Sriram Palepu, Sajani Raja, Brennan Jackson, Sukanya Dasu

Geographical Aspects

Origin and Diffusion


  • Siddharta Gautama, the most important person in the religion, is also the origin of Buddhism.
  • He meditated in the forest after being exposed to suffering in order to find a solution and after 6 years, he awoke under the Bodh Gaya Tree as Buddha, or the Enlightened One.


  • Unlike more universalizing religions, Buddhism had a slow relocation diffusion.
  • Buddhism diffused mainly through the King of the Magadhan Empire, Asoka, who imposed Buddhist principles on India.
  • His son, Mahinda, held a Buddhist missionary to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which is now the longest Buddhism-adhering religion in world.
  • Missionaries sent to Myanmar, Indonesia and Kashmir also diffused Buddhism to those areas.
  • From northeastern India, tradesmen of the first century A.D. spread Buddhism to China, Japan and Korea.

Distribution of Followers

Location of Followers:

  • Theravada Buddhism is practiced in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka.
  • Mahayana Buddhism is practiced in Tibet, Bhutan, China, Korea, and Japan.
  • Tantrayana Buddhism is practiced in Northern Tibet and Mongolia.

Number of Followers:

  • 365 Million Adherents in Total:
  • 204 Million Mayanists
  • 139 Million Theravadists
  • 2.2 Million Tantrayanists
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Classification and Branches

Classification of religion: Universalizing Religion

Branches or divisions of the religion:

  • Mahayana: 56% of all Buddhists are part of this branch. Uses the religious text of the Theravada, but also has additional texts. Is more accommodating to the common man.

  • Theravada: 38% of all Buddhists. They use meditation to train the mind and encourage freedom of the mind. Oldest and "purest" branch.

  • Tantryana: 6% of all Buddhists. Embraces basic principles of the Mahayana, but adds texts different from that branch.

Religious Beliefs

Basic Principles

Holy Texts:

  • All Buddhists use the Tripataka, the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings.
  • Mahayana Buddhists add the Mahayana Sutras, written in the time of the development of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Tibetan Buddhists use the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which details the stages of death.

Four Noble Truths:

  1. All living things must suffer
  2. Suffering, which is caused by wanting to live, causes reincarnation
  3. The goal of life is to escape suffering and reincarnation unto Nirvana, which is a state of redemption, and is achieved by mental and moral purification of the mind, body, and soul.
  4. Nirvana is achieved through the Eightfold Path, which has the rightness to believe, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort, thought, and meditation

Important Figures:

  • Buddha: the founder of the religion
  • Dalai Lama: leader of Tibetan Buddhism
  • King Asoka: responsible for the diffusion of Buddhism across Asia

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Holy Places and Places of Worship

Holy Places:

  1. Lumbini - Buddha’s birthplace
  2. Bodh Gaya - Buddha reached Enlightenment
  3. Sarnath - Buddha’s first sermon at Deer Park
  4. Kusinagara - Buddha reached Nirvana (through death)
  5. Sravasti - Buddha created images of himself (first miracle)

Places of Worship: Pagodas

  • Called pagodas in China and Japan
  • Called viharas or temples in India
  • Embody the five elements: fire; air; earth, symbolized by the square base; water; and wisdom, symbolized by the pinnacle at the top
  • Contain relics that are thought to be part of Buddha’s body or clothing
  • Tall structure with slanting roofs arranged in a series of tiers
  • No area for group congregation (meditation is usually done individually)

Impact on Social and Cultural Beliefs

Social and Family Structures

Family Structure:

  • No standard for family structure
  • Patriarchal structure native to Asia
  • Theravada Buddhism promotes detachment from family
  • Mahayana Buddhism says family relationships acceptable
  • Children expected to be obedient
  • Families pray and make devotional offerings together
  • Buddhism condemns abortion


  • Viewed as a civic and secular service
  • Husband and wife possess respect, honor, and faithfulness towards each other
  • Divorce not prohibited, but uncommon in Buddhist families; if a couple follows Buddhist marriage ethics, divorce becomes a non-issue

Five Precepts (govern social behavior):

  • Abstain from harming living beings
  • Abstain from taking what is not given
  • Abstain from sexual misconduct
  • Abstain from false speech
  • Abstain from intoxicants

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Cultural Beliefs and Expectations

  • Parents responsible for fostering Buddhist ethics and values in their children
  • No huge impact on cultural beliefs and expectations
  • Traditional cultural beliefs prevail
  • Buddhism teaches tolerance of others
  • One does not have to practice only Buddhism, so it actually has very little effect on cultural beliefs and expectations; followers of Buddhism can follow another religion
  • The picture of the Shinto style building on the right shows how Shinto styles became Buddhist styles because Buddhism allows traditional culture to flourish

Essential Question

Despite Buddhism’s slow diffusion and clustered distribution across the world, it is a universalizing religion. Why is this, and what does this say about the nature of Buddhism?