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Buddhism AUGUST KARL REISCHAUER BUDDHISM, like Christianity and Islam, is a world religion. While confined largely to Asia it has nevertheless made its appeal to many different nations and races. In its expansion it underwent great changes, sometimes even in the fundamentals of religion, so that Buddhism as a whole is really a family of religions rather than just a single religion. It usually won its way by stages of easy compromise with the local cults and this often resulted in a syncretism of varying shades in which the distinctively Buddhist element is difficult to discover. Moreover in countries like China and Japan many of the adherents of Buddhism at the same time give allegiance to the original national faiths, making it all the more difficult to know just what Buddhism really means to them. In view of all this it is, of course, impossible in one short chapter to do more than give the barest outline of this protean religion which down through the centuries has influenced, more or less, so many of Asia's millions. BUDDHIST ORIGINS AND EARLY DEVELOPMENTS When Buddhism arose at the end of the sixth century B.C. India had already passed through a long religious evolution and had reached a certain maturity of thought about the nature of human life and its meaning. Vedic religions, with their conception of the divine in terms that were all too human and which sought the good life largely in the "here and now," were no longer satisfying the more thoughtful. In fact, the Aryan invaders who in the vigor of their youth had overrun India were beginning to undergo a profound change. The life of action was slowing down. Doing things became more difficult and seemed less necessary or even desirable. More important was the meditative life and finding out just what it all meant. 90 AUGUST KARL REISCHAUER And as they meditated they became more and more impressed with the evanescent character of man's life. How quickly the vigor of youth ebbs and gives way to bodily ailments , old age, and death! How much of life is but sorrow and suffering! How insecure is the very foundation of man's physical life and how utterly futile, in the end, are man's efforts, ambitions and hopes! Is life really worth living? Why does man cling so tenaciously to life when so much of it is but suffering and disappointment? Is there a way to end it all, or can one achieve a state of mind indifferent or superior to life's vicissitudes ? And if life is incurably evil, is there a way out and, perhaps, a true and better life beyond the present? These and similar questions thoughtful Indians were asking. The unquestioning acceptance of life and the vigorous pursuit of things that make for physical well-being, prosperity, power, social prestige, and the like gave way to a great doubt. This doubt turned their quest into a new direction, away from the outer life to the inner and spiritual, away from the "here and now" to the beyond and the eternal. One clear index of this profound change is seen in the wide acceptance of the ascetic ideal as the highest. This rests on the belief that the physical life and physical well-being cannot be the core of the truly good life; rather are they the very antithesis of the spiritual and higher life. Because of this belief, Indians in ever greater numbers were turning away from the normal life of the world to become hermits and recluses in forests and caves in order to gain their freedom from the "bondage of the flesh" and the entanglements of human relationships. They were in quest of an inner peace and security, something that is permanent and truly satisfying. It was in such an atmosphere that Buddhism had its beginnings . It was one of many similar movements. Most of these soon disappeared or were absorbed by the older brahmanic religion as this evolved into the amorphous and all-inclusive Hinduism . Buddhism, however, achieved a status as an independent religion and for several centuries was the dominant religion of a large part of India. It, too, finally blended with Hinduism. 91 B UDDHISM But long before this merging took place Buddhism spread beyond the borders of India to areas where it has continued as a separate religion to this day. In fact, in its expansion across most of Asia it became the great cultural bond...


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