Origins of Buddhism
- Based on the inheritance of Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit form) /Siddhattha Gotama (Pali form).
- Siddartha Gautama is believed by Buddhist tradition to have been born in the fifth century BCE.
- He began a six year spiritual search at the age of 29, leading to his Enlightenment under what is now known as the Bodhi Tree, at Bodh Gaya in North India.
- At the age of eighty he died and entered into his parinirvana/parinibbana (final entry to nirvana).
Central Aspects of Buddhism
The Three Jewels
- The idea and practice of the Three Jewels (triratna/tiratana) is central to Buddhists who affirm that:
- I take refuge in the Buddha (the enlightened or awakened one)
- I take refuge in the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha)
- I take refuge in the samgha/sangha (the community of the Buddha)
The Four Noble Truths (Catur Aryasatya/Cattari Ariyasaccani)
- The Four Noble Truths express the heart of the Buddhist dharma or teaching:
- Dukkha (Unsatisfactoriness) Is seen as the experience of the transitoriness and imperfection of life. It is one of the Three Signs of Being, the others being anitya/anicca (impermanence), and anatman/anatta (no permanent self).
- Samudaya (Origin of Unsatisfactoriness) Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) is seen as originating in trishna/tanha, a craving which cannot be satisfied and results in attachment to transitory things and rebirth.
- Nirodha (Cessation of dukkha) The overcoming of trishna (craving) is known as nirvana which includes the “quenching” or “extinction” of the thirst and craving that leads to dukkha.
- Marga (The Way) The Arya Ashtangika Marga/Ariya Atthangika Magga (The Noble Eightfold Path – see below) is often known as the Middle Way of life.
The Noble Eightfold Path (Arya Astangika Marga):
- The fourth of the Four Noble Truths is the way to overcome dukkha which is the Noble Eightfold Path:
- Right Understanding
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
The Five Precepts
- The Five Precepts (Panca Silani) are, for lay Buddhists (ordained Buddhists take additional vows), the basis of samyakkarmanta/samma kammanta (Right Action). They include the intention to refrain from:
- harming living beings
- taking what is not given
- sexual misconduct and misuse of the senses
- harmful speech
- drink or drugs which cloud the mind
- In Mahayana Buddhist tradition, there is also a focus on practising the positive paramitas (Perfections), including especially the first six:
- keeping the moral precepts
- strength to persevere
- Though practised through a wide variety of methods, meditation among Buddhists can be found in two basic forms: shamatha/samatha (tranquillity) and vipashyana/vipassana (insight) meditation.
Diversity within Buddhism
- There are two major traditions or “transmissions” of Buddhism: The Theravada (Way of the Elders) and the Mahayana (Great Vehicle), the latter containing a range of schools with differing emphases and practices. There are also some contemporary attempts to evolve western forms of Buddhism.
- The Theravada (Way of the Elders) tradition is associated particularly with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma and the southern part of Vietnam and, because of this, it is sometimes known as the Southern Transmission.
- Theravada Buddhism focuses upon the historical Buddha and its ideal is that of the arahat, the individual who has achieved release from rebirth.
- It is based upon the Pali canon of scriptures (known as the Tipitaka or the Three Baskets). Some of the earliest material attributed to the Buddha and his disciples is found in this canon which is generally acceptable among all Buddhists.
- Rather than having distinctive schools as such, the variations within the Theravada tradition owe more to the influence of its varied cultural contexts.
- The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition is found in Central Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan and the northern part of Vietnam and, because of this, it is sometimes known as the Northern Transmission.
- Its special characteristics include belief in many Buddhas who can simultaneously be present and the concept of shunyata/sunnata (Voidness or Emptiness).
- It also holds the ideal of the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, a fully perfected being who embodies prajna/panna (wisdom) and karuna (compassion). Among humans, a Bodhisattva is dedicated to assist in the liberation of all sentient beings.
- In the Mahayana tradition there are a number of canons of scripture including the Agama; the Chinese Canon (the Ta MultiFaithNet 1997 – 1999s’ang-ching or Great Scripture Store); and the Tibetan canon.
- The varied schools within Mahayana Buddhism reflect either different cultural influences or the role of particular texts or sutras:
- Tibetan Buddhism began c755-797CE and contains four main lineages:
- the Nyingmapa
- the Sakyapa
- the Kagyupa
- the Gelugpa
Ch’an (Chinese) Buddhism
- Ch’an was introduced to China in the 6th century CE. Zen (Japanese) Buddhism has two main lineages:
- Rinzai Zen, which began in the 9th century and reached Japan in the 12th century
- Soto Zen, taken to Japan in the 8th century.
- Pure Land Buddhism has two main Japanese branches:
- Jodo Shu (Pure Land School)
- Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land School, often simply known as Shin).
- Nichiren Buddhism was its origins in the work of the Japanese teacher Nichiren (1222-1282CE).
Written by Professor Paul Weller