Influenced as it was by the eras, places, and cultures which adopted it, it is clear that Buddhism has constantly evolved. It is both anchored in history through its secular roots and living in the world around us today.
Every time it has come into contact with a different Asian culture, Buddhism has undergone a unique evolution and adapted; while some of these adaptations may seem more interesting or attractive to us in the West than others, this does not mean that they are spiritually superior in any way. Whatever the case, it is essential to address all forms of Buddhism without adopting any attitude of sectarianism and without echoing national prejudices.
If we consider the Buddhist tradition in terms of its geographical expansion and the spread of its doctrine, it becomes evident that it has suffered serious prejudice at the hands of historians. In order to understand Buddhist thought and the ways in which it has been complicated and revived by local religions, we need to move away from India and take into account Asia as a whole.
It is now generally thought that “Buddhism” is a fairly recent construction, dating from the start of the nineteenth century. It was during this era that the neologism first began to appear in texts. However, the predominant impression of Buddhism held today – that of a therapeutic, rational, compassionate, and tolerant doctrine – was preceded by another, diametrically opposed, conception which regarded Buddhism as a nihilistic doctrine. According to Roger-Pol Droit, this misunderstanding is symptomatic of the evils of Western society; it reveals in particular the fears of Western philosophers when faced with the specter of nihilism.
By placing Buddhist thought within a philosophical context, it implies an exclusion of the non-philosophical. This exclusion undoubtedly aims to avoid labeling Buddhism as a trend in spirituality, wisdom, or religiosity.
Reference: Faure, B., (2009), ‘Unmasking Buddhism’: Part I, Buddhism in History, 1-55.