Theology and Practice
Chapter 3: Buddhism: A Middle Way for Development
OVERVIEW OF BELIEFS Introduction Buddhism is the second oldest of the world religions, dating to around 2550 BCE. Buddhism currently has around 400 million adherents throughout the world (or about 6 per cent of the world’s population). While this may appear a relatively small number, it does mask the fact that half of the world’s population live in countries where Buddhism is currently, or has been in the past, the dominant religion. This is because Buddhism was the first missionary religion, with Emperor Ashoka sending monks from his empire of present-day India and Pakistan in the 3rd century BCE to spread Buddhism from Sri Lanka to Egypt. There has been an increasing interest in Buddhism in other parts of the world, but it does remain an ‘Asian’ religion, with 98 per cent of Buddhists living in South-East Asia (O’Brien and Palmer 2007). In a similar way to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity (and in contrast to Hinduism), Buddhism is firmly based on an historical figure – Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas, who was born in approximately 563 BC in present-day Nepal (but close to the Indian border). It is interesting to note some similarities of the traditions surrounding the birth of both Siddhartha and Jesus of Nazareth. Both Siddhartha and Jesus were borne by chaste women and their births were divinely heralded. Of Siddhartha we are told: [T]he worlds were flooded with light at his birth. The blind so longed to see his glory that they received...
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