Santa Clara University



1. Brief Introduction
2. Religion and Politics Sections
3. A Short Introductory Course
4. Other Resource Materials
5. Recent Articles

1. Brief Introduction:
The Buddhist tradition begins with the enlightenment of the prince Gautama (c. 540-490 B.C.E.) under a pipal tree. Buddha (“the Enlightened One”) thus solved the problems of suffering, disease, and death which Hindu sages associated with endless rebirths. Buddha’s enlightenment followed yoga study and extreme asceticism, neither of which satisfied him. He then wandered throughout India preaching “the Middle Way” (neither extreme asceticism nor self-indulgence). Others joined him in forming the monastic order of the Sangha by taking vows of chastity, non-violence, and poverty. Such a life would remove craving, and associated causes such as greed/attachment, hatred and delusion, which cause life’s suffering [dukkha]. Both monks and laity would follow the Eightfold Path of right views, right intension, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Buddhism split into two separate ecclesiastical forms: Theravada (“the Way of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“the Greater Vehicle”). Buddhism flourished in India for one thousand years, reaching its height under the Emperor Asoka (268-33B.C.E.). It eventually waned in India, but Theravada Buddhism still thrives in South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. In general, Theravadists remain more conservative theologically than Mahayanists, believing that Buddha was merely a saintly human being. Spiritual practice focuses on the monk who seeks to enter the Noble path of Stream-enterer, Once-returner, Non-returner, and then Arahat. The Mahayanists permitted greater theological development, so that the Buddha took on more and more supernatural qualities that appealed to “the householder,” not just the monk. Mahayanists also sought to follow the path of the Bodhisattva who would refuse final liberation until all sentient beings were saved. This Mahayanist tradition extended along the Silk Road to East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea. Vietnam became Theravada in the south and Mahayana in the north. In Tibet, Mahayana Buddhism joined with local nature religion to form tantric Buddhism. Harvey (below) refers to and describes these three traditions as Southern (Theravada), Eastern (Mahayana), and Northern (Tibetan) Buddhism. For Tibetan Buddhism, including the March 2008 protests against the government, see this site's entry on China.

2. Religion and Politics Sections:

“Out of India: Hinduism and Buddhism” (pp. 107-10)

“China and Japan: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Maoism (pp. 111-19)

“East Asia: Modernization and Ideology” (pp. 164-97)

"Globalization and Religious Restructuring” (pp. 304-07)

3. A Short Introductory Course:

Kapleau transcribes the teaching and practice of the Zen Master Yasutani Roshi. This book helps the reader to focus on the more significant religious experience, not the less important doctrine, of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama reflects on Buddhist values and democracy. The collection of Queen and King traces the rise of engaged Buddhism from its 1880s beginning in Sri Lanka through various manifestations from India east to Japan. Harvey surveys the Buddhist tradition and explains the relationships of Buddhist spirituality and ethics. Soto monk Victoria demonstrates the problems associated with the close identification of early-twentieth-century Zen with Japanese nationalism. Madsen shows how humanistic Buddhism and Daoism have adopted Confucianist values to support democratization and the religious needs of the middle class in Taiwan.  

Kapleau, Philip. The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).

Dalai Lama, “Buddhism, Asian Values, and Democracy,”World Religions and Democracy. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 70-74.

Queen, Christopher S., and King, Sallie B., eds. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany, NY: SUNY, 1996).

Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Victoria, Brian. Zen At War. (Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1997). 

Madsen, Richard. Democracy's Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

4. Other Resource Materials:

See this site's entry on Thailand/Sri Lanka/Myanmar for further information on Theravada Buddhism.

Barnes, Nancy J., “Buddhist Women and the Nuns’ Order in Asia,” in Queen, Christopher S., and King, Sallie B., eds. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany, NY: SUNY, 1996), 259-94. This article discusses women religious and the movement to reestablish the bhikshuni sangra [ordained women mendicants] in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, and the Chinese tradition. Monks and laity in the Theravada countries oppose full ordination, but have developed other women’s organizations: the dasa sil matavo in Sri Lanka, the mae ji in Thailand, and the thila-shin in Thailand. Taiwan has fostered the bhikshuni sangra as part of its Buddhist revival. The role of the male bhikshu sangra as “fields of merit” is important to both monks and laity, especially in the rural areas.

Cady, Linell E.., and Simon, Sheldon, eds. Religion and Conflict in South and Southeast Asia: Disrupting Violence. London: Routledge, 2006.

Hilton, Isabel. “Flight of the Lama,” New York Times Magazine (March 12, 2000): 50-55.

Koyama, Kosuke, “Observation and Revelation: A Global Dialogue with Buddhism,” in Max L. Stackhouse and Diane B. Obenchain, eds., God and Globalization: Christ and the Dominions of Civilization (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 2002), 239-71.

Küng, Hans, “Buddhism” in Tracing the Way: Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions (New York: Continuum, 2002), 131-62. Ecumenical theologian Hans Küng employs a spiritual and developmental approach to bring together many of the aspects of the Buddhist tradition.

Kyi, Aung San Suu, “Burma’s Quest for Democracy,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 75-86.

Merton, Thomas. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. (New York: New Directions, 1968).

Mishra, Pankaj. An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004). Mishna, a young Indian writer, travels in hill India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, discovering the meaning of the Buddha for himself and the world.

Obeyesekere, Gananath, “Buddhism,” in Juergensmeyer, Mark, Global Religions: An Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Obeyesekere, Gananath, “Buddhism and Conscience: An Explanatory Essay,” in Daedalus Vol. 120, No. 3 (Summer 1991): 219-39.

Pinault, David. “Indonesia’s Buddhist Heritage,” America 89 (November 24, 2003).

Queen, Christopher, Prebish, Charles, and Keown, Damien. Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003). This volume reads very well as a continuance of Queen and King (1996). It is divided into four sections: Historical Roots, Asian Narratives, Western Frontiers, and Three Critiques.

Seneviratne, H.L., “Religion and Conflict: The Case of Buddhism in Sri Lanka,” in Johnston, Douglas, Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 76-90.

Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Victoria, Brian [Daizen]. Zen War Stories. (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003). This book follows the above Zen at War.


BBC’s site on Buddhism  home site of Journal of Buddhist Ethics.

5. Recent Articles:

The Dalai Lama, invited by Imam Seyed Mehdi Khorasani, appears at interfaith conference in San Francisco. Also attending were Jake Swamp of the Mohawk Nation, Hamza Yusuf of the Islamic Zaytuna Institute, Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman and religion scholar Huston Smith. San Jose Mercury News, April 15, 16, 2006.

Amartya Sen, “Passage to China,” The New York Review of Books (December 2, 2004): 61-65. Sen emphasizes the contacts between India and China during the first century C.E. Science was important along with Buddhism, states the Nobel laureate.

Thai woman Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, 57, ordained as a novice Theravada monk in Sri Lanka. There are no women ordained as full monks in Thailand. Thai government comment. New York Times, October 14, 2001. 

"What Makes A Monk Mad," New York Times, September 30, 2007. Background to Myanmar protests. Longer entry on article in Thailand/Sri Lanka/Burma entry.

"Up in Alms: Burma's Dictators Exploit Buddhism and the Monks Fight Back," Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2007. Political-religious struggle over control of Buddhism in Myanmar.

"Muscular Monks: How Buddhism Became Force for Political Activism," Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2007. Focus on Myanmar, with some discussion of religious forms of Buddhism.

For March 2008 Tibetan protests against the Chinese government, see New York Times coverage, including articles recommended on this site's China entry.

List of other Religions

October 16, 2009.