Sarah Shmitt
Portland High School, Maine

Gone Beyond the Beyond-Wake Up!*

Buddhism as it is Practiced in Asia

Although teaching the philosophical and theological foundations of Buddhism as practiced in monasteries is critical to helping students understand what it means to be a Buddhist, it doesn't provide the whole picture. Across Asia-and, indeed, across continents-Buddhism is practiced by 'householders' (lay people) every day in ways that reflect their ethnic/cultural context and focus far more on what one DOES (ritual) than on what one THINKS (philosophy). In Nepal, for example, the synthesis between Hindusim and Buddhism is expressed by the entore Newari community every year in the elaborate Chariot Festival for the Red God. In Tibet, where Bon and other indigenous religious traditions merged with Mahayana Buddhism, the so-called esoteric teachings of the Vajrayana tradition have become part of daily life in Tibetan communities. Prayer wheels, pilgrimage and puja honor the marriage of Wisdom and Compassion central to Tibetan Buddhism. Similarly, Buddhism in Thailand or in Bhutan or in Burma has adapted to and reflects each country's culture. This website (which assumes that students have previously studied Hindu practices and beliefs) begins with a general exploration of how the geography of Asia has shaped its constituent cultures. An overview of Buddhism's historical and philosophical foundations follows. The last page provides examples of Buddhist lay practices such as festivals, puja ceremonies, and pilgrimage in Nepal, Tibetan communities, and Thailand.

[Note: Each page in this website relies mostly on images to convey information as it is easier for students to follow a lesson with less text and more visual content. However, this means that the teacher must provide the narrative that connects the images (e.g., the narrative that accompanies the telling of the Life of the Buddha).]




This site was created by Sarah Shmitt at the NEH Summer Institute "Literatures, Religions, and Arts of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2011.