When people hear the word Buddhism, many times its name reflects stereotypes and misunderstandings. Typically people will think of Chinese and Japanese monks in strict meditaion, however Buddhism is really a generic term for various philosophic, religious, ethical, and sociological forms based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha. They come from the main doctrine of the Four Noble Truths which says that there is suffering (which may more accurately be ‘frustration’), suffering has a cause, the cause of suffering must be removed, and the methods of removal is by following the Middle Path, known also as the Noble Eight-Fold Path. The last of the four truths enables one, in eight stages, to realize nirvana. It is by the practice of Right View, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness, and Right Contemplation. Although there are many aspects of Buddhism that should be learned to understand fully what Buddhi!
sm entails so that we may not misconstrue ideas of it, a more concise look at the above will suffice in giving a grasp of the nature of Buddhism. A short, fundamental history of Buddhism shall also be in order.
The fundamental philosophical assumptions of Buddhism are that life is a stream of becoming; that there is nothing permanent in the empirical self. (Yosh, 21) There is universal causation, although Buddhism does not wrestle with the concept of first causes. One thing is dependent upon another. Man is viewed realistically as a combined composite of phases of life; feeling, dispositions, consciousness, and form. All these forms change according to the law of karma. The basic assumptions in ethics are the universality of suffering and the belief in a solution. The cause of suffering is traced to ignorance and selfish craving, and upon the eradication of ignorance and selfishness nirvana is attained. Nirvana is described negatively as freedom from ignorance, selfishness, and suffering, and positively as the attainment of wisdom (prajna) and compassion (karuna).
As Buddhism spread, different treatment and ideals were given to these central metaphysical issues and Buddhism split into two main sects; the Theravada, which later became Hinayana or "Lesser Vehicle," named such because is was for the few and stressed individual enlightenment, and the Mahayana, called "Greater Vehicle" because its central theme stresses devotion to the salvation of others or universal enlightenment. The Hinayana, which represents the logical development of the principles of the canonical (or scriptual) works and is, therefore, considered orthodox, develops the doctrine of the transitory-ness of substances and individuals. The Mahayana, on the other hand, propounds a more positive philosophy that asserts the reality of the Absolute, that in its ontological aspect can be termed only bhuta-tathata, the "suchness" of beings, the essence of existence. [Reyna, 40-2]
The Hinayana adopts a semi-religious, "anthropomorphic" concept of one supreme Creator-god and many subordinate deities none which are either omnipotent or omniscient, and are introduced merely for the purpose of meditation. The historical Buddha is glorified, even, deified, and so the need for an object of worship and reverence is met. Buddhism as a religion, which is the goal of Mahayana, aims at positive and religious expression and gives a large place to bhakti or devotion. It permits the worship of popular gods which are considered aspects of or transitory manifestations of the One Supreme. For the Mahayana the historical Buddha is a manifestation of the Moral Ideal; he is not the One Reality, but a god among many others.
As to the number of Buddhas who have appeared in the present world kalpa (cycle) the Buddhist schools differ. Guatama Buddha declared that he was not the only Buddha or enlightened being, but that several Buddhas had made known the Law of the Worlds before him and many would after his Parinivana (final and irreversible release). He did not mention the number of Buddhas, but by the middle of the 3rd century B.C., the Buddhist elders had declared the Buddhas who had preceded Gautama were twenty-four, the last five of which are believed to have appeared in the present kalpa. (Reyna, 53) They, together Maitreya( the Buddha yet to come), constitute the seven Buddhas of the present world cycle according to Hinayana conception. The Mahayana, on the other hand, maintains that buddhas and bodhisttvas are innumerable. Bodhisattva,