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The Culture of Buddhism

When looking at Buddhism as a culture one has to take into context which form of Buddhism and in which country are we talking about. Originally Buddhism was a sect of monks that wore Saffron robes and carried beggar’s bowls. They were attempting to reach enlightenment and practice detachment as a path to enlightenment. Thus monasteries in the original Theravada form were a cloistered culture that had only limited connection to the larger culture around them.

As Buddhism melted into the other forms of Hinduism the main Theravada forms faded into the larger Vedic traditions of Hinduism. Which we see in the Gita telling us to not attach ourselves to the fruits of labor and the general respect for greater enlightenment and life that is reflected in the day top day lives of ordinary Indian people.

As Buddhism spread throughout Asia it found many forms. Reflected within these forms is the Pure-land Buddhism of Southeast Asia. Thailand literally land of freedom, Cambodia and Vietnam are the home to this school. It’s impact can be seen again in the ordinary people through their courtesy and gracious manner. Even in Communist countries this unattached unadorned respect is due to the underpinnings of Buddhism.

In Japan Zen Buddhism has developed to its fullest form. Though originally Chinese in origin, Zen Buddhism bloomed within the Shinto culture of Japan; here the cultural impact is reverence for one’s family and friends as well as a sense of connection to both the community and the location. It is not uncommon for people who are caught in town before a rain storm to return home and find that a neighbor took in their laundry and placed it folded into a protected area of the owner’s porch. The shrines of Shinto ask, by their presence, for the passer-by to stop and look around to see the natural wonders of the place. It is a gentle request to wake up and live. This attention to the immediate present now is itself the spirit of Zen.

In Tibet Tartaric Buddhism formed an entire culture unto itself replete with a secular following; here Buddhism merged both spiritual enlightenment with a government. The Dali Lama is the spiritual leader of the Buddhist, however he is also the legal governmental head of state. Within Tibet the culture of Tartaric Buddhism remains despite the foreign intervention of the Chinese. Ironically China itself, within its common people, remains a country greatly influenced by a Buddhist history.

In the end Buddhism has already influenced and impacted these great cultures even in instances where Buddhism itself was oppressed or outlawed. Christianity outlived the Roman Republic and eventually over took it from within. It would be completely within reason that Buddhism may well do the same or perhaps already has.