Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Notes on Understanding Buddhism
The Life of Buddha
Main Traditions of Buddhism
(1) Theravada tradition
The Theravada tradition bases its teachings and practices on the Pali Cannon, a collection of Buddha’s discourses (suttas) that were preserved by memorisation by Buddha disciples, transmitted orally and written down four centuries after Buddha’s death. (sometimes called Southern Buddhism; occasionally spelled Therevada) "has been the dominant school of Buddhism in most of Southeast Asia since the thirteenth century, with the establishment of the monarchies in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos."
It is impossible to specify dates on the early history of Buddhism, because the year of Buddha's death is unknown. Various scholars and traditions have suggested dates ranging from 380 to 544 BCE.
Many unique schools of Buddhism were established in the first century after Buddha's death. Of these, only Theravada Buddhism -- the "Doctrine of the Elders" -- still survives. It later spread from northern India throughout most of Southeast Asia: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand.
The First Council: Consolidation of the Buddha's teaching:
The Buddha passed his teachings to his followers in oral form. Three months after his death, one of his most accomplished students, the Venerable Mahakassapa, assembled 500 senior monks in what was to be called the First Council. It was held in Rajagriha, Magadha in what is now India. Their goal was to give the Buddha's teachings a degree of permanence and consistency by converting them to written form for use by the Sangha (the Community of Buddhists).
The Second Council, and first schism:
The Second Council was held a century after the first, in Vesali. Seven hundred arhats (enlightened followers) were present. The Elders of the council felt that discipline within the Sangha needed tightening. Some monks disagreed.
The fundamental conflict at the Council was whether Buddhism was:
A group of monks, the Vajjians, argued that the Ten Precepts should be relaxed. They also wanted lay people to have equal representation. The Vajjian monks were outvoted, and left the council to form a different Buddhist tradition: the Mahayana school. It means literally "The Greater Ox-Cart" since many more people could come on board. They referred to the monastic version of Buddhism, Theravada, with the derogatory term "Hinayana," which means "Lesser Vehicle" -- a Buddhism restricted to specialists.
The Third Council and expansion:
During the third century BCE, King Ashoka ruled a large part of India which he had conquered by force. A particularly fierce battle during his eighth year left as many as 100,000 people dead. The king was so shaken by the experience that he became open to a religious conversion. He met a Buddhist monk who convinced him to use his power for good instead of evil. The king organized the Third Council involving 1,000 attendees. Under his leadership, Buddhist monks were sent into neighboring countries; thousands of stupas and monasteries were built. (Stupas are sacred Buddhist shrine-monuments which often containing a relic.)
The Fourth Council and the Pali Canon:
This council was held during the first century BCE in Sri Lanka. The Pali Canon -- the Theravada Buddhist scripture -- was recorded on palm leaves and passed intact to the present day. Its name is derived from the Pali language in which the scriptures were written; previous scriptures were written in Sanskrit. Today, they would fill several thousand pages.
The Canon consists of three parts:
"Theravada Buddhists relied on rationality, rules and education...Theravada emphasizes wisdom, scholarship and intellectual training.
There are two main methods by which a monk attempts to become an arhat:
Theravada Buddhism initially reserved the practice of meditation to monks. The laity were "... encouraged to engage in merit-making activities to improve their future rebirth status." However, in recent times, the laity have embraced meditation and aspire "to more dramatic progress along the path to nirvana."
(2) Mahayana tradition
(sometimes called Northern Buddhism) is largely found in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia.
“Just as the most beautiful flower, the lotus, grows in muddy water, so the lay practitioner can find clarity and compassion in the turmoil of daily life.”
The original tradition within Buddhism, Theravadan, continues to flourish even today, but around the First Century BCE, a split began to develop. The Theravadans held fast to the ideas of monastic discipline, scholarly attainment, and strict adherence to the scriptures of the Buddha, while others saw this as being inflexible and difficult for anyone besides a monk to come to terms with. As a result, a movement to bring Buddhism to the "common people" began to gain popularity. This movement would eventually lead to the development of Mayahana Buddhism.
They called their new Buddhism, the "Greater Vehicle" (literally, "The Greater Ox-Cart") or Mahayana, since it could accommodate more people and more believers from all walks of life.
Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism embraced the concept of the Bodhisattva, or "one who achieves perfect attainment." Theravadan Buddhists saw this as merely a guide or a model to the journey of individual enlightenment. Thus any adherent of the Theravadan Tradition who through strict discipline and devotion to scripture became enlightened had lived up to the ideal of the Bodhisattva. But Bodhisattva was seen merely as a teaching tool, only as a part of the individual’s path in reaching Nirvana. It would not reach beyond this until the formation of the Mahayana Tradition.
The Mahayana determined that Bodhisattva was a mandate not for individual perfection, but to save all sentient beings from suffering. Mahayana Buddhists take a vow NOT to enter Nirvana, even though they too strive to reach enlightenment. Instead their vow is to return to the world of suffering and assist all others in reaching Nirvana first, thus casting the role of Buddhists as compassionate protectors and saviors.
"The bodhisattva is translated literally as 'one whose essence is perfect wisdom' or 'one destined for enlightenment.' The essential characteristics of the bodhisattva in both sects are compassion, selflessness, wisdom, and servitude. The bodhisattva takes a vow: 'I must lead all beings to liberation, I will stay here until the end, even for the sake of one living mortal'. "
Mahayana broke into several sub-types:
Both would later be transmitted to Japan. Zen migrated to Korea.
Amitabha Buddha means "Infinite Life"and is the name of the Buddha who created and resides in Sukhavati, the Western Paradise of Eternal Bliss (also known as the Pure Land). In his great compassion Amitabha Buddha vowed that any beings who wish to be reborn there will have their wish fulfilled with his help.
Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism which moved North and West, finally taking root in Tibet.
Over time, several schools of the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy evolved, but the main ones today are Pure Land and the Zen, both of which originally developed in China. A third school, the Nirchiren group developed in most recent times and is based on the White Lotus Sutra teaching of the Buddha.
Comparison of the Theravadan & Mahayanan traditions:
(3) Vajrayana tradition
Some consider this to be a part of Mahayana Buddhism; others view it as a third Buddhist path. Vajrayāna Buddhism is also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantra, Mantrayana, Tantrayana, Esoteric Buddhism, Diamond Vehicle, Adamantine Vehicle, Completion Vehicle, Thunderbold Vehicle, Indestructable Path, True Words Sect, Short Path, and Lamaism.
Vajrayāna Buddhism currently has perhaps 10 million adherents. It has two main sub-schools:
Its most common name, Vajrayāna, comes from "vajra" which refers to the thunderbolt of Indra, the Sanskrit name of the god of weather and war. The term "vajra" refers both to the thunderbolt and the indestructible material from which it is made. In the latter sense, it is translated as "adamantine" or "diamond." Thus, Vajrayāna is often referred to as the Adamantine, Diamond or Indestructable Vehicle.
Tantra means "thread" or "continuity" in Sanskrit. It refers to the "... root scriptures of Vajrayāna Buddhism, which are ascribed to the Buddha in various manifestations." Each usually describes the mandala diagram and practice associated with a particular yidam -- one of the deities, each of whom is a manifestation of the Buddha.
Vajrayāna "developed out of the Mahayana school of teachings sometime between the third and seventh centuries BCE." Followers believed that their path is the purest form of Buddhism, and that it was actually practiced by Buddha. However, they suggest that he did not teach it to his disciples because he considered it too advanced. The first Vajrayāna texts surfaced about the 4th century CE. They were written at the Nalanda University in northern India.
There is no consensus about where this tradition started. Some think that it originated in Bengal in what is now India and Bangladesh; others suggest that it started in Udyana in what is now Pakistan; still others suggest southern India.
Beliefs and practices of Vajrayāna Buddhism:
Many parts of the Mahayana tradition are also recognized in Vajrayāna Buddhism. These include:
Unlike Theravada Buddhism in which the practitioner is expected to take many lifetimes before reaching nirvana, Vajrayāna and Mahayana Buddhism teach that one can attain full Buddhahood much quicker -- sometimes in a single lifetime.
According to Wikipedia:
"Vajrayāna relies partially on various tantric techniques rooted in scriptures known as tantras." A sadhana is the means by which the sadhaka (practitioner) can attain enlightenment. A sadhana may include:"
This developed largely in isolation from Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism because of the remoteness of Tibet.
This developed from within the Chinese Mahayana school known as Chan. Zen Buddhism is becoming increasingly popular in the West.
From The Manual of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki
By Shubun (15th Century)
With his horns fiercely projected
in the air the beast snorts,
2. Discipline Begun
I am in possession of a straw rope,
and I pass it through his nose,
3. In Harness
Gradually getting into harness the
beast is now content to be led by the nose,
4. Faced Round
After long days of training the
result begins to tell and the beast is faced round,
Under the green willow tree and by
the ancient mountain stream,
On the verdant field the beast
contentedly lies idling his time away,
7. Laissez Faire
The spring stream in the evening
sun flows languidly along the willow-lined bank,
8. All Forgotten
The beast all in white now is
surrounded by the white clouds,
9. The Solitary Moon
Nowhere is the beast, and the
oxherd is master of his time,
10. Both Vanished
Both the man and the animal have
disappeared, no traces are left,
(1) The Wheel of Life
Black pig – ignorance
Green Snake – envy and hatred
Red rooster – lust and greed
The Dark Path and the Path of Bliss
Dark Path leads to hell and rebirths
Path of Bliss to better rebirths and liberation
The symbolic Six Worlds
12 links of Dependent Arising
Christian perspective to the Buddhist wheel of life
· There is permanence: God
· life journey is linear, not circular. After death come judgment and eternal life
· no law of karma
· Great White Throne Judgment
· One hell
· God’s grace
· Jesus’ work on the Cross
· Presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and transform
· Fruit of the Holy Spirit
(2) The Four Noble Truths
The four noble truths are:
Acknowledges the widespread experience of duhka (suffering)
2. Cause for suffering.
All suffering comes from desirous attachment
3. Cessation of suffering.
The solution is to remove these desirous attachments from your heart and mind.
4. Eight-fold path leading to the cessation of suffering.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4: 11-13
(3) The Eight-fold Path
1. Right View- To understand wholesome deeds, unwholesome deeds and comprehend the law of Karma.
2. Right Intention- The intention of non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion.
3. Right Speech- Abstaining from false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech and idle chatter.
4. Right Action- Abstaining from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
5. Right Livelihood- Abstaining from wrong and corrupt means of livelihood.
6. Right Effort- Awakening zeal for abandoning of unwholesome states and arising & sustaining of wholesome states.
7. Right Mindfulness- The four foundations of mindfulness (satipattana) namely contemplation on body, contemplation on feelings, contemplation on mind and contemplation on mind-objects.
8. Right Concentration- Abandoning of five hindrances namely lust, ill-will, sloth-torpor, worry-agitation and doubt through jhanas.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
Revelation 21: 3-5
(4) Enlightenment (Nirvana)
(5) Buddhist: The Three Jewels of Refuge
(6) Buddhist Precepts
There are five precepts commonly observed by Buddhists:
1. To avoid killing or harming any living being.
2. To avoid taking that which has not been given.
3. To avoid committing sexual misconduct.
4. To avoid using false words.
5. To avoid taking alcohol and other intoxicants.
Additional precepts apply to monks and nuns and may be taken by laypeople on special occasions:
1. To eat moderately and only at the appropriate time.
2. To avoid dancing, singing, music, and bodily adornments.
3. To abstain from sleeping in luxurious beds.
(7) Buddhism Meditation
Understanding the three fold nature of Buddhist meditation
(a) Mindfulness or mindful awareness
Buddhist metaphor: forest pool
If wind and rain constantly batter the pool, the water will tend to be agitated and cloudy with sediment and organic debris, and you won’t be able to see all the way to the bottom. But you can’t calm the pool by manipulating the water. Any attempts to do so will merely cause more agitation and add to the problem. The only way was to sit patiently, watching the pool, and wait for the sediment to settle by itself.
Buddha taught four foundations of mindfulness
(i) mindfulness of the body
(ii) mindfulness of feelings
(iii) mindfulness of the mind
(iv) mindfulness of mental states
Techniques include breath awareness to choiceless awareness
Focussed concentration gives the mind power to penetrate deeply into the object of meditation. Buddha described nine levels of increasing meditative adsorption called the jhanas.
Vajrayana tradition, meditative concentration is called calm abiding (like a calm pool of water) leading to union of calm abiding and insight.
Theravada (or Vispassana) tradition, reality is impermanence, dissatisfaction, and the absence of an abiding, substantial self.
Vajrayana tradition, insight into the vast, open, and luminous quality of the entire phenomenol world. Developing three wisdom
Zen, you awaken to your true nature (true self, no self, the unborn).
Comparison of Buddhism with Christianity:
Beliefs not shared:
Buddhists do not share most of the core beliefs of historical Christianity and many of the less critical beliefs accepted by some Christians.
Buddhism does not teach:
Some shared beliefs:
Buddhism and Christianity share some features:
Buddhism, Christianity and all of the other major world religions share a basic rule of behavior which governs how they are to treat others.
Two quotations from Buddhist texts which reflect this Ethic are:
"...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353.
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18.
This compares closely to Christianity's Golden Rule, which is seen in:
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12.
However, they conceive of life after death in very different forms:
Buddhism teaches that humans are trapped in a repetitive cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. One's goal is to escape from this cycle and reach Nirvana. Once this is attained, the mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. Suffering ends because desire and craving -- the causes of suffering -- are no more.
Christianity has historically taught that everyone has only a single life on earth. After death, an eternal life awaits everyone: either in Heaven or Hell. There is no suffering in Heaven; only joy. Torture is eternal without any hope of cessation for the inhabitants of Hell
These themes are found through both the Buddha's teaching and the Hebrew and Christian Bible.
Beliefs shared by some Buddhist traditions and Christianity:
In its original forms, Buddhism did not teach of the existence of transcendent, immanent, or any other type of God, Gods, Goddess, and/or Goddesses. However, many Buddhists -- particularly in Japan -- do believe in a pantheon of deities.
Some traditions within Buddhism believe in the power of prayer; others do not.
Some Buddhists believe in Miroku, the "future Buddha." They expect Buddha to be reborn in our future and spread Buddhism further.
|21 February 2009|
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