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Buddhist Spectrum

Buddhists around the world

The number of Buddhists around the world is grossly underestimated. The statistics found in nearly all encyclopedias and almanacs place the number of Buddhists at approximately 500 million. This figure completely ignores over one billion Chinese people who live in the Peopleís Republic of China. China is officially communist (although many free market conditions are already in place) and does not keep records on religion statistics of adherents. Also, many western reference sources refuse to accept that a person can belong to more than one religion. In Asia it is quite common for one person to have two, three, or more religions. In China, it is common for a family to have a shrine in their home with statues and icons from Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

Statistics

China, liberal estimate (80.00%) 1,070,893,447
China, conservative estimate (50.00%) 669,308,405
Japan (96.00%) 122,022,837
Thailand (95.00%) 62,626,649
India (3.25%) 37,913,134
Sri Lanka (70.00%) 14,933,050
Burma (90.00%) 43,323,967
Cambodia (95.00%) 13,769,578
Laos (75.00%) 5,126,207
Other Asian countries (16.00%) 213,492,875
Total Buddhists in Asia, liberal estimate 1,584,101,744
Total Buddhists in Asia, conservative estimate 1,182,516,701
USA (2.00%) 6,135,071
Canada and N. Amer. islands (1.10%) 368,447
Total Buddhists in N. America 6,503,518
Germany (1.10%) 905,657
France (1.20%) 773,215
United Kingdom (1.20%) 733,395
Other European countries (0.15%) 785,700
Total Buddhists in Europe 3,197,966
Total Buddhists
in Latin America and S. America (0.15%) 868,929
Total Buddhists
in Australia and Oceania (1.80%) 618,752
Total Buddhists in Africa (0.02%) 194,550
Total Buddhists in the world, liberal estimate 1,595,485,458
(about 1.6 billion)
Total Buddhists in the world,
conservative estimate 1,193,900,416
(about 1.2 billion)
Last updated: April 2010

Currently there are about 1.3 billion Chinese living in the Peopleís Republic. Surveys have found that about 8% to 91% identify with Buddhism as one of their religions. If we use a percent near the upper end of this estimate, of about 80% it works out to about 1.1 billion Chinese Buddhists. To ignore over one billion people as if they do not count is a terrible miscount and very misleading in the reporting of adherents. A Chinese Buddhist forum (bskk.com) currently has over 150,000 registered members and over 4 million posts, which is more than ten times the amount of the largest English language Buddhist forum (which also has Chinese Buddhists participating in the discussions). But to be fair, a more conservative estimate is also shown.

Here are some studies that have analyzed or counted the number of Buddhists in China and the percentage found in the study:

U.S. State Dept. report Approx. 8% to 40% (the report lists 8% but then states that there are ďhundreds of millionsĒ of Chinese who practice various religions together, which includes Buddhism).

The counting of Buddhists in America is also a little problematic since the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask religious affiliation. There are studies that suggest the percentage of Buddhists in America is as low as 0.5% and others that suggest over 3%. Some of the lower estimates claimed that about half of all Buddhists in America are white, European ancestry, which shows that the study was flawed. Any personal observation survey of Buddhism in America by attending meditation groups and temples will demonstrate that the vast majority of Buddhists in the U.S. are still predominantly Asian or Asian ancestry. Immigration to the U.S. from Asia has been very high due to favorable economic opportunities and more open immigration for those with technical skills, such as in the medical fields. Immigration from Asia ranges from about 0.5 million to 7 million per year and certainly a sizeable percentage of these immigrants are Buddhist.

Some other reports at the low end are going by official statistics from Buddhist organizations that count and in many of these estimates it is based on counting only one group, The Buddhist Churches of America (which is one of the few that counts their members). The BCA is just one sect inside the Pure Land school of Buddhism, which is a further sub-set of Mahayana, which is a sub-set of Buddhism in general. As far back as 1995 a study showed that 1.6% of the U.S. is Buddhist.

Only a few years later the number of Buddhist centers doubled, which suggests that the actual percent of Americans who are Buddhist is from 2% to 4%. See: R. Baumann, Univ. of Hannover Professor C. Prebish, Ph.D. has stated that 2% of the U.S. population is Buddhist and that most, about 80% of American Buddhists are of Asian descent (about 4.8 million out of 6 million American Buddhists), See: Utah State Univ., 2007

A conservative estimate of 2% is used for the number of Buddhists in America in the table below.

March 2007 update: Due to the debates and discussions that have occurred, some reference books and encyclopedias are finally recognizing that there are Buddhists in China. Some have stated that the survey suggesting that 91% are Buddhist is exaggerated, but at least some are now showing a sizeable percentage, such as over 60% over at wikipedia. Therefore, included below is a liberal estimate using 80% and a more conservative estimate using a 50% figure.

Here is the Wikipedia estimate, which is compatible to the numbers shown here: Wikipedia List of religious populations

July 2009 update: The percentage and numbers for Buddhists in India has increased dramatically over recent years because there have many recent mass conversions of the dalit (untouchables) from Hinduism to Buddhism. See: One of several mass conversions of over 50,000 and also this report: Newsweek, March 2008 India now 3.25% Buddhist

A more accurate listing of Buddhists around the world with the inclusion of the above-mentioned people (percentage of the total population who are Buddhist is shown in parentheses) is given in the factbox.

The current number of Buddhists is therefore, about 1.2 to 1.6 billion which places it nearly equal with each of the two largest religions of Christianity and Islam. Even with the conservative estimate, it is still much higher than the 300 to 500 million still being placed in many references. It is important to know the true number to provide an accurate history and to know that we are not ďaloneĒ in our thinking and our practice.

What we really strive for is not more Buddhists, but more enlightened ones, so that we can have true peace inside and for the world.


Tracing the origin of Buddhism in India

Majhimadesha was the name of a vast stretch of geographical land mass during the time of the Buddha wherein the most famous Kapilavastu then existed. It had a distinct and defined geographical boundary. To the north of Majhimadesha, Usian or Usigiri mountain was there. Also Thuna and Upathuna were the two remote villages at its western boundary. On its southern boundary, Sobhabati or Saravati city and Saravati river were most famous. In another account, it is mentioned that Pundravardhana city and Pundakaksa mountain were to the east of the Majhimadesha. Kajangala was to the south-west of it.

Ruins of Kapilavatthu

Names of these places have been given to locate Majhimadesha as well as to describe all its wonder as a sacred land piece in Jambudvipa. Indian puranic literatures are also found to have been agog in taking the name of this geographically famous locality where Ďall the Buddhas, their great disciples and the universal monarchs are borní.

In Majhimadesha, fourteen out of sixteen Maha Janapdas of Jambudvipa were said to have been in it. Its importance thus is well imagined. With a defined geographical boundary though, still it could not be found by the scholars who somehow said to have become successful in finding other places those were then in Majhimadesha. The Maha Janapadas which now one finds in the text books and reads their noteworthy position in history include Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Bhaji, Malla, Chedi, Vamsa, Kuru, Panchala, Machha, Surasena, Asaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kamboja. It is significant to notice that name of Kalinga is nowhere in this list of sixteen Maha Janapadas. In another list where Kalinga is found, Gandhara is again replaced by Yonaka. But Jain Bhagavati gives a different set of names of the sixteen Maha Janapadas.

It is very interesting to see that many of these boundary villages are not mentioned anywhere in the Bealís restoration of the Chinese Pilgrimís report and their referral relationship with Majhimadesha is also missing in the translated accounts. Rather Kalinga and Majhimadeshaís name have been taken as name of two places instead of two Maha Janapadas . Readers come across reference to Mid-India or Middle Country instead of Majhimadesha here and there in Buddhist Records of the Western World. Fa-hianís report contains reference to Mid-India when he enters Wu-Chang or Udyan. From Udyan the Pilgrim went to Su-ho-to or Sadanagara and from there to Kien-to-wei or Gandhara. It is mentioned in Bealís translational work that Fa-hian went to Madhyadesha from Mo-tu-lo or Mathura, and from Madhyadesha he went towards south and reached Samkasya. Then again reference to Mid-India in Fa-hianís report is observed when he enters Gaya and Pataliputra. From Pataliputra the Pilgrim went to Champa and then to Tamralipti. Bealís translation thus has treated Mid- India and Majhimadesha as two different entity. And again Majhimadesha has been treated not as a Maha Janapada but as a normal place. It must be remembered that Fa-hian has mentioned about Alms Bowl of the Buddha which he came across when he was in Mid India. To the end of the report it is written in Bealís work that Fa-hian took five years to reach Mid-India but after reaching he stayed there for six years.

In Hiouen Thsangís report one finds the Pilgrim coming to Pushkalavati from Gandhara and here some references to Mid-India has been made by him. Like Fa-hian, when he moved from Pushkalavati to Udakhanda and then to Udyana, normal reference to Mid-India is also observed in his report. Hiouen Thsang has taken more or less some references to Mid-India when he visited places like Kia-shi-mi-lo or Kashmir, Jalandhara or Che-lan-ta-lo, and Ma-ti-pu-lo or Matipura. Though the Pilgrim has mentioned about Pundravardhana which he visited after Kie-chu-hoh-khi-lo or Kajughira, nowhere in the foot notes one finds a little mention on this place as an eastern border village of the Majhimadesha. That there is a geographical boundary of the Madhyadesha was, perhaps, unknown to the translators at that time. From Pundravardhana, after visiting Kamrupa and Samatata, the Pilgrim went to Tamralipti which was in Mid-India then as per Fa-hianís report. But reference to Mid-India in Pilgrimís report comes to oneís notice when Pilgrimís visit to U-cha or Udra and Konyodha takes place at a latter time. And name of Kalinga, which the pilgrim found on his way to Kosala as a place but not as a country, one finds again here. One notices in chapters dealing with Andhra, Dravida, Atyanabakela, Pitasila and Varna in one way or other, some references here and there to Mid-India.

Majhimadesha was the Pali version of Madhydesha. And certainly, Majhimadesha should not have been translated and referred to as Mid-India or the Middle country. It is a great historical blunder when mistakes like this one finds to have gone into making the ancient history of India. It is most unfortunate to see again that two parallel lines have been drawn in the political of India to show where this Mid -India was, and could be, which once was visited by many Chinese Pilgrims. Fa-hianís visit to Madhyadesha and Hiouen Thsangís visit to Mid -India are one and the same thing and both refer to Majhimadesha only.

The border villages of Majhimadesha: Usian, Thuna, Upathuna, Kajangala, undaravardhana, and Sobhavati are well placed in Indian puranic literature. They speak their own history very brilliantly and eloquently . It is most interesting, and scholars can see it by themselves.

The Prachi Valley account in Orissa beautifully reflects on all these places. History of river Prachi or Prachi Saraswati or the then Rohini river, carries the real history of Indian epics. Sobhaneswar temple near Niali tells about the then Sobhavati city. Tunda and Uttarana villages near Adaspur are those two Thuna and Upathuna villages representing the end of the north-west border of the Mjhimadesha, and both now stand on the banks of two branch rivers of river Devi. And Usian is something very wonderful one can see it now on the banks of the river Devi near Astaranga and Kakatpur. The other most important village on the southern border of the Majhimadesha is Kajangala. It is one of the most sought after village in many of our puranic literature. The present Kajalapatia village near Nayahata in Kakatapur block of Puri district is the village Kajangala of yester years.

Vamsa literature of Ceylon gives interesting information on the kingdoms beyond the southern border of the Majhimadesha. Kingdom of the Mallas and the Uttara Kuru were at the other end of the village Kajangala, and they were really like the blood channels of many of our puranic contents. One should not be unmindful of such a great inheritance even if it has not been treated truthfully in history. According to Sri Lankan sources, it is said that Anuradhapur here was also a part of the Majjhimadesha. It is true like anything. But this happened only after the Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought here form Kalinga. Where ever the Relics were placed, the place was considered to become a sacred one. And thus the map of Majjhimadesha got an extension and shift to Anuradhapur in Sri Lanka.

In Bealís translation, it has been stated that Fa-hian stayed six years in Mid-India or Majhimadesha which was the ĎLand of the Buddhaí then. But it is not understood why Hiouen Thsang was shown then to have visited places elsewhere leading to Turkey, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Andhra and a lot of other places that does not fit into the Pilgrimís original report at all. As Majhimadesha is a proper noun, its translation to Mid-India is as improper and killing as to treat it as a mere place. It seems that the authors who took up the translational work perhaps had no prior knowledge on Majhimadesha and its geographical boundary. So they treated them as two different places. These mistakes took the authors to afoot on other countries, and were, thus forced to derive conclusions on their points that have nothing to do with the life of the Buddha.

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Most revered Dalada

Continued from August 18

Then follows Vesak when we go on pilgrimages and observe religious rituals. Then comes the month of Poson which is another month we commemorate the introduction of Buddhism to the island.

These festival seasons of Sinhale ends with the Esala pageant which is celebrated to pay homage to the Tooth Relic. Later this month became a festival season devoted to gods as the Queen of the Nayakkar rulers established Hindu Devalas to perform their religious rites. Today the Dalada perahera has become the Esala perahera as the month of Esala is believed to be the month devoted to various Hindu gods.

The Dalada perahera commences on an auspicious day and hour observing the age old traditions and rituals ending with the observance of similar customs and auspicious moments. The king with his queens accompanied by the members of the rajya sabha walk in the perahera. The chiefs of the Disavanis, ratas, korales, pattus and others living in the villages belonging to the Dalada Maligawa too participate in these processions. They carry with them the flags assigned to their areas. Today the Diyawdana Nilame heads the procession joined by the Basnayake Nilame of the Devalas located in the city and other Basnayake Nilames of the rural devalas.

After the conclusion of the perahera procession the Diyawadana Nilame reports to HE the President on the successful conclusion of the event in keeping with the age old tradition of reporting to the king. During the foreign rule the governor from Colombo came to the Queenís House in Kandy to be present on this occasion.

The Kandyan dancers and various other dancers, musicians, trumpeters, flags and torch bearers and above all over hundred elephants and tuskers add glory and pomp to the pageant.

It can be described as a festival representing the existing cultures of the Sri Lankan society. Today the pageant could be viewed all over the world on various TV channels and it has become a grand festival viewed by the international community.


Education of Buddhist monks

Continued from August 18

In various other fields of art, we have more than enough men and women to fill the vacancies in both private and public sector institutions.

After graduation, if the monks are to be employed, they should be employed only as teachers and that is too, to teach only the subjects mentioned above, and compulsorily with no exception Buddhism should be their first subject.

They may opt for any other subject only under special circumstances such as when there are enough monks to teach Buddhism and shortage of teachers to teach some other important subjects. Once they are appointed as teachers they should take up residence at the temple closest to the school where he is to act as a teacher and under no circumstances they should get themselves boarded at lay-homes or boarding houses.

If they wish to leave Sasana which is their personal right which no one can challenge, they should automatically lose their assignment as teachers because it is an appointment given to a Buddhist monk and he loses the job the moment he is derobed. On principle they are appointed to teach Buddhism.

The code of discipline which applies to the lay students of university cannot apply in the same spirit to the clergy who are made to believe spiritually and morally superior to the lay students. Therefore, essentially they must conduct themselves with great respect and act as a class superior to the others.

This makes elderly monks being appointed to with responsibility to determine their conduct in the Dhamma. Discipline applicable to the monks should be enforced on those student monks without any discrimination. Otherwise, once they enter the society seeking jobs and money it would be detrimental to the Sasana. We have an excess of lay graduates struggling for jobs and we do not want the monks too, to join the fray. The country needs monks disciplined in the Dhamma and not graduates seeking jobs and positions with the yellow robe on.

For the monks the degree should come second with the Dhamma and Vinaya coming first. Monks by themselves are a much elevated class of citizens with religious discipline moulding themselves into neat and exemplary characters whom everyone respects with veneration and admiration.

So in order to bring them within a suitable atmosphere where they could practice the Dhamma while engaged in studies with no ragging whatsoever, the pirivena their traditional seat of learning is the most suitable institution for them. Therefore, the monks who qualify themselves for higher education should be sent to the pirivenas which could provide the right atmosphere to lead a proper clerical life while pursuing studies and holding on to the sacred Vinaya rules. Pirivenas with the right religious atmosphere to suit them should be elevated with all the facilities required for university education.

The existing pirivenas could be improved to accommodate the students mentally as well as academically. It will serve to realize the dual purpose of a monk-student pursuing advanced knowledge while developing the inner-self according to the Vinaya rules. If we fail in this move it is Buddha Sasana as a whole in the long run, that would suffer. So it is time that the authorities, and more the Mahanayakas who should devote their power an authority to rid ourselves of such an unhealthy development.

 

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