How Mahayana Buddhism became more popular than other religionsby Rit Nosotro
Given the established religions/philosophies of Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, how come Mahayana Buddhism gained such popularity?
The Force, Nature, Master Kong, the Sun Goddess, and Buddha – each of these play their respective roles in the Eastern religions of Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Mahayana Buddhism. However, Mahayana Buddhism has surpassed all in its ability to weave its way into Western culture, in particular. Why is this true? The answer may be had by examining Mahayana Buddhism in contrast with other religion’s basic beliefs including those of evangelical Christianity. Where ever nominal Christians turn from the truth to heed new age mythology, Mahayana Buddhism is a popular belief which tickles their itching ears.
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism
All forms of Buddhism, including Mahayana, believe in meditation and concentration, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, the impermanence of all phenomena, dependent causation, and the denial of an essential self. Buddhism has two major branches. “From Mahayana sources, it seems that the major point of difference was that the Hinayana (Theravada) sought salvation through individual self-effort, whereas Mahayana advocated salvation for all creatures through the worship and grace of the Buddha or buddhas (“enlightened ones”) and bodhisattvas (Buddhists saviors, whose ‘essence is enlightenment’)” Royal W. Weiler stated. However, in practical terms, even Buddha is overshadowed by the bodhisattvas, which are people who will forgo or delay their final enlightenment until all creatures are “saved”. (http://www.zip.com.au/~lyallg/RiseMahyan.htm, http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/BUDDHISM/MAHAYANA.HTM, “Mahayana” Encyclopedia Americana, “Buddha and Buddhism” Encyclopedia Americana)
Another split between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism is that the Theravadas belief that Buddha was just a man. They believe that when he died he ceased to exist. Mahayanas, however, believe that Buddha did NOT die, but merely transformed himself into another body. That’s where they developed the idea of the “Trikaya” or “The Three Bodies” which Buddha uses. Also, another difference is that the standards to achieve “Nirvana” (a lack of desire and feelings) was lowered in Mahayana Buddhism. They lowered the standard two notches from the previous Thervadian standard, so that more people could be “saved” and achieve Nirvana. By reducing the standard, it increased the possibility of the masses achieving “Nirvana.” (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/BUDDHISM/MAHAYANA.HTM and http://www.zip.com.au/~lyallg/RiseMahyan.htm)
Modern day movies are incorporating more and more Buddhist concepts. In George Lucas’ movie series “Star Wars” the main characters frequently say, “May the Force be with you.” This idea of the Force depersonalizes God as being infinitely wise and personal. It makes God seem a “energy force” which is unknowable. It also falsely deifies “Self”. Consequently, the focus turns inward instead of upward, toward God. The same thing happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they ate of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, what happened? They immediately turned their focus away from God, and onto themselves. That’s when they realized they were naked.
In the January 2004 issue of Prevention magazine, in the article entitled “Visualize This”, ex-model and current “counselor” Kathy Freston, tells the story of how her life was changed through meditation and visualization. She says, “Once considered strictly for hippies, meditation is offered in schools, hospitals, corporate offices, even prisons. It’s to this decade what aerobics was to the ‘80s . . . “. She further stated, “When you show up daily for conscious contact with a higher power, what you’re essentially doing is infusing your day/your personality/your world with the grace to trust in yourself and the universe.” She also stated, “Make your meditation space a sanctuary for spiritual practice by adding . . . a candle, crystals, a cross, a Buddha, a picture of God as you understand him. . .”. She quotes Buddha in her book Expect a Miracle, “We are what we think. With our thoughts, we make the world.” (Prevention Magazine 134-139 and 160-163)
Mahayana Buddhism is a religion that caters to those who are pessimistic of
God’s existence. This sect of Buddhism teaches that there is no God, Ruler,
or Creator. Instead, there exist
“The Three Bodies of Buddha: (1) Body of Essence--the indescribable, impersonal Absolute Reality, or Ultimate Truth that is Nirvana (Infinite Bliss); (2) Body of Bliss or Enjoyment--Buddha as divine, deity, formless, celestial spirit with saving power of grace, omnipotence, omniscience; and (3) Body of Transformation or Emanation--an illusion or emanation in human form provided by the divine Buddha to guide humans to Enlightenment.” (beliefnet)
In addition, any person is capable of attaining Buddahood and being worshipped by other followers. Mahayana Buddhism also teaches that people are freely able to do wrong, basically the freedom to sin at will. In this religion, it is not necessary to give up things of this world, only to do all things in moderation. Also, Mahayana Buddhism says that suffering is part of everyday life and merely an illusion.
So why would Mahayana Buddhism gain such popularity when Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism were already established as religions? First of all, this religion does not believe in a god (What Mahayana). Christianity, however, holds to a firm belief that God is comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, yet all are One. Taoism says that no one can understand the power of the “supreme being” or “ultimate truth” (Rasmussen). Shintoism is a religion of many gods (Sivanada). Confucianism is based more on works and morals than gods, and the expectations and requirements are many (Berling). Therefore, the “freedom” that one would have in the Mahayana religion is considerably more than that of the other religions. It is easier for one to say there is no god than to accept the rigid structures or unattainable understanding of other religions.
Also, Mahayana Buddhism is a religion that teaches that everyone can reach Buddahood, the highest god-like state (What Mahayana). The other religions are not that way; no human can gain the highest state of the other beliefs. In Christianity, the Bible clearly says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Not only can we as Christians not achieve the glory of God, we must accept His Son. The Tao states that everyone must strive to live in harmony with one another, with no one being greater than anyone else (Rasmussen). Similarly, the 6th Precept of Shinto states, “Do not forget the limitations of your own person” (Sivanada). Lastly, the goal of Confucianism is to reach perfection, an ideal which followers of the religion themselves admit to be virtually unattainable (Berling). When viewing each religion from a human perspective, one can see the power that is promised in Mahayana Buddhism and the tendency for men to desire supremacy over others.
Mahayana Buddhism has developed into a “people-friendly” religion.
As a deviation from the more traditional Theravada Buddhism, the word “Mahayana”
means “the greater vehicle” and was designed specifically to accommodate
more followers. The Mahayanists changed the mentality of Buddahood and invented
lesser levels of attainment in order that more people could be included and
feel “accepted”, since the levels of Theravada Buddhism are practically
impossible to reach. Also, the Mayahanists shifted the philosophy of Buddhism
to make it a religion in itself (Hooker).
First of all, Taoism is more of a mode of living than anything else. It was conceived by Lao Tzu in times of war and conflict. Consequently, he gathered his thoughts together and composed a book called the Tao Te Ching. The two founders “. . . living at a time of social disorder and great religious skepticism, developed the notion of the Dao (Tao – way, or path) as the origin of all creation and the force -- unknowable in its essence, but observable in its manifestations – that lie behind the functioning and changes of the natural world. They saw in Dao and nature, the basis of a spiritual approach to living. This, they believed, was the answer to the burning issue of the day: what is the basis of a stable, unified and enduring social order?. . . Early Taoists taught the art of living and surviving by conforming with the natural way of things, which was modeled on nature”, Judith A. Berling wrote. (http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000005.htm and http://www.crystalinks.com/taoism.html)
Confucianism is a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion, and is often called a “civil religion.” Its institutions were not separate churches, but used society, family, school, and state to spread its message. Ren, which represents humaneness in the relationship between two people, is its highest value. “In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are bended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife. . .”. So, Confucianism isn’t really much of a religion at all, because it really just mixed two different religions together along with Master Kong’s teachings. All in all, Confucianism “borrows” concepts from two other religions, just like Mohammad did. He took parts of the Bible, Torah, and other religious books and mixed them all together, and that’s how the Qur’an came into being. (http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000004.htm, and http://www.religioustolerance.org/confuciu.htm)
One major problem with Shintoism, is the word itself. “It is very difficult to translate ‘Shinto’ into English. ‘Shinto means ‘The way of the Gods’ or the “God-like way’ or ‘The way from the Gods’. There is no proper equivalent for the term ‘Shinto’ in English,” Sri Swami Sivananda stated. Shintoism essentially believes that everything can be deified, whether it be a human or a “rotten sardine head”. Shintoism also teaches that salvation is for the whole nation, and not for just a few individuals, who earn it. Consequently, it is the national religion of the Japanese culture, and controls every aspect of life. It is pantheistic and demands absolute loyalty to the Emperor, who is supposedly a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess, the highest being in the Shinto pantheon. (http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/shintoism.htm and http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~QM9T-KNDU/shintoism.htm)
One of the highest virtues that Shintoists strive for is, purity – inner and outer. This reveals why Shintoism is not as popular as Mahayana Buddhism. The average young person does not strive for purity. Most just want to be self serving. This is true also of people in the West. One Shinto saying says, “Leave the things of this world and come to me daily with pure bodies and pure hearts.” Presently, materialism has become the god of the modern era. Consequently, people don’t want to give up the things they like, or their own plans for their lives, just so they can believe in Shintoism. (http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/shintoism.htm)
Although Nestorian Christians are said to have reached China by the 8th Century, Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism, eventually rose in popularity above the established religions of Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Christianity.
The Nestorian Christian faith originally flourished in Syria as early as the 6th Century and was introduced to Asia through Persian missionaries. Early China embraced the religion and erected a large stone monument in its honor in 781 A.D. to celebrate Christianity’s growing acceptance into their culture. Reverend Ken Joseph also claims that a copy of the Book of Matthew was found in an old Buddhist temple that dates back to 603 A.D. (Japan Christianity). What happened over the years? It appears that Nestorian Christianity was pushed aside and taken over by other religions such as Mahayana Buddhism for their ease and tendency to seem more “people friendly”. The stone erected in honor of Christianity was long forgotten, sitting in a Buddhist monastery. It is now being preserved, but the mystery of why Christianity became swallowed by religions of false gods is still very much unsolved (Tsing).
The rise of Mahayana Buddhism in early Asia as opposed to Christianity is a prime example of what man’s nature wants in a religion. Mahayana Buddhism specifically, is teaching a corrupt doctrine that says one can become a god. This is what Satan offered Eve, "ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5). Mahayana Buddhism developed to conform to the people’s worldly desires. The "law of karma" suggests sin (no matter how blatant) can be balanced by good works. Thus, the consequences of sin are minimized. This is an attractive alternative to Christianity that claims, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Clearly, men were drawn toward Mahayana Buddhism in early Asia for its emphasis on every man’s ability to become a god through his own efforts. The variation of those efforts are symbolized in a wheel where all spokes are valid paths to divinity. This offers a broad path for millions to follow. Working to obtain divinity is the core of all man made religions (e.g. Mormanism).
Christianity, however, is a narrow path ( ) where Jesus is the only way ( ) to the have peace with God ( ). Jesus does not state that He knows the truth, but that He is the Truth.(John 14:6) This is in sharp contrast to the claims of Mahayana Buddhism, which state there is no absolute truth, and that everything is relative. It has been evident since Eden that mankind would rather believe that there are no absolutes. This is the broad path that leads to destruction, no matter how hard one may try to merit salvation. Pursuing "Noble Truths" through the "Eightfold Noble Path" or any other multitude of precepts, can never transform a sinner into a god. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)
As the Bible says in 2 Timothy 4: 3-4, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (The Holy Bible, NIV)
1) All are taught in Mahayana Buddhism EXCEPT:
a) Body of Essence
b) There is no god
c) Body of Bliss or Enjoyment
d) Body of Newt
e) Body of Transformation or Emanation
2) “Mahayana” means:
b) greater vehicle
c) religion of compromise
3) Which doctrine claims the authority of an “ultimate truth”?
4) Mahayana Buddhism rose above Christianity because:
a) It teaches the nonexistence of God
b) It allows one to sin freely
c) It promises that one will find true love in his lifetime
d) It is aimed toward man’s sinful desires
e) a, b, d only
The Holy Bible, New International Version, U.S.A. September, 2001 (C) 1984
“Buddha and Buddhism”, Encyclopedia Americana (C) 1995
“Mahayana” Encyclopedia Americana (C) 1995
Megan Othersen Gorman, “Visualize This”, Prevention, January 2004, 134 -139 and continued on 160 -163
Berling, Judith A. Confucianism. Fall 1982. Asia Society. 22 Nov. 2003
Hooker, Richard. Mahayana Buddhism. 6 June 1999. World Civilizations. 22 Nov 2003
Japan Christianity Arrived in Japan Centuries Before Saint Xavier, Scholars Say. Nestorian.org. 22 Nov. 2003
Rasmussen, Jeff. What Taoists Believe. 2000. Beliefnet. 22 Nov. 2003
Sivanada, Sri Swami. Shintoism. 27 Nov. 1999. The Divine Life Society. 22 Nov.
Tsing, Ch’ing. Nestorian Tablet: Eulogizing the Propagation of the Illustrious Religion in China. July 1998. East Asian History Sourcebook. 22 Nov 2003
What Mahayana Buddhists Believe. 2000. Beliefnet. 22 Nov. 2003
B. A. Robison, “Confucianism” http://www.religioustolerance.org/confuciu.htm, July 12, 1995, Last Updated July 13, 2002, Unknown, January 7, 2004
Encyclopedia Britannica, “Taoism” http://www.crystalinks.com/taoism.html, Unknown, Unknown, January 7, 2003
Graeme Lyall, “The Rise of the Mahayana” http://www.zip.com.au/~lyallg/RiseMahyan.htm, Unknown, Unknown, January 7, 2004
Judith A. Berling, “Confucianism”, http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000004.htm, (C) 1996, Asia Society’s Focus on Asian Studies, January 7, 2004
Judith A. Berling, “Taoism, or the Way”, http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000005.htm, Fall of 1982, Asia Society’s Focus on Asian Studies, January 7, 2004
Sri Swami Sivananda, “Shintoism,” http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/shintoism.htm, Last Updated, November 27, 1999, Unknown, January 7, 2004
Unknown, “Shinto”, http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~QM9T-KNDU/shintoism.htm, Unknown, Unknown, January 7, 2004
Additional information about <http://hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw06buddhism.htm>
The above essay was donated to hyperhistory.net.
of inaccuracies or plagiarism.
Post a link to this essay,
a great essay
on your blog or website :
|Comparative Essays||Biographies||Doc. Based Questions||Change Over Time|