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BUDDISM

 

Buddhism

 

Buddhism (Pali/Sanskrit: Buddha Dharma) is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pāli/Sanskrit "the awakened one"). The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.[1] He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (or dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth.

Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada ("The School of the Elders") andMahayana ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravada—the oldest surviving branch—has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon,Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications Vajrayana—a subcategory of Mahayana practiced in Tibet and Mongolia—is recognized as a third branch. While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Estimates of Buddhists worldwide vary significantly depending on the way Buddhist adherence is defined. Lower estimates are between 350–500 million.[2][3][4][5]

      

Life of the Buddha

The evidence of the early texts suggests that the Buddha was born in a community that was on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE.[10] It was either a small republic, in which case his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his father was an oligarch.

According to the Theravada Tipitaka scriptures (from Pali, meaning "three baskets"), the Buddha was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu.

According to this narrative, shortly after the birth of young prince Siddhartha Gautama, an astrologer visited the young prince's father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.

Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father's efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

Gautama first went to study with famous religious teachers of the day, and mastered the meditative attainments they taught. But he found that they did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest. He next attempted an extreme asceticism, which was a religious pursuit common among the Shramanas, a religious culture distinct from the Vedic one. Gautama underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. He almost starved himself to death in the process. He realized that he had taken this kind of practice to its limit, and had not put an end to suffering. So in a pivotal moment he accepted milk and rice from a village girl and changed his approach. He devoted himself to anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way (Skt. madhyamā-pratipad[13]): a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. At the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree — known as the Bodhi tree — in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he finally destroyed the fetters of his mind, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being (Skt.samyaksaṃbuddha). Soon thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, traveling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent,[16][17] and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.

The above narrative draws on the Nidānakathā biography of the Theravāda sect in Sri Lanka, which is ascribed to Buddhaghoa in the 5th century CE.[18] Earlier biographies such as the Buddhacarita, the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu, and the Mahāyāna / Sarvāstivāda Lalitavistara Sūtra, give different accounts.

Buddhist concepts

*    Life and the world

Ø     Karma:

Karma (from Sanskrit: "action, work") in Buddhism is the force that drives sasāra—the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful deeds (Pāli: "kusala") and bad, unskillful (Pāli: "akusala") actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth.[23] The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called śīla (from Sanskrit: "ethical conduct").

In Buddhism, karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent ("cetana") and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, "phala") or result ("vipāka").

In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the makeup of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Mahayana sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative karma. Some forms of Buddhism (for example, Vajrayana) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma.[25] The Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Amida Buddha has the power to destroy the karma that would otherwise bind one in sasāra.

Ø     Rebirth:

Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception[28] to death. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism andChristianity. According to Buddhism there ultimately is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe (the doctrine of anatta). Rebirth in subsequent existences must be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of "dependent arising" ("pratītyasamutpāda") determined by the laws of cause and effect (karma) rather than that of one being, transmigrating or incarnating from one existence to the next.

Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools.[29][30] These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence:[31]

1.     Naraka beings: those who live in one of many Narakas (Hells)

2.     Preta: sometimes sharing some space with humans, but invisible to most people; an important variety is the hungry ghost[32]

3.     Animals: sharing space with humans, but considered another type of life

4.     Human beings: one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible

5.     Asuras: variously translated as lowly deities, demons, titans, antigods; not recognized by Theravāda (Mahavihara) tradition as a separate realm[33]

6.     Devas including Brahmas: variously translated as gods, deities, spirits, angels, or left untranslated

Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the Śuddhāvāsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by skilled Buddhist practitioners known as anāgāmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arūpajhānas, the highest object of meditation.

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tibetan "Bardo") between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravada position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravada tradition is based), that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an intermediate stage between one life and the next.

      

*    Suffering's causes and solution

Ø      The Four Noble Truths

 

According to the Pali Tipitaka[36] and the Āgamas of other early Buddhist schools, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are sometimes considered to contain the essence of the Buddha's teachings:

1.     Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another.

2.     Suffering is caused by craving. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness. Craving also has its negative aspect, i.e. one craves that a certain state of affairs not exist.

3.     Suffering ends when craving ends. This is achieved by eliminating delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment (bodhi);

4.     Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha.

This method is described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (for example, the Dalai Lama).[37]

According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars,[38] the "truths" do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:

1.     Suffering and causes of suffering

2.     Cessation and the paths towards liberation from suffering.

Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism[39] they are

1.     "The noble truth that is suffering"

2.     "The noble truth that is the arising of suffering"

3.     "The noble truth that is the end of suffering"

4.     "The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering"

The traditional Theravada understanding is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them.[40][41] The East Asian Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.

Ø     The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path—the fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truths—is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word "samyak" (Sanskrit, meaning "correctly", "properly", or "well", frequently translated into English as "right"), and presented in three groups known as the three higher trainings. (NB: Pāli transliterations appear in brackets after Sanskrit ones):

§                     Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:

1.     dṛṣṭi (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.

2.     saṃkalpa (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.

§                     Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:

3.     vāc (vāca): speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way

4.     karman (kammanta): acting in a non-harmful way

5.     ājīvana (ājīva): a non-harmful livelihood

§                     Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:

6.     vyāyāma (vāyāma): making an effort to improve

7.     smṛti (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion

8.     samādhi (samādhi): correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas

The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.

Ø      Yoga

Buddhism traditionally incorporates states of meditative absorption (Pali: jhāna; Skt: dhyāna).[73]The most ancient sustained expression of yogic ideas is found in the early sermons of the Buddha.[74] One key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with liberating cognition.[75] The difference between the Buddha's teaching and the yoga presented in early Brahminic texts is striking. Meditative states alone are not an end, for according to the Buddha, even the highest meditative state is not liberating. Instead of attaining a complete cessation of thought, some sort of mental activity must take place: a liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness.[76]

Meditation was an aspect of the practice of the yogis in the centuries preceding the Buddha. The Buddha built upon the yogis' concern with introspection and developed their meditative techniques, but rejected their theories of liberation.[77] In Buddhism, mindfulness and clear awareness are to be developed at all times, in pre-Buddhist yogic practices there is no such injunction. A yogi in the Brahmanical tradition is not to practice while defecating, for example, while a Buddhist monastic should do so.[78]

Another new teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with a liberating cognition.[79]

Religious knowledge or "vision" was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside of the Buddhist fold. According to theSamaññaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of "meditation" coupled with the perfection of "discipline" (Pali. sīla; Skt. śīla). Some of the Buddha's meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of "transcendent wisdom" (Pali. paññā; Skt. prajñā) was original.[80]

The Buddhist texts are probably the earliest describing meditation techniques.[81] They describe meditative practices and states which had existed before the Buddha as well as those which were first developed within Buddhism.[82] Two Upanishads written after the rise of Buddhism do contain full-fledged descriptions of yoga as a means to liberation.[83]