In the countries to the South and South-East of India, people practise a form of Buddhism known as Theravada. The yellow-robed monks of this school study and teach the Dhamma. They regard the monastic life and Pali scriptural language as very important and stress that living by the vinaya, or the monastic rule, is the best way to become Enlightened. Many boys or girls follow the monastic life for a time as part of their upbringing. The lay people follow the Buddha’s teaching and help the monks by giving them money, food and robes.
Mahayana literally means the ‘Great Way’. The people in the countries to the North and North-East of India follow this form of Buddhism using the scriptural language of Sanskrit. There are many diﬀerent ‘schools’ of Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism emphasises the importance of compassion. It has as its ideal the Bodhisattva – one who strives to help all beings to gain Enlightenment for themselves. Buddhism spread to China at the beginning of the Common Era and to Japan about 500 years later. The Pure Land schools are based on devotion to the Buddha Amitabha. The Zen school of Buddhism lays stress on meditation as the way to gain Enlightenment.
Vajrayana literally means the ‘Diamond Way’, ‘Thunderbolt Way’ or ‘Lightening Way’. This form of Buddhism spread from India to Tibet around 700 CE. Ritual and worship plays a particularly important role. Many Tibetans chant mantras or special sacred phrases as they go about their daily lives. Tibetan monks and nuns wear maroon robes.
Buddhism in Australia
Buddhism began to become well known in Australia from about 1950 CE. Most of the major Buddhist traditions are now being practised by those who came to Buddhism for reasons other than birth or birthplace. The 2006 Census reported that Australia’s Buddhist population had more than doubled since 1996. 2.1% of Australia’s population is now Buddhist. Buddhism was the second largest religion in Australia behind Christianity. In Victoria, 3.9% of the 2006 population was Buddhist, signiﬁcantly above national ﬁgures. In some Local Government Areas it is much higher: Melbourne 7.5%, Maribyrnong 10.2%, Greater Dandenong 14.9% (VMC. Population Diversity in Local Councils in Victoria: 2006 Census).