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Buddhism is the Japanese religion that comes closest toparalleling Christianity because of its concern for theafterlife and salvation of the individual In this it shows itsorigin in India a region that in religious and philosophicalterms is more like the West than East Asia The historicalBuddha started with the basic Indian idea of a never-ending cycleof lives each determining the next and added to this that lifeis painful that its suffering is caused by human desires However these desires can be overcome by the Buddhas teachingfreeing the individual for painless merging in Nirvana ornothingness As the teaching grew it came to stress reverencefor the Three Treasures which were the Buddha the lawwritten in a book much like our Bible and the religiouscommunity or the monastic organizationThe branch of Buddhism that spread throughout East Asia iscalled Mahayana or the greater vehicle which contrastsanother belief called Theravada or the doctrine of theelders Mahayana taught salvation into a paradise that seemscloser to the Western concept of Heaven than to the originalBuddhist Nirvana It also emphasized the worship not just ofthe historical Buddha but of myriad Buddha-like figures including Bodhisattvas who had stayed back one step short ofNirvana and Buddhahood in order to aid the salvation of othersIn Japan Mahayana Buddhism developed three major emphases One appearing in the ninth century was esoteric Buddhism whichstressed ritual and art as well as doctrines The secondemphasis starting a century later was on salvation through faithparticularly in Amida the Buddha of the pure land of theWestern Paradise or in the Lotus Sutra a scripture in which theBuddha promised the salvation of all sentient beings or of allanimal life This emphasis gave rise to the twelfth andthirteenth centuries of new sects--the Pure Land sect the Truesect and Nichiren--which are today the largest Buddhist sects inJapan The third emphasis was on self-reliance in seekingsalvation through self-discipline and meditation This becameembodied in the two Zen or meditation sects introduced fromChina in 1191 and 1227 These developed
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