Dhammam Sharanam Gacchami
Sangham Sharanam Gacchami"
Buddha I go for refuge
To the teachings I go for refuge
To the monks I go for refuge"
BUDDHA IN ABHAYA MUDRA (ROBES DECORATED WITH THE SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF BUDDHA)
Buddhism, more than a religion, is a
philosophy and an actual way of life, embracing several beliefs, ritual
practices and traditions. This system is based on the teachings of
Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Gautama Buddha, the "Awakened
One". The Buddha, believed to have lived between the 6th and 4th
Centuries BCE, was an enlightened master, who shared his insights among
his disciples and followers in order to liberate them from their
worldly suffering and help them achieve the highest state of Nirvana or
liberation from the unending material cycle of life and death.
There are different schools of Buddhism, each one following different traditions and paths to the ultimate goal of liberation. The two major schools of Buddhism are Theravada Buddhism ("The School of the Elders") and Mahayana Buddhism ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravada, the older school, is also the more widespread, covering Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana schools of Buddhism are found throughout East Asia and include the sub-schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism and so on. Vajrayana Buddhism, a sub-sect of Mahayana, is also practiced in parts of Mongolia and Tibet. This system is sometimes considered a third major branch of Buddhism.
Buddhism predominantly flourishes in the continent of Asia, but it can also be found throughout the world.
Buddhism, as a philosophy, bases itself on the foundation of the Three Jewels, that is, the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings) and the Sangha (the Community). Other practices may include regular practice of meditation and a constant state of "mindfulness", joining a monastery, renouncing the material world, leading a life of celibacy, studying and/or teaching of scriptures, invocation of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and so on and so forth.
TALES FROM THE LIFE OF BUDDHA (TIBETAN THANGKA WALL HANGING)
According to scriptures mentioned in
the Theravada, the Buddha was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, and
was raised in Kapilavastu. He was born to King Suddhodana. Soon
after his birth, an astrologer visited the king and prophesized that
Siddhartha would either become a great King or a Mahatma or holy man,
depending on his life's experiences outside the palace walls.
Since Suddhodana wanted to see his son becoming a great ruler, he decided he would not let him move out of the four walls of the palace, so that the young prince would not be able to see life outside his own quarters.
At age 29, however, Siddhartha managed to move out of the palace in a quest to experience life outside. In these encounters, he was witness to much suffering in others, old age, sicknesses and finally death. This touched him to such an extent that Gautama finally decided to abandon his life of royalty and gave up everything for his spiritual quest.
After studying under many great masters, Gautama started practising meditation and severe austerities. But he realized with time that though all these put his body through a lot of pain, it did not put an end to his mental suffering.
Hence, he decided to break his days of fast and devoted himself instead to Anapanasati meditation, which gave rise to what Buddhists now term as the Middle Way, which is the middle path between extreme self-indulgence and self-torture by way of intense austerities.
MEDITATING BUDDHA UNDER THE BODHI TREE
At the age of 35, Gautama sat in meditation under a Bodhi (sacred fig) tree in the Indian town of Bodh, Gaya, and decided he would not rise before he achieved enlightenment. Many days later, he arose from the cycle of suffering and emerged as a completely enlightened Master. The Buddha then spent the rest of his life travelling throughout Northeast India, teaching this path of awakening. The Buddha left his mortal shell in Kushinagar, India, at the age of 80.
The mainstay of Buddhism comes from
the law of Karma, the belief that past actions and deeds give rise to
your present life as it is. According to this philosophy, much like in
Hinduism, good deeds or kusala and bad deeds or akusala give birth to
particular seeds in the mind, which bear corresponding fruit either in
this life or the next. The desirable thing, hence, would be to
cultivate 'sheelas' or positive thoughts and actions in this present
life, so as to eliminate suffering later.
Karma in Buddhism not only refers to physical action, but also actions of the "chetana", meaning thoughts that arise from the mind.
OM MANI PADME HUM - BUDDHIST MANTRA
In Theravada Buddhism, there can be no salvation from one's Karma, as it is all a cosmic process that has to end by itself. But some sutras in Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism state that you can rid yourself of Karma either by reading the texts or by recitation of specific Mantras for cutting off previous negative Karma.
Buddhism does not believe in the
concept of a permanent Self or Eternal Soul. Instead, Buddhism states
that rebirth has to occur in the form of subsequent lives, so as to
fulfil the laws of Karma. Hence, the being has to take rebirths in
order to finally be able to break away from his or her past Karmas.
According to the Theravada and many other schools of Buddhism, a being could reincarnate within one of many realms of existence, such as Naraka (one of many Hells), Preta (hungry souls which most people cannot see), animals, human beings, Asuras (demons) or Devas (divine beings).
Those taking rebirths in some higher worlds known as Suddhavasa Worlds would be some of the Anagamis, the highest Buddhist practitioners, who would never return to the material world as we know it. Those who meditate on the Arupajhanas would take rebirths in the arupa-dhatu or formless realms.
According to Buddhism, living beings
are constantly being subject to suffering and pain in the material
world or samsara. These beings always crave for pleasure and try to
avoid pain and this constant tussle is what creates situations for
their karma and subsequent rebirths.
Each rebirth is a repeat of the previous conditioning and paves its way for more rebirths, till the being can finally realize the ultimate truth and break away from the sufferings of the samsara.
The whole endeavour of Buddhism is to get to the root cause of the suffering, eradicate it and finally free the follower from the traps and travails of this samsara.
THE FOUR HEADS OF BUDDHA OR THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS OF BUDDHISM
According to some of the Agamas of the earliest Buddhist schools as also the Pali Tipitaka, the Buddha, after having attained Nirvana, first started teaching the Four Noble Truths. These are considered to be the very essence of Gautama's teachings and are as follows:
This school of thought is propounded
by Buddhist masters all over the world, including the Dalai Lama.
The fourth of the Buddha's Noble
Truths is further divided into eight sections, each one starting with
the word, "samyak", meaning, "properly" or "correctly". This eightfold
path includes the following:
This Noble Eightfold Path as
stipulated by the Buddha can be either taken up all at a time or can be
practised in chronological order, dealing with just one aspect at a
CAUSED BY EXTREME ABSTINENCE
The Middle Way is yet another vital aspect of Buddhism and is believed to have been discovered by Gautama just before his attaining the state of Nirvana. The Middle Way has many connotations to different people:
According to Buddhism, it is the
samsara that is the cause of all mental stress and sufferings
experienced by human beings. Negating the effects of this samsara,
therefore, would be the only way to break away from the incessant
cycles of rebirths and finally attain Nirvana. In order to achieve this
state, the Buddha recommended viewing things in the light of the Three
Marks of Existence, which are as follows:
Everything in this world is constantly
changing and in a state of impermanence. Nothing is constant and
steady. Nothing ever lasts and there is nothing that does not change in
this world. Hence, attachment to anything is futile, as it is bound to
create dukkha when it ultimately changes at some point of time.
Suffering or dukkha manifests in many
forms in the life of a human being. It can include states such as pain,
misery, frustration, anxiety, fear and so on. Very often, Buddhism
seeks to view this aspect realistically, without being judgemental
about it. Also, this term is left largely untranslated in the English
version of Pali texts, as it encompasses too wide a range of emotions
to be interpreted appropriately.
There is no real phenomenon such as
"Me", "I", or "Mine" in this illusory world. All these concepts are the
result of our hyperactive minds. As is typical with Buddhism, there is
no assertion for either of the statements "There is a Self" and "There
is No Self". Since nothing really exists and nothing is really
permanent, the attitude of not-self is central to Buddhism.
Pratityasamutpada is yet another
central aspect of Buddhist metaphysics. According to this concept,
certain phenomena arise together because they are mutually
interdependent with each other. The Twelve Nidanas of Buddhism best
explain this concept. These are as follows:
The being suffers the travails of
samsara only because of the experience of the Nidanas. But the absence
of the first Nidana automatically leads to the negation of all the
twelve Nidanas. This way, one can go beyond the material world and
THE BOOK OF BUDDHA
Nirvana or the Pali Nibbana
essentially means "extinction" or "cessation" of ignorance and craving,
hence of suffering. This Bodhi or "calmed" stage hence leads to
enlightenment or awakening, hence liberating the practitioner from the
involuntary cycles of the samsara.
In original parlance, bodhi and nirvana meant the same thing. But the Mahayana tradition made a distinction between these states, referring to nirvana only as the extinction of craving, saying that the bodhi state was the actual stage of enlightenment. Hence, according to the Mahayana, the arahant only attained nirvana, but the bodhisattva attained nirvana and also freedom from delusion as well. The bodhi would hence become a Buddha. Theravada Buddhism still gives the same connotation to both these words.
The term parinirvana applies to the arahant who attains complete nirvana at the time of shedding his or her mortal body, that is, at the time of physical death.
According to Buddhism, Gautama Buddha
was the first one to attain enlightenment and therefore, he is
considered to have established Buddhism. The Buddha Era, would end when
all the teachings of the earliest Buddha are wiped out from the face of
the earth. Gautama Buddha is hence considered the Buddha of this era.
While Theravada believes that there is only one time in this world that there occurs a Buddha era, Mahayana Buddhists state that there are several other unaccountable Buddhas in other universes.
BODHISATTVA FROM AJANTA CAVE PAINTINGS
The Bodhisattva is an enlightened being on the path toward Buddhahood. Theravada Buddhism uses this term in relation with the earlier incarnations of Gautama Buddha, but also acknowledges the bodhisattva path as well.
Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, centres round the concept of the bodhisattva and believes that everyone has the potential to become one, provided that they follow the right path of discipline, forbearance, giving, meditation and so on.
A bodhisattva is also sometimes referred to as a bodhisattva-mahasattva, as his aim is as enlightened as himself.
The practice of Buddhism mainly revolves around devotion and meditation. Pure Land Buddhism believes in the worship of the Buddha Amitabha, whereas Nichiren Buddhism centres on devotion to the Lotus Sutra. Buddhism stipulates the practice of the following aspects:
YOG -ITS PHILOSOPHY AND PRACTICE
Buddhism incorporates the practice of dhyana or meditation. Yoga is of main importance in this philosophy and it is an actual way of life to followers of that discipline. As against the traditional Brahminic approach to yoga, where the follower aims at achieving complete cessation of thoughts, Buddhism believes that there should be a mental activity taking place; a cognition that bases itself on mindful awareness and finally aims at attaining liberation.
The earliest Buddhist texts talk in detail about these meditation techniques, relating the states which existed before the Buddha and also those that came into being during the Buddhist eras.
DHARMA CHAKRA CENTER,
The first step the follower has to
take is adherence to the Three Jewels or the Tri-ratna of Buddha,
Dhamma and Sangha. The Buddha is the one who has attained nirvana. The
Dhamma refers to the teachings expounded by Gautama Buddha. The Sangha
is a congregation of monastic practitioners, who have attained any of
the four stages of enlightenment.
Some texts of Tibetan Buddhism add on a fourth jewel of the Lama. According to Mahayana Buddhism, the Three Jewels are unchanging and eternal and just like real jewels. The follower taking refuge in the principle of the Three Jewels too would attain a quality of brilliance, compassion and immortality, which in turn would protect him from falling prey to the sufferings of the samsara.
Buddhism strictly stipulates Sila or
adherence to "virtuous behaviour", "ethics" or "morality". Sila implies
actions committed intentionally by thought, word and deed. The
preconditions of sila include calmness, quiet, chastity and
Sila forms the foundation of Samadhi or Bhavana, which means "mind cultivation". This promotes peace not only within the mind of the practitioner, but also transfers to peace within the community, finally giving rise to peace both within and without.
Sila refers to certain principles of ethical behaviour. The basic concept of sila revolves round five precepts, whereas those choosing the path of eight or ten precepts also undertake certain principles of asceticism, along with the basics of ethical behaviour.
The basic five precepts, which are most commonly undertaken by followers, include:
The eight precept path includes the
The ten precept path includes:
MONKS AT RUMTEK MONASTERY,
Buddhism stipulates strict rules for monks and nuns. The Vinaya, which is the moral code for monks and nuns, includes the Patimokkha, which comprises a set of 227 rules. Different schools of Buddhism follow slightly different rules for their monastic order.
While most schools actively encourage vegetarianism, Buddhist schools in Japan, which have almost displaced the Vinaya, even allow the clergy to marry.
Prajna or Pali Panna means wisdom,
which is based on dependent organization, the three marks of existence
and the Four Noble Truths. Prajna helps in extinguishment and gives
rise to the bodhi state. Prajna also features as the last of the six
paramitas of the Mahayana. Initially, prajna develops as a consequence
of the follower listening to, reading and studying the dhamma sermons
in detail. Once he understands the underlying concepts, he then learns
to apply the same in his everyday life.
SET OF FOUR VEDAS
DR. RAJBALI PANDEY
Early Buddhism, developed during the
second half of the first millennium BCE, had its roots in religious
philosophy of ancient India. Vedic Brahminic laws had experienced a
downswing at the time, due to general discontent and a certain degree
of confusion among Hindu Brahmins. There was a certain sect that
challenged the authority of the Vedas and the Brahmanas. It is believed
that this group, called the shramanas, were the earliest to develop the
philosophy of Buddhism.
Studies indicate that Buddhism first came to be in Greater Magadha, the land of the Aryas. This region and its people were generally looked down upon, as they were not Brahminized. Gradually, a wave of Brahminic philosophical thought spread eastward during the second or third centuries BCE, in this particular region.
Parallel movements also developed simultaneously, thus giving rise to many schools of philosophical thought. Most of these schools shared the same terminology of traditional Hindu philosophy, such as the Atman (Self), Karma (action), Dharma (righteousness), Yoga and so on. The word Buddha was also used to connote the "Awakened One".
The shramanas, though, completely rejected the Vedas and the supreme authority of the Brahmins at that time. They even went on to openly declare that Brahminism was fraudulent and merely a vehicle for Brahmins to enrich their own lives by extorting money from others for performing ritual rites and so on. They particularly denigrated the act of Vedic animal sacrifice.
Hinduism was itself going through a sea change at that point of time and many Brahmins then adapted to the new changes and also adopted many of the new philosophical ideologies presented before them.
ASHOKA - THE WARRIOR
WHO SPOKE OF PEACE
Buddhism in India, it is believed,
spread only till the time of the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka's rule.
Ashoka, an avid supporter of Buddhism, worked to propagate the
philosophy and built several Stupas (Buddhist religious monuments) and
even did hit bit to bring the religion to neighbouring countries, such
as Central Asia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Thus, the movement slowly
spread into China and from Sri Lanka, entered Southeast Asia.
As Buddhism spread into other countries, it was influenced by those other cultures too, such as Persian and Greek cultures. This created a sort of fusion of philosophies, thereby giving a new flavour to each territory the religion touched. The development of the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara is one fine example of this occurrence.
During the 2nd Century CE, Mahayana Buddhism spread to China, Korea and Japan. From the 8th Century onward, the religion spread from India to Tibet and finally, to Mongolia.
Zen Buddhism is a type of Buddhism
that developed and became popular in Japan, Korea and China. This
philosophy is not purely textual and bases itself instead on meditation
techniques and actual spiritual evolvement.
Zen Buddhism is divided into Rinzai and Soto; the former relying on meditating on the koan or a riddle; the latter depending on shikantaza or "merely sitting and meditating". This form of Buddhism is rather abstract, as it aims to reach the Formless Self, which is equated with the Buddha himself.
Zen Buddhism, though not hinging completely on texts, does refer to them occasionally to initially tutor the lay follower.
PRAYER WHEELS (FROM THE MAHAYANA BRANCH OF BUDDHISM)
FROM RUMTEK MONASTERY,
Based on the Mahayana,
Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism practices Vajrayana or the "Diamond Vehicle",
which is also referred to as Tantrayana, Tantric Buddhism or Esoteric
Buddhism. Including all the tenets of the Mahayana, it also encompasses
many physical, spiritual and ritual practices to enhance a follower's
The Vajrayana essentially harnesses metaphysical energy and develops the mind by way of physical exercises, visualization and meditation. It is believed that a practitioner can attain Buddhahood in as little as three years using Vajrayana techniques.
The Tibetan tradition of Vajrayana rarely includes sexual yoga. But this can be seen only with very advanced practitioners.
PREACHING BUDDHA WEARING ROBE CARVED WITH SCENES AND STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF BUDDHA
According to one particular survey,
Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world and follows
Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The Sangha or the monk order is
considered to be among the oldest such organizations among the
religions of the world. In 1951, Buddhism was regarded as the world's
largest religion, with 520 million followers.
At present, Buddhism, comprising all three branches of philosophy, that is, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, exists all over the world. The Buddhist religious texts are now being translated in more and more international languages.
In Asia, Buddhism is already well-organized and well-funded as well. In many Asian countries, it is even regarded as the official religion and receives full governmental support.
Though Buddhism has been flexible enough and adopted itself to the culture of each land it has entered, it still manages to retain its original flavour and fervour, to emerge as an actual, practical, way of life; and not remain merely as a religion or body of philosophical thought.
This article was written by:
Priya Viswanathan, a teacher/performer of Bharata Natyam, Classical Music and Classical Instrumental Veena. A recipient of several awards for both music and dance, Priya is also a freelance writer online. She currently writes for About.com, a subsidiary of IAC - the parent company of Ask.com. (http://mobiledevices.about.com)