This week as we continue to pray for the Buddhist World, we want you to focus on the 3 main branches of Buddhism and how it is spread around the world. Understanding each branch and their locations and nations will help you to pray effectively for each nation.
Theravada is believed to be the oldest form of Buddhism. The term itself comes into use later, but the Theravada tradition upholds the monastic path and adheres to the oldest surviving recorded sayings of the Buddha, collectively called the Pali canon. These original texts were set down in the Pali language by monks in Sri Lanka in the first century C.E. Prior to this codification, teachings had been transmitted orally, and concern arose that original texts must be preserved in light of the growing heterodoxy that was developing in India.
Theravada recognizes the primacy and humanity of the historical Buddha. The Buddha was an exemplary figure. Enlightenment is an arduous task, available only to monks who explicitly pursue the path of Shakyamuni (one of the titles of the Buddha, deriving from the name of Sakya where he was born).
Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism today in Sri Lanka as well as Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The subject matter of Buddhist art from these traditions focuses on life events of the Buddha.
Let us Pray:
- That the Lord will open the eyes of the Theravada Buddhist people.
- That the Buddhist Priests will come to experience the truth of Jesus through visions and dreams.
- That those who are bound by ancestral bonds and culture of Buddhism will be released to believe in the Gospel.
- Pray that Christians in these nations will make intentional effort to share the Gospel with the Buddhists.
- Pray that signs and wonders will bring many of them to the Lord.
- Pray for the strongholds to be broken in nations of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia for thousands of Buddhists to come to the Lord.
“praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:2-4
Mahayana is a philosophical movement that proclaimed the possibility of universal salvation, offering assistance to practitioners in the form of compassionate beings called bodhisattvas. The goal was to open up the possibility of ‘buddhahood’ (becoming a Buddha) to all sentient beings. The Buddha ceased to be simply a historical figure, but rather was interpreted as a transcendent figure who all could aspire to become.
New sutras (texts) were added to the Buddhist canon, causing rifts among the various sects. Reformers called themselves the “greater vehicle” (Mahayana), and they labeled the traditionalists the “lesser vehicle” (Theravada). The bodhisattva developed as an enlightened being who postpones his own salvation in order to help others. Initially understood as companions to the Buddha, bodhisattvas are spiritual beings who compassionately vow to achieve buddhahood, but have deferred this aspiration in order to liberate all creatures in the universe from suffering. The most popular bodhisattvas appearing in sculpture and painting include Avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of mercy and compassion), Maitreya (the future Buddha), and Manjushri (bodhisattva of wisdom).
Mahayana also spread to Southeast Asia, however its greatest impact is felt in the East Asian nations of China, Korea, and Japan. As Mahayana evolved, it continued to expand a vast pantheon of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other divine and semi-divine beings, drawing from and assimilating regional and local traditions.
Let us Pray for:
- The Mahayana Buddhists in China, Korea and Japan will open their hearts to the Gospel.
- Japanese are one of the Largest ‘Unreached People Groups’ with 125 Million people who have not opened themselves to the Gospel.
- Pray that the Chinese Buddhist will have opportunity to hear the gospel although the Communist regime restricts all propagation of the Gospel.
- Pray that cultural and traditional barriers to the Gospel to be broken down.
- Pray for the National Workers and Missionaries working in this difficult area.
- Pray that the South Korean Church which is one of the largest amongst the Buddhist nations will continue to send missionaries to Buddhist Nations.
‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: ‘ 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6.
Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana
Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism, sometimes called Vajrayana (the Vehicle of the Thunderbolt), developed about 500–600 C.E. in India. An offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, the origins of Tantric Buddhism can be traced to ancient Hindu and Vedic practices as well, including esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual breakthroughs.
Tantric Buddhism is sometimes described as offering a shortcut to enlightenment. Because some practices subverted mainstream Buddhism and Hinduism, engaging in acts otherwise considered taboo, its practitioners were secretive. Initiates worked closely with a spiritual guide or guru.
Vajrayana Buddhism is most closely identified with Tibetan Buddhism, however, it also influenced parts of Southeast Asia and East Asia.
Let us Pray that:
- Tantric Buddhists will experience the power of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the need of Jesus as they meditate and worship.
- Pray for more workers to have a burden to go as missionaries to them.
- Pray that God will open doors to severely restricted areas like Tibet, Bhutan and other Tantric Buddhists contexts.
- Pray for supernatural experiences and power encounters which will enable these Buddhist to see the truth of Jesus.
- Pray for Buddhist Background Christians in these restricted to be strong and be bold witnesses for the Lord.
‘praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. ‘ Ephesians 6:18-20.
Expansion of Buddhism:
Buddhism thrived in India for more than a millennium, reaching an expansive culmination in the Pala period in eastern India. By the 1100s C.E., Buddhism had declined mainly as a result of Muslim incursions.
Before this time, however, Buddhist doctrine had been transmitted to Sri Lanka, which became a further point of reference for the spread of Buddhism to Southeast Asia.
Travelers and missionaries carried the message of Buddhism by sea and land routes through Central Asia into China by the first century C.E., Buddhism flourished in China between 300 and 900 C.E. and provided a point of reference for Buddhism as it developed in Korea and Japan. Chinese translations of Indian texts contributed to the development of printing.
Buddhism is still strong today in Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam. Throughout its history and transmission, Buddhism has been very adaptable to local beliefs and customs, and the combination of these local forms with imported beliefs and symbols is a characteristic of Buddhist art throughout Asia.
- Although Christianity had for many centuries of influence on these Buddhist nations through Colonial powers of Europe, it had failed to make a breakthrough in these nations.
- Buddhists are considered to be one of the ‘least reached Religions’ in the world and we must pray for a significant breakthrough for the Gospel in these Nations.
- Only in South Korea, Christianity has had a significant impact and has a Christian majority.
- Churches in other nations must find ways to contextualize the message of the Gospel to reach their Buddhists.
- Since Buddhist are taught of the coming Buddha of Love – the Maitreya (the future Buddha), let us pray that Jesus Christ will be revealed to them by the Holy Spirit as the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life.”
- Pray the Expansion of the Gospel and for a major breakthroughs in China, Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka which are strongholds of Buddhism and that there will be a mighty Move of the Spirit in these nations.
‘Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men : and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver… and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. ‘ Acts 19:17-20.
Next Week: 15 Days of Prayer for the Buddhist World.
Map: The Main Modern Buddhist Sects by Rupert Gethin