The spiritual philosophy of Buddhism originated in India around 500 B.C with the teachings of an the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha (Sanskrit for "Enlightened One").
Buddhism soon split into two schools:
- Theravada, "Doctrine of the Elders," considered closer to the original teachings, is practiced in Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
- Mahayana, the "larger Vehicle," which is the comparable in its ritual and social evolution to Christianity, is followed in China, Korea, and Japan.
Pure Buddhist doctrine teaches the quest for enlightenment (nirvana) by the progressive abandonment of desire, which is the source of all life’s pain. In Japan partly because of the language barrier of the scriptures but also because of a general resistance to metaphysical thought, Buddhist practice shifted away from private contemplation to public charity work. The requirements of celibacy and asceticism were also gradually dropped.
For the Japanese, Buddhism initially appealed as magical protector of both the state and the noble families, who built temples near their homes.
New sects in the 9th century spread Buddhism throughout the country. The religion evolved from protector of the aristocracy to vehicle of faith and hope for the common people, who were attracted by the prayers and elaborate rituals.
By the 12th century Buddhism had integrated successfully with the indigenous Shinto religion. It was also infused with some elements of Confucianism originating from China that were suitable to the Japanese character. These being respect, obedience, and care for parents & elderly family members, loyalty to their rulers and to authority in general.
As has been proved in the more recent past; the Japanese proved to be not servile copiers but inventive adapters.
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