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The estimate of the number of Buddhists in the world varies between 350 million and 1.5 billion. The disparity in figures is because of factors like the lack of exact figures for congregational memberships and the practice of Buddhist beliefs in combination with traditional religions like Shinto, Confucianism and Taoism to name a few. Let’s take a look at some of the countries where Buddhism has left its imprint.
China is home to 100 million Buddhists – the largest number in any country. Buddhism was almost destroyed in China during the 20th century. Monasteries and temples have been rebuilt in the recent past. Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism is the major Buddhist influence in China. Important Buddhist sects in China are the widespread Pure Land sect that came in from India, the Ch’an Men (Zen in Japan), created by the Indian Bodhidharma in 520 A.D, and the T’ien T’ai.
The most distinguishing feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the belief in reincarnation. According to this belief a person consciously chooses to be reborn so that he/she may complete the work he/she has left undone in a previous birth. Tibetan Buddhism has features that have been taken from both Hinduism and from Bon, a religion of purely Tibetan origin.
After Buddhism was almost wiped out of India, the land of its origin, it began to revive in 1891 with the establishment of the Mohabodhi Society. In 1956, Buddhism got another boost when Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of India’s constitution, converted to Buddhism along with hundreds of his followers. Today there are about 4 million Buddhists in India. The spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, lives in India (Dharmshala) now.
Only 1% of Indonesians practice Buddhism today and most of the practitioners are ethnic Chinese. They have their own unique version of Buddhism, which pays homage to a supreme deity, Sang Hyand Adi Buddha. However, all the Buddhists in Indonesia acknowledge the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
Buddhism has always flourished in Japan. About 84% of the population practices a blend of Buddhism and Shinto.
There are many Buddhist sects in Japan – 157 to be exact. Rituals and other practices differ from sect to sect. Zen is a major religion in this country, with about 3.32 million registered followers.
A majority (94.6%) of the Thai people practice Theravada Buddhism and the country has a wealth of Buddhist temples and stupas. Even the national flag is said to symbolize Buddhism. Monks are accorded the highest respect in Thailand and people are encouraged by their families to join the monasteries.
Robert A.F.Thurman, a popular American Buddhist writer, is of the opinion that the number of Buddhists in the USA is around 5 to 6 million. People of Asian origin with an inherited family tradition of Buddhism, make up 75 to 80 percent of the US Buddhist population; the rest are non-Asians. The western form of Buddhism is a modern reinterpretation of the original, with the emphasis on meditation rather than on doctrines, rituals and monastic living.
According to the 2001 census, there are around 150,000 practicing Buddhists in the UK, and the number continues to increase.
Albert Einstein said, “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.” Proving the truth of his statement is the rise in the popularity of Buddhism in several parts of the world.