"Do not hurt others with that which hurts you."
"If you have a particular faith or religion, that is good. But you can survive without it."
"My Religion is simple; My Religion is kindness."
Buddhism is the fourth largest of the five modern active major religions. The number of Buddhists in the world is at about 355 million, representing about 6% of the population of the World.
Most historians agree that Buddhism originated in northern India in the 5th century B.C.E. The tradition traces its origin to Siddhartha Gautama, who is typically referred to as the Buddha (literally the "Awakened" or "Enlightened One").
Siddhartha observed the suffering in the world and set out to find an antidote. Through meditation and analysis, while sitting under a Bodhi tree he attained an enlightened state of being that marked the end of attachments (desire) and therefore the end suffering.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to, upon death, to be released from the cycle of rebirth (Samsara) and achieve Nirvana.
Buddhism is unique to the other Religions of the World in that it has no belief in God and has no belief in a Soul. It is a religion of the “individual”, not of a God. The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, describes himself as an atheist, in the Western use of the word atheist.
Buddhism does not see Man as created in the image of God, but rather the opposite .It sees God created in the image of Man.
The central idea of social harmony and cooperation between all levels of society remained a focal point of the religion as Buddhism moved from country to country. The goal was to unite the entire cosmos and all beings within it — whether god or human, animal or plant, living or dead — into one harmonious whole.
It is difficult to make generalizations about Buddhist leadership structures. Organizational structures vary from region to region and sect to sect. Some are strictly hierarchical; others are run like a family business. Some have central governing bodies; others do not. Some are aligned with the government; others are oriented toward the community; some serve both.
In Tibetan Buddhism the organization is the following:
Dalai Lama-is a monk of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa. The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in reincarnation in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The name is a combination of the Mongolic word “dalai” meaning "ocean" and the Tibetan word “bla-ma” meaning "guru, teacher, and mentor". The Tibetan word "lama" corresponds to the better known Sanskrit word "guru".
From 1642 until the 1950s the Dalai Lama or his regent headed the Tibetan government or Ganden Phodrang which, except for minor periods, ruled over all or most of the Tibetan plateau from Lhasa with varying degrees of autonomy, being generally subject to first Mongol (1642-1720) and then Manchu (1720-1912) patronage and protection.
Starting with the 5th Dalai Lama and until the 14th Dalai Lama's flight into exile during 1959, the Dalai Lamas spent winters at the Potala Palace and summers at the Norbulingka palace and park. Both are in Lhasa and approximately 3 km apart.
Following the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, allowed in the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government officials. The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in Dharamshala, in the State of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration is also established. Tibetan refugees have constructed and opened many schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamshal.
Panchen Lama-The living Successor to the Dali Lama expected to serve in that capacity until the new reincarnated Dalai Lama can be found and installed as such after the death of the present Dalai Lama.
Rinpoche- is an honorific term used in the Tibetan language. It literally means "precious one", and may be used to refer to a person, place, or thing--like the words "gem" or "jewel").The word is used in the context of Tibetan Buddhism as a way of showing respect when addressing those recognized as reincarnated, older, respected, notable, learned and/or an accomplished Lamas or teachers of the Dharma. It is also used as an honorific for abbots of monasteries.
Monks-The duties of clergy toward laypersons are varied. Monks will perform rituals on request, such as funerals, and they also conduct the ceremonies on the yearly ritual calendar. In a popular temple, monks might also tell fortunes, sell talismans, or create calligraphic seals for tourists. All the monks work together to prepare for holiday and festival celebrations. If the monastery has a school for children or a university, some of the monks serve as teachers. If it is a monastery that trains monks, senior monks will serve as meditation teachers, scripture teachers, and so forth. Some monasteries offer vocational training for the laity; others operate medical clinics. In some monasteries, the day to day labor-cooking, cleaning, and so forth is done by lay volunteers; in others, particularly in Japanese Zen monasteries, all the work is done by the monks. The monks have an order based on education level and age.
Buddhist Nuns-The nuns are second in rank to the monks. Women can also serve as nuns. The nuns act as assistants to the monks. They handle relatively little responsibility in comparison to the monks. The nuns spend most of their time in study and meditation.
Buddhist Pilgrims- The pilgrims travel to the important religious sites such as the Buddha’s birthplace and stupas etc. They visit the various monasteries in order to get knowledge about the teachings of Buddha.
Lay Buddhists- the average citizen. Generally assist, support and care for the Monks in exchange for religious services.
There is no Buddhist story about how the universe was originally created, as the Buddhist universe has no beginning in the sense that the Christian universe does. Early Buddhism shared an understanding of time and the nature of the universe with the Hindu Brahmanic religion of the time, which taught that the universe had been created and destroyed over and over again over vast periods of time. Within each cycle, there are stages, or Kalpas, and the nature of existence is different in each stage. Later Buddhism expanded this vision to include multiple universes, each with its own Buddha and each of which is going through these cycles of creation and destruction.
The Tibetan people attribute their existence to the union of a Raksasi (an Ogress) and a monkey. It was said that Tibetan history starts with a monkey and a Raksasi when the monkey was sent by Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi), the Mother Buddha, for the religious cultivation on its high plateau.
One day, a Raksasi came to the monkey and tried to tempt him to marry her. At first the monkey refused without hesitation, while the ogress proceeded: 'If you don't marry me, I will become the wife of a devil and give birth to countless sons and grandsons. At that time, the plateau will be plunged into a world filled with devils and thousands of people will be killed. So please do as I told you.
Later, the monkey asked Avalokiteshvara, she answered him that the marriage was a destiny and a good deed for Tibet. So eventually having the permission of Avalokiteshvara, they married and had five offspring who are believed to be the ancestors of the Tibetan people. The story that monkey became human was popular with the Tibetan people and was recorded in the ancient scriptures.
The Dalai Lama and other high Monks generally believe that the above story of the monkey and the ogress is a myth of the lay people. They themselves believe that the Tibetan people originated with a group of beings from elsewhere, only the will not say where. It is generally rumored that the origin of those beings is somewhere in the stars.
VISION OF GOD
To the extent that they do not believe in an anthropomorphic God , Buddhist are atheist.. Certain branches of the larger Buddhist tradition (including the Mahayana) include a variety of gods and goddesses as Deities, but others, especially the Theravada, reject belief in an omnipotent deity altogether.Their idea ofis that a consciousness runs through everything in the Universe and therefore all is truly one and separateness is merely an illusion.
Only in one sense can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and maintainer of the world.If atheism is the absence of belief in gods, then many Buddhists are, indeed, atheists.Buddhism is not about either believing or not believing in God or gods. Rather, the historical Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment. In other words, God is unnecessary in Buddhism. For this reason, Buddhism might be more accurately called nontheistic than atheistic by some.
When Buddhism first began, there were no gods who were recognized as existing outside the realm of rebirth, or to whom one could appeal as saviors. Buddha taught that the gods are not exempt from death and rebirth, and while their lives may last for eons, they do eventually die, and are almost inevitably reborn in a lower realm because the life of a god is too great a distraction from the work that is necessary to achieve enlightenment. The Buddha taught that he was an ordinary man, and he said that those seeking salvation should look within themselves. According to the early texts, his final words were, "All the constituents of being are transitory; work out your salvation with diligence” and achieve Nirvana.
Buddhism is broadly recognized as being composed of three major branches:
-Theravada which has a widespread following in Southeast Asia
- Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren and Vajrayana), found throughout East Asia
-Vajrayana ("Diamond Vehicle," often simply called "Tibetan Buddhism").
There are many sects and groups within each of these branches.
In Southeast Asia, the modern Vipassana movement was inspired in part by Westerners. Two such influential Westerners were Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky, founders of the Theosophical Society, who sparked a Buddhist revival movement in Sri Lanka in the late 19th century.
While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world.
Before leaving it would be an oversight not to mention more about Zen. Zen is sometimes said to be "the face-to-face transmission of the dharma outside the sutras." Throughout the history of Zen, teachers have transmitted their realization of dharma to students by working with them face-to-face. Zen is not an intellectual discipline you can learn from books. Instead, it's a practice of studying mind and seeing into one's nature. The main tool of this practice is Zazen ,a meditation practice of Zen.
Plato and Socrates may have made good Zen teachers without ever knowing it themselves.
“That man is wisest who, like Socrates, realizes that his wisdom is worthless” -Plato
“The only thing I know is that I know nothing” – Socrates
The Buddhist canon consists of a vast corpus of texts that cover philosophical, devotional, and monastic matters, and each of the major divisions of Buddhism has its own distinct version of what it considers to be canonical scriptures.
The Buddhist texts were not recorded in writing until centuries after the Buddha's death. The earliest Buddhist texts have preserved the Buddha's teachings in a form that reflects their oral transmission, with many repetitions, standardized phrases, and poetic rhythms. This structure and the lack of philosophical cohesiveness within these early texts suggest that they were intended not simply to convey the Buddha's teachings, but also to serve as religious recitation.
The texts are divided into three different collections, known as the Tripitaka, or "three baskets," perhaps because the texts were originally stored in baskets.
One "basket," the Sutra Pitaka, consisted of the Buddha's discourses: stories, anecdotes, and examples that reflected his understanding of the path to enlightenment.
The second "basket," the Vinaya Pitaka, contained guidelines for the monks that pertained to morality and social behavior, as well as institutional guidelines for the sangha.
The third "basket," called the Abhidharma Pitika, was created centuries later than the others, and emerged during the process of creating Buddhist philosophy.
The Sutras had been organized, not on the basis of their subject, but on the basis of length and other stylistic attributes. As a part of the process of developing cohesive systems of Buddhist thought, philosophers rearranged the sutras on the basis of topics, categories, and relationships between passages. The Abhidharma, or "higher teachings," was the result.
The Buddhist canon today is not a uniform collection, as many different sects and schools have emerged over the centuries since the first canonical collection of the Buddha's teachings was formed. There is a Pali canon, the earliest of the canons, which consists of the Tripitaka. (Pali is a literary dialect related to Sanskrit, believed by some to have been common during the Buddha's lifetime, although it is most likely a later creation.) There is a Chinese Buddhist canon, also accepted in Japan, which contains the Tripitaka, the Mahayana sutras, and other texts. There is also a Tibetan Buddhist canon, consisting of the Tripitaka, the Mahayana sutras, and Tantric texts. Each of these different canons exists in different versions, depending on the sect of Buddhism to which a particular collection belongs and the time period in which it was created.
Although the early Buddhist texts emphasize enlightenment as the goal of Buddhist practice, critics suggest that this is seldom the case for today's Buddhist monks, most of who think of nirvana as an impossible goal in this lifetime.
According to Buddhism, ultimate reality is Samsara, endless existence, but it is also impermanent, ever in flux, ever changing. It is empty, yet full. That is, form is always a temporary state of being. Some forms last for millennia, like mountains and oceans, and some are as brief as a lightning bolt. Elements come together to create a particular form, but eventually those elements will break apart again and the object will cease to exist. This is true of everything in the universe.
In contrast to this sophisticated philosophical view of ultimate reality, there are a variety of Buddhist descriptions of the composition of the Universe. In one popular description borrowed from Hinduism, figurative rather than literal, there is a mountain, Mount Meru, surrounded by seven concentric circles of land. Outside these lands is a vast ocean, within which are four island continents. Some gods reside in heavens along the slopes of the mountain, or on top. Others reside in heavens above the mountain.
Another view of the universe is often portrayed in Buddhist paintings. Called the Bhavacakra, or the Wheel of Life and Death, it depicts the universe as a series of concentric circles all within the grasp of Mara, the lord of death. Several realms for gods of different types and several different hells, as well as an animal realm and a realm for humans, are contained within the wheel.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is for a person to reach Nirvana , or a state of complete happiness free from suffering and rebirth where a person becomes one with everything. Buddhist believe that Nirvana can only be reached through the body of a male, Nirvana cannot be reached in a female body. It is not a problem to Buddhist because one reincarnates into the various sexes several times and there is ample opportunity to reach Nirvana in a male body. One interesting twist to this theory is that Buddhist believe the closest a woman can come to Nirvana is during sex with a man .This may account for part of the reason that Buddhism has adopted the old Hindu text of the Kama Sutra . Rather than being a pornographic text ,as many believe, it is a guide to show people how to help the female to achieve Nirvana during sex with a man.
The Buddhist believe ,although their ideas on reincarnation differ somewhat from Hinduism.The Buddha taught the the total accumulation of a person's thought, speech and action will determine where he/she will be born and in what state.According to Buddhist principles, our consciousness is a continuous stream evolving into different physical envelopes, each of which is illusory. The process of rebirth, or stream of consciousness is termed transmigration in Buddhism. The extensive suffering endured by each and every living being, especially human beings because of their intellectual awareness, is based on the endless cycle of lives known as the Samsara. Throughout this cycle, one does not necessarily remember past existences, yet one carries their “weight” and “actions”, similarly to the concept of the “weighing of the soul” in ancient egyptology. Of course, one must keep in mind that there is no soul in Buddhist thinking. without being able to break that perpetual cycle, until one follows a path of awakening.
The Buddhists find it genuinely difficult to explain the theory of transmigration to those who are not familiar with it. What transmigrates from one life to another is the moment of individual existence, that is susceptible to continuous change and is not tagged to any permanent center.
That which has become now in this life also becomes the next in the next life. And that cannot be called "that" always because it never remains the same always. In a way life is one continuous process, a process of growing, of changing and of continuous becoming. Just as day and night, transmigration is also an illusion.
The Buddhist doctrine of transmigration is a little bit confusing because it is difficult to imagine the passage of a person from one birth to another without a fixed and central element of permanency which the human mind can comfortably recognize and understand.Reincarnation is not a simple physical birth of a person; for instance, one being reborn as a cat in the next life. In this case a person possesses an immortal soul which transforms to the form of a cat after his death. This cycle is repeated over and over again. Or if he is lucky, he will be reborn as a human being. This notion of the transmigration of the soul definitely does not exist in Buddhism.
Surely something must go from this body to another if we have to believe that the same person has again taken birth elsewhere. If we are told that a person has no soul, but has still taken rebirth, we may wonder what is it that has actually taken birth. How can we describe something unless it has a name and definition and unless it is related to some other name and definition, by which it is measured or understood?
We can understand a river in terms of a mass of water, or in terms of one continuous flow. But if we set aside this generic name 'river' that we have given to the river, because its water is changing continuously as it flows, we find it difficult to accept the river that is now flowing as the same river it will become the next moment. In reality they are two different rivers. Strictly speaking, they are not the same rivers, though for our general understanding and interpretation we consider it as the same river.
Like the Hindus the Buddhists also believe in the chain of many births and deaths before an individual achieves complete emancipation from it. But the comparison ends here. The Hindus believe that what passes from one birth to another is the Jiva, the subtle body along with the pure soul or Atman.Since the Buddhists do not accept the very existence of a permanent phenomenon like Atman, or a stable thing called the Jiva or the subtle body, they do not speak of transmigration of soul. Instead they speak of the transmigration of the ever changing character itself. What passes from one life to another is the aggregate of a person's "present" character, which is a result of the effects of his previous actions. That which has become now will pass on to the next stage of becoming through rebirth.
Buddhist Monasteries-Buddhist monasteries are the living places for people, who have devoted themselves fully to the Buddhist religion. The monasteries are open to public and lay people can reside in the monasteries for a limited period of time. The monasteries are the centers for learning about the religion. Many Buddhist children go the monasteries to read and write. The monks usually serve as teachers at the monasteries. They give them education and knowledge pertaining to Buddhism, along with other education.
A typical Buddhist monastery consists of the main prayer hall, dormitories, school rooms, a crematorium, a library and rooms for the statue of Buddha. The monks meditate inside rooms and chant in low moaning voices. They sleep in the dormitories. And monks are required to follow a certain dress code.
The monasteries run by the donations and money earned through the important ceremonies. Local monasteries often get support from the local lay community.
A lay Buddhist will visit a Temple to pray to a deity, through the medium of a statue of that deity, and leave a small gift, usually incense, fruit, or flowers; for a festival, such as New Year, Buddha's Birthday, or festivals involving the dead; or to arrange or participate in funerary rites on behalf of the dead.
Stupas are another symbol of the Buddha. Some were believed to contain some tiny bit of the cremated remains of the Buddha. Some, which commemorated important moments in his life, became physical locations where one could still experience his presence. Later, stupas took on additional layers of symbolic meaning; with time they took on a characteristic shape, which has been interpreted in various ways. Some say that the shape represents the Buddha sitting in the posture of meditation. Another interpretation is that the base represents the sangha, the dome stands for the dharma, the cone on top represents the Buddha, and the spire above stands for nirvana.
Meditation- does not play a prominent role even in most monastic situations (outside of Zen Buddhism), and a peak experience is not usually the goal of Buddhist practice. Western textbooks present elaborate schemes of states of consciousness through which one may progress in practice, taken from the Buddhist textual tradition, but very few monks actually engage with this sort of process.
Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favors. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
The Buddha's birthday is the most widely observed Buddhist holiday, but it is celebrated on different days, with different rituals, in different countries. At some temples there will be a statue of the Buddha over which visiting devotees can pour water or a special tea. Some temples will offer a free vegetarian meal to all visitors. Buddhists may make charitable donations on this day, or they may purchase animals from slaughterhouses, release them, and provide for their welfare. In South Korea, Buddhist temples hang hundreds of paper lanterns, including some shaped like lotus flowers, throughout the temple grounds and connecting every building. Lay people make a small offering, in exchange for which the monks will write the names of the family on a merit certificate, which is then attached to a lantern. That evening, each family will seek out the lantern with their family's certificate attached, place a candle inside, and light it, and monks and lay people alike will stroll around enjoying the beauty of the brightly lit lanterns.
Some Buddhist countries celebrate the day of the Buddha's death and entry into nirvana, others celebrate the day of his enlightenment, and still others celebrate the day of his first sermon. Some Buddhist countries celebrate Sangha Day, which commemorates a day in the life of the historical Buddha when monks gathered to honor him. On this day, people bring food and gifts to the local temple. There may be days honoring other Buddhas or bodhisattvas, or significant Buddhists in the country's history; or there may be holidays commemorating special days in the history of Buddhism in a particular country, such as the Sri Lankan celebration of the coming of Ashoka's son Mahinda.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Buddhism began as a way to address the suffering that exists in the world, and was not overly-focused on ultimate salvation. That said, however, there was a clear doctrine of salvation in the Buddha's teachings. Salvation in early Buddhism was Nirvana, the extinguishing of the all karma that constitutes the self. Nirvana is not a place or a state, but the end of rebirth.
Buddhism has no Hell in the traditional Christian sense. There is a reference in the earliest texts to Yama, a deity of death, who will judge and punish those who do evil. The punishment is not eternal, but lasts until the karma of these misdeeds has been exhausted.
In Buddhism, it is taught that there are various realms, spheres or dimensions of existence. There are thirty-one planes of existence listed, but to understand it simply it is better to use a simpler scheme which enumerates six realms of existence. In general, the six realms may be divided into two groups, one of which is relatively fortunate and the other relatively miserable. The first group includes three of the six realms and they are the realm of the gods, the realm of the demigods and the realm of human beings. Rebirth in these fortunate realms is the result of wholesome karma. The second group includes the three realms that are considered relatively miserable. They are sometimes called the realms of woe, and they are the realm of animals, the realm of hungry ghosts and the realm of hell beings. Rebirth in these states of woe is the result of unwholesome karma.
There is an affliction or defilement associated with the five realms - hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, demigods and the gods, and they are ill-will, desire, ignorance, jealousy and pride. Birth in any of these five realms is undesirable. Birth in the three lower realms is undesirable for obvious reasons, because of the intense suffering and because of the total ignorance of the beings who inhabit these realms. Even rebirth in the realms of the demigods and the gods too is undesirable. This is because, although one experiences a certain degree of happiness and power, existence among the demigods and gods is impermanent. Besides, because of the distractions and pleasures in these realms, beings there never think of looking for a way out of the cycle of birth and death. This is why it is said that of the six realms, the most fortunate, opportune and favored is the human realm.
In the human realm, one experiences both happiness and suffering. The suffering in this realm, though terrible, is not so great as the suffering in the three realms of woe. The pleasure and happiness experienced in the human realm is not so great as the pleasure and happiness experienced in the heavens. As a result, human beings are neither blinded by the intense happiness experienced by the beings in the heavens, nor distracted by the unbearable suffering that beings in the hells experience. Again, unlike the animals, human beings possess sufficient intelligence to recognize the necessity to look for a means to achieve the total end of suffering.
The Buddha allowed people of all castes, and those of no caste, to join the sangha. Many became monks, but lay people also joined in large numbers. Among these were people of low status as well as wealthy merchants and rulers.
The Buddha expressed a vision of an ideal society in which selfless and fair rulers would distribute their wealth among the people.
In the beginning, all of the Buddha's followers gave up home, family, social status, and possessions, and begged for their meals. They were taught that this was the way to become detached from material things and social status, which would hinder an individual's enlightenment. Sexual activity was also prohibited, as were intoxicants, comfortable seats or beds, and any form of entertainment. Monks were not allowed to handle money and were permitted only one meal a day.
Those who appreciated the Buddha's teachings but were unable or unwilling to give up all their possessions and their social status supported the monks by providing food, clothing, and shelter. These lay followers were given five precepts: not to take human life, not to lie, not to steal, not to take intoxicants, and not to participate in illicit sexual activity. Their support earned them merit, which would facilitate rebirth as an individual who would be free to pursue spiritual goals.
Although the first Buddhist monks were all wanderers, wealthy lay supporters soon began to donate land to the monks, originally for places to stay during the monsoon season and later for permanent dwellings and places for meditation and teaching. These became the first Buddhist monasteries. Soon this organization of itinerant monks had acquired, paradoxically, extensive holdings of land, which led to strict monastic rules about the use of this property, and which also led to some tensions between Buddhist monks and political rulers.
Buddhist have many rituals which include, but are not limited to:
-Going for Refuge. This is probably the most significant ritual connecting people to the Dharma. This is the oldest and most common ritual throughout most Buddhist traditions.
-Offering homage or respect to the Buddha, to Buddhist teachers, teachings, or other important areas of Buddhist life.
-Making offerings or practicing Dana.
- Confession of faults
-Calling on spiritual forces for support or protection
-Blessings, aspirations, and Brahmavihara “prayers.”
- Dedication of merit
-Rites of Passage such as weddings and funerals
- Initiations and ordinations.
Young people have to learn the Ten Precepts or The-Rules-of-Behavior before they can be accepted into a monastery. This helps a person to live simply and without the luxury or extravagance of thing such as TVs and cars.
Buddhist boys or girls wear plain, deep yellow, reddish brown, grey, black or orange robes worn by monks or nuns and start on their new, adult lives.
Boys and girls over 8 years old are present at the ceremony. Many of these ceremonies are for boys who are joining a monastery for a few months before they begin working and earning money. In Buddhism, only a few girls ever become nuns.
Buddhists have special baths and have their heads shaved. This is because they need to remove all the dirt before they put on robes worn by monks or nuns and start on their new, adult lives. This is also known as Dharma Day. This day marks the beginning of the Buddha's teaching. The word Dharma can be translated as truth and is the term used for the path to enlightenment, or the Buddhist teaching.
Shaven heads are a sign that monks or nuns have left behind the ordinary world, where people worry about their personal appearance. Often a person entering a monastery takes a new name as a symbol of their new way of life.
Their parents usually give their son or daughter a simple gift such as a bowl for collecting food. Soon after his Enlightenment, the Buddha went to find his former disciples and share his experience with them. This event could be seen as the start of the Buddhist religion, and is what Dharma day celebrates. The first teaching to the Buddha's original five disciples is known as "The First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma”.
PURPOSE OF LIFE
What is the purpose of life in Buddhism? There is no single answer to that question. If life is Samsara, then the purpose is to escape from it. For some, life's purpose may be to recognize the true nature of existence and become enlightened, or to burn off karma in order to avoid future rebirths. For others, the purpose of life might be to accumulate merit so that one can be born to a better life next time, or perhaps someday to become a bodhisattva. For still others, the purpose of life is simply to follow the eightfold path.
The central idea of social harmony and cooperation between all levels of society remained a focal point of the religion as Buddhism moved from country to country. The goal was to unite the entire cosmos and all beings within it — whether god or human, animal or plant, living or dead — into one harmonious whole which can live in happiness.
In Chan (Japanese, Zen), the purpose of life is simply to live. All life is sacred; everything partakes of the nature of the Buddha, so one need only realize this to find meaning in one's life, and enlightenment.
The Wheel of Life and Death is held in the grasp of Mara (or Yama), the lord of death. In the center of the wheel the three poisons are depicted — a pig, a snake, and a cock, representing delusion, anger, and greed. The next ring of the wheel shows the realms of existence: heavens, hells, and realms of humans and animals. On the outer edge of the wheel, the cycle of dependent origination is illustrated.
The Wheel of Life and Death is a depiction of the universe where all beings reside, but it is also the universe of each individual as he or she faces samsara. It is a map of the way that rebirth arises, of how human realities arise out of mental states. The cycle of dependent origination represents a human life cycle, but it can also represent cycles within a lifetime, such as the life cycle of an addiction, a relationship, a job, and so forth. The cycle of dependent origination can be brought to an end at any point in the cycle, although ignorance is typically the place to begin.
Rebirth begins with ignorance, and is sparked by one of the three poisons. Ignorance gives rise to volition, which gives rise to consciousness. Consciousness gives rise to a body (name and form), which gives rise to the six senses. The six senses lead to contact, which leads to sensations, which lead to desire. Desire gives rise to clinging, which leads to becoming. Becoming leads to birth, which gives rise to old age and death. Birth in this case is the creation of a set of predispositions that will structure one's volition in the next cycle.
The Mahayana sutras presented the notion of multiple universes and multiple Buddhas, including cosmic Buddhas who existed outside of human time, and bodhisattvas who would interact with humans to lead them toward enlightenment. The Buddha who had been Siddhartha Gautama was said to have never been human, but a perfected being who pretended to be human to inspire humanity.
In some countries, Buddhism has become an integral part of the cultural landscape. In these countries, there are thousands of temples, large and small. Some have museums where historical works of Buddhist art are displayed and remarkable architecture and landscapes are featured. Other temples are gathering places for locals. One might find a monthly flea market or souvenir shop side by side with people participating in rituals commemorating deceased relatives. There are prominent Buddhist universities where the Buddhist tradition is taught. Buddhist rituals of national importance, such as the ringing of the temple bell on New Year's Eve in Japan, still attract huge crowds. While some experience their Buddhist faith intensely, others say they participate in rituals for cultural reasons rather than as a matter of belief.
Buddhism has also been a religion of choice for Indian untouchables. B. R. Ambedkar, an untouchable who was the chief framer of the Constitution for a newly independent India, converted to Buddhism along with half a million others in 1956. This process of conversion to Buddhism by untouchables began in the late 19th century, spurred by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, and continues to this day, although it is discouraged by some Hindu groups who regard periodic mass conversions as political stunts.
Buddhism is an extremely complex religion which contains concepts which seem often to be contradictions. However, in reality the Buddhism is neither complex nor contradictory. Libraries of thick books can and have been written to explain Buddhist philosophy and belief. Here we are forced to explain it briefly as we have neither have the space nor time to dwell on an exhaustive study, and that is not the intended purpose of this outline. Instead we will attempt to distill Buddhist philosophy and belief into a short and easily understood explanation, as we do so the apparent complexity and contradictions may disappear, and with apologies to Buddhist scholars.
For example, it is generally accepted that Buddhist neither believes in God nor in a Soul. However, Buddhist believe in reincarnation and the accumulation of Karma for use in this or a future life. Buddha himself described some of his past lives. So, if there is no soul, what is it that reincarnates in a future life? It seems to be a contradictory and unresolvable complex problem, but it is not. If there is no God where do Buddhist believe we go when death occurs?
The key to understanding Buddhism is to ignore the words and focus on the concepts. For example the word “Consciousness” to Westerners means that one is not “unconsciousness” or is “Awake” and not sleeping. However, in Buddhism the word “Consciousness” means the five elements or aggregates of consciousness, which roughly include: memory, experiences, emotions, mind and perception (senses). This concept is generally understood today in the West represented by the word “psyche”.
For our purposes we will represent the concepts of consciousness and psyche with the word “Awareness”, because the word “AWAKE” in Buddhism means what Westerners would generally refer to as “Enlightened”. We must first avoid the trap of believing that words, as used in Buddhism, have the same meaning as is generally accepted in Western society, in order to better understand Buddhist concepts.
The most fundamental Buddhist concepts which must be understood in order to understand Buddhism are as listed below:
1. Suffering- in Buddhism the purpose of life is happiness and the thing that prevents happiness is suffering. Eliminate desire (attachment) and you eliminate suffering.
2. Impermanence- Nothing in the Universe is permanent. Everything constantly evolves and changes. Changes evolve into periods of cycles. The Universe and everything in it constantly “evolves” and “evolution” is a basic law of the Universe.
3. Self- there is no “self”, only an artificial illusion of self. Everything is one.
4. Soul- Buddhism does not believe in an immortal soul which will dwell for eternity in heaven or hell. What Westerners may refer to as the “soul” (or Atman in Hindu terms), is more closely related to what Buddhist would refer to as the “Mind”. For our purposes, and for a clearer understanding, we can use the word our individual “Awareness” (consciousness) as the thing that survives death, with the understanding that it is similar to the Western concept of a “soul”, in that the “Awareness” used in this way also includes our memory and experiences in life.
With those rules established, we can now be in a much better position to understand some of the Basic Buddhist concepts.
A. Harmony- everything in the Universe seeks harmony. Every time the harmony of the Universe is upset or set off-balance there are forces which react to put it back in harmony. This is represented by the Law of Karma. Every change which throws the Universe out of balance met with an opposite reaction which attempts to put the Universe back into harmony.
B. GOD- Buddhist do not believe in a “Creator God” .If fact, Buddhist do not believe in any creation. They believe that the Universe has no beginning and no end, and is constantly being created and destroyed. While some people in Buddhism are called gods, what they are in fact referring to highly advanced individuals who have reached Enlightenment and have ended the process of birth, death and rebirth (Samsara) and therefore achieved Nirvana, or total happiness without suffering and rebirth. Buddhism teaches each person to look within to find salvation, not to look to a God to provide that salvation.
C. Reincarnation- When a person dies all that remains is ones Awareness together with the accumulated experiences and memories, all of which return to and become part of the Ocean of Awareness flowing through everything that exist in the Universe. If the correct circumstances and conditions are present, parts of that deceased drop of Awareness can reincarnate into another living being, but it is not the old drop of Awareness of that living being that is reincarnated intact, that never happens. It is as if parts of a drop of water returning to the Ocean reform as a new drop of water which contains parts of the original drop, together with parts of many other drops of water (or individual Awareness”). Of course, this analogy is not exact because the Ocean of Awareness is far more complex than an Ocean of Water, but it is a good enough analogy to illustrate the point.
With the above understanding we can now explain that in Buddhism they believe that there is an Ocean of Awareness flowing through everything in the Universe. It is the Ocean of Awareness in Buddhism that we, in the West, might refer to as God. It is simply not an anthropomorphic God, nor a God as a personal Savior.
Buddhism is the religion of the individual, not of a God or Gods. Although Buddhist believe that there is no “Self” and we are all part of the One. Buddhist see nothing as random, however they see nothing as predestined either, they see everything occurring as circumstances and conditions may exist within the basic laws of Karma, Cycles and Evolution. Buddhism is often called the “Middle Way” between other religions which believe in a Creator God, and/or a Personal Savior God, (Externalist) and an Annihilist who believes that nothing existing beyond death. Buddhist do not believe in any form of a "savior" . They believe that each person can and must save himself .
July 7, 2015
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