss” after they die. The western paradise is called “ the Pure Land” and it is ruled by Amitabha, who is Buddha. The Pure Land Buddhist believe that life must be lived with virtue and that Amitabha’s name must be repeated in order to be reborn in the Pure Land. Another sect is called Intuitive Sect. The Intuitive Sects believe that a flash of insight will reveal the truths of religion. This sect promotes the idea that a period of meditation not rational thought, scriptures, or faith will give the individual truth.
The founder of the Intuitive Sect is Bodhidharma. The Rational Sect began in the sixth century. This sect teaches that meditation, reason, and studying the scriptures are the elements to find truth concerning Buddhism. The founder of this sect is Chih-I. The Sociopolitical Sect is called Nichiren and it is in Japan only. The founder changed his name to Nichiren and taught the Lotus Sutra. He taught that to become a Buddhist the person only needed to study the Lotus Sutra. He preached that other sects were incorrect and guiding people to hell.