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The development of the doctrine

The Buddha Shakyamuni did not leave any written records. It was therefore easy for the religious masters of the subsequent centuries to enlarge on and restructure the teaching of the Buddha and to write it down in a grand literary system. These writings contain what, according to the views of later generations, the Buddha had thought and done.

Soon after the Buddha's leaving into nirvana, various directions of Buddhism started to develop. The reason for such early splittings lay in the lacking hierarchy, the geographical spreading of the communities of followers and, most importantly, in the further developments of Buddhist teaching.

Although the path of release and the »non-self doctrine « remained at the centre of all forms, highly complicated philosophical models of explaining the world developed, which were concerned with the phenomena of worldly appearances, with the psyche, with the doctrine of atoms, with the various kinds of temporary states, or with the doctrine of causation. The various traditions, however, regard their respective insights as original teaching, formulated by the Buddha himself.

 

The »vehicles« of Buddhism

In the early times of Buddhism three religious schools or »vehicles « (Triyana) developed, namely the Shravaka Yana (the »vehicle of listeners«), the Prateyka Buddha Yana (the »vehicle of insight from the self») and the Mahayana (the »Greater Vehicle«).

The former two were taken together under the concept of Hinayana* Buddhism (the »Lesser Vehicle«), which is these days mainly practised in South-East Asia.

The Mahayana* Buddhism, on the other hand, is divided into the Prajnaparamita Yana (the »Totatliy Vehicle«) and the Mantrayana (the »Mantra Vehicle«). The form of the Mantrayana is often called Vajrayana (the »Diamond Vehicle«) in the Himalayas.

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This stupa, the »Chörten* of Victory«, reminds of the Buddha's voluntary decision to prolong his life to help all living beings.


Copper, silver with fire-gilding, set with corals, turquoise, emeralds and rubies; 17th century; H: 77 cm.; loan from the Thimphu Dzong
In many-layered symbolism, stupas represent full perfection, the cosmos as well as the mind of the Buddha. The architecture of stupas stands for the idea of the identity of macro- and microcosms and, in doing so, becomes a cosmological and psychological model. Quite often holy scriptures or relics of important saints or lamas are kept in stupas.