Buddhism is an Indian religion based on a series of original teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha. It originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia. It is the world’s fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on the Buddha’s teachings (born Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th or 4th century BCE) and resulting interpreted philosophies. As expressed in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, the goal of Buddhism is to overcome suffering (duhkha) caused by desire and ignorance of reality’s true nature, including impermanence (anicca) and the non-existence of the self (anatta). Most Buddhist traditions emphasize transcending the individual self through the attainment of Nirvana or by following the path of Buddhahood, ending the cycle of death and rebirth.
Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices. Widely observed practices include meditation, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (perfections, or virtues). Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (Pali: “The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (Sanskrit: “The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Mahayana, which includes the traditions of Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren Buddhism, Tiantai Buddhism (Tendai), and Shingon, is practiced prominently in Nepal, Malaysia, Bhutan, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian adepts, may be viewed as a separate branch or as an aspect of Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth-century India, is practised in the countries of the Himalayan region, Mongolia, and Kalmykia. Historically, until the early 2nd millennium, Buddhism was also widely practised in Afghanistan and it also had a foothold to some extent in other places including the Philippines, the Maldives, and Uzbekistan.
Gautama Buddha, popularly known as the Buddha or Lord Buddha (also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni), was a Sramana who lived in ancient India (6th to 5th century BCE) or (5th to 4th century BCE). He is regarded as the founder of the world religion of Buddhism, and revered by most Buddhist schools as a savior, the Enlightened One who rediscovered an ancient path to release clinging and craving and escape the cycle of birth and rebirth. He taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. His teaching is based on his insight into the arising of duhkha (the unsatisfactoriness of clinging to impermanent states and things) and the ending of duhkha the state called Nibbana or Nirvana (extinguishing of the three fires). The Buddha was born into an aristocratic family in the Shakya clan, but eventually renounced lay life. According to Buddhist tradition, after several years of mendicancy, meditation, and asceticism, he awakened to understand the mechanism which keeps people trapped in the cycle of rebirth. The Buddha then traveled throughout the Ganges plain teaching and building a religious community.
The Buddha taught a middle way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Indian Sramana movement. He taught a training of the mind that included ethical training, self-restraint, and meditative practices such as jhana and mindfulness. The Buddha also critiqued the practices of Brahmin priests, such as animal sacrifice and the caste system. A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the title Buddha, which means “Awakened One” or “Enlightened One“. Gautama’s teachings were compiled by the Buddhist community in the Vinaya, his codes for monastic practice, and the Sutta Pitaka, texts based on his discourses. These were passed down in Middle-Indo Aryan dialects through an oral tradition. Later generations composed additional texts, such as systematic treatises known as Abhidharma, biographies of the Buddha, collections of stories about the Buddha’s past lives known as Jataka tales, additional discourses and the Mahayana Sutras.
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