Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 21, 2011

BUDDHISM- Our Message of Peace, Non-violence and Goodwill

The second great religion that originated in India is Buddhism. Ironically
though Buddhism flourished overseas; in the land of its birth it was ti11
recently non-existent. It received a lease of life after independence, when Dr.
B.R. Ambedkar decided to embrace Buddhism. A significant section of the
scheduled castes
followed Dr. Ambedkar and they today constitute an overwhelming portion of the
adherents of Buddhism in India today. But they do not form part of the two
traditional sects of Buddhism viz., (Mahanayana and Hinayana) and are generally
termed as Neo-Buddhists (Nava-Baudha). The history of Buddhism in India starts
with that of its founder Gautama Buddha who lived in the 6th century B.C.E.

Life Story of Buddha

Buddha was born in the Shakya clan that belonged to the warrior
(Kshatriya) caste. His father was Shudhodana and his mother Maya. Before Buddha
was born his mother had a dream in which a white elephant descended from heaven
and entered her womb. Buddha was said to have been born in a grove named Lumbini
near the ancient town of Kapilavastu. At birth the name given to him was
Gautama, probably after the more ancient Vedic seer to whom some of the hymns in
the Rigveda are ascribed. Buddha was also known as Siddhartha which means ‘he
whose aim is accomplished’ The latter name seems to be a title given to him by
his disciples} although varying opinions are held on this issue.

The Prophecy of Buddha

At his birth, a sage is said to have told King Shudhodana that Gautama would
grow up to be a powerful king. But to become a king he should be kept away from
the sorrows of 1ife. And if perchance he happened to see any of the sorrows of
life he would become an universal teacher. Keen as King Shudhodhana was to see
Gautama to be a successful ruler, he built up special palace for Gautama from
where he could set his eyes on none of the world’s sufferings. Even when the
prince Gautama went out for stroll or ride, all unpleasant objects were removed
so as to prevent Gautama’s mind from being disturbed.

The Young Gautama is kept away from Real Life

But the prophesy of Gautama becoming an universal teacher was destined to be
fulfilled. One day through some lapse, Gautama managed to s1ip out unnoticed
from the palace. Riding through the streets of the city he saw for the first
time in his life, a lame person, a sick person, a dead body and an ascetic.

These sights made a deep impact on his tender teenaged mind and he set
thinking upon the cause of sufferings and sorrow. Consequently, Gautama began
neglecting the affairs of the State which his father had assigned to him.
Alarmed at his son’s strange behaviour, King Shudhodana, to get his son off this
brroding decided to marry him to a princess Yashodhara. Some days after marriage
a son was born to them who was named Rahula.

But married life could not distract Gautama from his life’s mission for long.
When his patience was at the end of its tether, Gautawna decided to forsake
family life and one day he slipped out of his palace along with his servant
Chandaka. After moving out of the city, Gautema cut off his hair removed his
royal ornaments and jewels, his rich garments and sandals and gave them to
Chandaka and bid him to return to the palace with the news of his (Gautama’s)
departure.

Sarnath
This place is also known as
Isipatana or “Deer
Park”
Situated 5 Kms north of Varanasi,
here the Buddha is said to have
preached
his first sermon.


Gautama becomes The Buddha – The Enlightened One

Thus Gautama set out on his quest for the cause of sufferings (Klesha). He
undertook severe austerities by fasting continuously. In this he was accompanied
by five disciples. But his frail and pampered body could not stand up to this
self-inflicted punishment and one day he fainted. Realizing that this was not
the way to arrive at the truth, he gave up the austerities. Horrified at their
Master’s apostasy the five disciples left him. But undaunted, Gautama continued
his quest for the cause of sufferings. He seated himself under a fig tree
(Mahabodhi tree) and decided not get up unless he found answers to his
questions. His enlightenment is said to have come suddenly and was exceedingly
simple – viz., that all pain is caused – by desire, and therefore peace comes
when one ceases to crave for anything. This thought was new at that age and it
struck him with blinding force, and not only influenced his future life but left
a lasting imprint on Buddhist philosophy. Freedom from all desires was said to
release a person from the cycle of re-birth and lead to his salvation (Nirvana).

After this revelation Gautama started preaching to people and for this he
travelled from place to place. He is said to have delivered his first sermon at
a deer park (Isipatana) setting in motion, the wheel of law (Dharma-chakra or
Dhammachakra in Pali).

As his teachings impressed people his following grew. Among his early converts
were Sariputta, Mogallana and Ananda. He even received the patronage of rich
traders like Anathapindika (i.e. feeder of poor) and powerful kinqs of the age
like Ajatashatru of Magadha. After the revelation (Bodhi), Gautama came to be
known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha.

He was also known as Shakyamuni (Sage of the Shakyas). The tree under which
he attained enlightenment is known as the Bodhi or Mahabodhi tree But though he
received an impressive following Buddha never claimed Divine status. Very few
miracles are attributed to him.

“Miracles” by the Buddha

On one occasion a grieving lady carried her dead child to Buddha and asked
him to revive it. This was a perfect setting for a miracle to be woven into
religious folklore, but Buddhist records state that Buddha calmed the lady and
told her that he would require three mustard seeds to revive her child. But the
mustard seeds should be from a family where so far no one has ever died. To
fulfill this seemingly simple request the lady went from house to house only to
be told that sometime or the other, someone had died in every family. Gradually,
the truth dawned upon the grieving lady and going to a cemetery, she laid down
her child’s body and taking its little hand in hers, she said “Beloved son, I
thought that death has overtaken you alone. but no it overtakes all of us”. She
went back to Buddha and became his disciple.

The Buddhist Sangha and Morality

Buddhism is unique among religions in a fundamental sense. It does not
advocate invocation of any God. Salvation can be attained by controlling one’s
desire; as desire is the cause of suffering. The original Buddhism had neither
God nor Devil. The emphasis was not on prayer but on controlling one’s mind. In
this sense it was more a worldly philosophy rather than a religion. But with the
passage of time it acquired the nature of a religion complete with dogmas and
rituals. Buddha’s life-story is an eventful one. The most potent institution
that Buddha established during his lifetime was the Sangha (monastic order) into
which men were admitted irrsespective of their caste.
The members of the Sangha who were known as Bhikkus (beggars)had to lead a
rigorous life devoid of all desires. Their daily needs were limited to those
necessary for physical survival. Their only possessions were a begging bowl,
yellow coloured loin cloth, a walking stick if necessary and a pair of sandals
for the more delicate. They were to sustain themselves by the alms they received
but were forbidden from expressly begging for alms. Alms were to be accepted if
given willingly and if not the Bhikkus were to move on to the next house. Thus
came into being a clergy, but which unlike its Hindu
counterpart was not based on caste and which was oriented towards missionary
activities rather on the performance and upholding of rituals.

The break of Buddhism from other forms of worship that constituted Hinduism was
almost complete in the lifetime of Buddha. This took the form of non-recognition
of any personified Gods, spirits or the devil, and the near absence of rituals,
repudiation of the caste
system
and the intense missionary activity of the monks which included

rendering social service with the aim of alleviation of human suffering. Another
significant aspect was that in the early stages all followers of Buddha were
enrolled as members of the Sangha hence it was completely a missionary religion.

The distinction between the Bhikkus and other lay adherents of Buddhism came
about later when the following of the religion increased manifold.

From its inception Buddhism received royal patronage. In the lifetime of
Buddha Ajatashatru the king of north India’s most powerful kingdom Magadha (in
present-day Bihar) patronised Buddhism during Buddha’s lifetime, and a few years
after Buddha attained Nirvana {Salvation), the first religious council of the
Buddhists was held at the town Rajagriha, which was the capital of Magadha from
where Ajatashatru ruled. Councils such as this one were occasions for
formulation and revision of the Buddhist religious code which was supposed to be
adhered to by all followers. Thus it kept a check on the emergence of sub-sects-
a tendency which is a hallmark o� Hinduism.

The second such council was held at Vaishali also in Magadha, about a hundred
years after the first council i.e. in the 5th century B.C.E.

Relations Between Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhism continued to grow steadily in the first few centuries after its
birth. The reasons were its universal appeal, humane outlook, emphasis on
missionary and social work and finally its peaceable methods that limited
confrontation with the established local religions to a philosophical level.
Thus even kings who patronised Hinduism did not feel it necessary to make a
distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism in policy matters. Buddhism normally
returned the sympathy of the ruling power by giving it a moral legitimacy
amongst the lay people. And although Brahmin orthodoxy did grudge the inroads
made into itself by the new faith there hardly ever was there active
confrontation between the two faiths.

On the contrary there was a exchange of beliefs and attitudes between
Hinduism and Buddhism. The Hindu insistence of vegetarianism and non-violence
(Ahimsa) are borrowed from Buddhism (and Jainism). Hinduism in turn tried to
absorb Buddhism within itself by making Buddha one of the incarnations of
Vishnu.

Major Royal Patrons – Samrat Ashok Maurya, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhana

The growth of Buddhism received a tremendous boost in the 3rd century
B.C.E. when Samrat Ashoka Maurya whose empire covered nearly the whole of India
(including present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) was converted to Buddhism.

Samrat Ashoka elevated Buddhism to the level of a state religion and sent
missionaries not only to all parts of India but also to Sri Lanka, West Asia,
Central Asia and China. In his days Buddhism is said to have spread in varying
degrees up to Egypt and South-western Russia. Since the days of emperor Ashoka,
Buddhist missionaries built majestic monasteries known as Viharas, Stupas and
Chaityas.

The simple ascetic character of Buddhism had received its first dent under
the pampering effect of royal patronage. The religlon continued to grow
nevertheless. During the reign of Ashoka the third Religious Council was held at
Pataliputra which was the capital of Ashoka’s vast empire.

But that Ashoka was not inimical to Hinduism is evident from one of the
titles that he took viz. Deva-naam-priya (Beloved of the Gods).

After the fall of the Maurya empire, Buddhism did not receive official
patronage on a comparable scale for a long time. During the period after the
Maurya empire, India was beset with invasions from the Indo-Greeks, Kushanas,
Parthians, etc. But most of these invaders acculturized themselves in a few
years after their coming and many of their kings embraced either Buddhism or
Hinduism. Prominent among them were, Menander (Milinda) who was an Indo-Greek
and to whom is ascribed the Buddhist treatise called Milinda-Panho (Questions of
Menander) in which thc king, posed certain questions to which answers were given
by a Buddhist Sage called Nagasena. The next major royal patron of Buddhism was
Kushana who was a Mongol king who ruled north India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in
the 1st century B.C.E. In his reign) the fourth religious council was held at
Jalandhara (Modern Jullundar in Indian Punjab). Now Buddhism had spread far and
wide and had received royal patronage in varying degrees almost continuously
from one king or another since Ashoka.

Split into Two Sects – Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and Hinayana (Lesser
Vehicle)

By the time the fourth religious council was held, the religion had
vertically split up into two schools. One school had elevated Buddha to the
status of a God and introduced worship of the Buddha’s image (idol), it also
evolved elaborate rituals which were derived largely from Hinduism, and gave up
the rigorous ascetic life in monasteries, discarded Pall and accepted Sanskrit
as the literary medium. These changes had far-reaching effects in narrowing the
breach between Buddhism and Hinduism but at the cost of departing from the
essence of the way of life that Buddha established. This school was called the
Mahayana {Greater Vehicle) school or the northern school of Buddhism. On the
other hand the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) school stuck to the original character
of Buddhism with its emphasis on rigorous and simple living although idol
worship gradually made its way into Hinayana also. This school is also known as
Theravada (from Staieryavada l. e. principle of stability) is mainly prevalent
in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand.

Despite the split, Buddhism continued to grow steadily up to the reign of the
Guptas.

Since the reign of the Gupta kings (3rd and 4th centuries C.E.) the growth of
Buddhism came to a standstill and gradually the decline set in. The reasons for
this decline could be many but the principal one was to be the absence of royal
patronage since the Gupta period, although there was no persecution either.

The last known royal patron of Buddhism was Harsh Vardhana who ruled over a
large part of northern India around the 7th century C.E. Harsha who was an
ardent worshipper of the Hindu deity – Shiva, did not embrace Buddhism, but he
extended many favours to the religion. During his reign the fifth religious
council was held at Prayaga (Allahabad).

No significant event took place thereafter in the history of Buddhism. But it
is certain that upto the beginning of the Gupta period the religion was on its
ascendance and its following in India was significant. From the Gupta period
Hinduism seems to have undergone a revival, partly under the patronage of the
Gupta kings. Buddhism then onwards was definitely on the decline. The
intellectual onslaught of Brahmanic philosophers like Adi Shankaracharya seems
to have had its toll in emasculating what was once a cohesive and vibrant way of
life. Whatever the reasons, it is certain that the following of Buddhism
declined sharply during and after the Gupta perlod.

It survived nominally as an intellectual tradition kept alive by the select
monks who controlled the monastic universities like the one at Nalanda. These
universities were highly respected as seats of learning and attracted students
from abroad. Fa Hien, Huien Tsiang and I-Tsing who came from China were said to
have studied at Nalanda and other centres of Buddhist learning. But from the 5th
century Onwards, Buddhism declined as the religion of the masses. Its following
seems to have been absorbed into Hinduism, although this could have also been
the result not of formal conversion but of a gradual relapse of the Buddhist
laity into the parent religion. The portrayal of Buddha as an incarnation of the
Hindu deity Vishnu, and the absorption of many Hindu attitudes by Mahayana
Buddhism, along with the absence of royal patronage to Buddhism (and the
extension of this patronage to Hinduism during Gupta times) must have
contributed to this effect. Whatever Buddhists that remained constituted an
elite who inhabited the Monasteries and rarely ventured out of them. Missionary
activity was nearly absent.

Muslim Invasions give the Fatal Blow to Buddhism

The last fatal blow to this once virile religion came from a non-Indian
impetus – the Muslim
invasion
of north India in the 12th century. The defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan
and Jaichandra Gahadawal (Rathore) in 1192 and 1194 respectively by the

Afghan raider, Mahmud Ghori opened up the Gangetic plains to the ruthless
invader where the Buddhist (and Hindu) centres of learning were located. The
destruction of monasteries and the slaughter of monks that followed the headlong
rush, of the Muslim invaders, down the Ganges stilled the agony of this once
glorious order into the silence of death.

Thus passed out of existence in the land of its birth a religion that touched
the lives of millions of humans not only in India but in China, Japan, Korea and
other countries of Central Asia and South-East Asia. Buddhism in India was to
remain a dead religion until the 20th century.

Buddhism Resurrected in India in the 20th Century

In the mid 20th Century, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was one of the architects of
India’s Constitution, gave Buddhism a fresh lease of life by embracing it a few
years after India achieved independence. A significant number of members of
those castes who were denied equal rights in the Hindu caste hierarchy also
embraced Buddhism. Today an over-whelming proportion of Buddhists in India are
these recent converts who term themselves as Nava-Baudha or Neo-Buddhists. A
comparatively recent event of significance was the 6th religious council held at
Rangoon in 1954 which came 1300 years after the 5th council held at, Prayaga in
643 C.E. in the reign of the last major pan-Indian emperor – Harsha Vardhana.
The Rangoon council was also the first one to be held outside India.

Buddhism and Hinduism – Umbilical Marks

In the course of its eventful history Buddhism which began as a departure
from the ritualism of the Hindu religion gradually adapted and absorbed many
Hindu ideas and practices to the point that at times, the lines of distinction
between the two religions (the parent and the offspring) were blurred. The
objective of Nirvana towards which every Buddhist is supposed to strive is
undoubtedly an adaptation of the Hindu concept of Moksha. The
difference is that for the attainment of Moksha righteous behaviour and the
conformation of duties as assigned by the caste into which a person has been
born is necessary, while for the attainment of Nirvana a person
has to be free of all desires. But the essence of both concepts is the release
from the cycle of re-birth. The daily of life of the Buddhist Bhikkus
(missionary ascetics) was evidently inspired by the concept and practice of
Sanyasa which was the last phase of life a Hindu during which he was supposed to
be free of al1 desires and to roam from place to place in search of spiritual
enlightenment while spreading the gospel of rightousness among the people. The
yellow coloured robes
that the Buddhist Bhikkus
donned were borrowed from the Saffron robes of

the Hindu ascetic. Although as for the Buddhists the yellow colour was chosen to
represent an autumn leaf which was once green but has inevitably turned yellow
in conformation with the law that everything born has to decay and pass away.

Among the auxiliary Hindu practices which found their way into Buddhism, idol
worship and the use of Sanskrit as the liturgical and scriptural language. The
Buddhist conception of Buddha as a God and that in a later period after five
thousand years when righteousness suffer an eclipse the Buddha will reappear on
the earth. This Buddha who will be known as Maiterya will restore the rule of
dhamma (law and religion). This idea implies belief in incarnations and
re-incarnations on lines parallel to the Hindu concept of Kalki who, we are
told, is to be the future incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

But all said and done though Buddhism precariously came close to Hinduism it
maintained its distinct entity unlike the Jaina religion
whose proximity to Hinduism nearly
made it a part of Hinduism. In its appeal Buddhism was not, like its parent
religion Hinduism, restricted to India and Indians but spread far and wide.

Thus in Buddhism, India gave birth to a major international religion,
while the Hindus continued their way. Buddhism was the world’s first missionary
religion and won its triumphs through missionary activity. The ancient Buddhist
monks who carried the Master’s message of peace, love and universal brotherhood
were pioneers in such a mission in Human history.

Buddhism is the only trans-national religion which has never preached malice
against other faiths, nor have its followers ever indulged in a holy war against
those of another faith. Buddhism has won its way by persuasion and never by the
sword, nor has it ever used its position or power to compel conformity to its
precepts.

And whatever its defects, it has unquestionably done much to benefit the
human race by introducing and perpetuating a higher standard of conduct in life.
One is inclined to bow before the Buddha, not in homage to a deity but in
recognition to a superior craftsman in the art of living.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 21, 2011

Mahayana Buddhism

Quotation by Siddhãrtha
Gautama
(Buddha):

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not
believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not
believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and
elders.
Do not believe in traditions simply because they have been handed
down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find
that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one
and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

Buddhism Continues to Grow:

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.

“Theravada Buddhism focused primarily on meditation and
concentration, the eighth of the Eightfold Noble Path; as a result, it centered
on a monastic life a an extreme expenditure of time in meditating. This left
little room for the bulk of humanity to join in, so a new schism erupted within
the ranks of Buddhism in the first century AD, one that would attempt to
reformulate the teachings of Buddha to accommodate a greater number of people.
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. They distinguished themselves from mainstream Theravada
Buddhism by contemptuously referring to Theravada as Hinayana, or ‘The Lesser
Vehicle.’ 1

The story goes that at first, the abilities of Buddha’s followers to
comprehend what he had attained was limited, thus his teachings had to focus on
the most important concepts of enlightenment and Nirvana. It is often said that
The Buddha foresaw a time when his disciples would be ready for more than these
basic teachings. This slow evolution of Buddhist thought beyond the original
teachings of the Buddha demonstrated the great flexibility and openness that was
possible in Buddhism, thus as it moved out of India to other countries, it was
rapidly integrated into the cultures it encountered.

“Many Buddhists, especially Westerners, tend to see both the
Theravada and Mahayana approaches as not being contradictory or in opposition
but rather as complimentary to each other. The Mahayana is often seen as an
expansion of or commentary on Theravadan teachings.”

Bohdisattva Warriors:

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’. “

The spread of Mahayana in Asia:

Theravada Buddhism continued to be dominant in Southern India and
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and spread South and East through the Indo-Chinese Peninsula
while Mahayana Buddhism grew and spread to the North and East.

Mahayana broke into several sub-types:

bullet In China: Cha’an, (more popularly
known by its Japanese name, Zen), and Pure Land. Both would later
be transmitted to Japan. Zen migrated to Korea.
bullet 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.

“The dominant group today is the Mahayana following, and this is in
part due to a Royal supporter. In the third century BC, Buddhism was boosted by
the patronage of a powerful king, the Emperor Ashoka who converted after a
particularly vicious victory in battle. He became a major supporter of the
Mahayana Buddhism and funded its growth around many parts of India. In
conjunction with the council, he also sent missionaries to regions outside
India, beginning the spread of Buddhism around the world.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Maps Showing the Spread of Buddhism



Early Buddhism in India


Along the Silk Road:
The Spread of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

The Spread of Tantric Buddhism into Tibet


The Spread of Buddhism into Japan

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Buddhism in Japan including Zen

Buddhism in Japan

Early Buddhism split into two groups called Theravada and Mahayana, and the Mahayana group spread to China along the Silk Road.

Although Buddhism in Japan had major influences from China, it originally came to Japan from Korea when a gift of a Buddha image and copies of sutras were sent to the Japanese emperor in the 6th Century. Early Buddhism in Japan was very different than today, and at first formed an alliance with many of the existing Shinto groups. 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 Nichiren group developed in most recent times and is based on the White Lotus Sutra teaching of the Buddha.

Pure Land is the largest group in Japan today, and of the three groups, Zen is the most well known by Westerners, although Nichiren also has considerable following in the West, where it actively works for world peace. Here we will look at Pure Land and Zen.

Pure Land Buddhism:

Pure Land Buddhism developed in China around 350AD and from 950AD spread to Japan and became very popular in the 12th Century. Pure Land Buddhism follows a particular Buddha called Amida Buddha (also called Amitabha in China), the Buddha of infinite light, who is revered as divine.

Pure Land Buddhism originally appealed to the poor and less educated, as well as the more wealthy, by promising salvation by faith alone, and ultimate rebirth in the Pure Land, a paradise where everyone may hear the Buddha teaching. It emphasised humility, devotion, and charitable work rather than the individual struggle for personal enlightenment. Focus on Amida Buddha is important and aided by repetition of a mantra including the name Amida Buddha.(Namu Amida Butsu).

Pure Land Buddhism is a very practical form of Buddhism, monks often are married, and social work is very important. In many hotels in Japan, you may find “The Teaching of the Buddha”, in both English and Japanese, which is available, just as Westerners might find a Gideon bible. The Buddhist Promoting Foundation (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai) produces this publication to promote Pure Land Buddhism and makes it freely available to all interested persons.

The book offers the following:

“Therefore, if anyone hearing the Name of this Amida Buddha is encouraged to call upon that Name in perfect faith, he shall share in the Buddha’s compassion. So all people should listen to the Buddha’s teaching and should follow it even if it seems to lead them again through the flames that envelop this world of life and death.

If people truly and earnestly wish to attain Enlightenment, they must rely on the power of this Buddha. It is impossible for an ordinary man to realise his supreme Buddha-nature without support of this Buddha.

Amida Buddha is not far from anyone. His Land of Purity is described as being far away to the west but it is, also, within the minds of those who earnestly wish to be with him….

To those who have faith, He offers the opportunity to become one with Him. As this Buddha is the all-inclusive body of equality, whoever thinks of Buddha, Buddha thinks of him and enters his mind freely”

Thus salvation is dependent on the faithful relationship to the Amida Buddha.


Zen:

The Zen schools of Buddhism, which are much more well known to us in the West have quite a different approach while still teaching the same core message.

The history of Zen goes back to one of the teaching sessions of the Buddha when he chose not to speak, but to hold up a flower. Only one of his monks understood the message and smiled, and thereafter became a leader in the community.

The message of direct understanding later went to China with a monk called Bodhidharma in the first century AD where the school was called the Ch’an, meaning meditation. Bodhidharma (or Bodai Daruma in Japan) is shown as a fierce, bearded man with open staring eyes, to shock you rather than sooth you. He was said to have meditated for nine years before he taught, and he emphasised the importance of meditation and direct personal experience.

Zen became popular in Japan around the 12th Century, in particular with the warrior class who liked its strict discipline. It was brought to Japan from China along with tea, which is still used in ritual Zen ceremonies. This tea is generally not a tea that Westerners like much and the memory of the ceremony has a strong after taste.

Zen Buddhists teach that everyone has a Buddha nature and that the small mind, our thinking mind, blocks us from reaching that realisation, and subsequent direct experience. In Zen, the follower is aware of the emptiness of all things, and of the interconnection of all life. The logical mind tries to perceive the truth by dealing with concepts, which are, in Zen terms, empty. Therefore, insight must be gained outside that logical process, at a different level. In Zen Buddhism, the key words are direct personal experience, which can occur at almost any moment when realisation occurs.

Zen has simple scriptures, which are not meant to be learned word perfect. The classic Zen teachings are riddles which attempt to take the mind out of the logical process and into a deeper, intuitive understanding. These recorded sayings are called Koans, and are to aid the small mind to let go of the attempt to answer a meaningless question. The classic is “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

A logical answer to a Koan is not the answer, the answer lies in a sudden new insight into your true nature. We are all part of the Buddha-mind which is basically in a state of peace and serenity, but our human mind and its busy perceptions causes us not to recognise this.

Although meditation is important, Zen teaches that the follower seeks to hold the Buddha-mind in everyday life and this is reflected in the influence of Zen in the Japanese arts, in particular calligraphy, poetry, painting, and garden design. These arts are interpreted in a minimalist way, whereby the essence of the painting or garden is more important than the detail.

Zen monks set the example of incorporating the philosophy into everyday work by undertaking many of the manual tasks around the monastery, and so the gardens and the buildings were built and maintained with the principles of harmony and compassion.

Unlike Pure Land Buddhism, Zen does not focus on images of the Buddha, and a Zen temple is more likely to have stone gardens for meditation, and rooms with a simple flower arrangement or single calligraphy hung on a wall.

From the book “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” compiled by Paul Reps comes the following story: Two monks were arguing about a flag.

One said: “The flag is moving.” The other said: “The wind is moving”.

An Elder happened to be passing by. He told them: “Not the wind, not the flag, but the mind is moving.”

But then he commented:

“Wind, flag, mind moves.

The same understanding

When the mouth opens

All are wrong”

So, in Zen, an answer at one time may be different to another time, this is the contradiction that challenges us to leave the logical mind and seek answers in the Buddha-mind.

Pure Land and Zen Buddhism use different techniques, essentially both seek to clear the mind, one by reciting mantras and thinking of a particular Buddha, and the other by mind games to free the mind from rational thought. However, they both have the same goal, which is the discovery of the Buddha mind within.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Vajrayana Buddhism and Buddhism in Tibet

The main two divisions of Buddhism are Theravada, the way of the elders, and the more popular Mahayana, the bigger way, the greater raft. There is also a development of the Mahayana group, which is called Vajrayana, to mean the Diamond Way.

The term “vajra” originated in Hindu mythology and was the diamond hard thunderbolt used as a weapon by the gods. This became an object of Buddhist authority, similar to a royal sceptre.

The Vajrayana Buddhists accepted a tantric way of practice, using ritual, religious images, diagrams, chanting, and song. Tantric Buddhists incorporated Hindu chants and initiations into the philosophy which evolved in India about 600-700AD.

Tantric Buddhism blends the physical and spiritual world and engages both. The physical has an effect on the spiritual, and the spiritual has a similar effect on the physical.

Vajrayanan Buddhism still exists in pockets in many countries, but it reached its full potential, and further developed, in Tibet.

Tibet was a latecomer to Buddhism, and an Indian monk, Padmasambhava, also called Guru Rinpoche, who followed the Tantric school in Indian, came to Tibet in 747AD and established the main Tibetan schools.

Many of the original texts were translated into the local language, and after Buddhism declined in India, Tibet became a primary centre of learning about Buddhism. Buddhism did well in Tibet and enjoyed royal patronage.

Tibetan Buddhism is very colourful, and full of images of deities and demons often drawn in a ritual diagram called a mandala, which would often represent the whole universe. Strong smells of incense and butter lamps, and loud trumpets and cymbals are used to engage the senses. Dancers wearing fiece and friendly masks perform ritual dances to offer protection and to appease the spirits, while monks beat drums and chant.

One of the most common chants in Tibet is the mantra “Om mani padme hum” which says “O, jewel in the lotus”.  This is often found on the prayer wheels and flags of Tibet. The jewel is symbolic of the teaching, and the lotus of the Buddha.

A Vajrayana monk will undertake a long course of study as part of his training and will study aspects of the Theravada, Mahayana and Tantric schools. The training will often be over twenty or thirty years long and after that the monk may reach the position of a religious master, called a lama. The Tibetan tradition gives great importance to the personal teaching from the master to disciple.

The most well known lama is His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, spiritual head of one of the main Tibetan Buddhist groups, and also highly regarded for his promotion of Buddhism and as a spokesman for the now Tibetan area of China.

Tibetan Buddhists believe in the reincarnation of the essence of the Dalai Lama. When the thirteenth Dalai Lama died in 1933, a search began for the new Dalai Lama. He was located four years later, at the age of two, after following signs which had appeared soon after the death of the previous Dalai Lama. The young boy was presented with objects from the former Dalai Lama, as well as other similar objects.

He correctly selected the items, and, at the age of four, was taken to Lhasa to begin his training.The word Dalai is Mongolian meaning “ocean”, and the Dalai Lama is a term which also means “an ocean of wisdom”.

The Dalai Lama became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet when he was fifteen. In 1950, China took over Tibet, and in 1959, the Dalai Lama left Tibet and now lives in Northern India, at Dharmsala. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work, in particular for his commitment to peaceful solutions without use of violence.

The Dalai Lama teaches that compassion is at the heart of the Dharma, and, in his words from his book “The Four Noble Truths” , he says that “it is on the basis of profound compassion that we develop the altruistic aspiration to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all”. This shows the strong influence of the Mahayana path in Tibet and the desire to help others on their spiritual quest.

Milarepa of Tibet

Tibet’s history is rich with many varied and inspired monks and lamas, and each has their own unique story. One of the interesting Buddhists teachers was a man called Milarepa, who was born in 1040 and died at the age of 83. Although never ordained as a monk, he pursued a spiritual path in life, and was a prolific writer of poems and songs. His work is still widely read today and can be easily found on the Internet where the following words of Milarepa were located:

“I have understood this body of mine to be the product of ignorance, composed of flesh and blood and lit up by the perceptive power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for emancipation it may be the great vessel by which they may procure Freedom.

But to the unfortunates who only sin, it may be the guide to lower and miserable states of existence. This, our life, is the boundary mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting evil.”

Milarepa studied under Marpa, the founder of the Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which are called Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug (sometimes called Geluk). The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Gelug-pa (pa means school), and Sakya Trizin is the current spiritual leader of the Sakya tradition.

From Tibet, the Vajrayanan Buddhism spread into Mongolia, Siberia, Nepal, and the kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan is country which is ruled by a young king who has embraced a strategy of ecomonic development in partnership with conservation and care of the environment along strong Buddhist guidelines. Today, Bhutan still has over 70% of its virgin forests, and is being studied on a global level for the wealth of the vast plant gene pool.

Today, the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism are all alive and active and have spread their influence around the globe. Monasteries with senior monks from Tibet are found in many Western countries and you may find details on some of these on the Internet as they develop their philosophy using tools of the technological age.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

The Spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road

Silk Road

A most significant development happened at the same time as the Buddhist movement began to spread and that was the opening of a new way through, from India to China.

Today, we call this way “the Silk Road”, and we associate it with famous travellers like Marco Polo, whose journeys to China astounded the Europeans of his day.

The route was first established by the Chinese, venturing out in search of horses and trade, and it dates back to the second century BC. From that time, it became a regular journey for traders seeking to make a small fortune. In the following centuries, the route fell under control of different political groups, but was always well used until the 15th century AD when sea trade dominated.

From early days, silk was exported from China to Italy where it became immensely popular. Grapes and wine making were soon introduced to the East as well as perfumes, spices, unknown animals and birds such as peacocks. From China, we first encountered roses, oranges and pears. There was considerable cost to transport all these items, but the profits were huge for successful traders.

The Silk Road began near Iran and India, went south of the Caspian Sea, and then took one of two routes, along the borders of the Taklamakan desert. The two routes joined in North Western China.

The route was treacherous and crossed huge deserts, as well as difficult mountain passes and steep valleys. A well organised expedition relied on camels and good knowledge of local watering holes. Bandits were common and many traders perished on the journey.

From about the first century BC, Buddhism began its spread along the Silk Road. As it travelled and was accepted, whole communities took the message on board and monks lived along the way. Many ruins exist in the desert regions where numerous finely decorated caves formed the centre of whole monasteries. Some areas have up to a thousand caves in a single group. Many of these caves had beautiful wall paintings and Buddha images which often were sponsored by travellers who sought protection for their journey ahead or gave thanks for having made it that far.

In the middle of the first century AD, a Han Chinese Emperor became interested in Buddhism. He sent envoys to India and in 67AD they returned with Buddhist writings. He then proceeded to have these texts translated into Chinese.

“According to legend, the Han Emperor Mingti, who had already heard of Buddhism, dreamt of a golden figure floating in a halo of light – that was interpreted by the Emperor’s wise men to be the Buddha himself. Consequently, an envoy was sent to India to learn about the new religion, returning with sacred Buddhist texts and paintings as well as Indian priests to explain the teaching of the Buddha to the Emperor. Monks, missionaries and pilgrims began travelling from India to Central Asia and then on to China, bringing Buddhist writings and paintings, while converts followed the Silk Road West.”

From the web site on China Pages/Chinese Culture/The Silk Road.

In the north western part of China the majority of the population was Buddhist by the late fourth century and Buddhism was well supported by the ruling classes.

Buddhist monks also travelled with the traders along the way and soon Buddhist monasteries were everywhere along the route between India and China. The monasteries were used by travellers as safe places to rest overnight, and sometimes for longer periods to recuperate from an illness. Donations were generously given and the monasteries flourished.

In Western countries, the skill of producing silk remained largely unknown until the 12th century however once this changed, the route began to lose its major significance. With the spread of Islam into the regions around the Silk Road, many of the stupas and temples were destroyed or left abandoned in the desert.
Spread of Buddhism

After spreading to China, the Ch’an school of Buddhism developed and this later became the Zen School of Japan. This interpretation of Buddhism is today almost non-existent in its founding country. The need to spread texts contributed to the development of block printing techniques in China. The Pure Land School also began in China before moving into Japan and Korea.

In 845, foreign religions were banned in China and a persecution of Buddhist groups greatly reduced numbers. This was followed by the political climate of the 20th Century which discouraged most religious activities.

Although China passed on the Buddhist message, the Buddhist philosophy almost disappeared in China and was to be found in small pockets often around existing temples, and only recently has there been a reversal of this trend.

From China, Buddhism spread into Korea in the fourth century AD and soon after into Japan. Tibet was one of the last countries to accept the Buddhist message. While it was introduced there in about 609AD, it was not widely accepted until the 11th century AD.

Further Spread of Theravada Buddhism

While the Mahayana school of Buddhism spread north, along the Silk Road to China, Korea, Japan and Tibet, the Theravada school lost ground in the early years because the main financial support was for the Mahayana expeditions.

From India, Buddhism first went to Bengal and then Sri Lanka early in the third Century BC. Sri Lanka became strongly Buddhist and followed the Theravada model. It was here that many of the early teachings were finally written down.

From Sri Lanka, monks went to Burma in the 5th Century but it was not until the 12th Century AD that Buddhism became widely established. Thailand took on Buddhism in the 13th Century AD, with Laos and Cambodia also taking on the teaching soon after, all following the Theravada school. At the same time, by the 15th Century, Buddhism had virtually disappeared from India, and has never been a major influence there ever since, although there have been some revival in particular areas.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism

Preface

Buddha’s Life and early teaching gives the background to the development of Buddhism. As we cover the first few centuries after the death of the Buddha, we will encounter lot of words ending in “a”. Don’t be put off by these words or try too hard to learn them. While we need to use the correct terms, and this will give you a brief history, many practising Buddhists today have little or no understanding of this evolution. And it’s really not that important in being a Buddhist other that from a historical point of view.

The Two Schools.

In most major religious philosophies, you will find many groups who interpret the core teachings in their own style. In Christianity, there was the major split between the Catholics and Protestants, and again within Protestant groups, there are other groups such as Seventh Day Adventist, Mormons as well as the more orthodox Anglicans.

So it is with Buddhism.

During the Buddha’s life, no written records were made of his teaching, as it was passed on by oral methods; monks learned fixed passages of what had been spoken. The Buddha also never set up any infrastructure or proposed high rank for himself. He denied any divinity and emphasised that all people are equal.

Obviously, there was a need to continue the teaching after he died, and five hundred of the more senior monks met at a council to decide how this would happen. The council lasted seven months, and this determined how the teaching would continue.

From about 100 years after the death of the Buddha, there had been a movement towards a more embracing style of Buddhism. The early monks concentrated on personal enlightenment, seeking the spiritual answers for themselves, and teaching others the way to this enlightenment. But the information was severely limited to the lay community as it was assumed only monks could achieve Buddhahood.

Mahayana Develops:

Over the next three hundred years, a group evolved who believed that compassion for all humanity was an important part of the path, and that the teaching be fully available to all.

Those who followed the new expanded ideals called themselves Mahayana, meaning the Big Raft, and referred to those who stayed along traditional teaching as the Hinayana group, meaning small or lesser raft. In other words, the implication was that the Mahayana approach was available to more people.

The original group did not like the term Hinayana, and then referred to themselves as Theravada, the way of the Elders.

The concept of a Yana, the raft came from the Buddha. He lived in a land which was crossed by many rivers and canals, and the way across was mostly by ferry or raft. So he described the spiritual journey as one that needed a raft, a philosophy that could take you another step on the way to enlightenment. He said “my teaching is like a raft which can help you cross to the other shore beyond birth and death. Use the raft to cross to the other shore, but don’t hang onto it as your property. Do not become caught in the teaching. You must let it go.”

This was taken by the Mahayanists to tell them that the old style could be let go as long as the core teaching remained.

With the move to Mahayana Buddhism, it became more like a religion than the original Theravada Buddhism.

Buddhism based on the Theravada model is found today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, while the Mayahana style went north into China and from there Japan, Tibet and Korea. The Theravada group has remained a fairly unified one, but the Mahayana group again divided into several strands, including Zen and Tantric Buddhism.

Differences:

The main differences between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism are shown in this table (which includes some details from the book “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith ):
Theravada Mahayana
Individual effort leads to enlightenment Working towards enlightenment
For the self only Should also include all living beings
Strives for wisdom first Compassion is the highest virtue
Centres on meditation, and requires personal dedication such as being a monk or nun Encourages practice in the world and among the general community
Followed as a teaching or Philosophy Followed with reference to higher beings, more like a religion
Early work written in Pali (eg kamma, dhamma) Early texts are in Sanskrit (eg karma, dharma)
Another significant difference is in the emphasis on the Bodhisattva, or spiritual guide. The Buddha referred to the concept of Bodhisattvas before his death, but it was not crucial to the original Buddhists. With the development of the Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattvas became a significant part of the new thinking.

Bodhisattva means “enlightened being” and the ideal of the Bodhisattva is that of one who has reached ultimate understanding, and delays final enlightenment to help others make spiritual progress. Bodhisattvas are shown as having no need to hurry in a state of serenity.

In Mahayana Buddhism, all practising Buddhists are apprentice Bodhisattvas. Along the way, the various sects introduced a range of high level Bodhisattva figures, who represent different values to be sought, such as wisdom and compassion, and who may provide protection to those who pray to that particular Bodhisattva.

This is not dissimilar to the Saints of the Christian Churches.

The early Theravada philosophy, in particular, strongly emphasised reason and analysis, along with direct personal experience. The Mahayanists saw this as narrow and limited, and sought to engage the emotions as well. Meditation now could also include visualising enlightened beings such as Bodhisattvas, and these were now objects of devotion.

One of the most popular of the bodhisattvas is Padmapani, meaning bearer of the lotus (padma). He is the compassionate one and will appear in different forms to teach people the way of enlightenment. Padmapani became Avalokitesvara who is popular in Tibet and the female Guanyin well loved in China.

Technically, the Theravadas do not not worship the Buddha, but will honour his memory, for example by walking in a clockwise direction around a dome called a stupa. Sometimes the stupa holds a relic of the Buddha, which is more revered. In Mahayana countries, images of the Buddha are set up in temples and homes as an object of worship. Of course, this is a generalisation and variations of devotion occur in all Buddhist countries.

Because of the Buddha’s open approach to all religious philosophies, and his tolerance of all genuine seekers, the Theravada and Mahayana groups have no history of major conflict, and, in the early days, often shared the same monastery with each other.

Emperor Ashoka:

The Emperor Ashoka was a warrior king who ruled over most of the Indian sub-continent from 273BC to 232BC. After a particularly vicious victory in battle, Ashoka took on and promoted Buddhism, and he funded its growth around many parts of India. In conjunction with the council, he also sent missionaries to regions outside India, beginning the spread of Buddhism around the world. He supported an early form of the Theravada school of Buddhism, and one of his sons (Mahinda) spread the Theravada form of Buddhist teaching to Sri Lanka. However, after the death of Ashoka, the Mahayana school became the more popular form of Buddhism in India.

Rise of Mahayana:

The Mahayana tradition developed gradually from about the 1st Century BC, and mostly co-existed harmoniously with the early Theravada schools, often sharing the same premises. Mahayana was more encompassing, and active in breaking down the caste barriers, so as to include everyone, and over time, developed into many schools of Buddhism that are popular today.

Another reason given for the spread of the Mahayana group was that they were more flexible and able to interpret the teaching more liberally. In particular, the early Theravadas read in the scriptures that they should wear cotton robes, which are much too light for the colder climates of China. The Mahayana monks chose wool and felt robes and happily went north.

Today, both versions of the original teaching are studied to determine the consistency of the original teaching, which is remarkably similar in many areas.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Rebirth and Nirvana

Rebirth

In the process of becoming enlightened, the Buddha is said to have recognised all his previous lives. At the same time, he also said that nothing from one life goes on to the next. Quite a paradox really!

Buddhists understand life as samsara, meaning perpetual wandering, and describe the transition like a billiard ball hitting another billiard ball. While nothing physical transfers, the speed and direction of the second ball relate directly to the first. So the term most often used is rebirth, rather than reincarnation. Reincarnation implies the transfer of an essence, or a soul, while rebirth follows the law of causality, or dependant origination, where this arises because of circumstances which happened before.

A primary aim of Buddhism is to break free of the wheel of samsara, and to reach a new level called Nirvana.

Nirvana

Nirvana is the most misunderstood term in Buddhism.

Those in the West recognise the term as meaning Heaven, or a Heaven on Earth, or perhaps a famous rock band.

The Buddha described Nirvana as the ultimate goal, and he reached that state during his enlightenment. At this point, he chose to teach others so that they might also experience this realisation, and so when he died, forty-five years later, he then passed through pari nirvana, meaning completed nirvana.

Nirvana literally means extinguishing or unbinding. The implication is that it is freedom from what ever binds you, from the burning passion of desire, jealousy, and ignorance. Once these are totally overcome, a state of bliss is achieved, and there is no longer the need the cycle of birth and death. All karmic debts are settled.

The Buddha refused to be drawn on what occurred then, but implied that it was beyond word and without boundaries. Certainly, he saw it in a much different state than our current existence, and not a simple parallel to the process of individual rebirth.

Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

Karma and Intention

An early Buddhist teaching says: “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind”.

Karma means intended action, and is a dynamic concept. It is not fate or predestination, but a consequence of what has gone before. In other words, you are now in circumstances because of your thoughts and decisions, and this is an on-going process. That is, new actions create new Karma.

Intention is a major part of Karma. If you come home and accidentally trip over the dog and hurt the animal, this is not intended and has no effect. However, after a hectic day, you come home and kick the poor dog, then negative Karma is generated. All the combined intended actions add up to what you are now.

The Buddha saw this as an explanation of the different circumstances that all living beings find themselves in.

Karma is closely linked with dependant origination, where it is the consequence of the law of cause and effect. In the Bible, it says that we reap what we sow, and karma has the same impact.

Obviously, we also are subject to non-karmic forces such as the ageing of our bodies. And there are circumstances, which are natural and also affect our lives. But in addition to that, the Buddha said that we are subject to this karmic effect where the ethical actions and thoughts we have will have a positive effect on the future and on our spiritual development.

In the book “Glimpse After Glimpse” by Soygal Rinpoche , the Buddha is quoted as saying:

“Do not overlook negative actions merely because they are small; however small a spark may be, it can burn down a haystack as big as a mountain.”

And the Buddha also said

“Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.”In the West, we often associate Karma with fate and it has this idea of a future which is predetermined. In Buddhism, Karma is the reaping of past actions, but also offers the possibility of determining our own future with our actions and thoughts today. This means that no future event is locked in, and what happens today and tomorrow will create the personal and global world of the future.


Posted by: khananwar786 | मई 4, 2011

The Three Jewels and Five Precepts

Three Jewels:

Despite the differences in the varieties of Buddhism, there are always the same three cornerstones which are called the Three Jewels. These are the Buddha, the Dharma which is the teaching of the Buddha, and the Sangha, which is the community who follow the teaching.

When a person accepts the Buddhist philosophy and wants to make it part of their life, the traditional way is to say “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”

The Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha is based on the Four Noble Truths and this is symbolised by the wheel. Originally, the Sangha was the monastic community and this was later to include all those following the Buddhist path.

The first jewel is the Buddha. To take refuge in the Buddha is not to hide in the safety of a powerful being. Refuge in this situation is more like moving to a new perspective, to a new awareness of the possibility within us all. By taking refuge in the Buddha, we align ourselves with the ability to become a Buddha ourselves, to seek the capacity to be awakened to what the Buddha experienced. This precious jewel reminds us to find our own Buddha nature.
The Dharma is the path which follows the teaching of the Buddha, and which will ultimately lead to awakening. The Dharma teaches us compassion for ourselves and others through an understanding of The Four Noble Truths and leads to a release from fear and ignorance. The path involves embracing the teaching of the Buddha and applying that understanding to everyday life. The Dharma is called the second jewel.

The Sangha comprises those who come together in any size group to study, discuss, practice meditation with a desire to help and be helped by that group. The Buddha saw that the interaction with others who are on the path as being essential for practice. He saw this as being important for ordained monks as well as those of the general community. The Sangha is the third precious jewel.

In the original teaching and in current Theravada communities, the Sangha refers only to the monks, nuns and other ordained teachers. The concept of Sangha is more broadly interpreted in many Mahayana and Western groups to include all those who embrace the Dharma as a community.

Five Precepts

Just as the Three Jewels forms the simple framework for the transmission of the Buddhist philosophy, the Five Precepts are the basic ethical guidelines for the followers of the philosophy.

The Five Precepts are not an absolute rigid set of rules, but provide a practical basis for good, ethical living which will produce the right environment in which to seek out our own truths.

The first precept is that of not intentionally killing living beings. We step on ants every day, and this isn’t really with any lack of care, and I doubt if its possible to avoid occasionally beating the odd cockroach to oblivion, however, the premeditated killing of other human and senseless killing of animals for sport certainly is not desirable for Buddhists. The primary goal of this precept is to develop concern for the safety and welfare of others and to have compassion for all living things.

The second precept is to take only what has been given. This is broader than not stealing, as it means returning borrowed items, and not taking unfair advantage even when it is still within the laws of the country. This means that you develop a sense of fair play, and generosity towards others.

The third precept often talks about sexual misconduct, but may also be interpreted as not misusing the senses. As the strongest drive after the survival instinct, the sexual drive will dominate our lives and cause much suffering unless directed wisely and skilfully. Living to excess, and in particular excessive eating, also causes grief. This precept encourages us to be content with more simple lives.

In the fourth precept we are encouraged not to speak falsely, not to lie, slander, misrepresent or to gossip maliciously. This teaches us to speak truthfully and kindly and to have positive motives when we approach a discussion.

The fifth precept is most important for today’s affluent Western society, and that is to avoid intoxicants. This includes alcohol, unnecessary drugs, and stimulants such as tobacco and caffeine. This precept is important to develop rational thinking and will allow the development of inner clarity needed for mindfulness.

As always, the Buddha was compassionate and pragmatic, and recommended these rather than dogmatically insisting that these five precepts were essential. But there is considerable good sense in each precept and by living with them every day, the way is then clear to be able to focus on the personal search for enlightened understanding.

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