Buddhism spread up through China and even made its way to Japan where Buddha promptly became a Shinto god. The things that happen to you when you’re dead.. It’s as malleable a religion as any other and absorbs many aspects of the local cultures.
Tibetan Buddhism is all the rage these days and they have a whole lineage of Buddhas through the ages as well as an impressive cast of demons to be supplicated and appeased. The practices can seem almost shamanic and involve elaborate rituals of divination and god knows what else.
Compassion is still at the core though and they’re perhaps particularly concerned with the process of dying. It’s in the death experience, after all, that we have our greatest opportunity to free ourselves of our grudges, hopes and attachments to this life.
The most famous Buddhism must be Zen. Perfected in Japan this is a highly mystical, non-rational approach to understanding the nature of Mind. Zen masters teach by means of riddles impossible to solve called koans. What is the sound of one hand clapping? And other imponderables that finally force the mind to shut down and the soul to shine through.
That reminds us of the Zen master at the hot dog stall.
“What do you want on it, mac?” He was asked.
“Make me one with everything.” Was the reply.
Buddhism is alive and well in Nepal, Sri Lanka and throughout South East Asia and fabulous temples testify to this. In these places it offers a chance to train the mind, a basic moral code and a way to understand what the drama of your life is really about.
Buddhism is popular in the West for being a way to be spiritual without the drag of a God. Anyone can be a Buddhist but before you rush off to convert remember that the Buddha himself wasn’t a Buddhist. He laid down a good path for spiritual development and you can pick and choose the bits that make sense to you. Putting on a set of robes won’t bring you any closer to internal peace by itself.
Okay, one more Buddhist joke.
“How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“Two – One to change it and one not to change it.