The Minneapolis Institute of ArtsWorld Religions in Art
Back to Main PageBuddhismBrowse a list of Buddhist Art Objects


page1234next page

Jizo Bosatsu

Jizo Bosatsu
Kamakura period
13th century
gesso, color, kirikiane on wood, metal

Origins of Buddhism
Unlike most world religions, Buddhsim is so flexible that it has survived by evolving and adapting to the needs of its diverse following. As Buddhism spread, it absorbed or coexisted with local religions, creating some distinctive yet interrelated forms with unique rituals. Thus Buddhism cannot be categorized as a strictly homogeneous faith. Rather, it resembles a living organism, evolving while keeping its original essence.

To some extent, Buddhism developed as a reaction to Brahmanism, now known as Hinduism, a religion introduced in India around 1500 B.C. The Aryan people entered the Indus River Valley and overran the native inhabitants, the Dravidian people. Aryan Brahmanism, or Hinduism, then shaped all aspects of social and religious life. It created a social structure based on castes. This structure segregated people primarily by color and occupation into the following categores: the Brahmins, or priests and sages; the Kshatriyas, or warriors and rulers; the Vaishyas, or merchants; and the Shudras, or laborers. Anyone outside the castes was impure or an “outcaste.” Women belonged to the castes in which their fathers were placed and then the castes of their husbands. However, within these castes, women held no real power.

In Brahmanism, salvation meant breaking up the cycle of rebirths, or transmigration, that condemned the soul to perpetual suffering. The soul was believed to have the potential to reach the ultimate state of nonexistence based on the individual’s karma, or good and evil deeds, which determine future lives. These beliefs served to justify the caste system. Buddhism arose as an alternative path to salvation for those who could not perform Brahmanic rituals due to their lower caste status, which condemned them to samsara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth.

page1234next page


| MIA Home | World Religions Main Page | Buddhism | Christianity | Islam | Judaism | Hinduism |