Gautam Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautam in India. The name “Siddhartha” means “he who achieves his aim”. His lifetime is placed around 420 BCE- 380BCE or 583 BCE – 463BCE. He founded Buddhism. He is also known as “Shakyamuni” or the sage of Shakyas. Shakya was an independent kingdom from Iron Age (around 1000 BCE, it followed the Late Harappan Culture). Their Kingdom was in the foothills of Himalayas with the capital at Kapilavastu (located in modern day Nepal). He was born a prince to King Shuddhodana and Queen MahaMaya. As was the custom, when Queen MahaMaya was pregnant, she was on her way to her father’s house for delivery. The party had stopped at the gardens of Lumbini. Queen MahaMaya gave birth to Siddhartha in the gardens of Lumbini.
Gautama Buddha in Hinduism
The Buddha in Hinduism is viewed as an Avatar of Vishnu. Many Hindu texts including Bhagavata Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Narasimha Purana etc enlist Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. In the Puranic text Bhagavata Purana, he is the twenty-fourth of twenty-five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. Similarly, a number of Hindu traditions portray Buddha as the most recent (ninth) of ten principal avatars, known as the Daśāvatāra (Ten Incarnations of God). The Buddhist Dasharatha Jataka (Jataka Atthakatha 461) represents Rama as a previous incarnation of the Buddha as a Bodhisattva and supreme Dharma King of great wisdom.
Buddha’s teachings deny the authority of the Vedas and consequently Buddhism is generally viewed as a nāstika school (heterodox, literally “It is not so”) from the perspective of orthodox Hinduism.
The Spread of Buddhism Outside India
During the third century BCE, Buddhism was spread by Ashoka(BCE 270 – BCE 232), the third and the most powerful Mauryan emperor, who created the first pan-Indian empire. After the battle of Kalinga, Ashoka felt immense grief due to the huge loss of lives during the war and thus decided to follow the path of Buddhism. After this, he began to implement Buddhist principles in the administration of his kingdom and named the new code of conduct ‘Dhamma’. Here, in order to inform everyone about his new political and ruling philosophy, he got edicts (proclamation) inscribed on stone pillars and placed them throughout his kingdom, which are present even today.
Ashoka not only helped in spreading the religion within India but outside India as well. The main reason for the spread of Buddhism into Southeast Asia was the support of the emperor Ashoka himself. Teams of missionaries were sent by him all over the Indian sub-continent, i.e. to Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Previous Burma), and other neighbouring areas so as to send the message of Buddhism. The missionaries sent by Ashoka to the other countries were well received by them and the conversions took place easily because of the influence and the personal power Ashoka exercised.
The spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Ashoka’s most successful missions were headed by his son Mahindra, who travelled to Sri Lanka along with four other monks and a novice. This mission turned out to be so successful that the king of Sri Lanka himself became a Buddhist, and Mahindra then supervised the translation of the Theravada canon (written in the Pali language) into Sinhala, the Sri Lankan script. He also helped in finding a monastery named Mahavihara, which became the main supporter of the Theravadin orthodoxy in Sri Lanka for over 1,000 years.
The spread of Buddhism in China
China recorded contact with Buddhism with the arrival of a Buddhist scholar, Bodhi Dharma, who travelled from India to China along with other monks in 475 CE. Bodhi Dharma introduced the teachings of the Buddha to the Chinese, who were influenced by the teachings. Buddhism and Chinese Taoism intermingled with one another, thereby resulting in the Ch’an school of Buddhism in China.
From the Central Asian kingdom of Kusha, in 148 BC, a monk named An Shih-kao, began translating Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese in Lo-yang, which later became the capital of the Han dynasty. During the next three decades, An Shih-kao and a number of other monks (mostly from Central Asia) translated about thirty Buddhist texts.
The spread of Buddhism in Japan and Korea
In the centuries that followed, Buddhism gained its own identity, and from China, Buddhism traveled further towards Korea and Japan. As per Nihonshoki in 552 CE, the Korean state of Paekche sent Buddhist texts and images to Japan so as to convince the Japanese emperor to become an ally in its war with the neighboring state of Silla. In the initial stages, Japanese inclination towards Buddhism was majorly related to the magical powers of Buddha and Buddhist monks. But when the emperor Yomei (CE 585 – CE 587) adopted Buddhism, the Japanese began to travel to China in order to learn from the Buddhist teachers there, and a number of indigenous Buddhist schools developed in Japan.
Yomei’s son, Prince Shotoku (CE 574 – CE 622) propagated Buddhism, built various Buddhist temples and sent Japanese monks to travel to China for further studies on Buddhism. Besides these, he also wrote commentaries on three Buddhist texts. Undoubtedly, in later times he was viewed in Japan as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The spread of Buddhism in Tibet
The Indian scholar, Shantarakshita went to Tibet during the reign of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (CE 740 – CE 798), but due to the opposition from some of the king’s ministers, he had to leave. But before Shantarakshita left, he persuaded the king to invite the tantric adept Padmasambhava, who his arrival asserted that Shantarakshita’s efforts had been ruined by the demons of the country. Padmasambhava defeated all the demons in a personal combat which impressed the king and his court who then invited Shantarakshita again and the first monastery in Tibet was built at Samye. This marked the beginning of the “first dissemination” of Buddhism to Tibet, which ended when the devout Buddhist king Relbachen (815-836) was assassinated, which further led to the beginning of an interregnum period for Tibetan Buddhism, which ended in 1042 CE, when Atisha (982 CE – 1054 CE), one of the directors of the monastic university of Nalanda, traveled to Tibet. Tibetan historians consider this to be the beginning of the ’second dissemination’ of Buddhism in Tibet. Atisha was so successful in bringing the dharma to Tibet that Buddhism quickly became the dominant religious tradition in the country.
The spread of Buddhism in western countries
Buddhism is acquiring a grip in Western countries today, where a number of prominent Buddhist teachers have established successful centres in Europe and North America. The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sogyal Rinpoche, a number of Zen masters (Roshi), and Theravada meditation teachers have been successful in spreading Buddhist teachings outside Asia. Besides these, books and articles on Buddhism are becoming a huge hit with the westerners, who have a zeal for the Buddhist teachings based on mediation and purification.
In other words, the Buddhist philosophy, which was patronised by some of the Indian emperors and was spread to different parts of the Indian sub continent and subsequently the world, is still in pace of its rhythm. The glory of Buddhism owes to the teachings of Buddha which were important not only in the contemporary world, but is still relevant in our lives as well.
Top 15 celebrity Buddhists
10. Aung San Suu Kyi
With impeccably non-frivolous credentials we start with nonviolent pro-democracy activist, leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma), and noted prisoner of conscience, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Suu Kyi campaigned for the democratization of Burma, which was (and is) under a military dictatorship, and in 1989 she was placed under house arrest. In 1991 Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a military dictatorship. She has been in and out of house arrest since then and has been sustained in her long confinement, during which she was not allowed to meet her dying husband, by her vipassana meditation practice. Commenting on her long isolation, she said “Isolation is not difficult for me. Maybe it’s because of my Buddhist upbringing.”
9. Steven Seagal
The Buddhist world was, to put it mildly, in a state of deep, deep bemusement when Hollywood star Steven Seagal announced in 1997 that he had been recognized as a Tibetan incarnate lama, or tulku. “Wait,” we said. “That Steven Segal? The action-movie hero who specializes in toting powerful guns and blowing stuff up?” It seemed as bizarre as it would today if the Pope were to appoint Paris Hilton as a bishop, and many of us checked the calendar to make sure it wasn’t the first of April. And yet the other shoe failed, resoundingly, to drop. In fact His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, a respected Lama, indeed publicly confirmed that he had recognized Seagal’s tulku-hood.
It turns out that Segal has a long history of practice. Hemoved to Japan at age 17 to study martial arts, acupuncture, and Zen, and he spent 15 years there before returning to the US. While in Asia he had significant contact with Tibetan lamas escaping China, whose torture-induced traumas he treated with acupuncture. Seagal himself tends to be a little coy about his practice: “I have been doing serious meditation in my own pitiful way for probably twenty-seven years.”
8. Kate Bosworth
At last we hit some real frivolity, with the delightful Ms. Bosworth of Blue Crush and Superman Returns fame. Or do we? Are we being harsh in thinking Bosworth only started practicing because then-boyfriend, Orlando Bloom, was into Nichiren Buddhism? Perhaps. And yet we’re happy to welcome Bosworth into the top ten, even though she and Orlando broke up (“He snores and is cheap”) and she may well have moved onto romantic and spiritual pastures new.
Still, while it lasted Bosworth’s affair with the Buddhadharma really seemed to mean something: “It’s just a really incredible state of mind. It’s just a beautiful place to try and be at. It’s basically about constantly growing and making yourself a better person and focusing on what you want for yourself and the world and really putting it out there. It’s amazing.” To which we can only say, “Awesome!”
7. Richard Gere
For many he’ll be the first celeb Buddhist to spring to mind, but Pretty Woman and Chicago heart-throb Richard Gere isn’t even in the top five — and that’s despite a friendship with the Dalai Lama.
Gere is a passionate advocate for human rights in Tibet; he is a co-founder of the Tibet House, creator of The Gere Foundation, and he is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Campaign for Tibet. Because of his support for the Tibetan cause he’s banned from the People’s Republic of China — and he’s also banned as an Academy Award presenter because of using the podium to denounce the Chinese government. Richard, you’re always welcome here.
Gere scores high marks for sincerity of practice, and meditates daily. “It helps me set my motivation for the day,” he says.
6. Herbie Hancock
One of the most revered contributors to modern jazz and former collaborator with Miles Davis, Hancock is a longstanding practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, which has a heavy emphasis on chanting as a form of meditation. Hancock is a member of the Japanese Buddhist movement, Soka Gakkai International, which also counts Tina Turner and Wayne Shorter among its members.
Hancock became a Buddhist after seeing the effect it had on the performing abilities on bassist Buster Williams, and reckons that his own practice has been integral to his artistic development: “Buddhism opened me up to being out of my comfort zone — to exploring things and being courageous enough to try new things.”
5. Leonard Cohen
Doyen of despair, godfather of gloom, master of misery, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre could be seen as an ongoing exploration of the Buddhist teaching that life is inherently suffering. But there’s much more to Cohen’s practice than that.
Following an interest in Buddhism that started in the early 1970′s, Cohen was ordained in 1996 as a Zen monk at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, on a mountain-top overlooking San Bernadino, California, and was given the Dharma name, “Jikan.” Because his teacher doesn’t know much English Cohen is a bit vague about what the name means. Apparently it’s something to do with silence — “ordinary silence, normal silence” — something like that anyway.
Zen practice helped steer Cohen away from a long-term drug problem and, to his great surprise, helped dispel the gloom that had pervaded his life: “When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you. It happened to me by imperceptible degrees and I could not really believe it; I could not really claim it for some time. I thought there must be something wrong.” Yes, being happy can be so unsettling.
4. The Dalai Lama
Uniquely on our list of Buddhist celebs, His Holiness is a Buddhist first and celebrity second. He may not croon into a mike or emote on a sound-set, but the Dalai Lama can certainly pack (and wow) an auditorium, and stars like Richard Gere and Keanu Reeves are eager to share the stage with the supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism, leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
And top marks for length of practice: His Holiness is currently in his 14th documented incarnation as a lama, easily beating our other celebs who have at best only one lifetime of practice each — although admittedly in His Holiness’s sixth incarnation he refused to become a monk and spent much of his time chasing the ladies (ah, those youthful indiscretions!). The Dalai Lama also gets top marks for modesty: His Holiness describes himself as being “a simple Buddhist monk.”
His Holiness says, “Many of our problems stem from attitudes like putting ourselves first at all costs. I know from my own experience that it is possible to change these attitudes and improve the human mind.”
Well, we can only say that we’re sure that in his next lifetime His Holiness will at least make the top three.
3. Tina Turner
The “Queen of Rock and Roll” has an instantly recognizable voice, a career dating back to 1960, unbelievable legs, and a serious Buddhist practice. As shown in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, it was Turner’s Buddhist practice that gave her the strength to leave her abusive marriage to Ike Turner in the 70′s, which in turn made her an icon for abused women everywhere. Turner is another practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism and famously chanted Nam Moho Rengye Kyo on Larry King Live (see video, below).
Turner said: “I had to teach myself because I didn’t have the freedom to go to actually go to meetings or for people to come to me … and it changed my life.”
2. Orlando Bloom
The dashing star of The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean turned to Buddhist practice because “The philosophies behind it are very current today and are a way of finding some sort of peace,” but also because it helped keep him from the self-destructive path he was always in danger of carving out for himself.
Bloom stresses that his Nichiren practice is very practical: “The philosophy that I’ve embraced isn’t about sitting under a tree and studying my navel, it’s about studying what is going on in my daily life and using that as fuel to go and live a bigger life.”
We wish Orlando well as he swashbuckles his way to Full and Perfect Enlightenment.
1. Tiger Woods
[See "Tiger Woods and Buddhism" for an update].
Yes, with close to six million hits on Google he’s bigger than Richard Gere, more popular even than the Dalai Lama. Maybe even God. But then one prophet did foretell, “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity … He is the Chosen One.” (That was Earl, Tiger’s dad). And another seer spake thus: “He can hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child.” (Yes, that was Koltida, his mom).
And in case you think that quasi-religious adoration of Tiger is limited to his doting parents, here’s Michael Jordan’s take: “I really do believe he was put here for a bigger reason than just to play golf. I don’t think that he is a god, but I do believe that he was sent by one.”
Despite these accolades, we’re not entirely sure whether to regard Tiger as a Buddhist. He’s said, “I believe in Buddhism … not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces,” which could make him sounds like a dilettante, but then even the Dalai Lama has expressed similar sentiments so we’re giving Tiger the benefit of the doubt.
Woods has also said, “I don’t practice Buddhism on a day-to-day basis, just when I feel like it.” So on the bad side he’s not a consistent practitioner, while on the good side he does practice. Again, that counts him in. That practice and background (mom Koltida is a Thai Buddhist) have helped Tiger become the almost inscrutably equanimous player he’s become: “Buddhism has been a major role in my life. It has given me an inner peace and calmness that I think I wouldn’t have achieved at such an early age.”
In 1996 Tiger and his father launched the Tiger Woods Foundation, which through personal enrichment programs, scholarships, direct grants, junior golf teams and the new Tiger Woods Learning Center, is helping millions of children reach their dreams. Tiger takes his status as a youth role model seriously: “I am not trying to preach to them that this is ‘a sport for you.’ I’m saying, ‘This is an opportunity for you to grow as a person.’ I think that is what really matters.”
So there we have it. Tiger Woods — Guru of Golf, Zen master of the fairway, first prophet of putting, dare we say even “demigod of the green” — is the world’s most famous celebrity Buddhist. More power to your putting, Tiger — and to your practice.
Maddox Jolie – While mama Angelina doesn’t consider herself a Buddhist, she does say that she wants the religion to be an important part of her adopted Cambodian son’s life. Maddox has spent a lot of time in temples with monks and is actively learning about the faith with his parents’ guidance.
Phil Jackson – Also known as the Zen Master, the winningest basketball coach in NBA history uses Buddhist methods and practices both on and off the court. He even encourages his players to practice Buddhist philosophy, which many believe has contributed to his great success leading teams to championships.
Steve Jobs - The Apple CEO and icon Steve Jobs converted to Buddhism after a spiritual retreat to India in the 70’s. It is said that Jobs returned to the U.S. with a shaved head and traditional Indian clothing, and soon after went on to create the beginnings of Apple Computer.
Orlando Bloom – In 2004, Bloom became an official member of a Nichiren Buddhist association, and he has even had a hand in advocacy. The actor has helped spread the ideas of Buddhism to several former dating partners, most notably ex-girlfriend Kate Bosworth and current wife Miranda Kerr.
Russell Simmons – Russell Simmons, co-founder of hip-hop label Def Jam and creator of the Phat Farm clothing line, is one of the few known Buddhists in the hip hop world. He has been called the “Zen of Hip Hop,” and has even written books about how both yoga and Buddhism has influenced his ways of thinking and being.