Buddhism went through many changes in the 2,500 years it has been around. After the Buddha died, there was nothing written down. His head monks all got together and told each other the teachings they remember him teaching. They voted on what was and wasn’t Buddhism. This was essentially Buddhism’s Council of Nicaea, but called First Council.
After These lessons and teachings were agreed upon, they were orally memorized by the monks present, and they went out to those they taught to teach from those oral lessons. It wasn’t until quite some time after this that these teachings were written down for the first time.
There were several other councils where Buddhist leaders gave commentary on and decided on new doctrines.
Buddhism was brought to new heights by a Prince named Ashoka. He was violent and killed his father and brothers to seize the throne and expand his empire. He felt remorse later in life from his violent actions and joined Buddhism. He helped spread it as far as Greece.
Because Buddhism was spread out among so many cultures, different sects began to form. Each sect changing the original writings to fit their cultural understanding. After a while, the divides among the sects grew deeper and more distinguished. Most sects gravitated to one of two theological understandings: Mahayana or Theravada.
Buddhism eventually more or less died out in India, and there were more Buddhists in China. The Chinese Buddhism spread to Japan and Tibet, and each time Buddhism seemed to pick up more culturally-based ideas. Buddhism was recently described to me as like water in a container. The water (Buddhism) takes on the shape of the container (a culture) and it makes sense to people. If you expected the water to take the shape of a container that it is not it, it won’t make sense.
I believe that it is more important to follow Buddha’s example to find your own way for your own culture than read texts that were orally handed down, were changed by many different cultures, and then interpreted by us. Each step is one step more removed from the Buddha. We should seek to learn from teachers who teach from an American point of view and to realize our own potential for enlightenment.
- Understand cultural biases
- Learn with your own understanding
- Learn from your culture