- A salvation religion, founded in north India in the fifth centuryBCE (the exact dates are the subject of scholarly controversy) by Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha (meaning Enlightened One). Buddhists may be defined as those who revere the so-called Three Jewels: the Buddha himself; the Dharma or doctrine taught by him; and the Monastic Community-those monks and nuns who renounce the married household to live out the doctrine in full. Buddhism as taught by the Buddha was a universalist humanism not unconnected with the emergence of urban culture in north India. According to it, anyone (male or female, high-born or low) can escape from the endless cycle of rebirths by following the practice of morality, meditation, and insight.Today, two main types of Buddhism survive, the Theravada and the Mahayana. The former is found in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka; the latter in Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Missionaries and immigrants have carried both throughout the world in modern times. Theravada Buddhism is the more conservative form: it has few and simple rituals and focuses on the worship of the Buddha itself. Mahayana Buddhism is a slightly later development, having more elaborate ritual, a baroque pantheon of saints (bodhisattvas), more numerous scriptures, and (sometimes) a married clergy. Mahayana Buddhists believe that their form of Buddhism offers an easier route to salvation than that provided by Theravada Buddhism.Although Buddhism is a form of religious individualism, it has always accepted spiritual hierarchies, the most dramatic of which was the Mahayana theocratic state, under the Dalai Lama, which ruled Tibet for many centuries. In the modern world, new forms of Buddhism have arisen which combine it with nationalism, socialism, rationalism, and even social welfare activities.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.
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