Buddhism



Standing Buddha. One of the earliest known
representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd
century CE, Gandhara (modern Afghanistan).

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha (meaning "the awakened one" in Sanskrit and Pali). The Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of 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 ignorance, craving, and suffering of dependent origination, realize sunyata, and attain Nirvana.

Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada ("The School of the Elders") and Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravada 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, Tiantai (Tendai) and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications, Vajrayana - practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia - is recognized as a third branch, while others classify it as a part of Mahayana. There are other categorisations of these three Vehicles or Yanas.

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 350500 million.

Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. Two of the most important teachings are dependent origination and sunyata. The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).

Taking "refuge in the triple gem" has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Other practices may include following ethical precepts; support of the monastic community; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation; cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment; study of scriptures; devotional practices; ceremonies; and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of the Eastern world and during the 20th century has spread to the West. This article surveys Buddhism from its origins to its elaboration in various schools, sects, and regional developments.

Ancient Buddhist scripture and doctrine developed primarily in two closely related literary languages of ancient India, Pali and Sanskrit. In this article, Pali and Sanskrit words that have gained some currency in English are treated as English words and are rendered in the form in which they appear in English-language dictionaries. Exceptions occur in special circumstances--as, for example, in the case of the Sanskrit term dharma (Pali: dhamma), which has meanings that are not usually associated with the English "dharma." Pali forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary sacred language was Pali (including discussions of the teaching of the Buddha, which are reconstructed on the basis of Pali texts). Sanskrit forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary focus was on Sanskritic traditions.

The Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely to liberate sentient beings from suffering.

Gautama Buddha taught the four noble truths: that there is suffering, that suffering has a cause, that suffering has an end and that there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. He saw that all phenomena in life are impermanent and that our attachment to the idea of substantial and enduring self is an illusion which is the principle cause of suffering. 'The Four Noble Truths'.

Freedom from self liberates the heart from greed, hatred, and delusion and opens the mind to wisdom and the heart to kindness and compassion.

In Buddhist teaching, the law of karma, says only this: "For every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.' A skillful event is one that is not accompanied by craving, resistance or delusions; an unskillful event is one that is accompanied by any one of those things. (Events are not skillful in themselves, but are so called only in virtue of the mental events that occur with them.)

Therefore, the law of Karma teaches that responsibility for unskillful actions is born by the person who commits them.




Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism, also called LAMAISM, distinctive form of Buddhism that evolved from the 7th century AD in Tibet. It is based mainly on the rigorous intellectual disciplines of Madhyamika and Yogacara philosophy and utilizes the symbolic ritual practices of Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism). Tibetan Buddhism also incorporates the monastic disciplines of early Theravada Buddhism and the shamanistic features of the indigenous Tibetan religion, Bon.

Characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the unusually large segment of the population actively engaged in religious pursuits (up until the Chinese communist takeover of the country in the 1950s an estimated one-quarter of the inhabitants were members of religious orders); its system of "reincarnating lamas"; the traditional merger of the spiritual and temporal authority in the office and person of the Dalai Lama; and the vast number of divine beings (each with its own family, consort, and pacific and terrifying aspects), which are considered symbolic representations of the psychic life by the religiously sophisticated and accepted as realities by the common people.

Buddhism was transmitted into Tibet mainly during the 7th to 10th centuries. Notable early teachers were the illustrious 8th-century Tantric master Padmasambhava and the more orthodox Mahayana teacher Santiraksita.

With the arrival from India in 1042 of the great teacher Atisa, a reform movement was initiated, and within a century the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism had emerged. The Dge-lugs-pa, or One of the Virtuous System, commonly known as the Yellow Hats, the order of the Dalai and the Panchen Lamas, has been the politically predominant Tibetan sect from the 17th century until 1959, when the hierocratic government of the Dalai Lama was abolished by the People's Republic of China.

By the 14th century the Tibetans had succeeded in translating all available Buddhist literature in India and Tibet; many Sanskrit texts that have since been lost in the country of their origin are known only from their Tibetan translations. The Tibetan canon is divided into the Bka'-'gyur, or Translation of the Word, consisting of the supposedly canonical texts, and the Bstan-'gyur, or Transmitted Word, consisting of commentaries by Indian masters.

In the second half of the 20th century Tibetan Buddhism spread to the West, particularly after the subjugation of Tibet to Chinese Communist rule sent many refugees, including highly regarded "reincarnated lamas," or tulkus, out of their homeland. Tibetan religious groups in the West include both communities of refugees and those consisting largely of occidentals drawn to the Tibetan tradition.




Zen Buddhism

Zen, Chinese CH'AN (from Sanskrit dhyana, "meditation"), important school of Buddhism in Japan that claims to transmit the spirit or essence of Buddhism, which consists in experiencing the enlightenment (bodhi) achieved by Gautama the Buddha. The school arose in the 6th century in China as Ch'an, a form of Mahayana Buddhism; though introduced centuries earlier, Zen did not fully develop in Japan until the 12th century. In its secondary developments of mental tranquillity, fearlessness, and spontaneity--all faculties of the enlightened mind--the school of Zen has had lasting influence on the cultural life of Japan.

Zen teaches that the Buddha-nature, or potential to achieve enlightenment, is inherent in everyone but lies dormant because of ignorance. It is best awakened not by the study of scriptures, the practice of good deeds, rites and ceremonies, or worship of images but by a sudden breaking through of the boundaries of common, everyday, logical thought.

Training in the methods leading to such an enlightenment (Chinese wu; Japanese Satori,) is best transmitted personally from master to disciple. The methods recommended, however, differ among the various sects of Zen.

The Rinzai (Chinese: Lin-chi) sect, introduced to Japan from China by the priest Ensai in 1191, emphasizes sudden shock and meditation on the paradoxical statements called koan.

The Soto (Chinese: Ts'ao-tung) sect, transmitted to Japan by Dogen on his return from China in 1227, prefers the method of sitting in meditation (zazen).

A third sect, the Obaku (Chinese: Huang-po), was established in 1654 by the Chinese monk Yin-yan (Japanese: Ingen). It employs the methods of Rinzai and also practices nembutsu, the continual invocation of Amida (the Japanese name for the Buddha Amitabha), with the devotional formula namu Amida Butsu (Japanese: "homage to Amida Buddha").

During the 16th-century period of political unrest, Zen priests not only contributed their talents as diplomats and administrators but also preserved the cultural life; it was under their inspiration that art, literature, the tea cult, and the no theatre, for example, developed and prospered. Neo-Confucianism, which became the guiding principle of the Tokugawa feudal regime (1603-1867), also was originally introduced and propagated by Japanese Zen masters.

In modern Japan, Zen sects and subsects claim some 9,600,000 adherents. Considerable interest in various aspects of Zen thought has developed also in Western countries in the latter half of the 20th century, and a number of Zen groups have been formed in North America and Europe.




Vajrayana


Vajrayana (Sanskrit: Vehicle of the Diamond [or Thunderbolt]), also called TANTRIC BUDDHISM, important development within Buddhism in India and neighboring countries, notably Tibet. Vajrayana, in the history of Buddhism, marks the transition from Mahayana speculative thought to the enactment of Buddhist ideas in individual life. The term vajra (Sanskrit: "diamond," or "thunderbolt") is used to signify the absolutely real and indestructible in man, as opposed to the fictions an individual entertains about himself and his nature; yana is the spiritual pursuit of the ultimately valuable and indestructible.

Other names for this form of Buddhism are Mantrayana (Vehicle of the Mantra), which refers to the use of the mantra to prevent the mind from going astray into the world of its fictions and their attendant verbiage and to remain aware of reality as such; and Guhyamantrayana, in which the word guhya ("hidden") refers not to concealment but to the intangibility of the process of becoming aware of reality.

Philosophically speaking, Vajrayana embodies ideas of both the Yogacara discipline, which emphasizes the ultimacy of mind, and the Madhyamika philosophy, which undermines any attempt to posit a relativistic principle as the ultimate.

Dealing with inner experiences, the Vajrayana texts use a highly symbolic language that aims at helping the followers of its disciplines to evoke within themselves experiences considered to be the most valuable available to man. Vajrayana thus attempts to recapture the Enlightenment experience of the Gautama Buddha.

In the Tantric view, Enlightenment arises from the realization that seemingly opposite principles are in truth one.

The passive concepts Sunyata ("voidness") and praja ("wisdom"), for example, must be resolved with the active karuna ("compassion") and upaya ("means"). This fundamental polarity and its resolution are often expressed through symbols of sexuality (see yab-yum).

The historical origin of Vajrayana is unclear, except that it coincided with the spread of the mentalistic schools of Buddhism. It flourished from the 6th to the 11th century and exerted a lasting influence on the neighbouring countries of India. The rich visual arts of Vajrayana reach their culmination in the sacred mandala, a representation of the universe used as an aid for meditation.




Meditation

The practice of mental concentration leading ultimately through a succession of stages to the final goal of spiritual freedom, nirvana. Meditation occupies a central place in Buddhism and combines, in its highest stages, the discipline of progressively increased introversion with the insight brought about by wisdom, or prajna.

The object of concentration (the kammatthana) may vary according to individual and situation. One Pali text lists 40 kammatthanas, including devices (such as a colour or a light), repulsive things (such as a corpse), recollections (as of the Buddha), and the brahmaviharas (virtues, such as friendliness).

Four stages (called in Sanskrit dhyanas; Pali jhanas) are distinguished in the shift of attention from the outward sensory world: (1) detachment from the external world and a consciousness of joy and ease; (2) concentration, with suppression of reasoning and investigation; (3) the passing away of joy, with the sense of ease remaining; and (4) the passing away of ease also, bringing about a state of pure self-possession and equanimity.

The dhyanas are followed by four further spiritual exercises, the samapattis ("attainments"). They are described as: (1) consciousness of infinity of space; (2) consciousness of the infinity of cognition; (3) concern with the unreality of things (nihility); and (4) consciousness of unreality as the object of thought.

The stages of Buddhist meditation show many similarities with Hindu meditation (see Yoga), reflecting a common tradition in ancient India. The Buddhists, however, describe the culminating trancelike state as transient; final Nirvana requires the insight of wisdom. The exercises that are meant to develop wisdom involve meditation on the true nature of reality or the conditioned and unconditioned dharmas (elements) that make up all phenomena.

Meditation, though important in all schools of Buddhism, has developed characteristic variations within different traditions. In China and Japan the practice of dhyana (meditation) assumed sufficient importance to develop into a school of its own (Ch'an and Zen;), in which meditation is the most essential feature of the school.




Canon of the Physical Proportions of a Great Being

The image of Buddha, who was called The Greatest Yogin of all Times, expresses serene quiescence. The harmony of his physical proportions is the expression of great beauty. The required measurements are laid down in the canon (or standard pattern) of Buddhist art, which corresponds to ideal physical proportions. The span is the basic measure, i.e. the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb of the outspread hand. This distance corresponds to the space between the dimple in the chin and the hair-line. Each span has twelve finger-breadths. The whole figure measures 108 finger-breadths or 9 spans corresponding to the macro-micro-cosmic harmony measurements.

The perfect proportions of a Buddha, the graciousness of his physical form, represent one of the ten qualities or powers of a Buddha. They are the characteristics of the physical harmony and beauty of a Great Being, and are described in Story of the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni. There are thirty-two major and eighty minor characteristics. The lines of the eight-spoked on the soles and palms of a Buddha are among them. The appearance and the measurements of a Buddha are perishable and a worldly conception: they describe the ideal picture of a Heavenly Body. They are not subject to change like growth, sickness and death, which can only affect the earthly incarnation of a Buddha.

Examining the canon of the body of a Buddha, one realises that every detail represents harmonious proportions. Everything, the spot between the eyebrows, marking the eye of wisdom, as well as the tip of the nose, has its own special place. The nose has its specific length, just as the ears have their own characteristically exaggerated length. The symbol of a Buddha's greatest enlightenment is the so-called enlightenment-elevation on the top of the head, described in old texts as that which emerges out of the head of an enlightened saint. It is the visible symbol of the spiritual generative power that strives towards heaven and passes into the immaterial sphere.

The ideal proportions of any image of the Buddha are described in books on iconography. The canonic prototype shows the seated Buddha with his legs crossed and the soles of his feet visible. This yoga-posture has a pre-Buddhist tradition in India, appearing for the first time on the seals of Mohenjodaro in the third millennium BC. This yoga-posture hides the lower part of the body. The broad shoulders are emphasised in early Buddhist sculptures of Mathura. These characteristics, and the slightly almond eye of Buddha Sakyamuni, hint at his descent from the Licchavi clan, related to the Proto-Tibetans by kinship and blood. Before the final domination of the Indo-Europeans, these Licchavis ruled in northern India and the Himalayan regions. Their principalities had democratic constitutions with equal rights and no discrimination of sex or race. Buddhism and its founder must be considered on the basis of this social structure which is confirmed in the oldest texts as well as in the modern Oxford History of India.

Physical Marks

Ushnisha, the Enlightenment Elevation above the fontanelle; is the flame-topped elevation on the head of the Buddha, defined as that which emerges from the head of a Fully Enlightened One.

Urna, the mark in the centre of the forehead, called the Eye of Wisdom, also depicted as a Bundle of Rays or fine hairs between the eyebrows.

The lower part of the body is covered by the Diamond-Seat (Vajrasana). This is the meditation pose (Dhayanasana) of utmost concentration with the legs crossed so that the soles are visible.

The Subtle Energy-Spheres of the Body

The Enlightenment-Centre, the Top of the Head or fontanelle above the upper cerebrum, called Sphere of the Thousand-petalled Lotus (SAHASHRARA-CAKRA) The cerebral centre of thinking and conscious-power, called Command-Centre

The cerebral centre of thinking and conscious-power, called Command-Centre (AJNA-CAKRA), the forehead between the eyebrows; ascribed to lotus-centre.

The guttural centre or subtle Sphere of Speech (VISHUDDHA-CAKRA) at the base of the throat.

The cardiac plexus, the emotional Sphere of the Inner Voice (ANAHATA-CAKRA), called the Source of the Heart, situated in the central region of the thorax or chest.

The solar plexus with the gastric plexus, called `the brain of the belly', Fiery-lustrous or Navel-Centre (MANIPURA- CAKRA) in the region of the loins and connected with the lumbar plexus.

The sacral plexus, called Root-Centre (MULADHARA-CAKRA) or Secret Place, being the root of all streams of vital energy (NADIS) in the region of the rump-bone or sacrum.

The human body is the receptacle of the power of thinking described as a bundle of energy and pervaded by the so-called breath of life flowing in subtle streams throughout the body.




Mandalas and Buddhism


Thangka painting of Vajradhatu Mandala

Mandalas originated in India, but were mainly used in Tibetian Buddhism. Below are some quotes from various web sites (featured at the bottom of the page) regarding the origins of mandalas:

  • Tibetans became familiar with the mandala early in their introduction to Buddhist art and culture, a process begun with the first ruler of the historical period, Songtsen Gampo (srong-btsan sgam-po, d. 649).

  • Mandalas existed at early Buddhist centers in central Asia, e.g. Dunhuang and Khotan, both frequented by Tibetans during the eighth and ninth centuries.

  • Samye (bsam-yas), Tibet's first monastery founded ca. 779, was based on the architectural principles of a three-dimensional mandala, reportedly following the plan of Uddandapura monastery in eastern India.

  • Many such texts, crucial to the identification and interpretation of the mandala, were translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit and can be found in a portion of the Tibetan Buddhist canon known as the Tanjur (bstan-'gyur).

  • According to Buddhist history, the purpose, meanings, and techniques involved in the spiritual art of sand mandala painting were taught by Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha in the sixth century B.C. in India




    Dorje

    Dorje is a Tibetan word.

    Symbolically a dorje represents the 'thunderbolt of enlightenment,' that abrupt change in human consciousness which is recognised by all the great religions as a pivotal episode in the lives of mystics and saints.

    The Bell and Dorje, or thunderbolt, are inseparable ritual objects in Tibetan Buddhism. They are always used in combination during religious ceremonies.

    The Bell held in the left hand, representing the female aspect as wisdom; the Dorje, or male held in the right hand, aspect as method. Together, they represent union of wisdom and method, or the attainment of Enlightenment.

    The transformative enlightenment experience is recounted in the various religions. In the Christian tradition, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is a well known example and that of Muhammed on the mountain is fundamental to Moslem belief. For Buddhists, it is what occurred to the historical Buddha and to all those who experience kensho-satori, the dropping away of 'self'. The Tibetans call this "the Great Death" to distinguish it from that physical one which will be the experience of us all.

    Dorje is a common given-name for men in people of Tibetan culture. Hence Phu Dorje, Ang Dorje (young Dorje) and Nima Dorje (Monday Dorje) or, more usually, Dorje.




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