“Buddhism  A major world religion numbering over 300 million followers (exact estimates are impossible since Buddhism does not preclude other religious beliefs). Early Buddhism developed from Hinduism thought the teaching of Siddartha Gautama and his disciples, around 5th century BC in northern India. Under leaders such as the emperor Asoka, who converted to Buddhism and encouraged it spread, the religion provided a stabilizing structure throughout India. Offering a way to salvation that did not depend on caste or the ritualism of the Brahmin priesthood of Hinduism, and strengthened by a large, disciplined monastic order (the sangha), it made a very great impact; but by the end of the 1st millenium AD it had lost ground to a resurgent Hinduism, and the subsequent Muslim invasions virtually extinguished it in India. Meanwhile, however, monks had taken the faith all over Asia, to central and northern areas now in Afghanistan, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam; and in south and southeast Asia to Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. The final phase of Buddhist expansion, after the 7th century, saw the emergence of Tantric and Tibetan Buddhism.

Owing to its linguistic diversity and geographical extent, Buddhist teaching, scripture and observance are complex and varied, but certain main doctrines are characteristic. Buddhism asserts that all phenomena are linked together in an endless chain of dependency. Buddhism teaches that the suffering of the world is cause by desire conditioned by ignorance, but that by following the path of the Buddha, release from the cycle of rebirth can be achieved….”

Excerpted from: Wright, Edmund, Ed. The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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