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A Brief Overview by Catman Webb
Sardula (Cat) Statue
Although I am not a Buddhist, per se, I have a great deal of respect for their beliefs. The history is amazing, and the methods of meditation and finding enlightment sound. - Catman
A beginning outreach, to enlightenment. There are many efficient ways to obtain enlightenment, but one must already be at a certain level before those means are effective. The following info gives a background and history of Buddhism, that should allow one a basic knowledge to get started. Any path to true enlightment is good.
Basically, in a nutshell, 1 main rule. Be a good human. :)
Understand there was Hinduism before Buddhism, but there has been merging. For instance the Ashura (Asura) and Tenbu (Deva). There was/is much merging of Japanese Shinto. Even today, Shinto shrines are often found within Buddhist temples; the two traditions even share deities.
Historical Buddha-Gautama Buddha or Prince Siddhartha
King Shuddhodana, his father, was the king of the Sakya clan in what is now Nepal. His mother, Queen Maya, had strange dreams of a white elephant while she was pregnant, and her son, Siddhartha, was born out of her right side as she stood grasping a teak tree branch in her right hand. Prince Siddhartha was of a King and Queen, and lived as such.
OUTER SOURCE HISTORY
Like the emaculate conception of Jesus Christ, the birth of the Historical Buddha was not ordinary. According to legend, he was born from his mother's side, which emitted a seven-colored light that brought forth the infant. Legend also states that the child immediately stood up, with his right hand raised toward heaven and his left pointing to earth, took seven steps forward and declared: "In heaven and on earth, I alone am honored." He was named Siddhartha, and since his father's surname was Gautama, he was called Gautama Siddhartha. His mother died soon after giving birth.
At his father's urging, Siddhartha married princess Yasodhara, who bore him a son named Rahula. Despite a life of ease -- his father provided him with three palaces, one each for the rainy season, the dry season, and the winter -- Siddhartha left his royal estates when he was only 29 years old. Prior to leaving, he showed unusual sensitivity and concern for the problems of human existance. During his trips outside the palace walls, he witnessed and contemplated the fundamental human sufferings of aging, sickness, and death. He also witnessed an ascetic who seemed oblivious to suffering, and from this sprang Siddhartha's quest to leave the palace, withdraw from the world, and search for truth as an ascetic.
To try and understand what he had seen, the prince gave up his luxurious home and became a monk. He used the name Gautama and wandered through northeastern India. After 6 years of starvation as an ascetic, and living in the open, he realized that he could not attain enlightenment through extremes. He arrived at a place now called Bodh Gaya and sat under a tree and meditated for 49 days. The evil Mara, King of Illusion, sent demons and seductive women to test Gautama's resolve and prevent him from achieving enlightenment. He was not distracted and reached down his hand to call on the Earth goddess to bear witness to his strength, a mudra known as the Earth Touching Gesture (mudra-gestures you make with the hands, making a silent meaning with a hand gesture, ie the figure-8 using thumbs and forefingers of both hands).
He then attained the enlightenment he sought, namely, he came to understand the truth of existence. He had been released from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
He continued to live a simple life of moderation as a traveling monk and did not seek fame or wealth. He believed that possessions were a burden and led men and women down the wrong path. Although Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha, was born in what is now Nepal in 563 B.C., he spent most of his life in India teaching and seeking enlightenment. The lotus is a symbol his purity. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. The Buddha is an enlightened being who "grew" out of the "mud" of the material world. Like the lotus, the Buddha is beautiful and pure even though he existed in the material world.
The Buddha’s compassion and wisdom inspired many of his followers to give up their homes and belongings to practice the truths that he had realized, called the Dharma*. As he reached enlightenment, he became aware of the Four Noble Truths:
*Dharma: The teachings of the Buddha, which offer the path to enlightenment.
Four Noble Truths:
1. Human existence is full of conflict and suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by selfish desires.
3. Humans can achieve liberation from suffering, which is called nirvana.
4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to this liberation.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right View
2. Right Resolve-thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Occupation-living
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness, and
8. Right Concentration-meditation
Among Buddhists, all beings in the six states are doomed to death and rebirth in a recurring cycle over countless ages -- unless they can break free from desire and attain enlightenment. Further, upon death, all beings are reborn into a lower or a higher realm depending on their actions while still alive. The lowest three states are called the three evil paths, or three bad states. A brief description of each state, are shown below:
1 Beings in Hell the lowest and worst realm, wracked by torture
2 Hungry Ghosts (Preta in Sanskrit; Gaki in Japanese); the realm of hungry spirits
3 Animals the realm of animals and livestock
4 Asuras (Sanskrit) the realm of evil filled with anger
5 Humans ; the human realm
6 Devas (Sanskrit) the realm of heavenly beings filled with pleasure; even the Devas belong to the world of suffering, for they grow old and die; some say that because their pleasure is greatest, so too is their misery. See also the Tenbu, and Hachi Bushu (8 Legions)
Freedom From SAMSARA (Sanskrit)
The cycle of life and death, rebirth and redeath, of delusion and suffering, in which all sentient beings are trapped unless they can break free of the cycle. The "cycle" refers generally to the Six States of Existence (above), although there are also two, three, four, seven, and twelve kinds of samsara (not discussed herein). One must achieve nirvana (enlightenment, satori) to break free of the cycle of samsara. Breaking free of the cycle of reincarnation is called "emancipation." The terms enlightenment, nirvana, nibanna, satori, and emancipation are synonomous in modern English usage.
The three poisons -- greed, anger and foolishness.
Hinayana/Theravada Buddhism (Kojyo Bukkyo in Japanese) is based on the teachings of it's founder, the Historical Buddha. Known also as Gautama Buddha or Prince Siddhartha.
Gautama believed that all life was suffering, and that suffering was caused by desire. He sought, through meditation, to attain that state, known as Nirvana, in which one is free of desire and therefore suffering. Nirvana literally means "the state of a flame being blown out." It represents the quiet state of mind that exists when the fires of attachment and desire are extinguished. It can also refer to the "flame of death." The death of the Historical Buddha, for example, is referred to as "the Great Extinction."
Lord Buddha's fundamental teachings are to abstain from evil thinking and action, to purify the mind by practicing ethical conduct and meditation, and through these activities, to develop insight / wisdom (prajna in Sanskrit).
The foundations of Buddhist philosophy proclaim that:
All worldly phenomena is unsatisfactory, transient and impermanent;
There is nothing one can call one's own;
The world is an illusion;
Our suffering is caused by our clinging to the world of illusion (the world of desire)
The goal of the Theravada, or Hinayana Buddhist is to attain these insights, internalize them, feel them, live them, and thereafter become an enlightened Arhat.
Arhat, or perfected being, one who attains enlightenment as a result of one's own efforts. A life where all (future) birth is at an end, where the holy life is fully achieved, where all that has to be done has been done, and there is no more returning to the worldly life. (Arhat -- from Pali -- the "worthy one," the one who attains the highest level in the Theravada school; the fruition of arhatship is Nirvana, the state of no suffering.)
Buddhism as practiced today is still divided into these three schools -- the Lesser Vehicle (Theravada or Hinayana), Greater Vehicle (Mahayana), and Diamond Vehicle (Vajrayana or Tantric or Esoteric). "Yana" is the Sanskrit term for vehicle. The bewildering number of sects are categorized into one of the three schools.
Theravada (Hinayana; the Lesser Vehicle) is found mainly in Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle) is found mainly in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan Vajrayana (Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism) is practiced mainly in Tibet
FROM BODHISATTVA TO BUDDHA
On the path to enlightenment, one first becomes a Bosatsu(Japanese) or Bodhisattva(Sanskrit) before attaining Buddhahood. But before becoming a Bosatsu/Bodhisattva, one must pass through eight stages, from the lowest level of hell to the ninth level, the Bodhisattva level. The final level, the tenth level, is Buddhahood. These levels are explained below.
Those who attain the enlightened Bosatsu/Bodhisattva stage will certainly achieve Buddhahood, but for a time, they renounce the blissful state of Nirvana (freedom from suffering), vowing to remain on earth in various guises (reincarnations) to help all living beings achieve salvation. Hozo Bosatsu, for example, after countless good deeds over countless years, becomes the Amida Nyorai. In artwork, the Nyorai are often pictured together with Bosatsu acolytes. Yet both types embody spiritual enlightenment and serve as guardians, teachers, and saviors to the faithful.
In Japan and China and Tibet, highly revered monks are often elevated to Bodhisattva status, either during their lifetimes or posthumously. In Tibet, the current Dali Lama is considered to be the reincarnation of the Kannon Bosatsu (Goddess of Mercy).
Someone is called a Bodhisattva if he is certain to become a Buddha, a "Buddha" being a man who has first enlightened himself and will thereafter enlighten others. The change from an ordinary being to a Bodhi-being takes place when his mind has reached the stage when it can no longer turn back on enlightenment. Also he has by then gained five advantages; he is no more reborn in the states of woe, but always among gods and man; he is never again born in poor or low-class families; he is always male, and never a woman; he is always well-built, and free from physical defects; he can remember his past lives, and no more forgets them again.
Translation by Edward Conze
"Buddhist Scriptures" (Penguin Books, 1973)
FOUR BOSATSU OF COMPASSION
Compassion = Skt. Karuna; Japanese = Jihi
Technically speaking, compassion is the defining characteristic of "all" Bosatsu-Bodhisattva (Sanskrit-Skt.) . Thus, this grouping of four is a bit arbitrary -- it refers to four of the most popular Bosatsu/Bodhisattva in the Asian region.
In addition to compassion, there are Six Perfections (Parmitas) that a Bodhisattva must cultivate in order to attain Buddhahood, to which four more were added in later times:
1 Generosity (Skt. Dana-paramita); selfless and impartial generosity
2 Discipline (Skt. Shila-paramita); observance of the ethical regimen
3 Patience (Skt. Kshanti-paramita); patient endurance of difficulties
4 Energy (Skt. Virya-paramita); zealous energy in perseverance
5 Meditation (Skt. Dhyana-paramita); mindful absorption in meditation
6 Wisdom (Skt. Prajna-paramita); wisdom of transcendent insight
Four more perfections were added in later times:
7 Right method (or means)
9 Manifestation of 10 powers
10 True understanding of all dharmas (laws)
Vajrapani represents the power aspect of complete enlightenment. Known as Guhyapati (Tibetan: sang wa'i dag po), he is the "Lord of Secrets," the keeper of all the tantras of Vajrayana Buddhism. As a bodhisattva, like Monju and Kannon, Seishi dwells on the 10th bodhisattva level just prior to attaining complete buddhahood. In actuality all three were completely enlightened eons ago and only appear, for the sake of training others, in the guise of bodhisattvas.
Vajrapani is common to all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and has numerous forms and practices which span all sets of tantric classification and levels of complexity from a solitary aspect up to the large and complex mandalas with many deities.
The historical Bodhidharma was an Indian sage who lived sometime in the fifth or sixth century AD. He is the undisputed founder of Zen Buddhism, and credited with Zen's introduction to China during his travels to the Middle Kingdom. There are countless legends (some conflicting) about this sage. The best-known legend says he attained enlightenment (nirvana-satori) after meditating in a cave for nine years without blinking or moving his eyes. Other tales contend he was facing the wall of a room at the Shorinji Temple in China.
During those years of meditation, his arms and legs atrophied, shriveled up, and fell off. Legend also credits Bodhidharma/Daruma with cutting off his eyelids. Apparently he dozed off during meditation, and in anger, he cut off his eyelids, which fell to the ground and sprouted into China's first green tea plants.
The primary aim of Zen Buddhsim is personal enlightenment, and according to Daruma, enlightenment cannot be found in books or sutras or in performing rituals. Rather, it is to be found within the self through meditation. Daruma taught that within each of us is the Buddha, and that meditation can help us remember our Buddha nature. By clearing our minds of distracting thoughts, by striving for a mental state free of material concerns, we will rediscover our lost but true Buddha nature.
The practice of Zen involves long sessions of zazen, or seated meditation, to clear the mind of distractions and to gain penetrating insight. Zen's assimilation into Japanese culture was accompanied by the introduction of green tea, which was used to ward off drowsiness during the lengthy zazen sessions. (Is better than cutting off one's eyelids ;)
A DARUMA ENCOUNTER
Daruma's famous encounter with the emperor of China went like this:
Daruma suddenly appeared before the Emperor..
"I've constructed dozens of Buddhist temples, supported hundreds of monks and nuns, and sponsored countless religious ceremonies," the proud emperor informed Daruma. "How great is my merit?"
"No merit at all," Daruma replied bluntly.
"Tell me then," the emperor wanted to know, "What is the first principle of Buddhism?"
"Vast emptiness, nothing holy!" Daruma shot back.
"Who are you?" the thoroughly perplexed emperor demanded.
"I don't know!" Daruma announced, disappearing,,, as suddenly as he had appeared.
There is widespread belief in the Age of Mappo (Decline of Buddhist Law). At the time, the "Days of the Dharma" were divided into three periods, the first phase lasting 500 years (during which Buddhism gains acceptance and spreads), the second phase lasting 1000 years (during which Buddhist practice begins to weaken), and the final phase lasting 3000 years (the Age of Mappo, when Buddhist faith deteriorates and is no longer practiced). Jizo Bodhisattva (also the protector of children) promised to remain on earth from the time of the Historical Buddha's death until the coming of Miroku Nyorai (the Future Buddha, who is expected to appear 5.6 billion years from now).
Near Gautama Buddha's death (Feb.15, 483 BC), at 80, he said:
"Make the self your light, make the Law your light."
Historical Buddha was Shaka Nyorai, Enlightened One, Shaka, Shakyamuni, Sakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, Prince Siddhartha
Founder; Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism, Lord of Shumisen (Mt. Shumi)
BUDDHA / TATHAGATA / NYORAI
Buddhahood -- Those who have attained enlightenment
The ultimate state for those practicing Buddhism
Buddha = Past participle of Sanskrit Buddh, "to awaken, to know." Buddha is not a personal name, but a term of praise, like messiah.
Tathagata is another honorific Sanskrit term for Buddha. Tathagata is rendered Nyorai in Japan; terminology here.
For all practical purposes, the terms Buddha, Tathagata, and Nyorai are synonymous in modern English usage.
Catman Webb & Catman Webbworks ©2004
Some originating text, photos and graphics obtained from © Mark Schumacher-Onmark Productions,
plus various other sources and web sites.
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