by D.M. Murdock
December 9, 2009
from Examiner Website
Numbering up to 500 million adherents worldwide - the fourth largest religious denomination in the world - there are two major paths of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, and many sects, including the familiar Zen and Tibetan versions.
All of these sects have one thing in common, which is that they emphasize the attainment of an enlightened or liberated state of mind, a quality defined differently from path to path. Depending on the sect, Buddhism traces its traditions to more than 2,500 years ago, with some followers asserting it to be at least 15,000 years, having been established long before the alleged time of "the Buddha," also called Siddhartha Gautama and Sakyamuni.
Over the millennia, Buddhism has developed a complex and colorful system some describe as "mind boggling."
While traditional Buddhism is not devoid of flaws - including sexism - and like other mass movements includes a bloody past in some areas, one thing is clear:
Is Buddhism atheistic?
Because of Buddhism's emphasis on resolving dilemmas through the enlightenment of the individual human being, rather than putting one's faith in a god or superhuman savior, Buddhism has been widely depicted as "atheistic" and the Buddha as an "atheist."
Indeed, in presenting a "historical" Buddha, certain sects have largely stripped Buddhism of its miraculous, magical and supernatural qualities, as found abundantly within Tibetan Buddhism, for example. Traditional Buddhism, while not monolithic, does in fact depict a tremendous amount of magic and mystery, as well as many sacred and divine aspects in its teachings that each human being in essence can achieve Buddhahood.
The attainment of Buddhahood is generally perceived to bring with it many divine and godlike qualities, and sundry tales surrounding the Buddha - and various of the other numerous Buddhas - are certainly as supernatural as any we may find within patently mythical religions such as those of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
What this assertion boils down to is that there is plenty of divinity, sacredness and godhood within Buddhism.
Hence, Buddhism overall cannot be deemed
"atheistic," although Zen comes very close to this perception. In
actuality, there is something for everyone within Buddhism.
From various news items and developments, it seems as if Buddhism may be making inroads into culture worldwide - a welcome development in comparison to the rising fanaticism of other religious or spiritual systems that incorporate far too much bigotry, hatred and violence.
In the United States, for example, as opposed to other noisy faiths like Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Buddhism has been so quiet that few realize there are more Buddhists than Muslims or Hindus in America. With as many as 6 million American adherents, Buddhism constitutes the fourth largest religious group in the United States.
As part of this subtle movement, which includes hundreds of temples, monasteries, schools and communities, Nepalese Buddhists have recently opened their first temple in Portland, Oregon.
Concerning Buddhism in America, the Christian Science Monitor remarks:
Elsewhere in the world as well, we find Buddhism making its move, such as in India, where the religion finds its traditional birthplace but from where it was driven centuries ago by both Hindus and Muslims.
Having once become almost extinct in India, today Buddhism is returning slowly but surely, with the Indian residence for the past several decades of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, along with the rather vocal demand recently by Buddhists to control the Indian site of Bodh Gaya, traditional spot where Buddha is said to have attained nirvana.
In addition, in February 2010, sacred
relics from all over the Buddhist world will be taken to Chennai,
India, as part of the global Buddhist outreach program the
Maitreya Project Heart Shrine Relic
Such a change may be seen by many as
positive and progressive movement into the future.