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Statue of the Buddha at the Buddha Memorial Hall, Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan.

Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pli/Sanskrit "the awakened one"). The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.[1] He is recognized by adherents as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering, achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Buddhism is traditionally conceived as a path of liberation attained through insight into the nature of the mind.[2]

Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravda ("The School of the Elders") and Mahyna ("The Great Vehicle"). Theravda, the oldest surviving branch, has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications, a third branch, Vajrayana, is recognized, although many see this as an offshoot of the Mahayana. While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world at between 230 million and 500 million.[3][4][5][6]

Buddhist schools vary significantly in the exact nature of the path of liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices.[7] The foundation of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).[8][9] Taking refuge in the triple gem has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-buddhist.[10] Other practices may include renunciation, meditation, cultivation of mindfulness and wisdom, study of scriptures, physical exercises, devotion and ceremonies, or invocation of bodhisattvas.

Conventional narratives on the Buddha's life such as the following, draw heavily on Theravada Tipitaka scriptures. Later texts, such as the Mahayana Lalitavistara Sutra, give different accounts.

According to the conventional narrative, the Buddha was born in Lumbini, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu; both in modern-day Nepal.[11][12]

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

uddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father's efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters - known in Buddhist literature as the Four sights[13] - he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama eventually to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

Gautama first attempted an extreme ascetic life and almost starved himself to death in the process. But, after accepting milk and rice from a village girl in a pivotal moment, he changed his approach. He concluded that extreme ascetic practices, such as prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain, brought little spiritual benefit. He saw them as forms of self-hatred that were therefore counterproductive.[14] He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way: a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. So, at the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree, also known as the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he finally awakened to the ultimate nature of reality, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being. Soon thereafter he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, travelling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent,[15][16] and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.

Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order but do not consistently accept the details in his biographies.[17][18] According to author Michael Carrithers, a widely published expert on Buddhism, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, "the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching [and] death."[19]

Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work)[20] is the force that drives Samsra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (Pli: kusala) and bad, unskillful (Pli: akusala) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth.[21] The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called la (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).

In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (cetana),[22] and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, phala)[23] or result (vipka). Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines its effect.

In Theravda Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's Karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the make up of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions however hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative Karma. In like fashion, some forms of Buddhism (e.g. East-Asian tantric Buddhism) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma.[24] Similarly, the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the Karma that would otherwise bind one in Sasra.[25][26]

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[27] to death. It is important to note, however, that Buddhism rejects concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Christianity or even Hinduism. As there ultimately is no such thing as a self (anatta) according to Buddhism, rebirth in subsequent existences must rather be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of "dependent arising" (Prattyasamutpda) determined by the laws of cause and effect (Karma) rather than that of one being, "jumping" from one existence to the next.

Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms, according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools.[28][29] These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence:[30]

Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the uddhvsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by angmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arupa-jhnas.

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tib. Bardo) between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravda commentorial position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravda 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.[33][34]

Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth to death. In being controlled by these attitudes, they perpetuate the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering (Sasra), and produce the causes and conditions of the next rebirth after death. Each rebirth repeats this process in an involuntary cycle, which Buddhists strive to end by eradicating these causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddhists.

According to the Pali Tipitaka, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana.[35] They are sometimes considered as containing the essence of the Buddha's teachings and are presented in the manner of a medical diagnosis and remedial prescription a style common at that time:

Described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (e.g., the Dalai Lama).[36]

According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars,[37] the "truths" do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:

Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism[38] they are

The early teaching[39] and the traditional Theravda understanding[40] is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.[41] They are little known in the Far East.[42]

The Dharmachakra represents the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truths, is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word samyak (Sanskrit, meaning correctly, properly, or well,[43] frequently translated into English as right), and presented in three groups (NB: Pli transliterations appear in brackets after Sanskrit ones):

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

In the early sources (the four main Nikayas) the Eightfold Path is not generally taught to laypeople, and it is little known in the Far East.[52]

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

Debating monks at Sera Monastery, Tibet

Buddhist scholars have produced a remarkable quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, e.g., Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages. The concept of Liberation (Nirvana), the goal of the Buddhist path, is closely related to the correct perception of reality. In awakening to the true nature of the self and all phenomena one is liberated from the cycle of suffering (Dukkha) and involuntary rebirths (Samsara).

Impermanence is one of the Three Marks of Existence. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded or conditioned phenomena (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. Nothing lasts.

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. The doctrine further asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Suffering or Dukkha (Pli ; Sanskrit dukha; according to grammatical tradition derived from dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted") is a central concept in Buddhism, the word roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration.

Although dukkha 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" (Jeffrey Po),[54] which can give the impression that the Buddhist view is one of pessimism, but Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. Thus in English-language Buddhist literature dukkha is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.[55][56][57]

Anatta (Pli) or antman (Sanskrit) refers to the notion of "not-self". In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called tman (that is, "soul" or metaphysical self), which refers to an unchanging, permanent essence conceived by virtue of existence. This concept and the related concept of Brahman, the Vedantic monistic ideal, which was regarded as an ultimate tman for all beings, were indispensable for Brahminical metaphysics, logic, and science; for all apparent things there had to be an underlying and persistent reality, akin to a Platonic form. Buddhists reject all these concepts of tman, emphasizing not permanence, but changeability. Therefore, all concepts of a substantial Self are incorrect and formed in the realm of ignorance.

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.[58] 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.

The doctrine of prattyasamutpda (Sanskrit; Pali: paticcasamuppda; Tibetan: rten.cing.'brel.bar.'byung.ba; Chinese: ), often translated as "Dependent Arising," is an important part of Buddhist metaphysics. It states that phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. It is variously rendered into English as "dependent origination", "conditioned genesis", "dependent co-arising", "interdependent arising", or "contingency".

The best-known application of the concept of Prattyasamutpda is the scheme of Twelve Nidnas (from Pli nidna "cause, foundation, source or origin"), which explain the continuation of the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara) in detail.[59]

The Twelve Nidnas describe a causal connection between the subsequent characteristics/conditions of cyclic existence, each giving rise to the next:

Sentient beings always suffer throughout samsara, until they free themselves from this suffering by attaining Nirvana. Then the absence of the first Nidna, ignorance, leads to the absence of the others.

Mahyna Buddhism received significant theoretical grounding from Ngrjuna (perhaps c. 150250 CE), arguably the most influential scholar within the Mahyna tradition. Ngrjuna's primary contribution to Buddhist philosophy was the systematic exposition of the concept of nyat, or "emptiness," widely attested in the Prajpramit sutras which were emergent in his era. The concept of emptiness brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anatta (no-self) and prattyasamutpda (dependent origination), to refute the metaphysics of Sarvastivada and Sautrantika (extinct non-Mahayana schools). For Ngrjuna, as for the Buddha in the early texts, it is not merely sentient beings that are empty of tman; all phenomena (dharmas) are without any svabhva, 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. Ngrjuna's school of thought is known as the Mdhyamaka. Some of the writings attributed to Ngrjuna made explicit references to Mahyna 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 Ngrjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Mdhyamaka system.[65]

Sarvstivda teachings, which were criticized by Ngrjuna, were reformulated by scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asaga and were adapted into the Yogcra (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school. While the Mdhyamaka school held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some exponents of Yogcra asserted that the mind and only the mind is ultimately real (cittamatra). Not all Yogcrins asserted that mind was truly existent; Vasubandhu and Asanga in particular did not.[66] These two schools of thought, in opposition or synthesis, form the basis of subsequent Mahyna metaphysics in the Indo-Tibetan tradition.

Besides emptiness (nyat), Mahyna schools often place emphasis on the notions of perfected spiritual insight (prajpramit) and Buddha-nature (tathgatagarbha). According to the tathgatagarbha sutras, the Buddha revealed the reality of the deathless Buddha-nature (tathgatagarbha - which means 'Buddha embryo' or 'Buddha-matrix'), which is said to be inherent in all sentient beings and enables them all eventually to reach complete enlightenment, i.e. Buddhahood. Buddha-nature is stated in the Mahyna Angulimaliya Sutra and Mahaparinirvana Sutra not to be nya, but to be replete with eternal Buddhic virtues. In the tathgatagarbha sutras the Buddha is portrayed proclaiming that the teaching of the tathgatagarbha constitutes the "absolutely final culmination" of his Dharmathe highest presentation of truth (other stras make similar statements about other teachings) and it has traditionally been regarded as the highest teaching in East Asian Buddhism. However, in modern China all doctrines are regarded as equally valid.[67] The Mahyna can also on occasion communicate a vision of the Buddha or Dharma which amounts to mysticism and gives expression to a form of mentalist panentheism (God in Buddhism).

Decisive in distinguishing Buddhism from other schools of Indian philosophy is the issue of epistemological justification (from epistemology, theory of knowledge). While all schools of Indian logic recognize various sets of valid justifications for knowledge, or pramana, Buddhism recognizes a smaller set than do the others. All accept perception and inference, for example, but for some schools of Buddhism the received textual tradition is an equally valid epistemological category.[68]

According to the scriptures, during his lifetime the Buddha remained silent when asked several metaphysical questions. These regarded issues such as whether the universe is eternal or non-eternal (or whether it is finite or infinite), the unity or separation of the body and the self, the complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and death, and others. One explanation for this silence is that such questions distract from activity that is practical to realizing enlightenment[69] and bring about the danger of substituting the experience of liberation by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith.[70] Another explanation is that both affirmative and negative positions regarding these questions are based on attachment to and misunderstanding of the aggregates and senses. That is, when one sees these things for what they are, the idea of forming positions on such metaphysical questions simply does not occur to one.[71] Another closely related explanation is that reality is devoid of designations, or empty, and therefore language itself is a priori inadequate.[72]

Thus, the Buddha's silence does not indicate misology or disdain for philosophy. Rather, it indicates that he viewed these questions as not leading to true knowledge.[72] Dependent arising is, according to some, one of the Buddha's great contributions to philosophy, and provides a framework for analysis of reality that is not based on metaphysical assumptions regarding existence or non-existence, but instead on direct cognition of phenomena as they are presented to the mind. This informs and supports the Buddhist approach to liberation via ethical and meditative training known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha of the earliest Buddhists texts describes Dharma (in the sense of truth) as "beyond reasoning", or "transcending logic", in the sense that reasoning is a subjectively introduced aspect of the way humans perceive things, and the conceptual framework which underpins it is a part of the cognitive process, rather than a feature of things as they really are. "Beyond reasoning" means in this context penetrating the nature of reasoning from the inside, and removing the causes for experiencing any future stress as a result of it, rather than functioning outside of the system as a whole.[73]

Most Buddhists agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, words are inadequate to describe the goal of the Buddhist path, but concerning the usefulness of words in the path itself, schools differ radically.[74]

In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha insists that, while pondering upon Dharma is vital, one must then relinquish fixation on words and letters, as these are utterly divorced from liberation and the Buddha-nature. The tantra entitled the "All-Creating King" (Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, a scripture of Tibetan Buddhism) also emphasizes how Buddhist truth lies beyond the range of discursive/verbal thought and is ultimately mysterious. The Supreme Buddha, Samantabhadra, states there: "The mind of perfect purity ... is beyond thinking and inexplicable ...."[75] Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist practitioner (yogi) and teacher, mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his six words of advice.

Professor C. D. Sebastian describes the nature of enlightenment according to one Mahayana text:

"Bodhi is the final goal of a Bodhisattva's career and it is indicated by such words as buddha-jnana (knowledge of Buddha), sarvjnata (omniscience), sarvakarajnata (the quality of knowing things as they are), ... and acintyam jnanam (inconceivable knowledge) ... Bodhi is pure universal and immediate knowledge, which extends over all time, all universes, all beings and elements, conditioned and unconditioned. It is absolute and identical with Reality and thus it is Tathata. Bodhi is immaculate and non-conceptual, and it, being not an outer object, cannot be understood by discursive thought. It has neither beginning, nor middle nor end and it is indivisbile. It is non-dual (advayam)... The only possible way to comprehend it is through samadhi by the yogin"[76]

The early texts, in contrast, contain explicit repudiations of attributing omniscience to the Buddha.[77][78] Furthermore, the non-duality ascribed to the nature of enlightenment in the early texts is not ontological.[79]

Mahayana often adopts a pragmatic concept of truth:[80] doctrines are "true" in the sense of being spiritually beneficial. In modern Chinese Buddhism, all doctrinal traditions are regarded as equally valid.[67]

Theravda promotes the concept of Vibhajjavada (Pli), literally "Teaching of Analysis" to non-Buddhists. This doctrine says that insight must come from the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith. As the Buddha said according to the canonical scriptures:[81]

Do not accept anything by mere tradition ... Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures ... Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions ... But when you know for yourselvesthese things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happinessthen do you live acting accordingly.

However The Buddha only said this when speaking to the Kalamas, a group of non-believers, non-Buddhists, he never spoke this way when talking to his disciples, and this message is only said once in the entire Pali canons by The Buddha. The Buddha told his disciples that faith was important.

Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, where Buddha attained Nirvana under the Bodhi Tree (left)

Nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali Nibbana) means "cessation", "extinction" (of craving and ignorance and therefore suffering and the cycle of involuntary rebirths Samsara), "extinguished", "quieted", "calmed";[82] it is also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. Buddhists believe that anybody who has achieved nirvana is in fact a Buddha.

Bodhi (Pli and Sanskrit, in devanagari: ) is a term applied to the experience of Awakening of arahants. Bodhi literally means "awakening", but is more commonly referred to 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),[83] dosa (hate, aversion)[84] and moha (delusion).[85] 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.

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, 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 arhat at the moment of death, when the physical body expires.

Gautama Buddha, 1st century CE, Gandhara

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:

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.

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 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.

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, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana. Bodhi became a higher attainment that eradicates delusion entirely.[86] Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi.

Bodhi is attained when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and all karma has reached cessation. Although the earliest sources do not have any mention of Paramitas,[87][88] the later traditions of Theravada and Mahayana state that one also needs to fulfill the pramits. After attainment of Bodhi, it is believed one is freed from the compulsive cycle of sasra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth, and attains the "highest happiness" (Nirvana, as described in the Dhammapada). Belief in self (tmn, Pli att) has also been extinguished as part of the eradication of delusion, and Bodhi thus implies understanding of anatt (Sanskrit: Anatman).

Some Mahayana sources contain the idea that a bodhisattva, which in other Mahayana sources is someone on the path to Buddhahood, deliberately refrains from becoming a Buddha in order to help others.[89][90]

Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") is an inclusive, cosmically-dimensioned faith characterized by the adoption of additional texts. Mahayana Buddhists place emphasis on the Bodhisattva ideal. Mahayana practitioners are less concerned with the traditional early Buddhist emphasis on release from suffering (dukkha) characteristic of the Arahant, and instead vow to remain in the world to liberate all beings, without exception, from suffering. Mahayana is further typified by a pantheon of quasi-divine Bodhisattvas devoting themselves to personal excellence for the sake of rescuing others from suffering and delivering them into the bliss of Nirvana. The quest of the Bodhisattvas is for ultimate Buddhic knowledge so as to be able to effect the salvation of all humanity (and indeed all living beings, including animals, ghosts and gods).

The Mahayana branch emphasizes infinite, universal compassion (maha-karuna) or the selfless, ultra-altruistic quest of the Bodhisattva to attain the "Awakened Mind" (bodhicitta) of Buddhahood so as to have the fullest possible knowledge of how most effectively to lead all sentient beings into Nirvana.

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 will liberate one at death into the "happy land" () or "pure land" () 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.

Nearly all Chinese Buddhists accept that the chances of attaining sufficient enlightenment by one's own efforts are very slim, so that Pure Land practice is essential as an "insurance policy" even if one practises something else.[91]

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.[92][93] 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.[94] A Theravada commentary says that Buddhas arise one at a time in this world element, and not at all in others.[95]

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, if any, are capable of following the path, so most or all must rely on the power of the Buddha Amitabha. Zen and Nichiren traditionally hold that most are incapable of following the "complicated" paths of some other schools and present what they view as a simple practice instead.

Mahayana Buddhism puts great emphasis and, in fact, encourages anybody to follow the path of a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva means either "enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva)" or "enlightenment-being" or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)". Another translation is "Wisdom-Being".[96]

The various divisions of Buddhism understand the word Bodhisattva in different ways. Theravada and some Mahayana sources consider a Bodhisattva as someone on the path to Buddhahood, while other Mahayana sources speak of Bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood,[97][98] but especially in Mahayana Buddhism, it mainly refers to a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others. So the Bodhisattva is a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other sentient beings to become liberated themselves.

While Theravada regards it as an option, Mahayana encourages everyone to follow a Bodhisattva path and to take the Bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings.

A famous saying by the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar-saint Shantideva, which the 14th 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."

According to the Mahayana, a Bodhisattva practices in the six perfections: giving, morality, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom.

Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists.[99] 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.

Footprint of the Buddha with Dharmachakra and triratna, 1st century CE, Gandhra.

Traditionally, the first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: tri-ratna, Pli: ti-ratana)[100] as the foundation of one's religious practice. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned[101] 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."[102]

The Three Jewels are:

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.

la (Sanskrit) or sla (Pli) 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 pramit. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of la are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment.

la is the foundation of Samadhi/Bhvana (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 which would bring about peaceful and happy effects. Keeping these precepts keeps the cultivator from rebirth in the four woeful realms of existence.

la 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:

The precepts are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.[104] In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will 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.[105]

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:

Vinaya is the specific moral code for monks and nuns. It includes the Patimokkha, a set of 227 rules for monks in the Theravadin recension. The precise content of the vinayapitaka (scriptures on Vinaya) differ slightly according to different schools, and different schools or subschools set different standards for the degree of adherence to Vinaya. Novice-monks use the ten precepts, which are the basic precepts for monastics.

Regarding the monastic rules, the Buddha constantly reminds his hearers that it is the spirit that counts. On the other hand, the rules themselves are designed to assure a satisfying life, and provide a perfect springboard for the higher attainments. Monastics are instructed by the Buddha to live as "islands unto themselves". In this sense, living life as the vinaya prescribes it is, as one scholar puts it: "more than merely a means to an end: it is very nearly the end in itself."[106]

In Eastern Buddhism, there is also a distinctive Vinaya and ethics contained within the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (not to be confused with the Pali text of that name) for Bodhisattvas, where, for example, the eating of meat is frowned upon and vegetarianism is actively encouraged. In Japan, this has almost completely displaced the monastic vinaya, and allows clergy to marry.[107]

Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena.[108] According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha taught two types of meditation, samatha meditation (Sanskrit: amatha) and vipassan meditation (Sanskrit: vipayan). In Chinese Buddhism, these exist (translated chih kuan), but Chan (Zen) meditation is more popular.[109] 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.[110] 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.[111] 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 jhnas (see the next section regarding these).[112]

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

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March 1st, 2019 at 7:50 pm

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