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Religion Library: Buddhism

Community Organization

Written by: Julia Hardy

Over time, Buddhism merged with the cultures to which it was introduced, being shaped by them and shaping them in turn. Perhaps because of the way it was spread, by word of mouth rather than by military force or coercion, and because of an attitude of acceptance toward other religions, there was relatively little conflict between Buddhism and indigenous religions. Buddhism was so successful in China, for instance, that the Daoists and even the non-religious Confucians imitated Buddhist institutional structures.

In some countries, during some eras, Buddhism was an official state religion, and in those situations Buddhist monasteries conducted rituals on behalf of the state, called on the powers of protective deities, and offered prayers to repel invaders in times of war. In China, monasteries sometimes served as retreats for scholars and government officials. Also in China, during the era when Buddhist monasteries were often quite wealthy, the monasteries sometimes lent money, charging interest at prevailing rates. Buddhist monasteries were also sometimes centers of rebellion, leading people who revolted against unfair rulers or poor social conditions.

Today's Buddhist monasteries come in many shapes and sizes. They may be identified with families, neighborhoods, villages, cities, or nations. They offer many of the same services and opportunities, both sacred and secular, that monasteries have offered historically. The Buddhist monastic complex of buildings, statues, open landscapes, and ritual spaces is a place where people gather in communal celebration with others, and it is often the social center of a community.

Study Questions:
1.     What are some of the rituals laity can perform?
2.     Describe the role of the monastery.
3.     What role has Buddhism played in shaping politics?