Essay by karynyCollege, UndergraduateC+, January 2008

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Compare and contrast Buddhism in two different Buddhist countries. Distinguish the forms of Buddhism practiced in each country and the specific ways it has developed within them. Buddhism is an ancient tradition dating back to a time of the Buddha in India when the teachings were reintroduced to the world. Since this time, it has spread across many different countries and adapted within many different environments. Buddhism is a very influential tradition within Asia and is becoming a very popular religion worldwide. An example of this influence has been put forward by Cousins (1998, p. 369) who suggests that ‘over 50 per cent of the population of the world lives in areas where Buddhism has at some time been the dominant religious force’. Modern Buddhism is often divided into two traditions which are known as Theravada, also known as ‘Southern’ Buddhism, and Mahayana, which is also referred to as ‘Northern’ Buddhism (Harvey 2001).

This essay will compare and contrast Mahayana tradition of Buddhism within Tibet and the Theravada tradition which is a major influence in Sri Lanka. In addition to this, the specific ways in which Buddhism has developed within these countries will be discussed.

History tells us that Buddhism was first introduced into Sri Lanka in the second century BC, by the Indian Emperor Ashoka and his son Mahinda (Harvey 2001). It is believed that it is this area of Sri Lanka that has had the longest continuous history of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, the dominant tradition practiced within Sri Lanka, is based on the Pali Canon and uses Pali as its ‘scriptural and liturgical’ language (Harvey 2001). Theravada can be translated as ‘the doctrine of the elders’ and has, at times, been referred to as ‘Hinayana’ which translated means ‘lesser vehicle’. However, this is considered a derogatory term and...