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Buddhism Books Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning "the awakened one". According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving by way of understanding and the se Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning "the awakened one". According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving by way of understanding and the seeing of dependent origination, with the ultimate goal of attainment of the sublime state of nirvana. ...more

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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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For nearly 500 years after his death, the Buddha's teachings were passed through generations of the monastic community by oral tradition. In the late first century BCE they were first written down in a collection known as the Pali Canon. Since then a variety of additional texts and translations have appeared as a means for disseminating his ancient wisdom. Now in the 21st century we have the benefit of a new medium; the Internet is a resource utilized by lay practitioners and monastics alike for bringing the religion of Buddhism to the world.

One of the oldest enduring Eastern religions, Buddhism was founded in India during the sixth ... read more

During Buddhism's 2,500 year history, several thriving sects have emerged, each with a unique take on the teachings of Buddha and daily practice. In this section we'll contrast the three dominant strains of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, along with a fourth-Zen Buddhism-that grew out of Mahayana and has gained increasing popularity in the West. We'll explore these traditions' differing approaches to the dharma, their conduct of monastic practice, and the geographic boundaries that define them.

Whether you're looking for the Pali Canon, Zen parables and koans, Mahayana text, or scholarly ... read more

Many prominent Buddhist organizations host sites with information aimed at helping you further your ... read more

Whether you're looking for a statue of the Buddha to serve as inspiration in your practice, a book ... read more

Buddhism has a large, vibrant community of online practitioners. Cyberspace abounds with Buddhist ... read more

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Vajrayana – Wikipedia

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Vajrayna (), Mantrayna, Tantrayna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayna, while in China it is generally known as Tngm Hanmi (, "Chinese Esotericism") or Mzng (, "Esoteric Sect"), in Pali it is known as Pyitsayna () , and in Japan it is known as Mikky (, "secret teachings").

Vajrayna is usually translated as Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, referring to the Vajra, a mythical weapon which is also used as a ritual implement.

Founded by medieval Indian Mahsiddhas, Vajrayna subscribes to the literature known as the Buddhist Tantras. It includes practices that make use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, mandalas and the visualization of deities and Buddhas. According to Vajrayna scriptures, the term Vajrayna refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the rvakayna (also known as the Hnayna) and Mahyna.

Tantric Buddhism can be traced back to groups of wandering yogis called Mahasiddhas (great adepts).[2] According to Reynolds (2007), the mahasiddhas date to the medieval period in the Northern Indian Subcontinent (313 cen. CE), and used methods that were radically different than those used in Buddhist monasteries including living in forests and caves and practiced meditation in charnel grounds similar to those practiced by Shaiva Kapalika ascetics.[3] These yogic circles came together in tantric feasts (ganachakra) often in sacred sites (pitha) and places (ksetra) which included dancing, singing, sex rites and the ingestion of taboo substances like alcohol, urine, meat, etc.[4] At least two of the Mahasiddhas given in the Buddhist literature are actually names for Shaiva Nath saints (Gorakshanath and Matsyendranath) who practiced Hatha Yoga.

According to Schumann, a movement called Sahaja-siddhi developed in the 8th century in Bengal. It was dominated by long-haired, wandering Mahasiddhas who openly challenged and ridiculed the Buddhist establishment. The Mahasiddhas pursued siddhis, magical powers such as flight and extrasensory perception as well as liberation.[7]

Ronald M. Davidson states that,

"Buddhist siddhas demonstrated the appropriation of an older sociological formthe independent sage/magician, who lived in a liminal zone on the borders between fields and forests. Their rites involved the conjunction of sexual practices and Buddhist mandala visualization with ritual accouterments made from parts of the human body, so that control may be exercised over the forces hindering the natural abilities of the siddha to manipulate the cosmos at will. At their most extreme, siddhas also represented a defensive position within the Buddhist tradition, adopted and sustained for the purpose of aggressive engagement with the medieval culture of public violence. They reinforced their reputations for personal sanctity with rumors of the magical manipulation of various flavors of demonic females (dakini, yaksi, yogini), cemetery ghouls (vetala), and other things that go bump in the night. Operating on the margins of both monasteries and polite society, some adopted the behaviors associated with ghosts (preta, pisaca), not only as a religious praxis but also as an extension of their implied threats."[8]

Earlier Mahayana sutras already contained some elements which are emphasized in the Tantras, such as mantras and dharani.[9] The use of mantras and protective verses actually dates back to the Vedic period and the early Buddhist texts like the Pali canon. The practice of visualization of Buddhas such as Amitbha is also seen in pre-tantra texts like the Longer Sukhvatvyha Stra.[10] There are other Mahayana sutras which contain "proto-tantric" material such as the Gandavyuha sutra and the Dasabhumika which might have served as a central source of visual imagery for Tantric texts.[11]

Vajrayana developed a large corpus of texts called the Buddhist Tantras, some of which can be traced to at least the 7th century CE but might be older. The dating of the tantras is "a difficult, indeed an impossible task" according to David Snellgrove.[12] Some of the earliest of these texts, kriya tantras such as the Majur-mla-kalpa (6th century), focus on the use of mantras and dharanis for mostly worldly ends including curing illness, controlling the weather and generating wealth.[13]

The Tattvasagraha Tantra, classed as a "Yoga tantra", is one of the first Buddhist tantras which focuses on liberation as opposed to worldly goals and in the Vajrasekhara Tantra the concept of the five Buddha families is developed.[14] Other early tantras include the Mahavairocana Tantra and the Guhyasamja Tantra.[15] The Guhyasamja is a Mahayoga class of Tantra, which features new forms of ritual practice considered "left-hand" (vamachara) such as the use of taboo substances like alcohol, sexual yoga, and charnel ground practices which evoke wrathful deities.[16] Indeed, Ryujun Tajima divides the tantras into those which were "a development of Mahayanist thought" and those "formed in a rather popular mould toward the end of the eighth century and declining into the esoterism of the left",[17] mainly, the Yogini tantras and later works associated with wandering antinomian yogis. Later monastic Vajrayana Buddhists reinterpreted and internalized these radically transgressive and taboo practices as metaphors and visualization exercises.

Later tantras such as the Hevajra Tantra and the Chakrasamvara are classed as "Yogini tantras" and represent the final form of development of Indian Buddhist tantras in the ninth and tenth centuries.[18] The Kalachakra tantra developed in the 10th century. It is farthest removed from the earlier Buddhist traditions, and incorporates concepts of messianism and astrology not present elsewhere in Buddhist literature.

According to Ronald M. Davidson, the rise of Tantric Buddhism was a response to the feudal structure of Indian society in the early medieval period (ca. 500-1200 CE) which saw kings being divinized as manifestations of gods. Likewise, tantric yogis reconfigured their practice through the metaphor of being consecrated (abhieka) as the overlord (rjdhirja) of a mandala palace of divine vassals, an imperial metaphor symbolizing kingly fortresses and their political power.[20]

The question of the origins of early Vajrayana has been taken up by various scholars. David Seyfort Ruegg has suggested by Buddhist tantra employed various elements of a pan-Indian religious substrate which is not specifically Buddhist, Shaiva or Vaishnava.[21]

According to Alexis Sanderson, various classes of Vajrayana literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and Saivism.[22] The relationship between the two systems can be seen in texts like the Majusrimulakalpa, which later came to be classified under Kriyatantra, and states that mantras taught in the Shaiva, Garuda and Vaishnava tantras will be effective if applied by Buddhists since they were all taught originally by Manjushri.[23]

Alexis Sanderson notes that the Vajrayana yogini tantras draw extensively from Shaiva Bhairava tantras classified as Vidyapitha. Sanderson's comparison of them shows similarity in "ritual procedures, style of observance, deities, mantras, mandalas, ritual dress, Kapalika accoutrements, specialized terminology, secret gestures, and secret jargons. There is even direct borrowing of passages from Saiva texts."[24] Sanderson gives numerous examples such as the Guhyasiddhi of Padmavajra, a work associated with the Guhyasamaja tradition, which prescribes acting as a Shaiva guru and initiating members into Saiva Siddhanta scriptures and mandalas.[25] The Samvara tantra texts adopted the pitha list from the Shaiva text Tantrasadbhava, introducing a copying error where a deity was mistaken for a place.[26]

Ronald M. Davidson meanwhile, argues that Sanderson's claims for direct influence from Shaiva Vidyapitha texts are problematic because "the chronology of the Vidyapitha tantras is by no means so well established" [27] and that "the available evidence suggests that received Saiva tantras come into evidence sometime in the ninth to tenth centuries with their affirmation by scholars like Abhinavagupta (c. 1000 c.e.)"[28] Davidson also notes that the list of pithas or sacred places "are certainly not particularly Buddhist, nor are they uniquely Kapalika venues, despite their presence in lists employed by both traditions."[29] Davidson further adds that like the Buddhists, the Shaiva tradition was also involved in the appropriation of Hindu and non-Hindu deities, texts and traditions, an example being "village or tribal divinities like Tumburu".[30] Davidson adds that Buddhists and Kapalikas as well as other ascetics (possibly Pasupatas) mingled and discussed their paths at various pilgrimage places and that there were conversions between the different groups. Thus he concludes:

The Buddhist-Kapalika connection is more complex than a simple process of religious imitation and textual appropriation. There can be no question that the Buddhist tantras were heavily influenced by Kapalika and other Saiva movements, but the influence was apparently mutual. Perhaps a more nuanced model would be that the various lines of transmission were locally flourishing and that in some areas they interacted, while in others they maintained concerted hostility. Thus the influence was both sustained and reciprocal, even in those places where Buddhist and Kapalika siddhas were in extreme antagonism.[31]

Davidson also argues for the influence of non-brahmanical and outcaste tribal religions and their feminine deities (Parnasabari and Janguli).[32]

According to Louis de La Valle-Poussin and Alex Wayman, the view of the Vajrayana is based on Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, mainly the Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools.[33][34] The major difference seen by Vajrayana thinkers is Tantra's superiority due to being a faster vehicle to liberation containing many skillful methods (upaya) of tantric ritual.

The importance of the theory of emptiness is central to the Tantric view and practice. Buddhist emptiness sees the world as being fluid, without an ontological foundation or inherent existence but ultimately a fabric of constructions. Because of this, tantric practice such as self-visualization as the deity is seen as being no less real than everyday reality, but a process of transforming reality itself, including the practitioner's identity as the deity. As Stephan Beyer notes, "In a universe where all events dissolve ontologically into Emptiness, the touching of Emptiness in the ritual is the re-creation of the world in actuality".[35]

The doctrine of Buddha-nature, as outlined in the Ratnagotravibhga of Asanga, was also an important theory which became the basis for Tantric views.[36] As explained by the Tantric commentator Lilavajra, this "intrinsic secret (behind) diverse manifestation" is the utmost secret and aim of Tantra. According to Alex Wayman this "Buddha embryo" (tathgatagarbha) is a "non-dual, self-originated Wisdom (jnana), an effortless fount of good qualities" that resides in the mindstream but is "obscured by discursive thought."[37] This doctrine is often associated with the idea of the inherent or natural luminosity (Skt: prakti-prabhsvara-citta, T. od gsal gyi sems) or purity of the mind (prakrti-parisuddha).

Another fundamental theory of Tantric practice is that of transformation. Negative mental factors such as desire, hatred, greed, pride are not rejected as in non Tantric Buddhism, but are used as part of the path. As noted by French Indologist Madeleine Biardeau, tantric doctrine is "an attempt to place kama, desire, in every meaning of the word, in the service of liberation."[38] This view is outlined in the following quote from the Hevajra tantra:

Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known.[39]

The Hevajra further states that "One knowing the nature of poison may dispel poison with poison."[40] As Snellgrove notes, this idea is already present in Asanga's Mahayana-sutra-alamkara-karika and therefore it is possible that he was aware of Tantric techniques, including sexual yoga.[41]

According to Buddhist Tantra there is no strict separation of the profane or samsara and the sacred or nirvana, rather they exist in a continuum. All individuals are seen as containing the seed of enlightenment within, which is covered over by defilements. Douglas Duckworth notes that Vajrayana sees Buddhahood not as something outside or an event in the future, but as immanently present.[42]

Indian Tantric Buddhist philosophers such as Buddhaguhya, Vimalamitra,Ratnkaranti and Abhayakaragupta continued the tradition of Buddhist philosophy and adapted it to their commentaries on the major Tantras. Abhayakaraguptas Vajravali is a key source in the theory and practice of tantric rituals. After monks such as Vajrabodhi and ubhakarasiha brought Tantra to Tang China (716 to 720), tantric philosophy continued to be developed in Chinese and Japanese by thinkers such as Yi Xing and Kkai.

Likewise in Tibet, Sakya Pandita (1182-28 - 1251), as well as later thinkers like Longchenpa (13081364) expanded on these philosophies in their Tantric commentaries and treatises. The status of the tantric view continued to be debated in medieval Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (10121088) held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra, as Koppl notes:

By now we have seen that Rongzom regards the views of the Sutrayana as inferior to those of Mantra, and he underscores his commitment to the purity of all phenomena by criticizing the Madhyamaka objectification of the authentic relative truth.[43]

Tsongkhapa (13571419) on the other hand, held that there is no difference between Vajrayana and other forms of Mahayana in terms of prajnaparamita (perfection of insight) itself, only that Vajrayana is a method which works faster.[44]

Various classifications are possible when distinguishing Vajrayana from the other Buddhist traditions. Vajrayana can be seen as a third yana, next to Hinayana and Mahayana. Vajrayana can be distinguished from the Sutrayana. The Sutrayana is the method of perfecting good qualities, where the Vajrayna is the method of taking the intended outcome of Buddhahood as the path. Vajrayana, belonging to the mantrayana, can also be distinguished from the paramitayana. According to this schema, Indian Mahayana revealed two vehicles (yana) or methods for attaining enlightenment: the methodof the perfections (Paramitayana) and the method of mantra (Mantrayana). The Paramitayana consists of the six or ten paramitas, of which the scriptures say that it takes three incalculable aeons to lead one to Buddhahood. The tantra literature, however, claims that the Mantrayana leads one to Buddhahood in a single lifetime. According to the literature, the mantra is an easy path without the difficulties innate to the Paramitayana. Mantrayana is sometimes portrayed as a method for those of inferior abilities. However the practitioner of the mantra still has to adhere to the vows of the Bodhisattva.

The goal of spiritual practice within the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions is to become a Sammsambuddha (fully awakened Buddha), those on this path are termed Bodhisattvas. As with the Mahayana, motivation is a vital component of Vajrayana practice. The Bodhisattva-path is an integral part of the Vajrayana, which teaches that all practices are to be undertaken with the motivation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

In the Sutrayana practice, a path of Mahayana, the "path of the cause" is taken, whereby a practitioner starts with his or her potential Buddha-nature and nurtures it to produce the fruit of Buddhahood. In the Vajrayana the "path of the fruit" is taken whereby the practitioner takes his or her innate Buddha-nature as the means of practice. The premise is that since we innately have an enlightened mind, practicing seeing the world in terms of ultimate truth can help us to attain our full Buddha-nature.[46] Experiencing ultimate truth is said to be the purpose of all the various tantric techniques practiced in the Vajrayana.

Vajrayana Buddhism is esoteric in the sense that the transmission of certain teachings only occurs directly from teacher to student during an empowerment (abhieka) and their practice requires initiation in a ritual space containing the mandala of the deity.[47] Many techniques are also commonly said to be secret, but some Vajrayana teachers have responded that secrecy itself is not important and only a side-effect of the reality that the techniques have no validity outside the teacher-student lineage.[48] In order to engage in Vajrayana practice, a student should have received such an initiation or permission:

If these techniques are not practiced properly, practitioners may harm themselves physically and mentally. In order to avoid these dangers, the practice is kept "secret" outside the teacher/student relationship. Secrecy and the commitment of the student to the vajra guru are aspects of the samaya (Tib. damtsig), or "sacred bond", that protects both the practitioner and the integrity of the teachings."

The secrecy of teachings was often protected through the use of allusive, indirect, symbolic and metaphorical language (twilight language) which required interpretation and guidance from a teacher.[50] The teachings may also be considered "self-secret", meaning that even if they were to be told directly to a person, that person would not necessarily understand the teachings without proper context. In this way the teachings are "secret" to the minds of those who are not following the path with more than a simple sense of curiosity.[51][52]

Because of their role in giving access to the practices and guiding the student through them, the role of the Guru, Lama or Vajracharya is indispensable in Vajrayana.

Some Vajrayana rituals include use of certain taboo substances, such as blood, semen, alcohol and urine, as ritual offerings and sacraments, though these are often replaced with less taboo substances in their place such as yogurt. Tantric feasts and initiations sometimes employed substances like human flesh as noted by Kahhas Yogaratnamala.[53] The use of these substances is related to the non-dual (advaya) nature of Buddhahood. Since the ultimate state is in some sense non-dual, a practitioner can approach that state by "transcending attachment to dual categories such as pure and impure, permitted and forbidden". As the Guhyasamaja Tantra states "the wise man who does not discriminate achieves buddhahood".[54]

Vajrayana rituals also include sexual yoga, union with a physical consort as part of advanced practices. Some tantras go further, theHevajra Tantra states You should kill living beings, speak lying words, take what is not given, consort with the women of others.[55] While some of these statements were taken literally as part of ritual practice, others such as killing was interpreted in a metaphorical sense. In the Hevajra, "killing" is defined as developing concentration by killing the life-breath of discursive thoughts.[56] Likewise, while actual sexual union with a physical consort is practiced, it is also common to use a visualized mental consort.

Alex Wayman points out that the symbolic meaning of tantric sexuality is ultimately rooted in bodhicitta and the bodhisattva's quest for enlightenment is likened to a lover seeking union with the mind of the Buddha.[57] Judith Simmer-Brown notes the importance of the psycho-physical experiences arising in sexual yoga, termed "great bliss" (Mahasukha): "Bliss melts the conceptual mind, heightens sensory awareness, and opens the practitioner to the naked experience of the nature of mind."[58] This tantric experience is not the same as ordinary self gratifying sexual passion since it relies on tantric meditative methods using the subtle body and visualizations as well as the motivation for enlightenment.[59] As the Hevajra tantra says:

"This practice [of sexual union with a consort] is not taught for the sake of enjoyment, but for the examination of one's own thought, whether the mind is steady or waving."[60]

Feminine deities and forces are also increasingly prominent in Vajrayana. In the Yogini tantras in particular, women and female figures are given high status as the embodiment of female deities such as the wild and nude Vajrayogini.[61] The Candamaharosana Tantra states:

In India, there is evidence to show that women participated in tantric practice alongside men and were also teachers, adepts and authors of tantric texts.[63]

Practitioners of the Vajrayana need to abide by various tantric vows or samaya of behaviour. These are extensions of the rules of the Prtimoka and Bodhisattva vows for the lower levels of tantra, and are taken during initiations into the empowerment for a particular Anuttarayoga Tantra. The special tantric vows vary depending on the specific mandala practice for which the initiation is received, and also depending on the level of initiation. Ngagpas of the Nyingma school keep a special non-celibate ordination.

A tantric guru, or teacher, is expected to keep his or her samaya vows in the same way as his students. Proper conduct is considered especially necessary for a qualified Vajrayana guru. For example, the Ornament for the Essence of Manjushrikirti states:[64]

Distance yourself from Vajra Masters who are not keeping the three vows

who keep on with a root downfall, who are miserly with the Dharma,and who engage in actions that should be forsaken.Those who worship them go to hell and so on as a result.

While Vajrayana includes all of the traditional practices used in Mahayana Buddhism such as samatha and vipassana meditation and the paramitas, it also includes a number of unique practices or "skillful means" (Sanskrit: upaya) which are seen as more advanced and effective. Vajrayana is a system of lineages, whereby those who successfully receive an empowerment or sometimes called initiation (permission to practice) are seen to share in the mindstream of the realisation of a particular skillful means of the vajra Master. Vajrayana teaches that the Vajrayana techniques provide an accelerated path to enlightenment which is faster than other paths.[65]

A central feature of tantric practice is the use of mantras, syllables, words or a collection of syllables understood to have special powers and hence is a 'performative utterance' used for a variety of ritual ends. In tantric meditation, mantric seed syllables are used during the ritual evocation of deities which are said to arise out of the uttered and visualized mantric syllables. After the deity has been established, heart mantras are visualized as part of the contemplation in different points of the deity's body.[66]

According to Alex Wayman, Buddhist esotericism is centered on what is known as "the three mysteries" or "secrets": the tantric adept affiliates his body, speech, and mind with the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha through mudra, mantras and samadhi respectively.[67] Padmavajra (c 7th century) explains in his Tantrarthavatara Commentary, the secret Body, Speech, and Mind of the Tathagatas are:[68]

The fundamental, defining practice of Buddhist Tantra is deity yoga (devatayoga), meditation on a yidam, or personal deity, which involves the recitation of mantras, prayers and visualization of the deity along with the associated mandala of the deity's Pure Land, with consorts and attendants.[69] According to Tsongkhapa, deity yoga is what separates Tantra from sutra practice.[70]

A key element of this practice involves the dissolution of the profane world and identification with a sacred reality.[71] Because Tantra makes use of a "similitude" of the resultant state of Buddhahood as the path, it is known as the effect vehicle or result vehicle (phalayana) which "brings the effect to the path".[72]

In the Highest Yoga Tantras and in the Inner Tantras this is usually done in two stages, the generation stage (utpattikrama) and the completion stage (nispannakrama). In the generation stage, one dissolves oneself in emptiness and meditates on the yidam, resulting in identification with this yidam. In the completion stage, the visualization of and identification with the yidam is dissolved in the realization of luminous emptiness. Ratnakarasanti describes the generation stage cultivation practice thus:

[A]ll phenomenal appearance having arisen as mind, this very mind is [understood to be] produced by a mistake (bhrnty), i.e. the appearance of an object where there is no object to be grasped; ascertaining that this is like a dream, in order to abandon this mistake, all appearances of objects that are blue and yellow and so on are abandoned or destroyed (parih-); then, the appearance of the world (vivapratibhsa) that is ascertained to be oneself (tmanicitta) is seen to be like the stainless sky on an autumn day at noon: appearanceless, unending sheer luminosity.[73]

This dissolution into emptiness is then followed by the visualization of the deity and re-emergence of the yogi as the deity. During the process of deity visualization, the deity is to be imaged as not solid or tangible, as "empty yet apparent", with the character of a mirage or a rainbow.[74] This visualization is to be combined with "divine pride", which is "the thought that one is oneself the deity being visualized."[75] Divine pride is different from common pride because it is based on compassion for others and on an understanding of emptiness.[76]

Some practices associated with the completion stage make use of an energetic system of human psycho-physiology composed of what is termed as energy channels (rtsa), winds or currents (rlung), and drops or charged particles (thig le). These subtle body energies as seen as "mounts" for consciousness, the physical component of awareness. They are said to converge at certain points along the spinal column called chakras.[77] Some practices which make use of this system include Trul khor and Tummo.

Another form of Vajrayana practice are certain meditative techniques associated with Mahamudra and Dzogchen often termed "formless practices". These techniques do not rely on yidam visualization but on direct Pointing-out instruction from a master and are seen as the most advanced forms.[78]

In Tibetan Buddhism, advanced practices like deity yoga and the formless practices are usually preceded by or coupled with "preliminary practices" called ngondro which includes prostrations and recitations of the 100 syllable mantra.[79]

Another distinctive feature of Tantric Buddhism is its unique rituals, which are used as a substitute or alternative for the earlier abstract meditations.Template:Itation not found They include death rituals (see phowa), tantric feasts (ganachakra) and Homa fire ritual, common in East Asian Tantric Buddhism.

Other unique practices in Tantric Buddhism include Dream yoga, the yoga of the intermediate state (at death) or Bardo and Chd, in which the yogi ceremonially offers their body to be eaten by tantric deities.

The Vajrayana uses a rich variety of symbols, terms and images which have multiple meanings according to a complex system of analogical thinking. In Vajrayana, symbols and terms are multi-valent, reflecting the microcosm and the macrocosm as in the phrase "As without, so within" (yatha bahyam tatha dhyatmam iti) from Abhayakaraguptas Nispannayogavali.[82]

The Sanskrit term "vajra" denoted the thunderbolt, a legendary weapon and divine attribute that was made from an adamantine, or indestructible, substance and which could therefore pierce and penetrate any obstacle or obfuscation. It is the weapon of choice of Indra, the King of the Devas. As a secondary meaning, "vajra" symbolizes the ultimate nature of things which is described in the tantras as translucent, pure and radiant, but also indestructible and indivisible. It is also symbolic of the power of tantric methods to achieve its goals.[83]

A vajra is also a scepter-like ritual object (Standard Tibetan: dorje), which has a sphere (and sometimes a gankyil) at its centre, and a variable number of spokes, 3, 5 or 9 at each end (depending on the sadhana), enfolding either end of the rod. The vajra is often traditionally employed in tantric rituals in combination with the bell or ghanta; symbolically, the vajra may represent method as well as great bliss and the bell stands for wisdom, specifically the wisdom realizing emptiness. The union of the two sets of spokes at the center of the wheel is said to symbolize the unity of wisdom (praja) andcompassion (karuna) as well as the sexual union of male and female deities.[84]

Representations of the deity, such as statues (murti), paintings (thangka), or mandala, are often employed as an aid to visualization, in Deity yoga. The use of visual aids, particularly microcosmic/macrocosmic diagrams, known as "mandalas", is another unique feature of Buddhist Tantra. Mandalas are symbolic depictions of the sacred space of the awakened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as of the inner workings of the human person.[85] The macrocosmic symbolism of the mandala then, also represents the forces of the human body. The explanatory tantra of the Guhyasamaja tantra, the Vajramala, states: "The body becomes a palace, the hallowed basis of all the Buddhas."[86]

Mandalas are also sacred enclosures, sacred architecture that house and contain the uncontainable essence of a central deity or yidam and their retinue. In the book The World of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama describes mandalas thus: "This is the celestial mansion, the pure residence of the deity." The Five Tathagatas or 'Five Buddhas', along with the figure of the Adi-Buddha, are central to many Vajrayana mandalas as they represent the "five wisdoms", which are the five primary aspects of primordial wisdom or Buddha-nature.[87]

All ritual in Vajrayana practice can be seen as aiding in this process of visualization and identification. The practitioner can use various hand implements such as a vajra, bell, hand-drum (damaru) or a ritual dagger (phurba), but also ritual hand gestures (mudras) can be made, special chanting techniques can be used, and in elaborate offering rituals or initiations, many more ritual implements and tools are used, each with an elaborate symbolic meaning to create a special environment for practice. Vajrayana has thus become a major inspiration in traditional Tibetan art.

The Vajrayana tradition has developed an extended body of texts:

Though we do not know precisely at present just how many Indian tantric Buddhist texts survive today in the language in which they were written, their number is certainly over one thousand five hundred; I suspect indeed over two thousand. A large part of this body of texts has also been translated into Tibetan, and a smaller part into Chinese. Aside from these, there are perhaps another two thousand or more works that are known today only from such translations. We can be certain as well that many others are lost to us forever, in whatever form. Of the texts that survive a very small proportion has been published; an almost insignificant percentage has been edited or translated reliably.[88]

Vajrayana texts exhibit a wide range of literary characteristicsusually a mix of verse and prose, almost always in a Sanskrit that "transgresses frequently against classical norms of grammar and usage," although also occasionally in various Middle Indic dialects or elegant classical Sanskrit.[89]

The Dunhuang manuscripts also contain Tibetan Tantric manuscripts. Dalton and Schaik (2007, revised) provide an excellent online catalogue listing 350 Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts] from Dunhuang in the Stein Collection of the British Library which is currently fully accessible online in discrete digitized manuscripts.[web 1] With the Wylie transcription of the manuscripts they are to be made discoverable online in the future.[90] These 350 texts are just a small portion of the vast cache of the Dunhuang manuscripts.

Although there is historical evidence for Vajrayana Buddhism in Southeast Asia and elsewhere (see History of Vajrayana above), today the Vajrayana exists primarily in the form of the two major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Esoteric Buddhism in Japan known as Shingon (literally "True Speech", i.e. mantra), with a handful of minor subschools utilising lesser amounts of esoteric or tantric materials.

The distinction between traditions is not always rigid. For example, the tantra sections of the Tibetan Buddhist canon of texts sometimes include material not usually thought of as tantric outside the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, such as the Heart Sutra[91] and even versions of some material found in the Pali Canon.[92][a]

Vajrayana Buddhism was established in Tibet in the 8th century when ntarakita was brought to Tibet from India at the instigation of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, some time before 767. Tibetan Buddhism reflects the later stages of Indian tantric Buddhist developments, including the Yogini tantras, translated into the Tibetan language. It also includes native Tibetan developments, such as the tulku system, new sadhana texts, Tibetan scholastic works, Dzogchen literature and Terma literature.

The Tibetan Buddhist schools, based on the lineages and textual traditions of the Kangyur and Tengyur of Tibet, are found in Tibet, Bhutan, northern India, Nepal, southwestern and northern China, Mongolia and various constituent republics of Russia that are adjacent to the area, such as Amur Oblast, Buryatia, Chita Oblast, the Tuva Republic and Khabarovsk Krai. Tibetan Buddhism is also the main religion in Kalmykia.

Newar Buddhism is practiced by Newars in Nepal. It is the only form of Vajrayana Buddhism in which the scriptures are written in Sanskrit and this tradition has preserved many Vajrayana texts in this language. Its priests do not follow celibacy and are called vajracharya (literally "diamond-thunderbolt carriers").

Tantric Theravada or "Esoteric Southern Buddhism" is a term for esoteric forms of Buddhism from Southeast Asia, where Theravada Buddhism is dominant. The monks of the Sri Lankan, Abhayagiri vihara once practiced forms of tantra which were popular in the island.[93] Another tradition of this type was Ari Buddhism, which was common in Burma. The Tantric Buddhist 'Yogvacara' tradition was a major Buddhist tradition in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand well into the modern era.[94] This form of Buddhism declined after the rise of Southeast Asian Buddhist modernism.

Indonesian Esoteric Buddhism refers to the traditions of Esoteric Buddhism found in the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra before the rise and dominance of Islam in the region (13-16th centuries). The Buddhist empire of Srivijaya (650 CE1377 CE) was a major center of Esoteric Buddhist learning which drew Chinese monks such as Yijing and Indian scholars like Atia.[95] The temple complex at Borobudur in central Java, built by the Shailendra dynasty also reflects strong Tantric or at least proto-tantric influences, particularly of the cult of Vairocana.[96][97]

Although no written record exists about early Buddhism in the Philippines, the recent archaeological discoveries and the few scant references in the other nations historical records can tell, however, about the existence of Buddhism from the 9th century onward in the islands. The Philippiness archaeological finds include a few of Buddhist artifacts, most of them dated to the 9th century. The artifacts reflect the iconography of the Srivijayas Vajrayana Buddhism [98][99] and its influences on the Philippiness early states. The artifacts distinct features point to their production in the islands and hint at the artisans or goldsmiths knowledge of Buddhist culture and Buddhist literature because the artisans have made these unique works of Buddhist art. The artifacts imply also the presence of Buddhist believers in the places where these artifacts turned up. These places extended from the Agusan-Surigao area in Mindanao island to Cebu, Palawan, and Luzon islands.

Hence, Vajrayana Buddhism must have spread far and wide throughout the archipelago. And Vajrayana Buddhism must have become the religion of the majority of the inhabitants in the islands. The early states trade contacts with the neighboring empires and polities like in Sumatra, Srivijaya and Majapahit empire in Java long before or in the 9th century must have served as the conduit for introducing Vajrayana Buddhism to the islands.[100]

Esoteric and Tantric teachings followed the same route into northern China as Buddhism itself, arriving via the Silk Road and Southeast Asian Maritime trade routes sometime during the first half of the 7th century, during the Tang dynasty and received sanction from the emperors of the Tang dynasty. During this time, three great masters came from India to China: ubhakarasiha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra who translated key texts and founded the Zhenyan (, "true word", "mantra") tradition.[101] Zhenyan was also brought to Japan as Shingon during this period. This tradition focused on tantras like the Mahavairocana tantra, and unlike Tibetan Buddhism, does not employ the antinomian and radical tantrism of the Anuttarayoga Tantras.

The prestige of this tradition influenced other schools of Chinese Buddhism such as Chan and Tiantai to adopt esoteric practices.[102][103][104]

During the Yuan dynasty, the Mongol emperors made Tibetan Buddhism the official religion of China, and Tibetan lamas were given patronage at the court.[105] Imperial support of Tibetan Vajrayana continued into the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Another form of esoteric Buddhism in China is Azhaliism, which is practiced among the Bai people of China.[106][107]

Esoteric Buddhist practices (known as milgyo, ) and texts arrived in Korea during the initial introduction of Buddhism to the region in 372 CE.[108] Esoteric Buddhism was supported by the royalty of both Unified Silla (668-935) and Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).[109] During the Goryeo Dynasty esoteric practices were common within large sects like the Seon school, and the Hwaeom school as well as smaller esoteric sects like the Sinin (mudra) and Ch'ongji (Dharani) schools. During the era of the Mongol occupation (1251-1350s), Tibetan Buddhism also existed in Korea though it never gained a foothold there.[110]

During the Joseon dynasty, Esoteric Buddhist schools were forced to merge with the Son and Kyo schools, becoming the ritual specialists. With the decline of Buddhism in Korea, Esoteric Buddhism mostly died out, save for a few traces in the rituals of the Jogye Order and Taego Order.[111]

There are two Esoteric Buddhist schools in modern Korea: the Chinn () and the Jingak Order (). According to Henrik H. Srensen, "they have absolutely no historical link with the Korean Buddhist tradition per se but are late constructs based in large measures on Japanese Shingon Buddhism."[112]

The Shingon school is found in Japan and includes practices, known in Japan as Mikky ("Esoteric (or Mystery) Teaching"), which are similar in concept to those in Vajrayana Buddhism. The lineage for Shingon Buddhism differs from that of Tibetan Vajrayana, having emerged from India during the 9th-11th centuries in the Pala Dynasty and Central Asia (via China) and is based on earlier versions of the Indian texts than the Tibetan lineage. Shingon shares material with Tibetan Buddhism-such as the esoteric sutras (called Tantras in Tibetan Buddhism) and mandalas but the actual practices are not related. The primary texts of Shingon Buddhism are the Mahavairocana Sutra and Vajrasekhara Sutra. The founder of Shingon Buddhism was Kukai, a Japanese monk who studied in China in the 9th century during the Tang dynasty and brought back Vajrayana scriptures, techniques and mandalas then popular in China. The school mostly died out or was merged into other schools in China towards the end of the Tang dynasty but flourished in Japan. Shingon is one of the few remaining branches of Buddhism in the world that continues to use the siddham script of the Sanskrit language.

Although the Tendai school in China and Japan does employ some esoteric practices, these rituals came to be considered of equal importance with the exoteric teachings of the Lotus Sutra. By chanting mantras, maintaining mudras, or practicing certain forms of meditation, Tendai maintains that one is able to understand sense experiences as taught by the Buddha, have faith that one is innately an enlightened being, and that one can attain enlightenment within the current lifetime.

Shugend was founded in 7th-century Japan by the ascetic En no Gyja, based on the Queen's Peacocks Sutra. With its origins in the solitary hijiri back in the 7th century, Shugend evolved as a sort of amalgamation between Esoteric Buddhism, Shinto and several other religious influences including Taoism. Buddhism and Shinto were amalgamated in the shinbutsu shg, and Kkai's syncretic religion held wide sway up until the end of the Edo period, coexisting with Shinto elements within Shugend[113]

In 1613 during the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued a regulation obliging Shugend temples to belong to either Shingon or Tendai temples. During the Meiji Restoration, when Shinto was declared an independent state religion separate from Buddhism, Shugend was banned as a superstition not fit for a new, enlightened Japan. Some Shugend temples converted themselves into various officially approved Shint denominations. In modern times, Shugend is practiced mainly by Tendai and Shingon sects, retaining an influence on modern Japanese religion and culture.[114]

Serious Vajrayana academic study in the Western world is in early stages due to the following obstacles:

Buddhist tantric practice are categorized as secret practice; this is to avoid misinformed people from harmfully misusing the practices. A method to keep this secrecy is that tantric initiation is required from a master before any instructions can be received about the actual practice. During the initiation procedure in the highest class of tantra (such as the Kalachakra), students must take the tantric vows which commit them to such secrecy.[web 2] "Explaining general tantra theory in a scholarly manner, not sufficient for practice, is likewise not a root downfall. Nevertheless, it weakens the effectiveness of our tantric practice." [web 3]

The terminology associated with Vajrayana Buddhism can be confusing. Most of the terms originated in the Sanskrit language of tantric Indian Buddhism and may have passed through other cultures, notably those of Japan and Tibet, before translation for the modern reader. Further complications arise as seemingly equivalent terms can have subtle variations in use and meaning according to context, the time and place of use. A third problem is that the Vajrayana texts employ the tantric tradition of twilight language, a means of instruction that is deliberately coded. These obscure teaching methods relying on symbolism as well as synonym, metaphor and word association add to the difficulties faced by those attempting to understand Vajrayana Buddhism:

In the Vajrayana tradition, now preserved mainly in Tibetan lineages, it has long been recognized that certain important teachings are expressed in a form of secret symbolic language known as sadhy-bh, 'Twilight Language'. Mudrs and mantras, maalas and cakras, those mysterious devices and diagrams that were so much in vogue in the pseudo-Buddhist hippie culture of the 1960s, were all examples of Twilight Language [...] [116]

The term Tantric Buddhism was not one originally used by those who practiced it. As scholar Isabelle Onians explains:

"Tantric Buddhism" [...] is not the transcription of a native term, but a rather modern coinage, if not totally occidental. For the equivalent Sanskrit tntrika is found, but not in Buddhist texts. Tntrika is a term denoting someone who follows the teachings of scriptures known as Tantras, but only in Saivism, not Buddhism [...] Tantric Buddhism is a name for a phenomenon which calls itself, in Sanskrit, Mantranaya, Vajrayna, Mantrayna or Mantramahyna (and apparently never Tantrayna). Its practitioners are known as mantrins, yogis, or sdhakas. Thus, our use of the anglicised adjective Tantric for the Buddhist religion taught in Tantras is not native to the tradition, but is a borrowed term which serves its purpose.[117]

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Description: Buddhism is an eastern religion that shares some key beliefs with Hinduism, including karma and reincarnation. It has many variations, depending on the Buddhist tradition that is practiced. Some practitioners consider Buddhism a philosophy and life practice, rather than a religion.

Founder: Siddhartha Gotama (Siddhartha Gautama in Sanskrit), who is referred to as theBuddha, which means "awakened one". Firm dates for his life cannot be established from historical information. Conventional sources say he lived from 566 - 486 BCE. Recent research suggests the dates 490 410 BCE.

Date founded: Approximately 441 BCE, according to conventional sources.

Place founded: Northeastern India, near the city of Patna.

Number of adherents: 376 million

Countries with largest number of adherents: China, Japan and Thailand

Sacred texts:

Buddhas discourses are collected into four divisions:

Digha Nikaya

Majjhima Nikaya

Anguttara Nikaya

Samyutta Nikaya Part of the canon of Buddhas discourses (also known as sutras)

Dhammapada A collection of Buddhas verses. Part of the Theravada canon.

Jataka 550 stories about the former lives of Buddha.

Branches: There are several major branches of Buddhism:

Mahayana Known as the "Greater Vehicle". Mahayana is practiced predominantly in north Asia, including Tibet, China and Japan. Schools within Mahayana Buddhism include Nichiren Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism.

Theravada ("original teaching") - Also referred to as the Lesser Vehicle. Practiced predominantly in south Asia, including Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Supreme being: Buddhism is nontheistic, since Buddha did not address the issue of the existence of a supreme being. It cannot be called atheistic, since it does not hold to the belief that there is no God.

"The Buddha rarely if ever discussed God theism is not a central part of Buddhas path to awakened enlightenment, peace, and deathless nirvana.Whether there is a God or not is one of the 14 questions that Buddha famously refused to speculate about or entertain, mainly because he was intent upon people seeking and finding the deepest truth about reality through their own experience."[1]

Buddhism includes belief in the existence of gods and spirits. "Buddha actually accepted and took for granted the existence of higher beings like Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and the other devas (long-lived gods, demigods, archangels)"[2]

Reality: Reality consists of both the material and spiritual worlds.

Nature of man: Man has no soul.

Mans primary problem: The primary problem faced by people is suffering, which is caused by desire.

Solution to mans primary problem: The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path

The Four Noble Truths, which are also called the Chatvari Arya Satyani, are:

Man is viewed as having three different paths to follow in life:

The Eight-Fold Path includes:

Afterlife: The goal of Buddhism is nirvana, which is a complete cessation of existence. It is the end of the cycle of rebirth, where all passions have been extinguished. A central aspect of Buddhism is reincarnation, where the "process of repeated rebirth is known as samsara or endless wandering, a term suggesting continuous movement like the flow of a river.All living creatures are part of this cyclic movement and will continue to be reborn until they attain nirvana."[3]

Place of worship: The communal practice of Buddhism takes place in atempleor center.

Major Holidays:

Kathina An annual festival in which Buddhist followers give material to monks for their robes.

Magha Puja Day - A day to show appreciation to Buddhist monastics for their dedication and practice.

Vesak - Buddha Day - Also known as Wesak, Visakah Puja and Buddha Day. The most sacred holy day of Theravada Buddhism. An observation of the birth, enlightenment and death of the historical Buddha. Mahayana Buddhists tend to separate these three events of the Buddha's life into three separate holidays. Buddha Day takes place on the day of the first full moon in May.

Rituals: Meditation is a central practice in Buddhism. Buddhists meditate at temples/centers, as well as in their homes. It is also a common practice for Buddhist lay people to give food, flowers and incense to a Buddhist temple.

Key Terms:

Dharma The teaching of Buddha. Dharma also means "protection". "By practising Buddhas teachings we protect ourself from suffering and problems. All the problems we experience during daily life originate in ignorance, and the method for eliminating ignorance is to practice Dharma."[4]

Karma A moral act that a person does.Good karma leads a person up the ladder of the realms of rebirth. Bad karma leads a person down the ladder of the realms of rebirth.The consequences of a persons actions may be experienced in the present lifetime and/or a future lifetime.

Monastery A place where Buddhist monks live.

Monk A person who devotes his life to Buddhist principles and practices. A monks head is shaved upon initiation. "Buddhist monks have no priestly role they are not intermediaries between God and mankind and their ordination confers no supernatural powers or authority."[5]

Nirvana "A complete cessation of being and supreme goal of Buddhist endeavor."[6]

Parinirvana The complete ending of rebirth, cessation of suffering and perfection of happiness

Samsara The cycle of rebirth. Literally means "to wander". A process of rebirth that is repeated numerous times; reincarnation. It is referred to as endless wandering. "All living creatures are part of this cyclic movement and will continue to be reborn until they attain nirvana."[7]

Realms of rebirth There are 6 realms of rebirth, from top (most desirable) to bottom (least desirable). There is no rebirth in the five highest levels.

Sutra A teaching of Buddha.

Sources:

Adherents.com http://www.adherents.com

Buddhanet http://www.buddhanet.net

Smith, Huston. The Worlds Religions. New York: Harper One, 1991.

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Trends since the 19th century

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Buddhism responded to new challenges and opportunities that cut across the regional religious and cultural patterns that characterized the Buddhist world in the premodern period. A number of Buddhist countries were subjected to Western rule, and even those that avoided direct conquest felt the heavy pressure of Western religious, political, economic, and cultural influences. Modern rationalistic and scientific modes of thinking, modern notions of liberal democracy and socialism, and modern patterns of capitalist economic organization were introduced and became important elements in the thought and life of Buddhists and non-Buddhists all across Asia. In addition, Buddhism returned to areas where it had previously been an important force (India is the major case in point), and it spread very rapidly into the West, where new developments took place that in turn influenced Buddhism in Asia.

Buddhists responded to this complex situation in diverse ways. In many cases they associated Buddhism with the religious and cultural identity that they sought to preserve in the face of Western domination. Buddhists used a variety of measures to meet the challenge posed by the presence of Western Christian missionaries, often adopting modern Christian practices such as the establishment of Sunday schools, the distribution of tracts, and the arrangement of worship areas so as to resemble churches and meeting houses. They also attempted to strengthen the Buddhist cause by promoting missionary activity in Asia and in the West. In the West they also adopted Christian forms of religious organization and practice, particularly in the United States. For example, the U.S. branch of Japanese Pure Land (Jdo Shinsh) Buddhism adopted the word church in its official name (Buddhist Churches of America) and established temples with worship areas resembling Protestant congregations. A number of societies were established to promote cooperation between Buddhists from all countries and denominations, including the Maha Bodhi Society (established in 1891 in order to win back Buddhist control of the pilgrimage site associated with the enlightenment of the Buddha), the World Fellowship of Buddhists (founded in 1950), and the World Buddhist Sangha Council (1966).

Four other responses deserve to be mentioned. In some situations Buddhists introduced reforms designed to make Buddhism a more appealing and effective force in the modern world. In the late 19th century, Buddhist leaders put forward a highly rationalized interpretation of Buddhism that de-emphasized the supernormal and ritualized aspects of the tradition and focused on the supposed continuity between Buddhism and modern science and on the centrality of ethics and morality. This interpretation represents, according to its proponents, a recovery of the true Buddhism of the Buddha.

Another response has been the development of so-called Engaged Buddhism. Those who identify with this cause include Asian Buddhists, such as the Vietnamese-born monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh, and Western converts who have developed understandings of Buddhist teachings and practice that focus on the implementation of progressive social, political, and economic activity. In some cases attention has been centred on Buddhist ideas and activities that seek to foster world peace and world justice. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (founded 1978) is one of the most-prominent organizations within this movement.

Both within Engaged Buddhism and outside it, socially active Buddhists have sought to develop Buddhist teachings as a basis for a modern democratic society. Still others have supported the development of a Buddhist-based economic system that is socially and ecologically responsible. Socially conscious Buddhists have also developed a Buddhist form of feminism and have been associated with groups that are attempting to reestablish (in the Theravada world) or to enhance (in Mahayana and Vajrayana contexts) the role of Buddhist nuns.

A third widespread pattern of Buddhist reform has involved the promotion of movements that give the laity a much stronger role than it traditionally had. In the Theravada world, lay-oriented meditation movements focusing on vipassana (Pali: insight) techniques of meditation have been successful and in some cases have found followers far beyond the borders of the Theravada community. In East Asia an anticlerical, lay-oriented trend, which appeared before the beginning of the modern period, has culminated in the formation and rapid expansion of new, thoroughly laicized Buddhist movements, particularly in Japan.

The fourth trend that can be identified stretches the usual notion of reform. This trend is exemplified in the emergence of new kinds of popular movements associated with charismatic leaders or with particular forms of practice that promise immediate success not only in religious terms but in worldly affairs as well. Since the 20th century, groups of this kind, both large and small, both tightly organized and loosely knit, have proliferated all across the Buddhist world. One example is the Dhammakaya group, a very large, well-organized, hierarchical, and commercialized sectarian group that is centred in Thailand. Sometimes labeled fundamentalist, the Dhammakaya group propagates meditational techniques that promise the immediate attainment of nirvana, as well as patterns of ritual donation that claim to ensure immediate business and financial success.

The condition of contemporary Buddhist communities and the challenges they face differ radically from area to area. There are a number of countries, for example, where previously well-established Buddhist communities have suffered severe setbacks that have curtailed their influence and seriously sapped their vitality. This situation prevails primarily in countries that are or once were ruled by communist governments that worked self-consciously to undercut Buddhist institutional power and influence. This has happened in the Mongol areas of Central Asia, in mainland China and Tibet, in North Korea, in Vietnam, in Cambodia, and in Laos. By the end of the 20th century, the pressure on Buddhist communities in many of these areas had eased, though conditions varied from country to country and from time to time. In Cambodia, Buddhism has been officially reinstated as the state religion.

A different situation exists in parts of Asia where Buddhism has remained the leading religious force and has continued to exert a strong influence on political, economic, and social life. This is the case in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where Buddhism is the dominant religion among the Sinhalese and Burman majorities, and in Thailand, where more than 90 percent of the population is counted as Buddhist. Although in the majority, Buddhists face unique challenges in these areas. In Sri Lanka, Buddhists were divided over the proper response to the civil war (19832009) between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers, a paramilitary group that sought an independent state in the north for the primarily Hindu Tamils. In Myanmar, Buddhists confronted the profound political division between the military junta, which ruled from 1962 until 2011 and sought to legitimate its dictatorship in traditional Buddhist terms, and the democratic oppositionled by Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peacewhich based its resistance on a very different version of Buddhist teaching and practice. In 2007 Buddhist monks were prominent in Myanmars so-called Saffron Revolution (named for the saffron-coloured robes traditionally worn by Theravada monks), a large demonstration in Yangon for democratic reforms that drew a harsh response from the government. That action was a catalyst helping to effect constitutional reforms in 2008 and a change in government in 2011. As the state religion of Thailand, Buddhism has retained a firm position within a relatively stable social and political order, despite deep divisions and conflicts that have developed among various groups. Buddhism is the officially recognized spiritual heritage of Bhutan, a traditionally Vajrayana Buddhist kingdom that completed its transition to parliamentary government in 2008.

A third situation occurs in societies where Buddhist traditions operate with a considerable degree of freedom and effectiveness, though Buddhisms role is circumscribed to varying degrees. This situation prevails in several of the Pacific Rim countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, and to a lesser extent in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where Buddhism is practiced by significant numbers of the large Chinese minority. The primary example, however, is Japan, where Buddhism has continued to exert an important influence. In the highly modernized society that has developed in Japan, many deeply rooted Buddhist traditions, such as Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land, and Zen, have persisted and have been adapted to changing conditions. At the same time, new Buddhist sects such as Rissh-Ksei-kai (Society for Establishing Righteousness and Friendly Relations) and Ska-gakkai (Value-Creation Society) have gained millions of converts in Japan and throughout the world. The latter, which is a variant of Nichiren Buddhism, has increased its international profile since the late 20th century under the leadership of Daiseku Ikeda.

Finally, new Buddhist communities have established roots in areas where Buddhism disappeared many centuries ago or did not exist at all before the mid-19th century. In India, for example, the Mahar Buddhist community established by B.R. Ambedkar has developed its own style of Buddhist teaching and practice that incorporates and integrates religious elements drawn from the pre-existing Mahar tradition.

In the Western world, particularly in the United States and Canada, the growth of new Buddhist communitieswhich include Buddhist immigrants from different parts of Asia, the North American-born children of immigrants, and indigenous convertshas been very rapid indeed. In these areas older Buddhist traditions have mixed and interacted in ways that have generated rapid changes in ways of thinking and in modes of practice. Many indigenous converts place greater emphasis upon the practice of meditation than upon monastic life, and since the mid-20th century a steady stream of books and other media have reflected this trend. Many other North American-born Buddhists of non-Asian descent have studied in traditional Buddhist countries, become ordained, and returned to the United States to lead and even found monasteries and Buddhist community centres. Some practicing Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism believe that the process of accomodation and acculturation in the West, and particularly in North America, is leading to a fourth turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, a new form of Buddhism that will turn out to be quite different from the traditional forms of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana while incorporating aspects of each.

For more than two millennia, Buddhism has been a powerful religious, political, and social force, first in India, its original homeland, and then in many other lands. It remains a powerful religious, political, and cultural force in many parts of the world today. There is every reason to expect that the appeal of Buddhism will continue far on into the future.

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FOUNDED: Fifth century b.c.e.RELIGION AS A PERCENTAGE OF WORLD POPULATION: 6 Percent

Buddhism is the world's oldest missionary religion. Since its beginnings some 2,500 years ago in northern India, it has spread to nearly every region of the world. There are now more than 350 million Buddhists in the world, most of whom belong to one or the other of the two major schools: the Mahayana and the Theravada. About 98 percent of the world's Buddhists can be found in Asia, but there are significant Buddhist communities throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. There are Buddhists who are poor rice farmers in Malaysia and who are wealthy business owners in Chicago.

As it has spread, Buddhism has by necessity also changed, expanding to adapt to many different cultural, linguistic, and geographical settings, incorporating local beliefs and practices, and shifting to accommodate often fluid social and political contexts. The Buddhist tradition thus displays an incredible variety of beliefs and practices. There is no central Buddhist organization, single authoritative text, or simple set of defining practices. Buddhism is, to its core, a pluralistic religion.

Despite its incredible diversity, though, there are elements that cut across the many contexts in which Buddhism and Buddhists flourish. These elements include beliefs and traditions that, although perhaps slightly different depending on their specific settings, could be recognized and practiced by all Buddhists. For instance, all Buddhists recite the simple formula known as the Three Refuges (also known as the Triple Gem): "I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the dharma, I go for refuge to the sangha." Buddhists can be heard chanting these lines in Colombo, Bangkok, Beijing, Sidney, Rome, or Los Angeles. Certain core philosophical tenets and beliefs that cut across the Buddhist world include karma, nirvana, and renunciation. While attention must be paid to the diverse contexts, beliefs, and practices of Buddhism, the Buddhist tradition as a whole can also be fruitfully examined.

Perhaps the single most significant unifying factor for the world's diverse Buddhist populations is the figure of the Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama. Although the various schools of Buddhism have different specific understandings of and attitudes toward the Buddha, each of them, without exception, recognizes, respects, and reveres him. What makes the Buddha so significant in Buddhism is not simply that he is the founder of the religion but also that he serves as the template for every Buddhist, the model for the life of the individual. It is not enough to receive and understand his teachings or to worship him; rather, one must strive to be like the Buddhato replicate his life.

The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, who would later be known simply as the Buddha, was by birth what we would now call a Hindu. Although Buddhism breaks with the Hindu tradition in significant ways, it was at the start very much a reform movement from within Hinduism. It is thus essential to understand something of the religious worldview ofIndia in the sixth century b.c.e. in order to understand the Buddha's own religious worldview and why Buddhism took the particular shape that it did.

The Buddha was born into a world in flux, of shifting religious ideals and changing social structures. The dominant religion in northern India up until this point was Brahmanism, based on a body of texts called the Vedas, which had developed orally beginning about 1500 b.c.e. This religious system was also beginning to be challenged from a number of fronts.

The Vedic religious world was one of numerous deities, or devas, many of whom were personified forces of nature. Humans could interact with and influence these devas via sacrifice; offerings such as grain, milk, and animals were placed in a sacrificial fire by a priest, or Brahman, and "consumed" by the gods. In return, according to the Vedas, humans would receive boons from the gods: abundant crops, healthy sons, protection, and so on.

This was, furthermore, a hierarchical religious world, formally defined by the division of society into four classes, or varnas, membership in which was determined solely by birth. At the top were the sacrificial priests, the Brahmans. It was their role and duty to perform the religious rituals and to preserve and recite the Vedasto memorize the thousands of verses, to chant them at the sacrificial rituals, and to orally pass these texts on to successive generations of Brahmans. In so doing, the Brahmans maintained the order, or dharma (Pali, dhamma), of the world, assuring that the gods would be appeased. Directly below the Brahmans in the hierarchy were the Kshatriyas, the warriors and sociopolitical rulers. Just as it was the duty of the Brahmans to maintain the order of the divine world, so was it the dharma of the Kshatriyas to preserve order in the human realm. Below the Kshatriyas were the Vaishyas, the cultivators and keepers of domestic animals. It was their dharma, accordingly, to provide food and material goods. Below them were the Shudras, the laborers and servants, whose dharma it was to ensure the cleanliness of the other three classes of humans. Outside this system was a group called untouchables, or outcasts, who had no defined role in the social system and who were viewed as disorderly, as adharmic in character and nature.

This was a system of mutual dependence but also of restriction. There was no upward mobility in this system. One Vedic text (the "Purusha Shukta" of the Rig Veda) that describes the creation of the universe envisions this social system as a human being who is sacrificed to create the world: the Brahmans are the mouth of the human (because of their oral preservation and performance of the sacred verses of the Veda); the Kshatriyas are the arms (because they are the "strong arms" of the social world); the Vaishyas are the thighs (the support of the body); and, significantly, the Shudras are the feet (the lowest but in many ways the most fundamental). Thus, social and cosmic order (dharma) can be maintained only if each part of the body is present and "healthy." Certainly the feet are lower than the head, but without the feet the body cannot stand.

A new genre of religious discourse, a body of texts known as the Upanishads, began to emerge out of the Vedic ritual religious world sometime between the seventh and the fifth century b.c.e. Although they would eventually become part of Hinduism, these textsorally transmitted, like the Vedasbegan to question the efficacy of the formal sacrifice and introduced essential new religious ideas that would be adopted, in part, by the Buddha: the idea of rebirth (samsara), the law of cause and effect (karma), the concept of liberation (moksha) from samsara, and the practice of asceticism and meditation (yoga).

The Wheel of the Dharma symbolizes aspects of the Buddha's teachings. It represents the preaching ("turning") of his first sermon and also, with its eight spokes, Buddhism's Eightfold Path. The path is a guide to living life compassionately and nonviolently.

As the ideas of the Upanishads began to spread, some individuals took them to heart and set out to experience the liberation that they described. These individualsrenounced their ties to the material world and set out as wanderers, spreading these new ideas even farther and debating philosophical and meditational points. These various wanderers were called shramanas, and the earliest Buddhists saw themselves as a subset of this group of itinerant religious seekers. Also among these individuals was Mahavira, the founder of another new religious tradition, Jainism.

At about the same time, important social changes were in process along the Gangetic Plain in northern India. Kingdoms began to emerge out of the smaller kinship structures, and with these kingdoms came cities and highly structured systems of government. Furthermore, trade routes began to develop between these cities, and with trade came both economic growth and the emergence of a monied merchant class. This latter group is particularly important in the emergence of Buddhism, for although they had economic status, they, as members of the Vaishya caste, did not have religious status; the Buddha would offer a new religious path that allowed them to develop that status.

Buddhist tradition holds that the man who would become the Buddha was born in a small village near what is now the border between Nepal and India in the middle of the sixth century b.c.e. He was born into a Kshatriya family, part of the Shakka clan, and was given the name Siddhartha (he whose goal will be accomplished) Gautama.

According to legend, his birth was asexual. In a dream that his mother had, the fetus was implanted in her womb by a white elephant. His father, upon learning of his wife's unusual impregnation, had the dream interpreted by a group of Brahman priests, who stated that the boy was destined to greatness, either as a great king (cakravartin) or a religious leader. From the start it was clear that he would be an extraordinary human being. Siddhartha emerged from the wombsome versions have him diving out of his mother's sideand immediately took seven steps in each of the four directions, proclaiming that he was the foremost creature in each of them.

Because of the prediction of the priests, Siddhartha's father kept him confined to the palace grounds, making sure that the young boy could see and experience only sweetness and light. In an early sermon, the Buddha describes his childhood this way: "Bhikkhus [monks], I was delicately nurtured, exceedingly delicately nurtured, delicately nurtured beyond measure. In my father's residence lotus-ponds were made: one of blue lotuses, one of red and another of white lotuses, just for my sake. My turban was made of Kashi cloth [silk from modern Varanasi], as was my jacket, my tunic, and my cloak. I had three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season. In the rainy season palace, during the four months of the rains, I was entertained only by female musicians, and I did notcome down from the palace" (from the Anguttara Nikaya). Within the confines of the palace, Siddhartha lived, essentially, a normal Brahmanical life, passing from the student stage to the beginnings of the householder stage, but all the while being groomed to eventually become king. He married and had a child, a son named Rahula.

One day Siddhartha persuaded his chariot driver to take him outside the gates of the palace, and there he saw the first of four things that would transform his life. Upon seeing an old man, Siddhartha asked his driver, "Good charioteer, who is this man with white hair, supporting himself on the staff in his hand, with his eyes veiled by the brows, and limbs relaxed and bent? Is this some transformation in him, or his original state, or mere chance?" The driver answered that it was old age, and the prince asked, "Will this evil come upon me also?" The answer was, of course, "Yes."

On two subsequent trips outside the palace grounds, Siddhartha saw a diseased man and then a dead man, and on each occasion he had much the same discussion with the driver. These first encounters with suffering (duhkha; Pali, dukkha) transformed the happy prince into a brooding young man. As one text puts it, "He was perturbed in his lofty soul at hearing of old age, like a bull on hearing the crash of a thunderbolt nearby." Siddhartha wondered if perhaps this luxurious palace life was not reality but instead was an illusion of some sort, and he thenceforth wandered around in a profound existential crisis.

The fourth thing he saw was a wandering ascetic, and having encountered not only the duhkha that characterizes the world but also, in the ascetic, a potential way out of this realm of suffering, Siddhartha resolved to leave the palace and go out into the world and wander in search of the truth. He sneaked out in the middle of the night after first going to his sleeping father to explain that he was not leaving out of lack of respect nor out of selfishness but because he had a profound desire to liberate the world from old age and death, from thefear of suffering that comes with old age and death. In short, Siddhartha wanted to rid the world of suffering.

He went off and quickly mastered meditation with a variety of teachers, but he was frustrated and thought that there must be something more than what he experienced as only temporary meditational trances. He thus set out on his own and was soon joined by five other shramanas. Together they began a course of rigorous asceticism. Siddhartha applied himself with great rigor to this radical lifestyle for several years, getting to the point that he could sit in meditation for days, barely eating. The narratives of his life story say that at this point he could exist on a daily diet consisting of one sesame seed, one grain of rice, or one jujube. Eventually he reached a state in which he was barely breathing, barely alive: "Because of so little nourishment, all my limbs became like some withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo's hoof; my back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared sunk deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well; my scalp became shriveled and shrunk as a bitter gourd cut unripe becomes shriveled and shrunk by sun and wind the skin of my belly came to be cleaving to my back-bone; when I wanted to obey the calls of nature, I fell down on my face then and there; when I stroked my limbs with my hand, hairs rotted at the roots fell away from my body" (from the Majjhima Nikaya).

While meditating one day Siddhartha remembered a passing moment in his childhood when he had slipped into a state of utter calm and equilibrium as he watched a plough turn the earth. He realized with this simple vision that he must somehow return to that humble moment and forge a middle path between the extreme asceticism he had been practicing (and which only leads to more suffering) and the sensual indulgence of his former life in the palace. His fellow shramanas abandoned him, cursing and denouncing him as weak willed. At this point a passing woman named Sujata saw the emaciated renouncer that he had become and offered him a simple gift, a bowl of rice gruel. With this modest nourishment Siddhartha sat down beneath a ficus tree near the town of Gaya (known as Bodh Gaya after the Buddha attained enlightenment here) and made rapid progress. In themiddle of his meditations he was challenged by an evil superhuman being named Mara, the embodiment of temptations of all kinds, as well as of fear, delusion, and death. In defeating Mara, Siddhartha metaphorically overcame all such hindrances and quickly attained enlightenment, or bodhi (awakening).

After his awakening, at the age of 35, the Buddha spent several weeks meditating on the various aspects of the truth, which he called dharma, that he had realized. He was initially hesitant to share his teachings, however, for he felt that the complexity of his meditational vision would be too difficult for humans to grasp and would lead to further confusion and suffering. At this point, according to the tradition, the gods went to the Buddha to convince him to accept his vocation of teacher, appealing to his compassion and assuring him that in fact there were people capable of understanding the dharma. One god used the image of a lotus pond: In a lotus pond there are some lotuses still under water or even under the mud; there are others that have risen only up to the water level; and there are still others that stand above water and are untouched by it. In a similar way, in this world there are people of different levels of development. Thus challenged, the Buddha determined to proclaim the insight he had gained and set out for nearby Sarnath, where he would offer his first discourse on the dharma.

The Buddha's first "sermon" was given to the very ascetics who had earlier joined him during his meditations but had lost faith in him. They gathered around him as he spoke of what is known as the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma. He laid out the basic outline of his knowledge and experience of enlightenment to these five shramanas. This first discourse represents, in many ways, the beginning of Buddhism, since it is with the sharing of his personal religious experience that the Buddha created the organized religion that is Buddhism.

The content of that first sermon was so powerful, the tradition maintains, that the Buddha's first five disciples quicklyafter one weekattained enlightenment, becoming arhats (worthy ones). These first five followers, in turn, went forth and began to teach the dharma that the Buddha had shared with them; this is the beginning of the Buddhist sangha, the community and institution of monks that is at the heart of the religion. For the next 40 years the Buddha traveled almost without stop throughout India, sharing the dharma and gathering followers. He did, however, stay in one place for three months out of every year during the monsoon season. This period, known later as the rain season retreat, became an essential element in the formation not only of Buddhist monasticism but also of a Buddhist lay community. Monks settled in small communities throughout India, debating amongst themselves, establishing a formal religious canon and an accepted body of religious practices, and sharing the Buddha's teachings with the laypeople. The laity, in turn, supported the monks materially by providing them with shelter, food, robes, and alms bowls.

Toward the end of his life, the Buddha instructed his followers that no single person or group of people could hold authority over the community of monks and laypeople. Rather, the authority was to be shared by all. As much as this created an egalitarian religious community, it also, after the Buddha's death, opened the way both for productive debate about the meaning and significance of the teachings that the Buddha had left behind and for disagreement and schism. Initially the Buddha's teachings were only preserved orally by followers who had actually heard his discourses. These teachings were gathered in three collections, or "baskets." These three sets of what the tradition regards as the Buddha's actual words are known as the Tripitaka (Pali, Tipitaka): the Vinaya (Discipline), the Dharma (Doctrine), and the Abhidharma (Pali, Abhidhamma; Advanced Doctrine). As these collections were being formed, debates arose among the different groups of monks about the content of these discourses as well as their significance. Furthermore, new situations that had not been explicitly addressed by the Buddha arose, leading to the need for new rules and resulting in further disagreements.

These debates often led to schisms within the Buddhist community. The tradition records that shortly after the Buddha's death a council was held in the town of Rajagriha (present-day Rajgir, in Bihar) to discuss issues of doctrine and practice; another council was held about a century later. As a result of the disagreementsover proper practice and doctrinevoiced at these councils, the sangha eventually divided into two different lines of monastic ordination, the Sthavira (Elders) and the Mahasanghika (Great Assembly), whose differences initially mostly revolved around issues of monastic discipline, or Vinaya. These two groups would evolve into the Theravada and Mahayana, respectively, developing different doctrinal and ritual standards and becoming established in different parts of Asia.

One of the most important figures in the history of Buddhism was Ashoka, the ruler (230207 b.c.e.) of a large empire in India who not only became a Buddhist himself but established a model of dharmic kinship that would remain the standard template for all Buddhist rulers to follow. Ashoka erected numerous large stone pillars throughout India with edicts inscribed on them. These edicts laid out many of the basic aspects of the Buddha's teachings as well as guidelines for how to live a good Buddhist life. Furthermore, Ashoka established the standard of royal support for the monks by building monastic shelters, planting shade trees and digging wellsto aid travelers, and spreading the physical remains of the Buddha throughout India. The physical remains were particularly important in the spread and growth of Buddhism. Enshrined in chaityas and stupasburial mounds of varying sizethey became objects of devotion and important gathering places, often associated with significant events in the Buddha's life, allowing the monks to spread the dharma to larger and larger groups. Ashoka also sent out a number of missionaries, including his own son, Mahinda, to introduce Buddhism and establish monastic orders in other parts of the world, such as Sri Lanka, Southwest and Southeast Asia, and even Greece.

Ashoka had set an important precedent in his support for Buddhism; the support of rulers was an essential element in the expansion and vitality of the religion. For their part, kings were attracted to Buddhism because of its emphasis on individual morality, the lack of caste hierarchy, and the symbiosis between the sangha and the state. The monks needed the king to provide land, food, and protection, while the king found in the sangha a moral legitimization of his righteous rule. The ideal king was a dharmaraja (king of dharma)just, generous, and moral, upholding and promoting the teachings of the Buddha. This basic model is one that continues to be replicated in Buddhist countries today.

As Buddhism spread, the Theravada school (sometimes called Southern Buddhism) became particularly well established in Southern Asia, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Cambodia. The Mahayana school (sometimes called Northern Buddhism) spread north, first to China and then to the rest of East Asia. These two major divisions in turn divided into many different subgroups and schools, adapting to their particular settings. In Tibet, for instance, the form of Mahayana that became established was Tantra (or Vajrayana), an extrapolation from the core Mahayana beliefs that puts particular emphasis on the transformative effects of ritual. In China and then later Japan, the Ch'an (Zen in Japan) school developed a form of the Mahayana that places particular emphasis on the meditation experience. Thus, although Buddhism essentially died out in India by the thirteenth century, its fundamentally missionary character, and its ability to adapt and adopt, enabled it to flourish elsewhere in Asia.

Buddhism first entered the Western consciousness with colonialism. In the nineteenth century intellectual interest in Buddhism developed in Europe and North America, creating a distinct scholarly field focused on the translation of Buddhist texts from their original languages, as well as their philosophical analysis, an offshoot of which was the gradual availability of accessible books on Buddhist belief and practice. Although there have never been huge numbers of Buddhists in the Westestimates vary, but probably no more than 5 million of the world's 500 million Buddhists live in the Westthey have been an important religious presence. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the West also saw an influx of Asian immigrants who brought with them Buddhism, establishing small temples and communities throughout Europe and North America.

As Buddhism gained followers and monks began to form distinct groups, often united on the basis of doctrinal commonalities and matters of monastic discipline, Buddhism was marked by a doctrinal explosion. By the first millennium of the common era, substantial new texts began to appear: commentaries on the Buddha's sermons, new Vinaya texts, and entirely new texts that were claimed to have been hidden by the Buddha himself. This doctrinal profusion is truly one of the hallmarks of Buddhism. That said, however, certain key doctrines also are shared by all Buddhists.

Underlying virtually all of Buddhism is the basic doctrine of samsara, which Buddhism shares with Hinduism. Samsara is really a fundamental worldview or ethos, an understanding of the world that holds that all beings, including animals, are part of an endless (and beginningless) cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Furthermore, Buddhism holds that the physical universe is itself made up of infinite world systems, spread out infinitely in space, and that these world systems, like the individual person, are also subject to the cycle of birth and rebirth. It was, in many ways, the realization of the horror of samsara that led to the Upanishads and the shramana movements. These movements attempted to devise a religious mode of action and thought that would provide a way out of this endless cycle of rebirth.

The Buddhist view of the cosmos is predicated on samsara and holds that there are both different world systems and different realms that are arranged in a tripartite structure: the "sense-desire" realm at the bottom, the "pure form" realm above that, and the "formless" realm at the top. Within these three divisions are further subrealms into which a being can be reborn: the human realm, the animal realm, the hungry ghost (preta) realm, various hells, and, higher up, deva (divine) realms. Although it is not the highest realm, the human realm isconsidered the most promising because in this realm are both suffering, which acts as a motivation to advance, and free will, which enables humans to act on this impulse. It is important to note that Buddhism holds that even the divine beings, despite their power, are subject to the laws of samsara.

Karma (which means "act" or "deed"), another concept shared with Hinduism, is the linchpin of the whole religious system of Buddhism, in that karma is what determines the quality of each rebirth and keeps the individual in the samsara. On its most basic level, karma is the natural law of cause and effect, inherent in the very structure of the world, a cumulative system in which good acts produce good results, bad acts bad results. Beings are then reborn in good or bad realms, depending on their cumulative karma in each birth. Karma is frequently described in Buddhist texts as being a seed (phalam) that will eventually grow fruit, which is, naturally, dependent on what sort of seed was sown.

The Buddhist understanding of karma, though, further stipulates that it is not just the act that determines the karmic result but also the motivation behind the act. Thus, good acts done for the wrong reason can produce negative karmic results, and likewise bad acts that might have been done for good reasons (or accidentally) do not necessarily produce negative karmic results. Indeed, Buddhism holds that bad thoughts are every bit as detrimental as intentional bad actions.

Negative karma is most typically created through intentionally harming other beings and through greed. Positive karma is most easily created through compassionate acts and thoughts and through giving selflessly (which is, ultimately, motivated by compassion).

The doctrine of impermanence (anitya) is rooted in the four visions that prompted Siddhartha to abandon his life in the palace. What he realized, when he saw old age, disease, and death, was that all beings are in a fundamental state of flux and, ultimately, decay. This is, in an important sense, a fundamental corollary to the reality of samsarathe human being, just as the world, is constantly evolving, decaying, and reforming. Furthermore, it is the failure to recognize this flux that causes beings to suffer, since they grasp on to that which is impermanentlife, love, material objects, and so onwishing it will last. The Buddha condenses this basic idea in a simple pronouncement (in Pali): yad aniccam tam dukkham (whatever is impermanent is suffering). Since everything is necessarily impermanent, then everything ultimately involves suffering, which he succinctly expresses in the phrase sabbam dukkham (everything is suffering).

The doctrine of no self (anatman; Pali, anatta) is frequently misunderstood in the West. The Buddha does not mean that human beings have no personality but, rather, that because everything in the world is impermanent, there can be no permanent self. In this way Buddhism significantly breaks from Hindu doctrine, which holds that there does exist a permanent self that is reborn time and time again in samsara. But if there is no permanent self, what is it that is reborn? It is karmic residue alone. In his second sermon, the Buddha explains that what we think of as the self is only a collection of personality traits (skandas). They create the impression that there are both objects to be perceived and a person to perceive the objects, when in fact all of these objects are impermanent, constantly changing.

One of the clearest expressions of this basic Buddhist idea is demonstrated in a conversation between the monk Nagasena and King Milinda, contained in the Milindapanha. Nagasena uses the example of a chariot to illustrate no self, explaining to Milinda that although one can point to, ride, or see a chariot, it only exists in-sofar as it is a collection of partsaxles, wheels, reins, and so onand that since no single part can be called the chariot, there is no essential, independent thing called a chariot, just as there is no essential, independent self.

Often called "the chain of conditioned arising" or "the chain of becoming," pratitya-samutpada (Pali, paticca-samuppada) is broken into 12 links and is one of the most important Buddhist doctrines, one about which Buddha's disciple Sariputta says, "Whoever understands conditioned arising understands the dharma." This is a more elaborate understanding of karma and samsara, a vision of cause and effect in which everything in the world is dependent on some other thing for its existence, succinctly expressed in this simple formula, which occurs in any number of Pali texts: "When this is, that is / This arising, that arises / When this is not, that is not / This ceasing, that ceases." In other words, one thing begets another. Birth begets life, which begets decay, which begets death, which begets birth, and around and around. To get out of the circle, one must break the chain somewhere, most efficiently at its weakest link, ignorance, which is done by applying oneself to mastering the dharma.

The Four Noble Truths is really the doctrinal foundation of Buddhism, a kind of basic blueprint of theBuddha's teachings, delivered in his first sermon at Sarnath after attaining enlightenment.

The first Noble Truth, suffering (duhkha; Pali, dukkha), posits that suffering exists in the world. This we see in the story of Siddhartha in the palace: The young prince is made aware that the world is not all wonderful, as it appears to be in the palace, but in fact that the rosy life was just an illusion. In the first sermon, the Buddha says that birth is duhkha, old age is duhkha, sickness is duhkha, death is duhkhain fact, everything is duhkha, including things that seem to be pleasurable.

The first Noble Truth is intended not to engender a pessimistic worldview in Buddhists but, rather, to alert them to the reality of the world and to promote a clear, truthful view of that world. Furthermore, the response to the reality of suffering, as we see clearly in the Buddha's own desire to realize and share the dharma, is to show compassion (karuna) and kindness (maitri) to all living beings.

The second Noble Truth is the arising (samudaya) of suffering. Since suffering exists, the Buddha posits, it must have a cause, which is most simply expressed as tanha (thirst or desire). This thirst takes many forms: the desire for life, for things, for love. Although on its face this, too, may seem to engender a pessimistic worldview, in which the individual must stifle all sensual pleasure, it is important again to stress that the Buddha advocates a middle path, between sensual indulgence and extreme asceticism. Pleasurable experiences should be experienced for what they are, without grasping. Indeed, the Buddha pronounces that it is precisely because humans mindlessly grasp things and experiences, always rushing to the next, that they fail to fully experience their lives, including that which is pleasurable. The point then is not to deny the sensual but to fully experience sensations and thoughts as they are happening.

The third Noble Truth is cessation (nirodha) of suffering. Just as the Buddha saw that if suffering exists it must logically have an origin, so, too, must it have an end. The end of duhkha is, logically, related to its source; nirodha comes as a result of ending craving, of stopping the grasping after things that are impermanent. When one stops grasping, one stops generating karma, and it is karma and karma alone that keeps beings trapped in samsara. The absolute elimination of karma is nirvana, eternal freedom from the bondage of samsara.

Of all Buddhist concepts, nirvana has perhaps been the most misunderstood. Although it is frequently equated with heaven or described as a state of bliss, nirvana is actually the absence of all states. The Sanskrit word literally means "to blow out, to extinguish," as one would blow out a candle. Nirvana then refers to the absolute elimination of karma. Since karma is what keeps us in samsara, what constitutes our very being, the elimination of karma logically means an elimination of being. This is the end of duhkha, the end of the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, beyond all states of existence.

Despite the fact that nirvana is the Buddhist understanding of ultimate salvation, the Buddha himself had little to say on the topic, often warning his followers of the dangers of grasping on to the end goal at the expense of living a focused, compassionate life. He describes it as the "extinction of desire, the extinction of illusion" and also as the "abandoning and destruction of desire and craving for these Five Aggregates of attachment; that is the cessation of duhkha." When asked once if nirvana were a state or not a state of existence, however, the Buddha responded that this was an unanswerable question and left it at that. The point again is that the focus should be on mindful progression on the path, not on the destination. The person who spends too much time obsessively focusing on nirvanaor on any aspect of existence or doctrinal complexityis, the Buddha said, like the man who, upon being shot by a poison arrow, asks who shot it, how did he aim, what sort of wood the arrow was made of, and so on. The point is that the man must first remove the arrow before the poison kills him.

That said, however, later Buddhist schools inevitably took up the question of nirvana, frequently engaging in long philosophical analysis of the possibility of describing it in positive terms. In some Mahayana schools nirvana is, in fact, often described as a kind of state of blissful calm.

The fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path (marga; Pali, magga). Often envisioned as the Wheel of the Dharma with eight spokes, this is the middle path between extreme asceticism and extreme hedonism, a systematic and practical way to realize the truth and eliminate suffering. The Eightfold Path is traditionally divided into three distinct phases that should, ideally, be progressively mastered.

The first phase is sila (ethics) and involves purifying one's outward behavior (and motivations for such behavior). The Buddha describes three elements in sila (the first three steps of the Eightfold Path): (1) right action, (2) right speech, and (3) right livelihood. Next comessamadhi (meditation), which is broken down, likewise, into three elements (the next three steps): (4) right effort, (5) right mindfulness, and (6) right concentration. The third phase is prajna (wisdom) and is broken down into two elements (the last two steps): (7) right understanding and (8) right intentions. Prajna is not just knowledge or things one learns. Rather, it is a profound way of understanding being in the world. Prajna is often described as a sword that cuts through all illusion, a mental faculty that enables one to fully experience the world as it is without grasping. A later Mahayana school uses an image of geese reflected on a perfectly still pond to describe this state: The average person looks at the pond and, upon seeing the reflection of a flock of geese, immediately looks up. But the person who has perfected prajna does not look up but, rather, fully experiences the thing that he or she is seeing in the moment, the reality of the reflection, without distractions. In a sense such a person does not think at all but only sees the world as it iswhat the Buddha called yathabhutam (in a state of perpetual flux).

With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism sometime shortly after the turn of the first millennium, new and increasingly more complex doctrines emerged, extending the original teachings of the Buddha. In particular, new understandings of both the character and activity of the Buddha emerged, and new doctrines evolved that held that the Buddha had not, in fact, completely left the world when he died and attained nirvana but was still an active presence in the world.

This is first articulated in the doctrine of the various bodies (kayas) of the Buddha. The first of these bodieswhich are not, in fact, conceived of strictly as physical forms but rather more like the different ways in which the Buddha continues to be present in the worldis the dharmakaya, or "body of the teachings." This is the Buddha's form as wisdom, truth, and the real nature of reality (emptiness). This is that which characterizes the Buddha as the Buddha. Sometimes called Buddhaness, dharmakaya is the whole collection of wonderful qualities that are known as the Buddha. It also refers to the teachings, in their essence. The second body is called the nirmanakaya, or "transformation body" (also sometimes called the rupakaya, or "form body"). This is the earthly form, or manifestation, of the Buddha. Finally there is a more rarified form of the Buddha called the sambhogakaya, or "enjoyment body," the form of the Buddha that those who have attained enlightenment enjoy and interact with.

Related to this idea of the multiple bodies of the Buddha was the emergence of the concept of the bodhisattvaan enlightened being who works for the welfare of all those still caught in samsarawhich is perhaps the hallmark of the Mahayana schools. Although bodhisattva was a common word in the earliest of Buddhist texts, these pre-Mahayana schools held that once the Buddha had attained enlightenment, he taught the dharma to his disciples and then, on his death, entered nirvana, or parinirvana, thus ending his existence in the realm of samsara forever. The Buddha's immediate disciples were known as arhats (worthy ones) upon attaining enlightenment, and they too entered nirvana upon death. The Mahayana, however, were critical of this positionthey derisively called the arhats pratyekabuddhas, or "solitary Buddhas"and posited that the Buddha and all other enlightenment beings postponed final nirvana out of their compassion for the sufferings of other beings, choosing to remain in samsara to perfect their own Buddhahood and work for the benefit of all other beings, until each one attains enlightenment.

There are a number of important elements here. For one thing, all beings were now conceived as at once having the innate potential to become a Buddha and also sharing in a kind of universal enlightenment as well. The path then was reconceived as being the path of the bodhisattva, a path that takes many, many lives but is intent on developing bodhicitra (the awakened mind and the very quality of enlightenment), a quality that fundamentally shifts one's attention away from the self to a selfless concern for the well-being of others. Each bodhisattva takes a vow to help other beings and to continue to do so indefinitely, a vow that involves cultivating a set of sixlater expanded to 10perfections, or paramitas. The 10 perfections are (1) dana (generosity), (2) sila (morality), (3) ksanti (patience and forbearance), (4) virya (vigor, the endless and boundless energy that bodhisattvas employ when helping others), (5) dhyana (meditation), (6) prajna (wisdom), (7) upaya (skillful means), (8) conviction, (9) strength, and (10) knowledge. Once a bodhisattva has mastered these 10 perfections, then he is fully realized as a buddha.

With the rise of the ideal of the bodhisattva came also the development of a complex pantheon of enlightened beings. Three of the most popular and most important bodhisattvas are Maitreya, Avalokiteshvara, and Manjushri.

Eventually the Buddha's teachings will lose their potency owing to the natural decay of the world. Whenthings become unbearable, Maitreya will be reborn and will provide for the welfare of all beings and promote a new set of teachings.

The quintessential Buddhist savior figure and the embodiment of compassion, Avalokiteshvara is perhaps the most popular of all bodhisattvas. His name is significant: He is the "lord who sees all," in the sense that he sees all suffering and responds immediately. He saves us from dangers: fire, drowning in a river, being lost at sea, murder, demonic attack, fierce beasts and noxious snakes or insects, legal punishment, attack by bandits, falling from steep precipices, extremes of weather, internecine civil or military unrest, and others.

Especially associated with wisdom, Manjushri is a key figure in numerous Mahayana scriptures, and he has been the focus of significant cultic activity throughout Mahayana Buddhist countries. His name means "gentle glory," although he is called by many names and epithets, some of which refer to his relation to speech (Vagishvara, "lord of speech") or to his disarming youth (Kumarabhuta, "in the form of a youth" or "having become the crown prince"). Because he is destined soon to become a Buddha, Manjushri is often called "prince of the teachings."

A concept that first appears in the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts, the idea of emptiness (shunyata) extends the Buddha's teachings about dependent origination and posits that all phenomena are dependent for their being on some other thing. The first-century thinker Nagarjuna introduced the most radical understanding of this concept, arguing that just as the terms "long" and "short" take on meaning only in relation to each other and are themselves devoid of independent qualities (longness or shortness), so too do all phenomena (all dharmas) lack their own being (svabhava). If a thing were to have an independent and unchanging own being, Nagarjuna reasons, then it would follow that it is neither produced nor existent, because origination and existence presuppose change and transience. All things, physical as well as mental, can originate and develop only when they are empty of their own being. Nevertheless, Nagarjuna contends, elements do have what he calls a conventional reality, so that we still interact with them, think thoughts, and so on, even if ultimately they are empty of reality. Related to this is the concept of skillful means, upaya, which refers to the bodhisattva's employment of whatever means are necessary to help beings toward enlightenment. Language, for instance, is itself empty, in that it depends on external references to make sense, but language is necessary to communicate and is therefore a skillful means through which to spread the dharma.

One of the things that makes the theory and practice of ethics (sila) particularly interesting in the Buddhist context is the tension that exists, right on the surface, between the individual's responsibility for his or her own salvationas exemplified by the Buddha's advice that one must be one's own island (atta dipa), dependent on no one other than one's self for salvationand the individual's connection with social life, as governed by the collective nature of karma. This is perhaps most dramatically illustrated by the Buddha's own life story. For instance, in Johnston's translation of The Buddhacarita, or, Acts of the Buddha, the young Siddhartha's wife, Yashodhara, when she hears that Siddhartha has abandoned her, falls upon the ground "like a Brahminy duck without its mate"a common symbol of lifelong marital partnership, such that one duck will die of remorse upon the death of the other. Likewise, his son is described as "poor Rahula," who is fated "never to be dandled in his father's lap" (pp. viii, 58).

The ethical and moral challenge is always to strike a balance between one's concern for the suffering of others and one's own progress on the path; too much concern for other people can be a hindrance, just as not enough can generate negative karma. The key to Buddhist ethics, if not in fact to the whole of the Buddha's teachings, is the cultivation of mindfulness (sati)to develop a mental attitude of complete and selfless awareness, a mental attitude that necessarily influences the manner in which one acts toward other living beings, a mental awareness that fundamentally informs one's every act and intention to act.

For the monk the ethical system is extremely complex and extensive, contained primarily and explicitly in the Vinaya but secondarily and implicitly in every utterance of the Buddha. To be a monk is to be necessarily ethical. For the layperson the ethical guidelines are less specific, seeming to amount to "live the proper life." This means that one must be aware that all acts and all beings are part of samsara and are thus caught up in karma and pratitya-samutpada (Pali, paticca-samuppada; the chain of conditioned arising). Whatever one does has effects, and those effects are not always obvious. The implications here are perhaps best ethically stated when the Buddha says, "Oh Bhikkhus, it is not easy to finda being who has not formerly been your mother, or your father, your brother, your sister or your son or daughter" (Samyutta Nikaya, vol. II, p. 189). In other words, any act necessarily affects not only the immediate actor but all beings, who are, logically, karmically connected.

It is also important to remember that we are still within the basic Brahmanical milieu here. What we see in Buddhism, however, is an emphasis on the individual as he or she fits into society, not an emphasis on how society molds or controls the individual, as we see in Hinduism, where the emphasis is on order and duty, on making sure that everything and everyone stays in the proper placehence caste, life stages, and so on. This is not to say that this societal component is entirely absent in Buddhism, since one of the motivations for the individual to act ethically is to make society work. Without social order things would fall utterly apart, as is perhaps best articulated in what is sometimes called the Buddhist book of Genesis, the Aganna Sutta, which describes a social world in which chaos and decay emerge precisely because beings act greedily and selfishly. Proper, ethical action in Buddhism is not performed out of duty or some higher cosmic order, however; rather, one acts ethically out of one's own free will, because without such proper action, the individual can make no progress on the path.

The importance of proper giving (dana) is utterly central to Buddhist ethics and to the life of both the layperson and the monk; indeed, dana can be said to be the key to monk-lay relations. The first principle that must be noted here is that in Buddhism there is a marked ambiguity about material wealth. The concept of nonattachment, the absence of grasping, is of crucial importance here; from the Buddhist perspective material goods are only important as a means of cultivating nonattachment. Again, however, the middle way is emphasized: Too many possessions can lead to attachment, just as too few can lead to craving. Any material prosperity offers at once the opportunity for greater giving and the cultivation and expression of nonattachment, but such prosperity also offers a temptation toward the kind of antidharmic self-indulgence that leads to increased entrapment in the web of worldly existence.

The model donor in Buddhism is the laywoman Sujata, who gave Siddhartha the simple and selfless gift of rice gruel, which enabled him to gain the strength to make the final push to enlightenment. What makes this act of dana so important is that Sujata gave her gift modestly, with no self-interest, no expectation of gain or reward; she was responding with selfless compassion to Siddhartha's obvious need.

Equally important as a model donor is the king Vessantara, whose story is told in a popular tale from the Jataka collection that provides not only a model of ethical giving but also a cautionary tale about the karmic consequences of giving too much. In this story Vessantara eventually gives away his kingdom and prosperity, his wife and children, everything, and the result is suffering for all until everything is restored and Vessantara realizes the need to give modestly.

Monks also engage in dana, although rather than giving material goods, which they necessarily depend on the laity for, they give what the Dhammapada says is the best gift of all: "The gift of dharma excels all gifts."

Two important metaphors for proper ethical giving are bija and khsetra. Bija basically means "seed" but is nearly always used to describe the seed of an auspicious act. This act, if it is indeed done with the correct selfless motives, bears karmic fruit (phala); the act itself is called kushala, which can be defined as "good, moral, skillful, proper," or, to use the best Buddhism definition, that which is "karmically wholesome"in other words, a gift that is given with proper intention, given out of selfless compassion. The best field in which to plant a seed is the sangha (community of monks), and the best seed to plant is an act of giving, dana. The sangha is thus consistently referred to as a fertile karmic field. This imagery is further developed in times when there are monastic schisms or crises, in which case the monks are sometimes described as a barren field in which no seeds will bear fruit. This imagery is not limited to the monks and gifts to them but refers to any auspicious action.

Buddhist acts of charity, then, are fundamentally symbiotic in nature. The laypeople provide the monks with the material support that they needshelter, robes, food, and so onand in the process cultivate the crucial attitudes of nonattachment and compassion, a kind of domestic asceticism that is not disruptive of the social order. The monks, in turn, depend on the laypeople and return the material gifts with the gift of the Buddha's teachings. Furthermore, the ideology of dana is such that the laypeople's gifts will only bear "fruit" (that is, positive karma) if the monks are pure (in other words, a fertile field). If a particular monastery becomes corrupt, then the laypeople will give somewhere else, providing a kind of ethical imperative for monastic purity.

A crucial element in all of this is the concept of punya (merit), which is positive karma. By giving selflessly, one "earns" merit, accumulating positive karma, which determines the quality of one's next rebirth. If one is too attached to this merit, thoughtoo focused on the end products and not the selfless and compassionate act of giving (and giving up)then one in fact earns not positive karma but negative, which will hinder one's ultimate spiritual progress.

The pancha sila are the basic ethical guidelines for the layperson, although they are not necessarily followed rigidly by everyone. In some ways they are rather like the Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity, in that they are the basis for ethical behavior, a kind of practical blueprint. A fundamental difference from the Ten Commandments, though, is that the pancha sila are voluntarily followed and are a matter of personal choice, not an imperative to act in a particular manner.

The first guideline is No killing. The basic idea here is that every individual is connected with all other living beings. Buddhists go to considerable lengths to qualify this precept, giving five conditions that govern it: (1) presence of a living being, (2) knowledge of this, (3) intention to kill, (4) act of killing, and (5) death.

What is most important about this first precept is not its negative form, injunction against killing, but its positive aspect, that of compassion and loving kindness. This positive aspect is one of the most common things upon which laypeople meditate, often with this verse from the Metta Sutta: "May all beings be happy and secure; / May their hearts be wholesome. / Whatever living beings there be/ Feeble or strong, tall, stout or medium, / Short, small or large, without exception/ Seen or unseen, / Those dwelling far or near, / Those who are born or who are to be born, / May all beings be happy."

The second guideline is No taking what is not given. This is particularly important for the monks. Here the concept of dana is crucial. Because one of the chief ethical activities of the layperson is to give unselfishly to the sangha, this giving is contingent on the monks accepting, also unselfishly, whatever is given. The monks are not to take anything that is not given to them. This holds true also for the layperson, in that he or she is not to steal.

The third guideline is No sexual misconduct. This prevents lust and envy, which are the most powerful forms of thirst (tanha).

The fourth guideline is No false speech. Lies create deception and illusion and lead to grasping. Also, for the monks, this is about not speaking false doctrines.

The fifth guideline is No liquor, which clouds the mind and prevents sati (mindfulness).

In addition to these five basic principles, monks follow additional basic rules, sometimes three, sometimes five: No untimely meals (thereby promoting group sharing of food and hindering the desire to hoard); No dancing or playing of music (thereby promoting a sober, nonfrivolous life); No adornments or jewelry (which would be against the basic ascetic attitude of the monk); No high seats (an injunction intended to promote equality in the sangha); and No handling of money (thereby preventing greed and attachments).

The Buddha famously told his chief disciple, Ananda, that after his death, the dharma he was leaving behind would continue to be the present teacher, the "guiding light," to all future Buddhists, a scene that establishes the paramount importance of sacred texts in Buddhism. Tradition holds that during the first rainy-season retreat after the Buddha's death, thus sometime in the latter half of the sixth century b.c.e., the Buddha's disciples gathered at Rajagriha (present-day Rajgir, in Bihar) and orally collected all of the Buddha's teachings into three sets, or "three baskets" (tripitaka; Pali, tipitaka). By about the end of the first century c.e., these oral texts were written down. These three collections form the basis of the Buddhist canon.

The first collection of the Pali Tipitaka is the Sutta Pitaka, some 30 volumes of the Buddha's discourses as well as various instructional and ritual texts. The Vinaya Pitaka, or collection of monastic rules, includes the list of 227 rules for the monks (311 for nuns), called the Patimokkha, and detailed accounts as to how and why they were developed. The Vinaya also contains narratives of the Buddha's life, rules for rituals, ordination instructions, and an extensive index of topics covered. The third group of texts is the Abhidhamma Pitaka, or collection of scholastic doctrines. These are highly abstract, philosophical texts dealing with all manner of issues, particularly the minutiae that make up human experience. The last of these texts, the Patthana Abhidhamma, stretches for some 6,000 pages.

In addition to the fundamental texts of the Tipitaka, each text also is accompanied by an extensive commentary, and often several subcommentaries, thatclarifies the grammatical and linguistic ambiguities of the text and also extends the analysis, serving as a kind of reader's (or listener's) guide through the book's sometimes confusing philosophical and ritual points.

With the rise of the Mahayana, new books were added to this basic canonical core, most of them composed in Sanskrit; the tradition holds, however, that these were not new sacred texts but were the higher teachings of the Buddha himself that were set aside for a later revealing. Perhaps the best known of these is the Lotus Sutra, composed probably around the turn of the first millennium, and also the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts. Additional texts continued to be added as the Mahayana schools developed in India. As Buddhism branched out, these texts, and the earlier Tipitaka, were translated by Buddhist monks from both Tibet and China. These translations sometimes led to further expansion of the canon, particularly in Tibet, where the rise of the Vajrayana (Tantric) schools led to more new texts; likewise, as Ch'an (Zen in Japan) developed, new sacred texts were written and preserved.

Early Buddhism employed a variety of visual symbols to communicate aspects of the Buddha's teachings: the Wheel of the Dharma, symbolic of his preaching ("turning") his first sermon and also, with its eight spokes, of Buddhism's Eightfold Path; the bodhi tree, which symbolizes not only the place of his enlightenment (under the tree) but the enlightenment experience itself; the throne, symbolizing his status as "ruler" of the religious realm and also, through its emptiness, his passage into final nirvana; the deer, symbolizing the place of his first sermon, the Deer Park at Sarnath, and also the protective qualities of the dharma; the footprint, symbolizing both his former physical presence on earth and his temporal absence; and the lotus, symbolic of the individual's journey up through the "mud" of existence, to bloom, with the aid of the dharma, into pure enlightenment. Later Buddhism added countless other symbols. Among them, in the Mahayana, for instance, the sword becomes a common symbol of the incisive nature of the Buddha's teachings; in Tibet the vajra (diamond or thunderbolt) is a ubiquitous symbol of the pure and unchanging nature of the dharma.

One of the most common meditational practices in Tibetan Buddhism is deity yoga. Tantric practitioners learn to think, speak, and act as if they were already a fully enlightened buddha through visualizing their body, speech, and mind as the body, speech, and mind of an enlightened being, in order to actualize, or make real in the present, their latent potential for enlightenment.

These practitioners meditate, often with the use of mandalas and mantras, on a particular deityan enlightened being, such as the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvarathat represents their own potential for enlightenment, their own Buddha nature, which is, according to the Vajrayana schools, always there, albeit obscured by illusion and ignorance. In the case of deity yoga directed to Avalokiteshvara, the meditator sits before an image of the bodhisattva and mentally focuses on his compassion and wisdom, often beginning with thoughts of praise (sadhanas), progressing to contemplation of the deity's sublime qualities, and sometimes constructing an elaborate mental "world" inhabited by the deity; then gradually the meditator envisions everything, including his or her own mind, as being a manifestation of the deity. Accordingly, the practitioner eventually realizes through this meditation that there is no difference between the mind of the deityor, for that matter, the Buddha himselfand his or her own mind.

The Buddha's immediate disciples not only formed the first Buddhist community but also were responsible for orally preserving his teachings. One of the most important of these early followers was Ananda, the Buddha's cousin, who accompanied the Buddha for more than 20 years and figures prominently in many early Buddhist texts. Sariputta, one of the Buddha's first converts (along with Mahamogallana), was the Buddha's most trusted disciple and was often depicted as the wisest. Sariputta also served as the Buddha's son's teacher when he joined the sangha (community of monks). Another important early figure is Mahakassapa, a Brahman who became a close disciple of the Buddha. Mahakassapa presided over the first Buddhist Council at Rajagriha (present-day Rajgir, inBihar) and was later celebrated in Ch'an (Zen in Japan) as the receiver of the first transmission of the Buddha's special, esoteric teachings, when the Buddha, upon being asked a question about the dharma, is said to have held up a flower and Mahakassapa smiled, silently signifying his reception of this special teaching. The Buddha's aunt, Mahapajapati, also figures prominently in several early texts. Not only did she raise him after his mother's death but she was ordained as the first woman admitted to sangha.

The Greco-Bactrian king Milinda, also called Menander or Menandros, reigned over Afghanistan and Northern India in the latter half of the second century b.c.e. and is one of the most important royal converts to Buddhism. He had a series of discussions with a Buddhist monk, Nagasena, which were compiled into a famous work entitled the Milindapanha. Perhaps the most famous of all historical figures in Buddhism is the Indian king Ashoka (ruled 230207 b.c.e.). He was the founder of the Maurya Dynasty and the first king to rule over a united India, as well as being one of Buddhism's first royal patrons. Ashoka abolished war in his empire, restricted killing for food, built hospitals, erected thousands of stupas (Buddhist burial mounds), and engraved a series of edicts on rocks and pillars throughout his empire that articulated the basic moral and ethical principle of Buddhism. Ashoka was also instrumental in the spread of Buddhism outside of India. His son, Mahinda (third century b.c.e.), was the leader of a Buddhist missionary enterprise to Sri Lanka and was thus instrumental in the spread of Buddhism outside of India.

Another important early Buddhist king was Harsha-vardhana (60647). He ruled a large empire in northern India and became an important Buddhist convert. Like his predecessor Ashoka, he is described in Buddhist texts as a model rulerbenevolent, energetic, and just, active in the administration and prosperity of his empireand, like Ashoka, he is frequently invoked as a model for all righteous rulers.

There are many early historical figures outside of India. One of the most important records of the early Buddhist world comes to us from the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien (fourth to fifth century). Not only did he obtain many Sanskrit texts of the Pali Tipitaka that he translated upon his return to China in 414, but he also wrote an influential record of his travels that remains one of the most informative views of the early Buddhist world in India. He was followed by another Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan-tsang (60264). Hsuan-tsang, like his predecessor Fa-hsien, was a Buddhist monk who traveled throughout India collecting doctrinal texts, which he then translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, and left a detailed record of his travels. Hsuan-tsang was also the founder in China of the Consciousness-Only (Yogacara) school.

The sixth-century South Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma is a central figure in Chinese and, later, Japanese Buddhism. He arrived at the Chinese court in 520 and is credited with founding the Ch'an (Zen) school of Buddhism. Other important East Asian historical figures are Honen (11331212), also called Genku, who in 1175 established the Jodo (Pure Land) school in Japan; Shinran (11731263), founder of the True Pure Land School of Japanese Buddhism, who is also credited with popularizing congregational worship and introducing reforms, such as salvation by faith alone, marriage of priests, and meat eating; and Nichiren (122282), founder of the Nichiren sect in Japan.

In Tibet the monk Padmasambhava (eighth century) is one of the best-known and important figures. He is a Tantric saint who was instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Tibet; mythologically he is credited with converting to Buddhism the local demons and gods who tormented the Tibetan people, turning them into protectors of the religion. Atisha (9821054) was an Indian monk and scholar who went to Tibet in 1038. He is credited with entirely reforming the prevailing Buddhism in Tibet by enacting measures to enforce celibacy in the existing order and to raise the level of morality within the Tibetan sangha. He founded the Kadampa school, which later became the Geluk-pa school. Like his Chinese counterparts Fa-hsien and Hsuan-tsang, Buston (100864), a Tibetan Buddhist, translated much of the Buddhist sacred literature, including Tantra texts, into classic Tibetan and is sometimes credited with making the definitive arrangements of the Kanjur and Tanjur, the two basic Tibetan collections of Buddhist principles. He also produced a history of Buddhism in Tibet that is among the most important documents for Buddhism's early development in that region. Finally, two extremely important semihistorical figures are Marpa (101296) and Milarepa (10401143). Marpa was a Tibetan layman thought to have imported songs and texts from Bengal to Tibet, but he is best known and most venerated as the guru of Milarepa. Milarepa was a saint and poet of Tibetan Buddhism who continues to be extremely popular. His well-known autobiographyrecounts how in his youth he practiced black magic in order to take revenge on relatives who deprived his mother of the family inheritance and then later repented and sought Buddhist teaching. Milarepa stands figuratively as the model for all Tibetans.

One of the most important religious and social leaders in Tibet is the Panchen Lama, who ranks second only to the Dalai Lama among the Grand Lamas of the Geluk-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. His seat is in the Tashilhumpo monastery at Shigatse. The current Dalai Lama (born in 1935) is the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists. He has lived in exile since 1959, when the Chinese invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama has been instrumental not only in aiding the Tibetan people but also in spreading Buddhism to the West.

The Sri Lankan Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala (18641933) stands as one of the most important Buddhist propagandists of the modern era. Dharmapala was intimately involved in the restoration of Bodh Gaya in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and with spreading Buddhism to the West. He was for much of his life closely associated with Henry Steele Olcott (18321907), an American who, along with H.H. Blavatsky, founded the Theosophical Society. Olcott worked to establish a new lay Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where he founded schools and lay organizations, and he wrote The Buddhist Catechism, which was an important tool in reestablishing and preserving Buddhism among the lay population of Sri Lanka.

One of the most important early scholars of Buddhism was T.W. Rhys Davids (18431922). Rhys Davids was professor of Pali at London University and one of the founders of the university's School of Oriental and African Studies. Along with his wife, Caroline, he pioneered the translation, study, and transmission of Pali text in the West. Ananda Metteyya (Charles Henry Allan Bennett; 18721923) is another important Western Buddhist. The son of an electrical engineer, he was born in London and trained as an analytical chemist before becoming the first British bhikkhu (monk) and Buddhist missionary. Bhikkhu anamoli (Osbert Moore; 190560) was a pioneer British bhikkhu and Pali scholar who went to Sri Lanka and was ordained as a monk. He translated The Visuddhimagga into English as The Path of Purification; he also translated Nettippakarana (The Guide) and Patisambhidamagga (Path of Discrimination), as well as most of the sections of the Majjhima Nikaya and several from the Samyutta Nikaya. Ayya Khema (Ilse Ledermann; 192397) was born in Berlin to Jewish parents; in 1938 she escaped from Germany and began studying Buddhism. In 1978 she helped to establish Wat Buddha-Dhamma, a forest monastery near Sydney, Australia. She later set up the International Buddhist Women's Centre as a training center for Sri Lankan nuns and the Parappuduwa Nun's Island at Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka.

One of the most important biographical accounts of the Buddha's life, the Buddhacarita, is also the first complete biography of the Buddha; it was written by Asvaghosa (second century). Perhaps the most important theologian of early Buddhism was Nargarjuna (second to third century), sometimes called "the second Buddha." Nagarjuna is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamika (Middle Way) school and is counted as a patriarch of both Zen and Vajrayana (Tantra). He is held in the highest regard by all branches of the Mahayana. Another important early author was Kumarajiva (344413), a Buddhist scholar and missionary who had a profound influence in China as a translator and a clarifier of Buddhist terminology and philosophy. Buddhaghosa (fifth century) was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars in the religion's history. He translated Sinhalese commentaries into Pali, wrote numerous commentaries himself, and composed the Visuddhimagga (later translated as Path of Purification by Bhikkhu anamoli). Asanga (31090) was the founder of the Yogacara (Consciousness-Only) school of Buddhism. He is closely associated with the Indian philosopher Vasubandhu (420500). The two founded the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism. Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa is one of the fullest expositions of the Abhidharma teachings of the Theravada school. Dhammapala (sixth to seventh century) was the author of numerous commentaries on the Pali canon and stands as one of the most influential figures in the Theravada. Shantideva (seventh to eighth century) is a later representative of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism and author of two important surviving works, the Shikshasamuccaya (Compendium of Doctrines) and Bodhisattva Avatara (Entering the Path of Enlightenment), the latter of which is still used in Tibetan Buddhism as a teaching text.

The fundamental structure of Buddhism is that it is a self-governing body of individuals, each of whom is theoretically equal and intent on his or her own salvation while compassionately mindful of fellow beings. As soon as Buddhist monksbegan to form into groups, however, there was a need for rules (contained in the Vinaya Pitaka) and also for a degree of hierarchy that was needed to keep order, to enforce the rules, and to maintain religious purity within the community. This hierarchy was, and continues to be, based on senioritythe longer one has been a monk, the more seniority he or she has. There is thus no single authority in the Buddhist world. Rather, each school has a leader or group of leaders who provide guidance to the community as a whole, and the degree of internal hierarchy varies considerably from school to school and country to country.

There has always been a symbiosis between the sangha (community of monks) and the laity. The former depends on the latter for material support, while the latter depends on the former for religious instruction. In these roles they keep each other in check. The laity ensures the purity of the sangha in that unless the community of monks remains well regulated and pure, the laity's gifts will not bear fruit (positive karma); likewise, the sangha serves as a constant reminder and model to the laity of the proper, salvifically beneficial religious life.

The earliest holy sites in Buddhism were probably associated with the places where the Buddha's relics were located. The tradition holds that after the Buddha's body was cremated, his remains were divided into several portions that were set up in burial mounds (stupas) at important crossroads. These places provided opportunities for laypeople and monks to contemplate the Buddha's teachings. The number of these reliquaries soon multipliedAshoka, the early Indian king, was said to have divided the relics into 84,000 pieces, placing them in stupas throughout Indiaand generally were under the care and protection of monasteries. Hence, not only were monasteries places of residence for the monks, they also became meeting places for the laity, places to hear the dharma and also to pay homage to the Buddha. Now virtually every monastic complex has a reliquary or stupa and a central meeting hall where the monks gather to recite the twice-monthly Patimokkha (the Vinaya rules) and receive donations from the laity, and also where the laity gather to hear dharma talks.

In medieval India eight special pilgrimage places developed, all associated with significant events in the Buddha's life. Bodh Gaya, for instance, is the site of his enlightenment and continues to be a major place of pilgrimage for monks and laypeople from throughout the Buddhist world, as well as being home to several important monasteries representing Buddhists from many different countries and traditions. Outside of India new holy places developed as Buddhism developed, some places having mythological significance, some having specific historical or national significance associated with famous monks.

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October 8th, 2018 at 6:45 am

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Meditation | The Buddhist Centre

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There are many things in life that are beyond our control. However, it is possible to take responsibility for and to change ones state of mind. According to Buddhism this is the most important thing we can do, and Buddhism teaches that it is the only real antidote to the anxiety, hatred, discontentedness, sleepiness, and confusion that beset the humancondition.

Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a clear seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice one learns the patterns and habits of the mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With discipline and patience these calm and focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly tranquil and energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding oflife.

Over the millennia countless meditation practices have been developed in the Buddhist tradition. All of them may be described as mind-trainings, but they take many different approaches. The foundation of all of them, however, is the cultivation of a calm and positive state ofmind.

Every year thousands of people learn meditation with the Triratna Buddhist Community. We teach two basic meditations that were originally taught by the historical Buddha. These help develop the qualities of calmness and emotional postivity: the Mindfulness of Breathing and Loving-Kindness (Metta Bhavana)meditations.

The techniques of meditation are very simple. However, reading about them is no substitute for learning from an experienced and reliable teacher. A teacher will be able to offer you guidance in how to apply the technique and how to deal with difficulties. Perhaps most importantly, a teacher can offer the encouragement and inspiration of their ownexample.

At Triratna Centresmeditation is taught by members of the Triratna Buddhist Order, who are experienced meditators. Classes and courses are open to everyone: you need not be interested in Buddhism. Motives for learning meditation vary. Some people want to improve their concentration for work, study, or sports; others are looking for calm and peace of mind. Then there are people trying to answer fundamental questions about life. With regular practice, meditation can help all of us to find what we are looking for. Meditation Courses are excellent contexts for learning.Meditation Retreatsoffer ideal conditions to take thingsfurther.

When you sit down to meditate you need to set up your meditation posture in a way that is relaxed but upright, usually sitting on a cushion and probably cross-legged. If this is not easy you can sit kneeling or else in a chair. Then you close your eyes, relax, and tune in to how you are feeling. It is important to be sensitive to your experience because this is what you work with in meditation. It is a good idea to take some time to sit quietly before starting a meditation, to slow down and relax. Some gentle stretching can alsohelp.

There are lots ofresources availableto help you learn meditation or to take your practicedeeper.

Read an excellentmeditation posture guideby Bodhipaksa, from Wildmind.

You can find answers to somecommon questions about Buddhist meditationwithClear Visionvideo.

For a comprehensive set of free audio and text resources on learning meditation, seefree buddhist audios meditation pages.

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Meditation | The Buddhist Centre

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Jedi Philosophy The Pop Culture Philosopher

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Please enjoy this repost of one of my most popular essays (originally written in 2005):

For many people, the main appeal of George Lucas Star Wars movies is the Jedi Way, the philosophy/religion that guides the mystical Jedi knights. But where does this philosophy come from, and does it hold up under scrutiny?

At root, the Jedi Way is a synthesis of three Eastern religions or philosophies, with an overlay of courtly behavior drawn from the medieval knights of Europe.

The most important source for the Jedi Way is Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy whose name is generally translated as the Way or as the Way of Nature. The two main goals of Taoism are to achieve balance and to exist in harmony with nature (and with all living beings). There is no deity as such in Taoism, which conceptualizes ultimate reality as a primal energy. This energy is expressed in the world in the form of two equal and opposing forces, the yin or passive female force, and the yang or active male force. These forces are neither good nor evil, and what is desirable is that they be in balance at all times.

The tension between yin and yang creates qi (pronounced chee and sometimes transliterated as chi) or life energy. Qi is found in all things, but particularly living creatures. The manipulation of qi is at the root of many traditional Chinese practices including acupuncture, feng shui and tai chi. According to legend, command of qi flow (as practiced by qigong masters) brings many mystical powers similar to those of the Jedi, such as the ability to move objects with the mind. In the movies, the name of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jin is probably a deliberate reference to qi gong.

(Since Taoism is more of a philosophy than a religion, it is often combined together with religious beliefs from other traditions, such as Buddhism or Christianity.)

The second major source of the Jedi Way is Buddhism, specifically Zen, a variant found largely in Japan. As with most forms of Buddhism, Zen preaches non-attachment, the letting go of emotional bonds to people, places and things. The ultimate goal is to reach a selfless state of dispassionate compassion for all living things. Like the Jedi knights, Buddhist monks are ascetic and celibate. Zen monks are known, at least in the popular imagination, for developing a particular ability or craft to the point where it can be practiced with no conscious effort and nearly superhuman skill.

The third major source for the Jedi worldview is Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion which viewed the world as an eternal battlefield between the forces of good and evil. Although Zoroastrianism has only small pockets of practitioners left in the modern world, it was a major influence on many other philosophies and religions. Echoes of it are present in many places, including the way many modern Christians conceptualize the devil as a force opposite and nearly equal to God.

Finally, the Jedi philosophy is overlaid with a code of chivalry based on that practiced by the medieval knights of Europe, who operated by a code of ethics including strict rules for combat, high standards of courtesy, warrior virtues such as honor, loyalty and bravery and a veneration of courtly love. The knightly facet of the Jedi is exemplified in the movies by their preference for the elegant light sabers as opposed to the barbaric blasters.

The remarkable synthesis Lucas achieved in placing together these disparate elements has proved compelling for more than one generation of viewers. However, as a workable philosophy it has major flaws.

The first and most subtle of these is the conflict between Taoism and Buddhism. Although often linked in real life, Taoism and Buddhism do not always line up. In the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching (the chief text of Taoism) it says let go of desires in order to observe the source, but allow yourself desires in order to observe the manifestations. This indicates that both attachment and nonattachment are seen as having value in Taoism, as opposed to Buddhism. In addition, the Buddhist seeks to transcend the world and earthly existence, whereas the Taoist seeks to be fully integrated into the world as a part of nature and natural existence. In the movies, this becomes an issue in the way that the Jedi Council is aloof and independent from politics, yet simultaneously also deeply involved in the galactic political landscape.

The second conflict is between Taoism and Zoroastrianism. There is no good and evil in Taoism, only balance and imbalance. Neither Yin nor Yang is preferable, and both are necessary, as apposed to Zoroastrianism, where the ultimate goal is the triumph of good and the eradication of evil. This disconnect shows up as a major plot point in the second series of movies (I, II & III), where the prophecy of balance in the Force may possibly mean the rise of evil.

The third conflict is between Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. Again, the concept of a fight between good and evil is somewhat alien to Buddhism. A fallen Buddhist would not be an equal and opposite force to a good Buddhist, but simply someone who had become too caught up in the illusions and the material temptations of the ordinary world. A person of this sort might be cruel, venal and selfish, but would not be expected to have any particular spiritual power. This creates a paradox in the movies, in that the Jedi draw power from controlling their emotions, but the Sith draw power from their inability to control their emotions. In addition it creates another instance of cognitive dissonance as the wise and dispassionate Jedi choose over and over again to resolve their problems through violence.

The final conflict is between Buddhism and chivalry. Buddhism preaches non-attachment, but one of the key characteristics of the medieval knights was passionate attachment. Loyalty to ones lord and to ones comrades-in-arms was among the highest virtues, and a courtly, romantic (and theoretically chaste) love between a knight and his lady was celebrated as an ideal. Also, in as much as chivalry stems from Christianity, it carries the idea of love as a powerful redemptive force.

This disconnect creates some of the most powerful paradoxes in the movies. In the first series (IV, V & VI) Yoda and Obi-Wan counsel control of emotions, and warn Luke against the dangers of his affection for his friends, and his unreasonable love for his father. Yet it is Lukes decision to ignore this seemingly wise advice that provides most of the high points of the first series. In the end, Luke is proven right when his ill-advised love for his father finally uncovers the good left in Darth Vader, and brings about the final end to the Sith. Therefore, love is ultimately shown to be even more powerful than the light side of the Force (which failed to conquer its counterpart in all five chronologically previous movies).

Conversely, the second series suffers from taking its doctrine of non-attachment too seriously. The Jedi Council consequently comes across as cold and uncaring a fact which drives Anakin into the more hot-blooded arms of the Dark Side. In addition, this set of movies is in the strange position of positing love as the enemy. Although Anakin clearly has psychotic tendencies, the movie insists on blaming his moments of indiscriminate slaughter on his love for his mother and his wife. Even Obi-Wans platonic love for his padawan does nothing except cloud his judgment.

It is this too-fully-realized disdain for emotion that, more than anything else, makes the second series inferior to the first.

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Jedi Philosophy The Pop Culture Philosopher

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September 26th, 2018 at 8:43 pm

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Buddhism – HISTORY

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Contents

Buddhism is a religion that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) more than 2,500 years ago in India. With about 470 million followers, scholars consider Buddhism one of the major world religions. The religion has historically been most prominent in East and Southeast Asia, but its influence is growing in the West. Many Buddhist ideas and philosophies overlap with those of other faiths.

Some key facts about Buddhism include:

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Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as The Buddha, lived during the 5th century B.C. Gautama was born into a wealthy family as a prince in present-day Nepal.

Although he had an easy life, Gautama was moved by suffering in the world. He decided to give up his lavish lifestyle and endure poverty.

When this didnt fulfill him, he promoted the idea of the Middle Way, which means existing between two extremes. Thus, he sought a life without social indulgences but also without deprivation.

After six years of searching, Buddhists believe Gautama found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He spent the rest of his life teaching others about how to achieve this spiritual state.

When Gautama passed away around 483 B.C., his followers began to organize a religious movement. Buddhas teachings became the foundation for what would develop into Buddhism.

In the 3rd century B.C., Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Indian emperor, made Buddhism the state religion of India. Buddhist monasteries were built, and missionary work was encouraged.

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Over the next few centuries, Buddhism began to spread beyond India. The thoughts and philosophies of Buddhists became diverse, with some followers interpreting ideas differently than others.

In the sixth century, the Huns invaded India and destroyed hundreds of Buddhist monasteries, but the intruders were eventually driven out of the country.

Islam began to spread quickly in the region during the Middle Ages, forcing Buddhism into the background.

Today, many forms of Buddhism exist around the world. The three main types that represent specific geographical areas include:

Each of these types reveres certain texts and has slightly different interpretations of Buddhas teachings. There are also several subsects of Buddhism, including Zen Buddhism and Nirvana Buddhism.

Some forms of Buddhism incorporate ideas of other religions and philosophies, such as Taoism and Bon.

Buddhas teachings are known as dharma. He taught that wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity and compassion were important virtues.

Specifically, all Buddhists live by five moral precepts, which prohibit:

Gautama traveled extensively, giving sermons on how to live and achieve enlightenment. Some popular quotes commonly attributed to Buddha include:

Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.

If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.

A jug fills drop by drop.

Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.

If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.

The root of suffering is attachment.

People with opinions just go around bothering each other.

The Four Noble Truths, which Buddha taught, are:

Collectively, these principles explain why humans hurt and how to overcome suffering.

Buddhists revere many sacred texts and scriptures. Some of the most important are:

The Dalai Lama is the leading monk in Tibetan Buddhism. Followers of the religion believe the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama that has agreed to be born again to help humanity. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas throughout history.

The Dalai Lama also governed Tibet until the Chinese took control in 1959. The current Dalai Lama, Lhamo Thondup, was born in 1935.

Every year, Buddhists celebrate Vesak, a festival that commemorates Buddhas birth, enlightenment and death.

During each quarter of the moon, followers of Buddhism participate in a ceremony called Uposatha. This observance allows Buddhists to renew their commitment to their teachings.

They also celebrate the Buddhist New Year and participate in several other yearly festivals.

Buddhism: An Introduction, PBS.Buddhism, Ancient History Encyclopedia.Buddhism: An Introduction, BBC.The History of Buddha, History Cooperative.Demographics of Buddhism, Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs.Religions: Buddhism, BBC.Buddhist Scriptures, Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs.

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Buddhism - HISTORY

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