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Buddhist concepts

Suffering's causes and solution

The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha teaching the Four Noble Truths. Sanskrit manuscript. Nālandā, Bihar, India.

The teachings on the Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism, and are said to provide a conceptual framework for Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness), its causes, and how it can be overcome. The four truths are:[note 1]

  1. The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness[note 2])
  2. The truth of the origin of dukkha
  3. The truth of the cessation of dukkha
  4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha

The first truth explains the nature of dukkha. Dukkha is commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "unsatisfactoriness", "unease", etc., and it is said to have the following three aspects:

  • The obvious suffering of physical and mental illness, growing old, and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A subtle dissatisfaction pervading all forms of life due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.[note 3]

The second truth is that the origin of dukkha can be known. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja). On a deeper level, the root cause of dukkha is identified as ignorance (Pali: avijja) of the true nature of things. The third noble truth is that the complete cessation of dukkha is possible, and the fourth noble truth identifies a path to this cessation.[note 4]

Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path—the fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truths—consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha.[1] These eight factors are: Right View (or Right Understanding), Right Intention (or Right Thought), Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Ajahn Sucitto describes the path as "a mandala of interconnected factors that support and moderate each other."[1] The eight factors of the path are not to be understood as stages, in which each stage is completed before moving on to the next. Rather, they are understood as eight significant dimensions of one's behaviour—mental, spoken, and bodily—that operate in dependence on one another; taken together, they define a complete path, or way of living.[2]

The eight factors of the path are commonly presented within three divisions (or higher trainings) as shown below:

Division Eightfold factor Description
Wisdom
(Sanskrit: prajñā,
Pāli: paññā)
1. Right view Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be
2. Right intention Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness
Ethical conduct
(Sanskrit: śīla,
Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
4. Right action Acting in a non-harmful way
5. Right livelihood A non-harmful livelihood
Concentration
(Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort Making an effort to improve
7. Right mindfulness 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. Right concentration Correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas

Middle Way

An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way (or Middle Path), which is said to have been discovered by Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment. The Middle Way has several definitions:

  1. The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification;
  2. The middle ground between certain metaphysical views (for example, that things ultimately either do or do not exist);[3]
  3. An explanation of Nirvana (perfect enlightenment), a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory;
  4. Another term for emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena (in the Mahayana branch), a lack of inherent existence, which avoids the extremes of permanence and nihilism or inherent existence and nothingness.

Nature of existence

Three Marks of Existence

Need pithy summaries

The Three Marks of Existence are impermanence, suffering, and not-self.

Impermanence (Pāli: anicca) expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded or conditioned phenomena (all things and experiences) are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything we can experience through our senses is made up of parts, and its existence is dependent on external conditions. Everything is in constant flux, and so conditions and the thing itself are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Since nothing lasts, there is no inherent or fixed nature to any object or experience. According to the doctrine of impermanence, life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra), and in any experience of loss. The doctrine asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Suffering (Pāli: दुक्ख dukkha; Sanskrit दुःख duḥkha) is also a central concept in Buddhism. The word roughly corresponds to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration. Although the term is often translated as "suffering", its philosophical meaning is more analogous to "disquietude" as in the condition of being disturbed. As such, "suffering" is too narrow a translation with "negative emotional connotations"[4] that can give the impression that the Buddhist view is pessimistic, but Buddhism seeks to be neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. In English-language Buddhist literature translated from Pāli, "dukkha" is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.[5][6][7]

Not-self (Pāli: anatta; Sanskrit: anātman) is the third mark of existence. Upon careful examination, one finds that no phenomenon is really "I" or "mine"; these concepts are in fact constructed by the mind. In the Nikayas anatta is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions "I have a Self" and "I have no Self" as ontological views that bind one to suffering.[8] When asked if the self was identical with the body, the Buddha refused to answer. By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (skandhas) of a person or object, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a self.

Dependent arising

The general or universal definition of pratityasamutpada (or "dependent origination" or "dependent arising" or "interdependent co-arising") is that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity.[note 5][note 6] A traditional example used in Buddhist texts is of three sticks standing upright and leaning against each other and supporting each other. If one stick is taken away, the other two will fall to the ground. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:[9]

Pratitya samutpada is sometimes called the teaching of cause and effect, but that can be misleading, because we usually think of cause and effect as separate entities, with cause always preceding effect, and one cause leading to one effect. According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions... In the sutras, this image is given: "Three cut reeds can stand only by leaning on one another. If you take one away, the other two will fall." For a table to exist, we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness, and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain, and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast, fresh air, and so on. And each of those things, in turn, has to be brought about by other causes and conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we'll see that nothing has been left out. Everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table. Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree, and the clouds, we can see the table. The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one. One cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else. Cause and effect inter-are. The idea of first and only cause, something that does not itself need a cause, cannot be applied.[note 7]

Emptiness

Mahayana Buddhism received significant theoretical grounding from Nagarjuna (perhaps c. 150–250 CE), arguably the most influential scholar within the Mahayana tradition. Nagarjuna's primary contribution to Buddhist philosophy was the systematic exposition of the concept of śūnyatā, or "emptiness", widely attested in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras that emerged in his era. The concept of emptiness brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anatta and dependent origination, to refute the metaphysics of Sarvastivada and Sautrantika (extinct non-Mahayana schools). For Nagarjuna, it is not merely sentient beings that are empty of ātman; all phenomena (dharmas) are without any svabhava (literally "own-nature" or "self-nature"), and thus without any underlying essence; they are "empty" of being independent; thus the heterodox theories of svabhava circulating at the time were refuted on the basis of the doctrines of early Buddhism. Nagarjuna's school of thought is known as the Mādhyamaka. Some of the writings attributed to Nagarjuna made explicit references to Mahayana texts, but his philosophy was argued within the parameters set out by the agamas. He may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the Canon. In the eyes of Nagarjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Mādhyamaka system.[10]

Sarvastivada teachings—which were criticized by Nāgārjuna—were reformulated by scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asanga and were adapted into the Yogacara (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school. While the Mādhyamaka school held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some exponents of Yogacara asserted that the mind and only the mind is ultimately real (a doctrine known as cittamatra). Not all Yogacarins asserted that mind was truly existent; Vasubandhu and Asanga in particular did not.[11] These two schools of thought, in opposition or synthesis, form the basis of subsequent Mahayana metaphysics in the Indo-Tibetan tradition.

Besides emptiness, Mahayana schools often place emphasis on the notions of perfected spiritual insight (prajñāpāramitā) and Buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha). There are conflicting interpretations of the tathāgatagarbha in Mahāyāna thought. The idea may be traced to Abhidharma, and ultimately to statements of the Buddha in the Nikāyas. In Tibetan Buddhism, according to the Sakya school, tathāgatagarbha is the inseparability of the clarity and emptiness of one's mind. In Nyingma, tathāgatagarbha also generally refers to inseparability of the clarity and emptiness of one's mind. According to the Gelug school, it is the potential for sentient beings to awaken since they are empty (i.e. dependently originated). According to the Jonang school, it refers to the innate qualities of the mind that expresses themselves as omniscience etc. when adventitious obscurations are removed. The "Tathāgatagarbha Sutras" are a collection of Mahayana sutras that present a unique model of Buddha-nature. Even though this collection was generally ignored in India,[12] East Asian Buddhism provides some significance to these texts.

Life and the world

Saṃsāra

Within Buddhism, samsara is defined as the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ordinary beings' grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. Specifically, samsara refers to the process of cycling through one rebirth after another within the six realms of existence,[note 8] where each realm can be understood as physical realm or a psychological state characterized by a particular type of suffering. Samsara arises out of avidya (ignorance) and is characterized by dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction). In the Buddhist view, liberation from samsara is possible by following the Buddhist path.[note 9]

Karma

Within the Buddhist system of belief, the term karma is used in two senses:

  • On the specific level, karma refers to those actions which spring from the intention (cetanā) of a sentient being. Karmic actions are traditionally likened to a seed that will inevitably ripen into a result or fruition (referred to as vipāka or phala in Sanskrit and Pali).
  • On the general level, contemporary Buddhist teachers frequently use the term karma when referring to the entire process of karmic action and result.

Within Buddhism, developing a genuine, experiential understanding of karmic action and result — i.e., how one's actions will have a consequential outcome — is an essential aspect of the Buddhist path. Karmic actions are considered to be the engine that drives the naturally occurring cycle of rebirth (samsara) for sentient beings. Correspondingly, a complete understanding of the process of karmic action and result enables beings to free themselves from samsara and attain liberation.[13]

Within Buddhism, the theory of karmic action and result is identified as part of the broader doctrine of dependent origination (pratityasamutpada), which states that all phenomena arise as the result of multiple causes and conditions. The theory of karmic action and result is a specific instance of this broader doctrine that applies to sentient beings. Specifically, when there is a conscious intention (cetanā) behind an action, whether positive, neutral, or negative, then that action is karma, and the corresponding results are karmic results. Thus, every deed of body, speech, or mind is considered to be a karmic action, and the determining factor in the quality of one's actions is one's intentions or motivations.[13]

In the Buddhist view, karmic results are not considered to be a "judgement" enforced by a God, Deity or other supernatural being that controls the affairs of the Cosmos. Rather, karmic results are considered to be the outcome of a natural process of cause and effect. Contemporary Buddhist teacher Khandro Rinpoche explains:[14]

Buddhism is a nontheistic philosophy. We do not believe in a creator but in the causes and conditions that create certain circumstances that then come to fruition. This is called karma. It has nothing to do with judgement; there is no one keeping track of our karma and sending us up above or down below. Karma is simply the wholeness of a cause, or first action, and its effect, or fruition, which then becomes another cause. In fact, one karmic cause can have many fruitions, all of which can cause thousands more creations. Just as a handful of seed can ripen into a full field of grain, a small amount of karma can generate limitless effects.

Rebirth

A very large hill behind two palm trees and a boulevard, people walking are about one fifth the hill's height
Gautama's cremation site, Ramabhar Stupa in Uttar Pradesh, India

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[15] to death. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity. According to Buddhism there ultimately is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe (the doctrine of anatta). Buddhists also refer to themselves as the believers of the anatta doctrine—Nairatmyavadin or Anattavadin. 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.[16][17]

  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;[18]
  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;[note 10]
  6. Devas including Brahmas: variously translated as gods, deities, spirits, angels, or left untranslated.

The above are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence.[20] Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the Śuddhāvāsa Worlds or 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 by only 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.[21][22]

Liberation

Nirvana

Nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali: "Nibbana") means "cessation", "extinction" (of craving and ignorance and therefore suffering and the cycle of involuntary rebirths (saṃsāra)), "extinguished", "quieted", "calmed"; it is also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. The term for anybody who has achieved nirvana, including the Buddha, is arahant.

Bodhi (Pāli and Sanskrit, in devanagari: बॊधि) is a term applied to the experience of Awakening of arahants. Bodhi literally means "awakening", but it is more commonly translated into English as "enlightenment". In Early Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implies the extinction of raga (greed, craving),[23] dosa (hate, aversion)[24] and moha (delusion).[25] In the later school of Mahayana Buddhism, the status of nirvana was downgraded in some scriptures, coming to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained nirvana, and that one needed to attain bodhi to eradicate delusion:

An important development in the Mahayana [was] that it came to separate nirvana from bodhi ('awakening' to the truth, Enlightenment), and to put a lower value on the former (Gombrich, 1992d). Originally nirvana and bodhi refer to the same thing; they merely use different metaphors for the experience. But the Mahayana tradition separated them and considered that nirvana referred only to the extinction of craving (passion and hatred), with the resultant escape from the cycle of rebirth. This interpretation ignores the third fire, delusion: the extinction of delusion is of course in the early texts identical with what can be positively expressed as gnosis, Enlightenment.

— Richard F. Gombrich, How Buddhism Began[26]

Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the arahant has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattva not only achieves nirvana but full liberation from delusion as well. He thus attains bodhi and becomes a buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning as in the early texts, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion.

The term parinirvana is also encountered in Buddhism, and this generally refers to the complete nirvana attained by the arahant at the moment of death, when the physical body expires.

Buddhas

According to Buddhist traditions a Buddha is a fully awakened being who has completely purified his mind of the three poisons of desire, aversion and ignorance. A Buddha is no longer bound by Samsara and has ended the suffering which unawakened people experience in life.

Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the only Buddha. The Pali Canon refers to many previous ones (see List of the 28 Buddhas), while the Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas of celestial, rather than historical, origin (see Amitabha or Vairocana as examples, for lists of many thousands Buddha names see Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō numbers 439–448). A common Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist belief is that the next Buddha will be one named Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).

According to Theravada

In Theravada doctrine, a person may awaken from the "sleep of ignorance" by directly realizing the true nature of reality; such people are called arahants and occasionally buddhas. After numerous lifetimes of spiritual striving, they have reached the end of the cycle of rebirth, no longer reincarnating as human, animal, ghost, or other being. The commentaries to the Pali Canon classify these awakened beings into three types:

  • Sammasambuddha, usually just called the Buddha, who discovers the truth by himself and teaches the path to awakening to others
  • Paccekabuddha, who discovers the truth by himself but lacks the skill to teach others
  • Savakabuddha, who receive the truth directly or indirectly from a Sammasambuddha

Bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from craving, hate, and delusion. In attaining bodhi, the arahant has overcome these obstacles. As a further distinction, the extinction of only hatred and greed (in the sensory context) with some residue of delusion, is called anagami.

According to Mahayana

In the Mahayana, the Buddha tends not to be viewed as merely human, but as the earthly projection of a beginningless and endless, omnipresent being (see Dharmakaya) beyond the range and reach of thought. Moreover, in certain Mahayana sutras, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are viewed essentially as One: all three are seen as the eternal Buddha himself.

The Buddha's death is seen as an illusion, he is living on in other planes of existence, and monks are therefore permitted to offer "new truths" based on his input. Mahayana also differs from Theravada in its concept of śūnyatā (that ultimately nothing has existence), and in its belief in bodhisattvas (enlightened people who vow to continue being reborn until all beings can be enlightened).[27]

Celestial Buddhas are individuals who no longer exist on the material plane of existence, but who still aid in the enlightenment of all beings.

Nirvana came to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate,[dubious ] implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana. Bodhi became a higher attainment that eradicates delusion entirely.[26] Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi.[dubious ]


The method of self-exertion or "self-power"—without reliance on an external force or being—stands in contrast to another major form of Buddhism, Pure Land, which is characterised by utmost trust in the salvific "other-power" of Amitabha Buddha. Pure Land Buddhism is a very widespread and perhaps the most faith-orientated manifestation of Buddhism and centres upon the conviction that faith in Amitabha Buddha and the chanting of homage to his name liberates one at death into the Blissful (安樂), Pure Land (淨土) of Amitabha Buddha. This Buddhic realm is variously construed as a foretaste of Nirvana, or as essentially Nirvana itself. The great vow of Amitabha Buddha to rescue all beings from samsaric suffering is viewed within Pure Land Buddhism as universally efficacious, if only one has faith in the power of that vow or chants his name.

Buddha eras

Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha was the first to achieve enlightenment in this Buddha era and is therefore credited with the establishment of Buddhism. A Buddha era is the stretch of history during which people remember and practice the teachings of the earliest known Buddha. This Buddha era will end when all the knowledge, evidence and teachings of Gautama Buddha have vanished. This belief therefore maintains that many Buddha eras have started and ended throughout the course of human existence.[28][29] The Gautama Buddha, then, is the Buddha of this era, who taught directly or indirectly to all other Buddhas in it (see types of Buddhas).

In addition, Mahayana Buddhists believe there are innumerable other Buddhas in other universes.[30] A Theravada commentary says that Buddhas arise one at a time in this world element, and not at all in others.[31] The understandings of this matter reflect widely differing interpretations of basic terms, such as "world realm", between the various schools of Buddhism.

The idea of the decline and gradual disappearance of the teaching has been influential in East Asian Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism holds that it has declined to the point where few are capable of following the path, so it may be best to rely on the power of the Amitabha Buddha.

Bodhisattvas

Bodhisattva means "enlightenment being", and generally refers to one who is on the path to buddhahood. Traditionally, a bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[32] Theravada Buddhism primarily uses the term in relation to Gautama Buddha's previous existences, but has traditionally acknowledged and respected the bodhisattva path as well.[33]

According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") was originally even an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle."[34] The Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, an early and important Mahāyāna text, contains a simple and brief definition for the term bodhisattva, and this definition is the following:[35][36][37]

Because he has enlightenment as his aim, a bodhisattva-mahāsattva is so called.

Mahāyāna Buddhism encourages everyone to become bodhisattvas and to take the bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all beings by practicing six perfections (Skt. pāramitā).[38] According to the Mahāyāna teachings, these perfections are: giving, discipline, forbearance, effort, meditation, and transcendent wisdom.

A famous saying by the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar-saint Shantideva, which the Dalai Lama often cites as his favourite verse, summarizes the Bodhisattva's intention (Bodhicitta) as follows:

For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.


Practice

Devotion

Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists.[39] Devotional practices include bowing, offerings, pilgrimage, and chanting. In Pure Land Buddhism, devotion to the Buddha Amitabha is the main practice. In Nichiren Buddhism, devotion to the Lotus Sutra is the main practice.

Yoga

Buddhism traditionally incorporates states of meditative absorption (Pali: jhāna; Skt: dhyāna).[40] The most ancient sustained expression of yogic ideas is found in the early sermons of the Buddha.[41] One key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with liberating cognition.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44] 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.[45]

Religious knowledge or "vision" was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside of the Buddhist fold. According to the Samaññaphala 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.[46]

The Buddhist texts are probably the earliest describing meditation techniques.[47] They describe meditative practices and states that existed before the Buddha as well as those first developed within Buddhism.[48] Two Upanishads written after the rise of Buddhism do contain full-fledged descriptions of yoga as a means to liberation.[49]

While there is no convincing evidence for meditation in pre-Buddhist early Brahminic texts, Wynne argues that formless meditation originated in the Brahminic or Shramanic tradition, based on strong parallels between Upanishadic cosmological statements and the meditative goals of the two teachers of the Buddha as recorded in the early Buddhist texts.[50] He mentions less likely possibilities as well.[51] Having argued that the cosmological statements in the Upanishads also reflect a contemplative tradition, he argues that the Nasadiya Sukta contains evidence for a contemplative tradition, even as early as the late Rig Vedic period.[50]

Refuge in the Three Jewels

Traditionally, the first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: tri-ratna, Pāli: ti-ratana)[52] as the foundation of one's religious practice. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned[53] in the Majjhima Nikaya, recognized by most scholars as an early text (cf. Infant baptism). Tibetan Buddhism sometimes adds a fourth refuge, in the lama. In Mahayana, the person who chooses the bodhisattva path makes a vow or pledge, considered the ultimate expression of compassion. In Mahayana, too, the Three Jewels are perceived as possessed of an eternal and unchanging essence and as having an irreversible effect: "The Three Jewels have the quality of excellence. Just as real jewels never change their faculty and goodness, whether praised or reviled, so are the Three Jewels (Refuges), because they have an eternal and immutable essence. These Three Jewels bring a fruition that is changeless, for once one has reached Buddhahood, there is no possibility of falling back to suffering."[54]

The Three Jewels are:

  • The Buddha. This is a title for those who have attained Nirvana. See also the Tathāgata and Gautama Buddha. The Buddha could also be represented as a concept instead of a specific person: the perfect wisdom that understands Dharma and sees reality in its true form. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha can be viewed as the supreme Refuge: "Buddha is the Unique Absolute Refuge. Buddha is the Imperishable, Eternal, Indestructible and Absolute Refuge."[55]
  • The Dharma. The teachings or law of nature as expounded by the Gautama Buddha. It can also, especially in Mahayana, connote the ultimate and sustaining Reality that is inseparable from the Buddha. Further, from some Mahayana perspectives, the Dharma embodied in the form of a great sutra (Buddhic scripture) can replace the need for a personal teacher and can be a direct and spontaneous gateway into Truth (Dharma). This is especially said to be the case with the Lotus Sutra. Dr. Hiroshi Kanno writes of this view of the Lotus Sutra: "it is a Dharma-gate of sudden enlightenment proper to the Great Vehicle; it is a Dharma-gate whereby one awakens spontaneously, without resorting to a teacher".[56]

According to the scriptures, Gautama Buddha presented himself as a model. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana. The Sangha is considered to provide a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further examples that the truth of the Buddha's teachings is attainable.

Buddhist ethics

Śīla (Sanskrit) or sīla (Pāli) is usually translated into English as "virtuous behavior", "morality", "ethics" or "precept". It is an action committed through the body, speech, or mind, and involves an intentional effort. It is one of the three practices (sila, samadhi, and panya) and the second pāramitā. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of śīla are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment.

Śīla is the foundation of Samadhi/Bhāvana (Meditative cultivation) or mind cultivation. Keeping the precepts promotes not only the peace of mind of the cultivator, which is internal, but also peace in the community, which is external. According to the Law of Karma, keeping the precepts are meritorious and it acts as causes that would bring about peaceful and happy effects. Keeping these precepts keeps the cultivator from rebirth in the four woeful realms of existence.

Śīla refers to overall principles of ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, which correspond to "basic morality" (five precepts), "basic morality with asceticism" (eight precepts), "novice monkhood" (ten precepts) and "monkhood" (Vinaya or Patimokkha). Lay people generally undertake to live by the five precepts, which are common to all Buddhist schools. If they wish, they can choose to undertake the eight precepts, which add basic asceticism.

The five precepts are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate well:

  1. To refrain from taking life (non-violence towards sentient life forms), or ahimsā;
  2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (not committing theft);
  3. To refrain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct;
  4. To refrain from lying (speaking truth always);
  5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness (specifically, drugs and alcohol).

The precepts are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.[57] In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower heavens is likely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice. There is nothing improper or un-Buddhist about limiting one's aims to this level of attainment.[58]

In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict, and becomes a precept of celibacy. The three additional precepts are:

6. To refrain from eating at the wrong time (eat only from sunrise to noon);
7. To refrain from dancing and playing music, wearing jewelry and cosmetics, attending shows and other performances;
8. To refrain from using high or luxurious seats and bedding.

The complete list of ten precepts may be observed by laypeople for short periods. For the complete list, the seventh precept is partitioned into two, and a tenth added:

6. To refrain from taking food at an unseasonable time, that is after the mid-day meal;
7. To refrain from dancing, music, singing and unseemly shows;
8. To refrain from the use of garlands, perfumes, ointments, and from things that tend to beautify and adorn (the person);
9. To refrain from (using) high and luxurious seats (and beds);
10. To refrain from accepting gold and silver;[59]

Meditation

Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena.[60] According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha taught two types of meditation, samatha meditation (Sanskrit: śamatha) and vipassanā meditation (Sanskrit: vipaśyanā). In Chinese Buddhism, these exist (translated chih kuan), but Chán (Zen) meditation is more popular.[61] According to Peter Harvey, whenever Buddhism has been healthy, not only monks, nuns, and married lamas, but also more committed lay people have practiced meditation.[62] According to Routledge's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, in contrast, throughout most of Buddhist history before modern times, serious meditation by lay people has been unusual.[63] The evidence of the early texts suggests that at the time of the Buddha, many male and female lay practitioners did practice meditation, some even to the point of proficiency in all eight jhānas (see the next section regarding these).[note 11]

Samādhi (meditative cultivation): samatha meditation

In the language of the Noble Eightfold Path, samyaksamādhi is "right concentration". The primary means of cultivating samādhi is meditation. Upon development of samādhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilement, calm, tranquil, and luminous.

Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration (jhāna, Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna), his mind is ready to penetrate and gain insight (vipassanā) into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering. The cultivation of mindfulness is essential to mental concentration, which is needed to achieve insight.

Samatha meditation starts from being mindful of an object or idea, which is expanded to one's body, mind and entire surroundings, leading to a state of total concentration and tranquility (jhāna) There are many variations in the style of meditation, from sitting cross-legged or kneeling to chanting or walking. The most common method of meditation is to concentrate on one's breath (anapanasati), because this practice can lead to both samatha and vipassana'.

In Buddhist practice, it is said that while samatha meditation can calm the mind, only vipassanā meditation can reveal how the mind was disturbed to start with, which is what leads to insight knowledge (jñāna; Pāli ñāṇa) and understanding (prajñā Pāli paññā), and thus can lead to nirvāṇa (Pāli nibbāna). When one is in jhana, all defilements are suppressed temporarily. Only understanding (prajñā or vipassana) eradicates the defilements completely. Jhanas are also states that Arahants abide in order to rest.

In Theravāda

In Theravāda Buddhism, the cause of human existence and suffering is identified as craving, which carries with it the various defilements. These various defilements are traditionally summed up as greed, hatred and delusion. These are believed deeply rooted afflictions of the mind that create suffering and stress. To be free from suffering and stress, these defilements must be permanently uprooted through internal investigation, analyzing, experiencing, and understanding of the true nature of those defilements by using jhāna, a technique of the Noble Eightfold Path. It then leads the meditator to realize the Four Noble Truths, Enlightenment and Nibbana. Nibbana is the ultimate goal of Theravadins.

Prajñā (Wisdom): vipassana meditation

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) means wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, The Four Noble Truths and the three marks of existence. Prajñā is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about bodhi. It is spoken of as the principal means of attaining nirvāṇa, through its revelation of the true nature of all things as dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence) and anatta (not-self). Prajñā is also listed as the sixth of the six pāramitās of the Mahayana.

Initially, prajñā is attained at a conceptual level by means of listening to sermons (dharma talks), reading, studying, and sometimes reciting Buddhist texts and engaging in discourse. Once the conceptual understanding is attained, it is applied to daily life so that each Buddhist can verify the truth of the Buddha's teaching at a practical level. Notably, one could in theory attain Nirvana at any point of practice, whether deep in meditation, listening to a sermon, conducting the business of one's daily life, or any other activity.

Zen

Ginkaku-ji, a Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan

Zen Buddhism (禅), pronounced Chán in Chinese, seon in Korean or zen in Japanese (derived from the Sanskrit term dhyāna, meaning "meditation") is a form of Buddhism that became popular in China, Korea and Japan and that lays special emphasis on meditation.[note 12] Zen places less emphasis on scriptures than some other forms of Buddhism and prefers to focus on direct spiritual breakthroughs to truth.

Zen Buddhism is divided into two main schools: Rinzai (臨済宗) and Sōtō (曹洞宗), the former greatly favouring the use in meditation on the koan (公案, a meditative riddle or puzzle) as a device for spiritual break-through, and the latter (while certainly employing koans) focusing more on shikantaza or "just sitting".[66]

Zen Buddhist teaching is often full of paradox, in order to loosen the grip of the ego and to facilitate the penetration into the realm of the True Self or Formless Self, which is equated with the Buddha himself.[67] According to Zen master Kosho Uchiyama, when thoughts and fixation on the little "I" are transcended, an Awakening to a universal, non-dual Self occurs: "When we let go of thoughts and wake up to the reality of life that is working beyond them, we discover the Self that is living universal non-dual life (before the separation into two) that pervades all living creatures and all existence."[68] Thinking and thought must therefore not be allowed to confine and bind one.[69]

Vajrayana and Tantra

Though based upon Mahayana, Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism is one of the schools that practice Vajrayana or "Diamond Vehicle" (also referred to as Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism, or esoteric Buddhism). It accepts all the basic concepts of Mahāyāna, but also includes a vast array of spiritual and physical techniques designed to enhance Buddhist practice. Tantric Buddhism is largely concerned with ritual and meditative practices.[70] One component of the Vajrayāna is harnessing psycho-physical energy through ritual, visualization, physical exercises, and meditation as a means of developing the mind. Using these techniques, it is claimed that a practitioner can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime, or even as little as three years. In the Tibetan tradition, these practices can include sexual yoga, though only for some very advanced practitioners.[71]

The Four Immeasurables

While he searched for enlightenment, Gautama combined the yoga practice of his teacher Kalama with what later became known as "the immeasurables".[72] [dubious ] Gautama thus invented a new kind of human, one without egotism.[72] [dubious ] What Thich Nhat Hanh calls the "Four Immeasurable Minds" of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity[73] are also known as brahmaviharas, divine abodes, or simply as four immeasurables.[74] Pema Chödrön calls them the "four limitless ones".[75] Of the four, mettā or loving-kindness meditation is perhaps the best known.[74] The Four Immeasurables are taught as a form of meditation that cultivates "wholesome attitudes towards all sentient beings."[76] The practitioner prays:

  1. May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
  2. May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
  3. May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
  4. May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.[77]

Buddhist texts

Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.

Buddhist scriptures and other texts exist in great variety. Different schools of Buddhism place varying levels of value on learning the various texts. Some schools venerate certain texts as religious objects in themselves, while others take a more scholastic approach. Buddhist scriptures are mainly written in Pāli, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese. Some texts still exist in Sanskrit and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.

Unlike many religions, Buddhism has no single central text that is universally referred to by all traditions. However, some scholars have referred to the Vinaya Pitaka and the first four Nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka as the common core of all Buddhist traditions.[78] This could be considered misleading, as Mahāyāna considers these merely a preliminary, and not a core, teaching. The Tibetan Buddhists have not even translated most of the āgamas (though theoretically they recognize them) and they play no part in the religious life of either clergy or laity in China and Japan.[79] Other scholars say there is no universally accepted common core.[80] The size and complexity of the Buddhist canons have been seen by some (including Buddhist social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar) as presenting barriers to the wider understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

The followers of Theravāda Buddhism take the scriptures known as the Pāli Canon as definitive and authoritative, while the followers of Mahāyāna Buddhism base their faith and philosophy primarily on the Mahāyāna sūtras and their own vinaya. The Pāli sutras, along with other, closely related scriptures, are known to the other schools as the āgamas.

Over the years, various attempts have been made to synthesize a single Buddhist text that can encompass all of the major principles of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, condensed 'study texts' were created that combined popular or influential scriptures into single volumes that could be studied by novice monks. Later in Sri Lanka, the Dhammapada was championed as a unifying scripture.

Dwight Goddard collected a sample of Buddhist scriptures, with the emphasis on Zen, along with other classics of Eastern philosophy, such as the Tao Te Ching, into his 'Buddhist Bible' in the 1920s. More recently, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar attempted to create a single, combined document of Buddhist principles in "The Buddha and His Dhamma". Other such efforts have persisted to present day, but currently there is no single text that represents all Buddhist traditions.

Pāli Tipitaka

The Pāli Tipitaka, which means "three baskets", refers to the Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka contains disciplinary rules for the Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as explanations of why and how these rules were instituted, supporting material, and doctrinal clarification. The Sutta Pitaka contains discourses ascribed to Gautama Buddha. The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains material often described as systematic expositions of the Gautama Buddha's teachings.

The Pāli Tipitaka is the only early Tipitaka (Sanskrit: Tripiṭaka) to survive intact in its original language, but a number of early schools had their own recensions of the Tipitaka featuring much of the same material. We have portions of the Tipitakas of the Sārvāstivāda, Dharmaguptaka, Sammitya, Mahāsaṅghika, Kāśyapīya, and Mahīśāsaka schools, most of which survive in Chinese translation only. According to some sources, some early schools of Buddhism had five or seven pitakas.[81]

According to the scriptures, soon after the death of the Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held; a monk named Mahākāśyapa (Pāli: Mahākassapa) presided. The goal of the council was to record the Buddha's teachings. Upāli recited the vinaya. Ānanda, the Buddha's personal attendant, was called upon to recite the dhamma. These became the basis of the Tripitaka. However, this record was initially transmitted orally in form of chanting, and was committed to text in the last century BCE. Both the sūtras and the vinaya of every Buddhist school contain a wide variety of elements including discourses on the Dharma, commentaries on other teachings, cosmological and cosmogonical texts, stories of the Gautama Buddha's previous lives, and various other subjects.

Much of the material in the Canon is not specifically "Theravadin", but is instead the collection of teachings that this school preserved from the early, non-sectarian body of teachings. According to Peter Harvey, it contains material at odds with later Theravadin orthodoxy. He states: "The Theravadins, then, may have added texts to the Canon for some time, but they do not appear to have tampered with what they already had from an earlier period."[82]

Mahayana sutras

The Tripiṭaka Koreana in South Korea, an edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon carved and preserved in over 81,000 wood printing blocks.

The Mahayana sutras are a very broad genre of Buddhist scriptures that the Mahayana Buddhist tradition holds are original teachings of the Buddha. Some adherents of Mahayana accept both the early teachings (including in this the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, which was criticized by Nagarjuna and is in fact opposed to early Buddhist thought[83]) and the Mahayana sutras as authentic teachings of Gautama Buddha, and claim they were designed for different types of persons and different levels of spiritual understanding.

The Mahayana sutras often claim to articulate the Buddha's deeper, more advanced doctrines, reserved for those who follow the bodhisattva path. That path is explained as being built upon the motivation to liberate all living beings from unhappiness. Hence the name Mahāyāna (lit., the Great Vehicle).

According to Mahayana tradition, the Mahayana sutras were transmitted in secret, came from other Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or were preserved in non-human worlds because human beings at the time could not understand them:[84]

Some of our sources maintain the authenticity of certain other texts not found in the canons of these schools (the early schools). These texts are those held genuine by the later school, not one of the eighteen, which arrogated to itself the title of Mahayana, 'Great Vehicle'. According to the Mahayana historians these texts were admittedly unknown to the early schools of Buddhists. However, they had all been promulgated by the Buddha. [The Buddha's] followers on earth, the sravakas ('pupils'), had not been sufficiently advanced to understand them, and hence were not given them to remember, but they were taught to various supernatural beings and then preserved in such places as the Dragon World.

Approximately six hundred Mahayana sutras have survived in Sanskrit or in Chinese or Tibetan translations. In addition, East Asian Buddhism recognizes some sutras regarded by scholars as of Chinese rather than Indian origin.

Generally, scholars conclude that the Mahayana scriptures were composed from the 1st century CE onwards: "Large numbers of Mahayana sutras were being composed in the period between the beginning of the common era and the fifth century",[85] five centuries after the historical Gautama Buddha. Some of these had their roots in other scriptures composed in the 1st century BCE. It was not until after the 5th century CE that the Mahayana sutras started to influence the behavior of mainstream Buddhists in India: "But outside of texts, at least in India, at exactly the same period, very different—in fact seemingly older—ideas and aspirations appear to be motivating actual behavior, and old and established Hinnayana groups appear to be the only ones that are patronized and supported."[85] These texts were apparently not universally accepted among Indian Buddhists when they appeared; the pejorative label hinayana was applied by Mahayana supporters to those who rejected the Mahayana sutras.

Only the Theravada school does not include the Mahayana scriptures in its canon. As the modern Theravada school is descended from a branch of Buddhism that diverged and established itself in Sri Lanka prior to the emergence of the Mahayana texts, debate exists as to whether the Theravada were historically included in the hinayana designation; in the modern era, this label is seen as derogatory, and is generally avoided.

Scholar Isabelle Onians asserts that although "the Mahāyāna ... very occasionally referred contemptuously to earlier Buddhism as the Hinayāna, the Inferior Way," "the preponderance of this name in the secondary literature is far out of proportion to occurrences in the Indian texts." She notes that the term Śrāvakayāna was "the more politically correct and much more usual" term used by Mahāyānists.[86] Jonathan Silk has argued that the term "Hinayana" was used to refer to whomever one wanted to criticize on any given occasion, and did not refer to any definite grouping of Buddhists.[87]

Schools and traditions

Most contemporary Buddhist practitioners and scholars identify two major traditions within Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana.[88][89][90] Some contemporary scholars also identify the Tibetan tradition as a third major tradition, thus identifying three major traditions.[91] [note 13]

For example, contemporary scholar Rupert Gethin identifies "three broad traditions" as:

(1) "The Theravāda tradition of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, also sometimes referred to as 'southern' Buddhism";
(2) "The East Asian tradition of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, also sometimes referred to as 'eastern' Buddhism"; and,
(3) "The Tibetan tradition, also sometimes referred to as 'northern' Buddhism."

Within these two or three major traditions, there are a variety of smaller traditions based on geography or philosophical outlook.

Timeline

This is a rough timeline of the development of the different schools/traditions:

Timeline: Development and propagation of Buddhist traditions (ca. 450 BCE – ca. 1300 CE)

  450 BCE[note 14] 250 BCE 100 CE 500 CE 700 CE 800 CE 1200 CE[note 15]

 

Oral and textual traditions of India

 

 

 

 

Oral tradition Early Buddhist Texts Mahayana sutras Tantras
(aka Vajrayana)

 

 

 

 

India

Early
Sangha

Early Buddhist schools

 

 

Southeast Asia

 

 

Theravada

 

Central Asia & Tarim Basin

 

Greco-Buddhism

 

 

Silk Road Buddhism

 

East Asia

 

Transmissions of Early Buddhist Texts and Mahayana Sutras via the silk road to northern China, and via the ocean to Vietnam and southern China.

East Asian Madhyamaka
East Asian Yogacara

East Asian Tantra (Tangmi), Shingon

Huayan, Hwaeom, Kegon

Chan

 

Thiền, Seon
  Zen
Tiantai / Pure Land

 

Tendai

 

 

Nichiren

 

Jōdo-shū

 

Tibet/Himalayas

 

Tibetan Buddhism

 

  450 BCE 250 BCE 100 CE 500 CE 700 CE 800 CE 1200 CE
  Legend:   = Theravada   = East Asian Buddhism   = Tibetan Buddhism   = Various / syncretic


Theravada school

Theravada ("Doctrine of the Elders", or "Ancient Doctrine") is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism.[93] This school is derived from the Vibhajjavāda grouping that emerged amongst the older Sthavira group at the time of the Third Buddhist Council (c. 250 BCE). This school gradually declined on the Indian subcontinent, but its branch in Sri Lanka and South East Asia continues to survive.

The Theravada school bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the Pāli Canon and its commentaries. After being orally transmitted for a few centuries, its scriptures, the Pali Canon, were finally committed to writing in the 1st century BCE, in Sri Lanka, at what the Theravada usually reckon as the fourth council. It is also one of the first Buddhist schools to commit the complete set of its canon into writing.[citation needed] The Sutta collections and Vinaya texts of the Pāli Canon (and the corresponding texts in other versions of the Tripitaka), are generally considered by modern scholars to be the earliest Buddhist literature, and they are accepted as authentic in every branch of Buddhism.

Theravāda is primarily practiced today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia as well as small portions of China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bangladesh. It has a growing presence in the west.

Theravadin Buddhists think that personal effort is required to realize rebirth. Monks follow the vinaya: meditating, teaching and serving their lay communities. Laypersons can perform good actions, producing merit.[94]

Mahayana traditions

Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India from the 5th century CE onwards, during the dynasty of the Guptas. Mahāyāna centres of learning were established, the most important one being the Nālandā University in north-eastern India.

Mahayana schools recognize all or part of the Mahayana Sutras. Some of these sutras became for Mahayanists a manifestation of the Buddha himself, and faith in and veneration of those texts are stated in some sutras (e.g. the Lotus Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra) to lay the foundations for the later attainment of Buddhahood itself.

Native Mahayana Buddhism is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, parts of Russia and most of Vietnam (also commonly referred to as "Eastern Buddhism"). The Buddhism practiced in Tibet, the Himalayan regions, and Mongolia is also Mahayana in origin, but is discussed below under the heading of Vajrayana (also commonly referred to as "Northern Buddhism"). There are a variety of strands in Eastern Buddhism, of which "the Pure Land school of Mahayana is the most widely practised today.".[95] In most of this area however, they are fused into a single unified form of Buddhism. In Japan in particular, they form separate denominations with the five major ones being: Nichiren, peculiar to Japan; Pure Land; Shingon, a form of Vajrayana; Tendai, and Zen. In Korea, nearly all Buddhists belong to the Chogye school, which is officially Son (Zen), but with substantial elements from other traditions.[96]

Vajrayana traditions

The Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism spread to China, Mongolia, and Tibet. In Tibet, Vajrayana has always been a main component of Tibetan Buddhism, while in China it formed a separate sect. However, Vajrayana Buddhism became extinct in China but survived in elements of Japan's Shingon and Tendai sects.

There are differing views as to just when Vajrayāna and its tantric practice started. In the Tibetan tradition, it is claimed that the historical Śākyamuni Buddha taught tantra, but as these are esoteric teachings, they were passed on orally first and only written down long after the Buddha's other teachings. Nālandā University became a center for the development of Vajrayāna theory and continued as the source of leading-edge Vajrayāna practices up through the 11th century. These practices, scriptures and theories were transmitted to China, Tibet, Indochina and Southeast Asia. China generally received Indian transmission up to the 11th century including tantric practice, while a vast amount of what is considered Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayāna) stems from the late (9th–12th century) Nālandā tradition.

In one of the first major contemporary academic treatises on the subject, Fairfield University professor Ronald M. Davidson argues that the rise of Vajrayana was in part a reaction to the changing political climate in India at the time. With the fall of the Gupta dynasty, in an increasingly fractious political environment, institutional Buddhism had difficulty attracting patronage, and the folk movement led by siddhas became more prominent. After perhaps two hundred years, it had begun to get integrated into the monastic establishment.[97][page needed]

Vajrayana combined and developed a variety of elements, a number of which had already existed for centuries.[98] In addition to the Mahāyāna scriptures, Vajrayāna Buddhists recognise a large body of Buddhist Tantras, some of which are also included in Chinese and Japanese collections of Buddhist literature, and versions of a few even in the Pali Canon.

Comparative studies

Buddhism provides many opportunities for comparative study with a diverse range of subjects. For example, Buddhism's emphasis on the Middle way not only provides a unique guideline for ethics but has also allowed Buddhism to peacefully coexist with various differing beliefs, customs and institutions in countries where it has resided throughout its history. Also, its moral and spiritual parallels with other systems of thought—for example, with various tenets of Christianity—have been subjects of close study. In addition, the Buddhist concept of dependent origination has been compared to modern scientific thought, as well as Western metaphysics.

Is Buddhism a religion?

The Great Buddha of Kamakura, Kōtoku-in in Japan

There are differences of opinion on the question of whether or not Buddhism should be considered a religion. Many sources commonly refer to Buddhism as a religion. For example:

  • Peter Harvey states: "The English term 'Buddhism' correctly indicates that the religion is characterized by devotion to 'the Buddha', 'Buddhas', or 'buddhahood'."[99]
  • Joseph Goldstein states: "Although there are many difference among the various religions of the world, and among the various schools of Buddhism itself, there is also a great deal in common..."[100]

Other sources note that the answer to this question depends upon how religion is defined. For example:

  • Surya Das states: "For Buddhism is less a theology or religion than a promise that certain meditative practices and mind trainings can effectively show us how to awaken our Buddha-nature and liberate us from suffering and confusion."[101]
  • B. Alan Wallace states: "When we in the West first engage with Buddhism, it is almost inevitable that we bring out one of our familiar stereotypes and apply it to Buddhism, calling it simply a 'religion.'... But Buddhism has never been simply a religion as we define it in the West. From the very beginning it has also had philosophical elements, as well as empirical and rational elements that may invite the term 'science.'"[102]
  • Rupert Gethin states: "I am not concerned here to pronounce on a question that is sometimes asked of Buddhism: is it a religion? Obviously it depends on how one defines 'a religion'. What is certain, however, is that Buddhism does not involve belief in a creator God who has control over human destiny, nor does it seek to define itself by reference to a creed; as Edward Conze has pointed out, it took over 2,000 years and a couple of Western converts to Buddhism to provide it with a creed. On the other hand, Buddhism views activities that would be generally understood as religious—such as devotional practices and rituals—as a legitimate, useful, and even essential part of the practice and training that leads to the cessation of suffering."[103]
  • Damien Keown states: "Problems [...] confront us as soon as we try to define what Buddhism is. Is it a religion? A philosophy? A way of life? A code of ethics? It is not easy to classify Buddhism as any of these things, and it challenges us to rethink some of these categories. What, for example, do we mean by 'religion'? Most people would say that religion has something to do with belief in God. [...] If belief in God in this sense is the essence of religion, then Buddhism cannot be a religion. [...] Some have suggested that a new category – that of the 'non-theistic' religion – is needed to encompass Buddhism. Another possibility is that our original definition is simply too narrow.[104]
    Czech Buddhists
  • The Dalai Lama states: "From one viewpoint, Buddhism is a religion, from another viewpoint Buddhism is a science of mind and not a religion. Buddhism can be a bridge between these two sides. Therefore, with this conviction I try to have closer ties with scientists, mainly in the fields of cosmology, psychology, neurobiology and physics. In these fields there are insights to share, and to a certain extent we can work together."[105]
  • Ilkka Pyysiäinen states: "There are thus great difficulties involved in conceptualizing religion as belief in god(s), superhuman agents, etc., although we intuitively think that some such beings, nevertheless, are essential in religion. As is well-known, Buddhism is the favorite example of scholars who have argued that we should find some other way of defining religion than the one based on the idea of belief in gods or superhuman beings." and "Buddhism does not have to be the problematic touchstone for a global concept of religion."[106]
  • Martin Southwold states: "It is argued that Buddhism, though non-theistic, resembles other religions in depending on mystical notions; it is shown how this contributes to understanding the social functions of religions."[107]
  • Walpola Rahula states: "The question has often been asked: Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label 'Buddhism' which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives it is inessential. What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet. In the same way Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men's minds."[108]
  • Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche states: "If you are interested in 'meeting the Buddha' and following his example, then you should realize that the path the Buddha taught is primarily a study of your own mind and a system for training your mind. This path is spiritual, not religious. Its goal is self-knowledge, not salvation; freedom, not heaven. And it is deeply personal."[109]

Notes

  1. See the article Four Noble Truths for further details and citations. In particular, the section "The four truths" within that article provides a footnote showing variety of translations of these four statements.
  2. For clarification of translations, see Dukkha#Translating the term dukkha.
  3. See the article Dukkha for further details and citations.
  4. See the article Four Noble Truths for further details and citations.
  5. See the article Pratītyasamutpāda for further details and citations.
  6. Pratityasamutpada can also be described as follows: that all phenomena are arising together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. When one cause changes or disappears, the resulting object or phenomenon will also change or disappear, as will the objects or phenomena depending on the changing object or phenomenon.
  7. Thich Nhat Hanh also refers to this reality of mutual interdependence as 'Interbeing'.
  8. Earlier Buddhist texts refer to five realms rather than six realms; when described as five realms, the god realm and demi-god realm constitute a single realm.
  9. See the article Saṃsāra (Buddhism) for further details and citations.
  10. André Bareau: the top of p. 212 says: "Here are the theses of the Theravadins of the Mahavihara"; then begins a numbered list of doctrines over the following pages, including on p. 223: "There are only five destinies ... the kalakanjika asuras have the same colour, same nourishment, same foods, same lifespan as the petas, with whom ... they marry. As for the Vepacittiparisa, they have the same colour, same nourishment, same foods, same lifespan as the gods, with whom they marry."(Translated from the French)[19]
  11. Shaw also notes that discourses on meditation are addressed to "bhikkhave", but that in this context the terms is more generic than simply (male) "monks" and refers to all practitioners, and that this is confirmed by Buddhaghosa.[64]
  12. According to Charles S. Prebish:[65] "Although a variety of Zen 'schools' developed in Japan, they all emphasize Zen as a teaching that does not depend on sacred texts, that provides the potential for direct realization, that the realization attained is none other than the Buddha nature possessed by each sentient being ...".
  13. Gethin (1998), pp. 1–2, identifies "three broad traditions" as: (1) "The Theravāda tradition of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, also sometimes referred to as 'southern' Buddhism"; (2) "The East Asian tradition of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, also sometimes referred to as 'eastern' Buddhism"; and, (3) "The Tibetan tradition, also sometimes referred to as 'northern' Buddhism."; Robinson & Johnson (1982) divide their book into two parts: Part One is entitled "The Buddhism of South Asia" (which pertains to Early Buddhism in India); and, Part Two is entitled "The Development of Buddhism Outside of India" with chapters on "The Buddhism of Southeast Asia", "Buddhism in the Tibetan Culture Area", "East Asian Buddhism" and "Buddhism Comes West; Penguin handbook of Living Religions, 1984, page 279; Prebish & Keown, Introducing Buddhism, ebook, Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 2005, printed ed, Harper, 2006
  14. Cousins, L.S. (1996); Buswell (2003), Vol. I, p. 82; and, Keown & Prebish (2004), p. 107. See also, Gombrich (1988/2002), p. 32: “…[T]he best we can say is that [the Buddha] was probably Enlightened between 550 and 450, more likely later rather than earlier."
  15. Williams (2000, pp. 6-7) writes: "As a matter of fact Buddhism in mainland India itself had all but ceased to exist by the thirteenth century CE, although by that time it had spread to Tibet, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia." [92] (Originally 1958), "Chronology," p. xxix: "c. 1000-1200: Buddhism disappears as [an] organized religious force in India." See also, Robinson & Johnson (1970/1982), pp. 100-1, 108 Fig. 1; and, Harvey (1990/2007), pp. 139-40.


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