Buddhism, religion and philosophy founded in India c.525 B.C. By Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. There are over 300 million Buddhists worldwide. One of the great world religions, it is divided into two main schools: the Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, and the Mahayana in China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. A third school, the Vajrayana, has a long tradition in Tibet and Japan. Buddhism has largely disappeared from its country of origin, India, except for the presence there of many refugees from the Tibet region of China and a small number of converts from the lower castes of Hinduism ("Buddhism").
Buddhism is a blend of philosophy, religious belief and educational principles that focuses on personal spiritual development. Although the distinction may be somewhat blurred, strictly speaking, Buddhists do not worship gods or deities, and the Golden Buddha's people pray to are supposed to be merely aids to understanding and contemplation. Because it is not a religion in the conventional sense, people are encouraged to question its teachings and to seek insight for themselves. It is an education, one leading to insight into the true nature of life. The aim of Buddhist practices is to become free of suffering and to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness and wisdom. Originating in India, Buddhism gradually spread throughout Asia to Central Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, as well as the East Asian countries of China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan ("BUDDHISM").
Buddhism has faced a double challenge in each culture it has entered: to remain true to the core of its teachings and to express these in a way that responds to the needs of the new situation. Just as Tibetan Buddhism has a different flavor from that of China and of Japan, so any emergent Western form of Buddhism must inevitably change as it engages with the Western world. Western science is one of the major new influences with which Buddhist beliefs must contend and converse, and the Western emphasis on the individual brings in another new dimension. An important third influence is, surely, feminism. A recent plethora of books addressing a feminine approach to Buddhism would seem to support this. Yet it is not exactly feminism that the reporter wants to address here, the writer has begun to call the 'feminine voice', a voice that they believe is as applicable to science and to Western individualism as it is to traditional Buddhism. To listen to this voice may help one move towards the happiness that is, as the Dalai Lama continually remind one, what all humanity seeks (Watson).
The basic doctrines of early Buddhism, which remain common to all Buddhism, include the "four noble truths": existence is suffering (dukhka); suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment (trishna); there is a cessation of suffering, which is nirvana; and there is a path to the cessation of suffering, the "eightfold path" of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Buddhism characteristically describes reality in terms of process and relation rather than entity or substance. Experience is analyzed into five aggregates (skandhas). The first, form (rupa), refers to material existence; the following four, sensations (vedana), perceptions (samjna), psychic constructs (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana), refer to psychological processes. The central Buddhist teaching of non-self (anatman) asserts that in the five aggregates no independently existent, immutable self, or soul, can be found. All phenomena arise in interrelation and in dependence on causes and conditions, and thus are subject to inevitable decay and cessation. The casual conditions are defined in a 12-membered chain called dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) whose links are: ignorance, predisposition, consciousness, name-form, the senses, contact, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, old age, and death, whence again ignorance ("Buddhism").
Buddhist meditation (dhyana, or bhavana) is divided into two different categories: samatha and vipassana. Samatha means "tranquility," and involves focusing or concentrating on a single object or thought. With practice, the person meditating develops a sharp ability to concentrate on one object for a long period of time. This stills the mind and brings a sense of…