A religion without a god? How could that be? And how could it have captivated millions of people in so many countries for so many centuries?
In its 2500 year history Buddhism has grown from a tiny religions community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe.
Buddhists love to tell stories. Buddhism as the elaboration of a series of stories. The stories begin with the rich religious culture of India.
Siddhartha Gautama was born into a princely family and a life of luxury in India in 566B.C. At age of 29 he determined to seek the truth about life and death. He left his wife and son and became a wandering ascetic.
After years of struggle, he came to the pivotal moment in his life. As he sat under a banyan tree, he "woke up" to the meaning of life (" Buddha" means "Awakened one").
This awakening was the realization that "all of life is suffering" and that freeing the mind from the cycle of birth and death leads to the inner peace of nirvana .
The stories then examine Buddhism after the Buddha's death. They trace the interpretation of his teaching or dharma, and the development of the early buddhist community.
A REMARKABLE CAPACITY OF CHANGE
As they adapted to new challenges in India and the rest of Asia, Buddhist beliefs went through significant, even radical, changes;
* Early Buddhism was a tradition of self reliance; awakening came solely on the basis of one's own efforts , if it came at all .But in the Mahayana movement, Buddhists emphasized the importance of compassion and concern for others.
* As Mahayana buddhism spread across India and central Asia, it added the concept of celestial bodhisattvas.
* In China, Buddhism became more respectful of duties to the family and the ancestors.
*In Japan, the Buddhas were reconciled with local deities, or kami.
* Today, almost every variety of Buddhism has been adapted for an American.
BELIEF IN LIMITLESS pOSSIBILITIES
The Buddhist ability to embrace change may seem puzzling to Western minds. But change lies at the very core of Buddhism.
The Buddha himself espoused the doctrine of "no-self," a belief that there is no such thing as a permanent identity.
Buddhists believe the concepts of no-self and emptiness are far from negative; They invest their religion, and life itself, with limitless possibilities.