Monday, July 28, 2008

A Buddhist Who's Who

Buddhists Numbers Around the World
The number of Buddhists around the world is grossly underestimated. The statistics found in nearly all encyclopedias and almanacs place the number of Buddhists at approximately 500 million. This figure completely ignores over one billion Chinese people who live in the People's Republic of China.

China is officially communist (although many free market conditions are already in place) and does not keep records on religion statistics of adherents. Moreover, many Western reference sources refuse to accept that a person can belong to more than one religion. In Asia it is quite common for one person to have two, three, or more religions. In China, it is common for a family to have a shrine in their home with statues and icons from Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

Currently there are about 1.3 billion Chinese living in the People's Republic. Surveys (Gach-Alpha Books, U.S. State Dept. report on China, Global Center for the Study of Contemporary China, BBC News, China Daily, and a report by Christian missionaries in China) have found that about 8% to 91% identify with Buddhism as one of their religions.

If we use a percent near the upper end of this estimate, of about 80% it works out to about 1.1 billion Chinese Buddhists. To ignore over one billion people as if they do not count is a terrible miscount and very misleading in the reporting of adherents. The famous line says it best: “One billion Chinese cannot be wrong.” A Chinese Buddhist forum ( currently has over 50,000 registered members and almost 2 million posts, which is about triple the amount of the largest English language Buddhist forum (which also has Chinese Buddhists participating in the discussions). But to be fair, a more conservative estimate is also shown... Read more
  • See descriptions of such notables as:

Hotei -- (the chubby restaurant good luck charm) commonly confused with the historical "Buddha"
Medicine Buddha -- a being in heaven who heals
Amitabha Buddha -- a semi-legendary figure who presides over the Western Pure Land (Mahayana)
Kwan Yin -- the goddess of compassion, a divine feminine figure, a rebirth of the bodhisattva Avolikiteshvara, a monk from a previous aeon who chose to be reborn as a beautiful woman to convince a king to become a Buddhist
Maya Devi -- the historical Buddha's mother
Tara -- mother of liberation, a goddess in the Mahayana tradition and is especially venerated in vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism

Sariputra -- the first chief male disciple of the Buddha, "foremost in wisdom"
Moggallana -- a chief disciple, with dark skin, "foremost in supernormal powers"
King Asoka -- reigned over a vast kingdom in present-day India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, who renounced violence after becoming a Buddhist
Sujata -- the woman who offered food to Siddhartha just before he became the Buddha
Maha Pajapati Gotami -- the Buddha's stepmother, the first Buddhist nun, and an arahant
Khema -- the beautiful and wise, a nun who became enlightened and "foremost in wisdom"
Dhammadinna -- an enlightened nun who surpassed her husband in spiritual progress, who while giving a Dharma talk was praised by the Buddha
Sanghamitta -- daughter of King Ashoka, a nun who spread the Sangha outside of India (to Sri Lanka)
Nagarjuna -- Indian philosopher and founder of the Middle Path school famous for later Buddhist works

C.A.F. Rhys Davids -- born a Christian in England, decided to learn Pali and the teachings of the Buddha in an attempt to disprove Buddhism, dedicated her life to translating the discourses, second president of the Pali Text Society (wife of Thomas Rhys Davids, whose translations spread Buddhism to many western nations
Anagarika Dharmapala -- the translator for the first Theosophists, Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott; restored Mahabodhi temple complex which was left in ruins leading to a Buddhist resurgence (in 1900 there may have been 1,000 Western-born Buddhists at best, whereas today there are over 10 million
Dipa Ma -- taught vipassana from her small home in India, mastered the jhanas of Theravada meditation, and taught famous American Buddhist such as Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield
Ajahn Chah -- famous Thai forest meditation teacher
Ayya Khema -- (pictured with Pema Chodron and Gesshin Myoko) born in Germany, she was one of the first Western-born women to receive full ordination as a Buddhist nun, thus reviving the Buddhist Order of nuns, wrote several bestselling books and opened monasteries in Australia, Sri Lanka, and Europe
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar -- father of the Indian Constitution and Dalit Buddhist Movement to end the caste system
S. N. Goenka -- perhaps the most famous lay Buddhist in modern times, founder of a worldwide vipassana retreat organization centered around a 10-day insight technique with courses on nearly every continent
Thich Nhat Hanh -- a socially-engaged, Vietnamese Zen monk, and peace activist who opened monasteries around the world
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana ("Bhante G") -- founder and abbot of the Bhavana Society in West Virginia, USA, who pushed for bhikkhuni reinstatement and who personally ordained many women
Ruth Denison -- studied in Burma in the 1960’s with Goenka's teacher, Sayagi U Ba Khin, and has been teaching since 1973, founder of Dhamma Dena in Joshua Tree, California and The Center for Buddhism in the West in Germany, who uses movement, music, rhythm, chanting, and sound as meditation supports
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso -- the world's most famous living Buddhist, exiled from Tibet to Dharamsala, India due to Chinese aggression, Nobel peace laureate, and chief advocate of Vajrayana Buddhist tradition
Bhikkhu Bodhi -- born Jeffrey Block in New York, perhaps the most signifcant living American translator today, editor and president of the Buddhist Publication Society, famous for his clarity, acumen, and scholarship
Bhikkhuni Dhammananda -- Thai woman who received full bhikkhuni (nun's) ordination, professor of Buddhist philosophy, and current abbess of the only temple in Thailand with fully ordained nuns
Ven. Karuna Dharma -- born in Wisconsin, USA, abbess of International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles, who runs a unique temple that has monastics from Theravada, Zen, Vajrayana, and Mahayana traditions, robed crusader in the ordination of at least 50 women as fully ordained nuns
Jan Willis -- born in Alabama, USA, one of the first Western-born scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism whose translations made scriptures available to Westerners, now a professor of religion at Wesleyan University
Bhikkhuni Kusuma -- who pioneered the re-establishment of the Theravada female Buddhist Order in Sri Lanka 1000 years after the Order died out
Maha Upasika Bongkot -- a lay woman with a very large retreat center in Shravasti, India, and another in Thailand, run by 8-precept, semi-monastic men and women who do socially engaged work and are vegetarian
Bhikkhu Buddharakkhita -- born in Uganda (East Africa), who studied with various masters in India, Burma, and the US and was ordained by the late Burmese monk Sayadaw U Silananda, founder of the first Buddhist Center in Uganda, Africa
Shravasti Dhammika -- born in Australia and ordained as a Theravada monk in India, writere who made books available to read completely online at no cost, such as Buddhism A to Z and books on pilgrimage to Buddhist sites, advocating a united "Buddhayana" school
Dr. Gotami (Prem Suskawat, M.D.) -- American born doctor showing how Buddhist teachings can be integrated with Western psychotherapy to treat social ills

Aung San Suu Kyi -- Burmese Democracy leader, unjustly continues to be kept under house arrest by totalitarian government, advocate of nonviolence, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1991)

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