How Has Buddhism Been Transmitted and Localized in Southeast Asia?
The peoples of Southeast Asia have not been mere satellites of the more powerful Indian and Chinese civilizations. On the contrary, the cultures that arose in these three vast areas might better be thought of as alternative developments that occurred within a greater Austroasiatic civilization, sometimes called the Asia of the monsoons. The transmission of Buddhism and Hinduism to Southeast Asia can thus be regarded as the spread of the religious symbols of the more-advanced Austroasiatic peoples to other Austroasiatic groups sharing some of the same basic religious presuppositions and traditions.
The movement of Islam into the countries around the South China Sea started over a thousand years ago and continues to this day. Most of those who brought Islamic stories and tales into Southeast Asia were sailors, traders, holy men, and adventurers who found the religion easy to transport since it required no temples, priests, or congregations for its worshippers. For a closer look at how Islam has been localized in Southeast Asia, the history of Islam on the island of Java in the Republic of Indonesia provides a good example. Java today is home to 59 percent of Indonesia’s population, which is projected to surpass a quarter of a billion people by the end of the decade. Almost two thirds of Indonesia’s Muslims live on Java, the island on which Indonesia’s largest cities, including its capital city of Jakarta, are located. Although some Islamic traders and sailors came to Java from Arabia, it is clear that the arrival of Islam can be seen as a continuation of religious and cultural ideas coming from India in the preceding centuries. Muslims from Arabia, Persia, India, Sumatra, and China all passed through Java’s coastal cities. Islam was steadily taking hold on the north coast of Java throughout the heyday of Majapahit, the last great inland Hindu-Buddhist empire. Majapahit flourished in the fourteenth century when Java became a focal point for stories moving throughout the South China Sea between India and China. The mixing of Indic and Islamic tales in the past, and modern ones in the present, and their localization in Java, is the major theme of this essay.
Hinduism is mostly practiced in South Asia. The followers also refer to it as Sanatana Dharma meaning eternal law. Hinduism was formed through the combination of various traditions and cultures. The religion has no single founder. With more than a billion followers, Hindu is the third biggest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. The religion is considered as one of the oldest in the world. The cultures and traditions that formed the religion are thousands of years old. There are a wide range of Hindu traditions. Therefore notable features in the religion include the freedom of practice and belief. Hinduism and Buddhism have many similarities as well as major features. The similarities and differences can be based on both the beliefs and practices of the religions. One of the similarities of the two religions is that they both emphasize on the importance of compassion. The two religions highly disregard violent activities towards any living thing. This is perhaps a religiously universal similarity. The illusory nature of the world is highly emphasized in practice by the two religions. Further, karma’s role in ensuring men are bound to this world is a belief in the both religions. This notion is also used to explain the cycle of deaths and births in the world. According to Buddha, desire is the biggest cause of suffering. Therefore, removal of desire in humans helps to avoid any possible sufferings (Haynes 24). Hindus consider the practice of actions prompted by desire as sinful. Engaging in activities without desiring would result in liberation as provided in the religion. This provides one similarity between the two religions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism believe in the concept that there are several hells and heavens. Further, the belief that there exists gods on different dimensions is a shared one (Eliot 111). Certain spiritual activities such as meditation and concentration are also shared beliefs of the two religions. Cultivation of various states of minds by individuals as a practice is a shared belief.
Definitely, Shakyamuni Buddha told people not to follow his teachings out of blind faith, but to only do so after examining them carefully. It then goes without saying that people should not accept Buddha’s teachings out of coercion from zealous missionaries or royal decree. In the early 17th century, Neiji Toyin tried to bribe eastern Mongol nomads into following Buddhism by offering livestock for each verse they memorized. The nomads complained to the authorities, and the overbearing teacher was punished and exiled.
Haynes, Jeffrey. Religion, globalization, and political culture in the Third World. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. Print.
Eliot, Charles. Hinduism and Buddhism. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.