Indonesian Buddhism in the early 1990s was the unstable product of complex accommodations among religious ideology, Chinese ethnic identification, and political policy. Traditionally, Chinese Daoism (or Taoism), Confucianism, (agama Konghucu in Indonesian) and Buddhism, as well as the more nativist Buddhist Perbuddhi, all had adherents in the ethnic Chinese community.
Following the attempted coup of 1965, any hint of deviation from the monotheistic tenets of the Pancasila was regarded as treason, and the founder of Perbuddhi, Bhikku Ashin Jinarakkhita, proposed that there was a single supreme deity, Sang Hyang Adi Buddha. He sought confirmation for this uniquely Indonesian version of Buddhism in ancient Javanese texts, and even the shape of the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur in Jawa Tengah Province.
In the years following the 1965 abortive coup, when all citizens were required to register with a specific religious denomination or be suspected of communist sympathies, the number of Buddhists swelled; some ninety new monasteries were built. In 1987 there were seven schools of Buddhism affiliated with the Perwalian Umat Buddha Indonesia (Walubi): Theravada, Buddhayana, Mahayana, Tridharma, Kasogatan, Maitreya, and Nichiren.
According to a 1987 estimate, there were roughly 2.5 million followers of Buddhism, with 1 million of these affiliated with Theravada Buddhism and roughly 0.5 million belonging to the Buddhayana sect founded by Jinarakkhita. Other estimates placed Buddhists at around only 1 percent of the population, or less than 2 million. Buddhism was gaining in numbers because of the uncertain status of Confucianism. Confucianism was officially tolerated by the government, but since it was regarded as a system of ethical relations rather than a religion per se, it was not represented in the Department of Religious Affairs.
Although various sects approach Buddhist doctrine in different ways, a central feature of the religion is acknowledgment of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths involve the recognition that all existence is full of suffering; the origin of suffering is the craving for worldly objects; suffering ceases when craving ceases; and the Eightfold Path leads to enlightenment. The Eightfold Path invokes perfect views, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
Buddhism originally was an intellectual creed, and only marginally concerned with the supernatural. However, political necessity, and the personal emotional desire to be shielded from the terrors of the world by a powerful deity, have led to modifications. In many ways, Buddhism is highly individualistic, with each man and woman held responsible for his or her own self. Anyone can meditate alone; no temple is required, and no clergy is needed to act as intermediary. The community provides pagodas and temples to inspire the proper frame of mind to assist the worshippers in their devotion and self-awareness.