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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.



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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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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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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September 26th, 2018 at 8:43 pm

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Buddhism – HISTORY

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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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What is Buddhism? KMC New York –

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Buddhism is the practice of Buddhas teachings, also called Dharma, which means protection.

We need to practice Buddhas teachings because there is no other real method to solve human problems. For example, because modern technology often causes more suffering and dangers, it cannot be a real method to solve human problems. Although we want to be happy all the time we do not know how to do this, and we are always destroying our own happiness by developing anger, negative views and negative intentions. We are always trying to escape from problems, even in our dreams, but we do not know how to liberate ourself from suffering and problems. Because we do not understand the real nature of things, we are always creating our own suffering and problems by performing inappropriate or non-virtuous actions.

By practicing Buddhas teachings, living beings are permanently protected from suffering.

Today we can see many different forms of Buddhism, such as Zen and Theravada Buddhism. All these different aspects are practices of Buddhas teachings, and all are equally precious; they are just different presentations.

Citation (MLA): Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Modern Buddhism. Glen Spey: Tharpa Publications, 2013.

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July 25th, 2018 at 10:43 am

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This book is written for people wanting to understand basic Buddhist principles and how to integrate them into their lives. . . . It will be of much benefit to its readers.H.H. the Dalai Lama

Thubten Chodron has presented the Buddhist view on essential issues of spiritual development. . . . A tremendous resource for those interested in Buddhist practice.Karma Lekshe Tsomo, president of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women

Chodrons plain English makes her beginners guide nearly perfect for those new to Buddhism and those who simply want to learn more.Booklist

A very compassionate book. Her approach is nonsectarian and emphasizes the basic unity found within Buddhism.Ryo Imamura, Jodo Shin priest and professor of psychology at Evergreen State College

Her lucid, correct, clear, and convincing manner is highly commendable.Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara, College of Buddhist Studies, Los Angeles

Ven. Thubten Chodron is especially skilled in presenting Buddhist philosophy and practices in ways that are easily accessible and practical for Buddhists who live in the Western world.Ven. Hung I Shih, abbot of Jade Buddha Temple in Houston

This is the perfect gift for family and friends who wish to understand ones engagement with Buddhism. Thubten Chodron combines several decades of traditional training in Tibetan Buddhism with western psychotherapeutic relevance. . . . That quality of integration is where the Venerable Thubten Chodron is such a powerful writer and teacher.Branches of Light

Here is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. Most importantly, it offers good advice for anyone who wants to lead a more sane balanced and compassionate life.Bodhi Tree Book Review

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Buddhism – Historical development |

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IndiaExpansion of Buddhism

The Buddha was a charismatic leader who founded a distinctive religious community based on his unique teachings. Some of the members of that community were, like the Buddha himself, wandering ascetics. Others were laypersons who venerated the Buddha, followed certain aspects of his teachings, and provided the wandering ascetics with the material support that they required.

In the centuries following the Buddhas death, the story of his life was remembered and embellished, his teachings were preserved and developed, and the community that he had established became a significant religious force. Many of the wandering ascetics who followed the Buddha settled in permanent monastic establishments and developed monastic rules. At the same time, the Buddhist laity came to include important members of the economic and political elite.

During its first century of existence, Buddhism spread from its place of origin in Magadha and Kosala throughout much of northern India, including the areas of Mathura and Ujjayani in the west. According to Buddhist tradition, invitations to the Council of Vesali (Sanskrit: Vaishali), held just over a century after the Buddhas death, were sent to monks living throughout northern and central India. By the middle of the 3rd century bce, Buddhism had gained the favour of a Mauryan king, Ashoka, who had established an empire that extended from the Himalayas in the north to almost as far as Sri Lanka in the south.

To the rulers of the republics and kingdoms arising in northeastern India, the patronage of newly emerging sects such as Buddhism was one way of counterbalancing the political power exercised by Brahmans (high-caste Hindus). The first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta (c. 321c. 297 bce), patronized Jainism and, according to some traditions, finally became a Jain monk. His grandson, Ashoka, who ruled over the greater part of the subcontinent from about 268 to 232 bce, traditionally played an important role in Buddhist history because of his support of Buddhism during his lifetime. He exerted even more influence posthumously, through stories that depicted him as a chakravartin (world monarch; literally a great wheel-rolling monarch). He is portrayed as a paragon of Buddhist kingship who accomplished many fabulous feats of piety and devotion. It is therefore very difficult to distinguish the Ashoka of history from the Ashoka of Buddhist legend and myth.

The first actual Buddhist texts that are still extant are inscriptions (including a number of well-known Ashokan pillars) that Ashoka had written and displayed in various places throughout his vast kingdom. According to these inscriptions, Ashoka attempted to establish in his realm a true dhamma based on the virtues of self-control, impartiality, cheerfulness, truthfulness, and goodness. Although he promoted Buddhism, he did not found a state church, and he was known for his respect for other religious traditions. He sought to maintain unity in the Buddhist monastic community, however, and he promoted an ethic that focused on the laypersons obligations in this world. His aim, as articulated in his edicts, was to create a religious and social milieu that would enable all children of the king to live happily in this life and to attain heaven in the next. Thus, he set up medical assistance for human beings and beasts, maintained reservoirs and canals, and promoted trade. He established a system of dhamma officers (dhamma-mahamattas) in order to help govern the empire. And he sent diplomatic emissaries to areas beyond his direct political control.

Ashokas empire began to crumble soon after his death, and the Mauryan dynasty was finally overthrown in the early decades of the 2nd century bce. There is some evidence to suggest that Buddhism in India suffered persecution during the Shunga-Kanva period (18528 bce). Despite occasional setbacks, however, Buddhists persevered, and before the emergence of the Gupta dynasty, which created the next great pan-Indian empire in the 4th century ce, Buddhism had become a leading if not dominant religious tradition in India.

During the approximately five centuries between the fall of the Mauryan dynasty and the rise of the Gupta dynasty, major developments occurred in all aspects of Buddhist belief and practice. Well before the beginning of the Common Era, stories about the Buddhas many previous lives, accounts of important events in his life as Gautama, stories of his extended life in his relics, and other aspects of his sacred biography were elaborated on. In the centuries that followed, groups of these stories were collected and compiled in various styles and combinations.

Beginning in the 3rd century bce and possibly earlier, magnificent Buddhist monuments such as the great stupas at Bharhut and Sanchi were built. During the early centuries of the 1st millennium ce, similar monuments were established virtually throughout the subcontinent. Numerous monasteries emerged too, some in close association with the great monuments and pilgrimage sites. Considerable evidence, including inscriptional evidence, points to extensive support from local rulers, including the women of the various royal courts.

During this period Buddhist monastic centres proliferated, and there developed diverse schools of interpretation concerning matters of doctrine and monastic discipline. Within the Hinayana tradition there emerged many different schools, most of which preserved a variant of the Tipitaka (which had taken the form of written scriptures by the early centuries of the Common Era), held distinctive doctrinal positions, and practiced unique forms of monastic discipline. The traditional number of schools is 18, but the situation was very complicated, and exact identifications are hard to make.

About the beginning of the Common Era, distinctively Mahayana tendencies began to take shape. It should be emphasized, however, that many Hinayana and Mahayana adherents continued to live together in the same monastic institutions. In the 2nd or 3rd century the Madhyamika school, which has remained one of the major schools of Mahayana philosophy, was established, and many other expressions of Mahayana belief, practice, and communal life appeared. By the beginning of the Gupta era, the Mahayana had become the most dynamic and creative Buddhist tradition in India.

At this time Buddhism also expanded beyond the Indian subcontinent. It is most likely that Ashoka sent a diplomatic mission to Sri Lanka and that Buddhism was established there during his reign. By the beginning of the Common Era, Buddhism, which had become very strong in northwestern India, had followed the great trade routes into Central Asia and China. According to later tradition, this expansion was greatly facilitated by Kanishka, a great Kushana king of the 1st or 2nd century ce, who ruled over an area that included portions of northern India and Central Asia.

By the time of the Gupta dynasty (c. 320c. 600 ce), Buddhism in India was being influenced by the revival of Brahmanic religion and the rising tide of bhakti (a devotional movement that emphasized the intense love of a devotee for a personal god). During this period, for example, some Hindus practiced devotion to the Buddha, whom they regarded as an avatar (incarnation) of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and some Buddhists venerated Hindu deities who were an integral part of the wider religious context in which they lived.

Throughout the Gupta and Pala periods, Hinayana Buddhists remained a major segment of the Indian Buddhist community. Their continued cultivation of various aspects of Buddhist teaching led to the emergence of the Yogachara school, the second great tradition of Mahayana philosophy. A third major Buddhist tradition, the Vajrayana, or Tantric tradition, developed out of the Mahayana school and became a powerful and dynamic religious force. The new form of text associated with this tradition, the tantras, appeared during the Gupta period, and there are indications that distinctively Tantric rituals began to be employed at this time as well. It was during the Pala period (8th12th centuries), however, that the Vajrayana tradition emerged as the most dynamic component of Indian Buddhist life.

Also during the Gupta period, there emerged a new Buddhist institution, the Mahavihara (Great Monastery), which often functioned as a university. This institution enjoyed great success during the reign of the Pala kings. The most famous of these Mahaviharas, located at Nalanda, became a major centre for the study of Buddhist texts and the refinement of Buddhist thought, particularly Mahayana and Vajrayana thought. The monks at Nalanda also developed a curriculum that went far beyond traditional Buddhism and included much Indian scientific and cultural knowledge. In subsequent years other important Mahaviharas were established, each with its own distinctive emphases and characteristics. These great Buddhist monastic research and educational institutions exerted a profound religious and cultural influence not only in India but throughout many other parts of Asia as well.

Although Buddhist institutions seemed to be faring well under the Guptas, Chinese pilgrims visiting India between 400 and 700 ce discerned a decline in the Buddhist community and the beginning of the absorption of Indian Buddhism by Hinduism. Among these pilgrims was Faxian, who left China in 399, crossed the Gobi, visited various holy places in India, and returned to China with numerous Buddhist scriptures and statues. The most famous of the Chinese travelers, however, was the 7th-century monk Xuanzang. When he arrived in northwestern India, he found millions of monasteries reduced to ruins by the Huns, a nomadic Central Asian people. In the northeast Xuanzang visited various holy places and studied Yogachara philosophy at Nalanda. After visiting Assam and southern India, he returned to China, carrying with him copies of more than 600 sutras.

After the destruction of numerous Buddhist monasteries in the 6th century ce by the Huns, Buddhism revived, especially in the northeast, where it flourished for many more centuries under the kings of the Pala dynasty. The kings protected the Mahaviharas, built new centres at Odantapuri, near Nalanda, and established a system of supervision for all such institutions. Under the Palas the Vajrayana form of Buddhism became a major intellectual and religious force. Its adherents introduced important innovations into Buddhist doctrine and symbolism. They also advocated the practice of new Tantric forms of ritual practice that were designed both to generate magical power and to facilitate more rapid progress along the path to enlightenment. During the reigns of the later Pala kings, contacts with China decreased as Indian Buddhists turned their attention toward Tibet and Southeast Asia.

With the collapse of the Pala dynasty in the 12th century, Indian Buddhism suffered yet another setback, from which it did not recover. Although small pockets of influence remained, the Buddhist presence in India became negligible.

Scholars do not know all the factors that contributed to Buddhisms demise in its homeland. Some have maintained that it was so tolerant of other faiths that it was simply reabsorbed by a revitalized Hindu tradition. This did occur, though Indian Mahayanists were occasionally hostile toward bhakti and toward Hinduism in general. Another factor, however, was probably much more important. Indian Buddhism, having become primarily a monastic movement, seems to have lost touch with its lay supporters. Many monasteries had become very wealthy, so much so that they were able to employ indentured slaves and paid labourers to care for the monks and to tend the lands they owned. Thus, after the Muslim invaders sacked the Indian monasteries in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Buddhist laity showed little interest in a resurgence.

In the 19th century Buddhism was virtually extinct in India. In far eastern Bengal and Assam, a few Buddhists preserved a tradition that dated back to pre-Muslim times, and some of them experienced a Theravada-oriented reform that was initiated by a Burmese monk who visited the area in the mid-19th century. By the end of that century, a very small number of Indian intellectuals had become interested in Buddhism through Western scholarship or through the activities of the Theosophical Society, one of whose leaders was the American Henry Olcott. The Sinhalese reformer Anagarika Dharmapala also exerted some influence, particularly through his work as one of the founders of the Mahabodhi Society, which focused its initial efforts on restoring Buddhist control of the pilgrimage site at Bodh Gaya, the presumed site of the Buddhas enlightenment.

Beginning in the early 20th century, a few Indian intellectuals became increasingly interested in Buddhism as a more rational and egalitarian alternative to Hinduism. Although this interest remained limited to a very tiny segment of the intellectual elite, a small Buddhist movement with a broader constituency developed in South India. Even as late as 1950, however, an official government census identified fewer than 200,000 Buddhists in the country, most of them residing in east Bengal and Assam.

Since 1950 the number of Buddhists in India has increased dramatically. One very small factor in this increase was the flood of Buddhist refugees from Tibet following the Chinese invasion of that country in 1959. The centre of the Tibetan refugee community, both in India and around the world, was established in Dharmshala, but many Tibetan refugees settled in other areas of the subcontinent as well. Another very small factor was the incorporation of Sikkima region with a predominantly Buddhist population now in the northeastern part of Indiainto the Republic of India in 1975.

The most important cause of the contemporary revival of Buddhism in India was the mass conversion, in 1956, of hundreds of thousands of Hindus living primarily in Maharashtra state who had previously been members of the so-called Scheduled Castes (also called Dalits; formerly called untouchables). This conversion was initiated by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a leader of the Scheduled Castes who was also a major figure in the Indian independence movement, a critic of the caste policies of Mohandas K. Gandhi, a framer of Indias constitution, and a member of Indias first independent government. As early as 1935 Ambedkar decided to lead his people away from Hinduism in favour of a religion that did not recognize caste distinctions. After a delay of more than 20 years, he determined that Buddhism was the appropriate choice. He also decided that 1956the year in which Theravada Buddhists were celebrating the 2,500th year of the death of the Buddhawas the appropriate time. A dramatic conversion ceremony, held in Nagpur, was attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Since 1956 several million persons have joined the new Buddhist community.

The Buddhism of Ambedkars community is based on the teachings found in the ancient Pali texts and has much in common with the Theravada Buddhist communities of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. There are important differences that distinguish the new group, however. They include the communitys reliance on Ambedkars own interpretations, which are presented in his book The Buddha and His Dhamma; the communitys emphasis on a mythology concerning the Buddhist and aristocratic character of the Mahar (the largest of the Scheduled Castes); and its recognition of Ambedkar himself as a saviour figure who is often considered to be a bodhisattva (buddha-to-be). Another distinguishing characteristic of the Mahar Buddhists is the absence of a strong monastic community, which has allowed laypersons to assume the primary leadership roles. During the last several decades, the group has produced its own corpus of Buddhist songs and many vernacular books and pamphlets that deal with various aspects of Buddhist doctrine, practice, and community life.

The first clear evidence of the spread of Buddhism outside India dates from the reign of King Ashoka (3rd century bce), whose inscriptions show that he sent Buddhist missionaries to many different regions of the subcontinent as well as into certain border areas. Ashokan emissaries were sent to Sri Lanka and to an area called Suvarnabhumi, which many modern scholars have identified with the Mon country in southern Myanmar (Burma) and central Thailand.

According to Sinhalese tradition, Buddhism took root in Sri Lanka soon after the arrival of Ashokas son, the monk Mahinda, and six companions. These monks converted King Devanampiya Tissa and much of the nobility. King Tissa built the Mahavihara monastery, which became the main centre of the version of Theravada Buddhism that was ultimately dominant in Sri Lanka. After Tissas death (c. 207 bce), Sri Lanka was ruled by kings from South India until the time of Dutthagamani (10177 bce), a descendant of Tissa, who overthrew King Elara. Dutthagamanis association with Buddhism clearly strengthened the religions ties with Sri Lankan political institutions.

In the post-Dutthagamani period, the Mahavihara tradition developed along with other Sri Lankan monastic traditions. The Sinhalese chronicles report that, in the last half of the 1st century bce, King Vattagamani called a Buddhist council (the fourth in the Sinhalese reckoning) at which the Pali oral tradition of the Buddhas teachings was committed to writing. The same king is said to have sponsored the construction of the Abhayagiri monastery, which eventually included Hinayana, Mahayana, and even Vajrayana monks. Although these cosmopolitan tendencies were resisted by the Mahavihara monks, they were openly supported by King Mahasena (276303 ce). Under Mahasenas son, Shri Meghavanna, the tooth of the Buddha was taken to the Abhayagiri, where it was subsequently maintained and venerated at the royal palladium.

During the 1st millennium ce the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka coexisted with various forms of Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism. As Buddhism declined in India, it underwent a major revival and reform in Sri Lanka, where the Theravada traditions of the Mahavihara became especially prominent. Sri Lanka became a Theravada kingdom with a sangha that was unified under Mahavihara leadership and ruled by a monarch who legitimated his rule in Theravada terms. This newly constituted Theravada tradition subsequently spread from Sri Lanka into Southeast Asia, where it exerted a powerful influence.

In early modern times Sri Lanka fell prey to Western colonial powers. The Portuguese (15051658) and the Dutch (16581796) seized control of the coastal areas, and later the British (17941947) took over the entire island. Buddhism suffered considerable disruption under Portuguese and Dutch rule, and the higher ordination lineage lapsed. In the 18th century, however, King Kittisiri Rajasiah (174781), who ruled in the upland regions, invited monks from Siam (Thailand) to reform Buddhism and restore the higher ordination lineages.

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the monastic community in Sri Lanka was divided into three major bodies. The Siam Nikaya, founded during the reform of the late 18th century, was a conservative and wealthy sect that admitted only members of the Goyigama, the highest Sinhalese caste. The Amarapura sect, founded in the early 19th century, opened its ranks to members of lower castes. The third division, the Ramanya sect, is a small modernist group that emerged in the 19th century. In addition, several reform groups were established among the laity. These groups include the important Sarvodaya community, which was founded by A.T. Ariyaratne. This group has established religious, economic, and social development programs that have had a significant impact on Sinhalese village life.

Since Sri Lanka gained its independence from the British in 1947, the country has been increasingly drawn into a conflict between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the Tamil Hindu minority. In the late 20th century this conflict escalated into a vicious civil war. Many Sinhalese, including a significant number of monks, closely associated their Buddhist religion with the political agenda and anti-Tamil violence of the more militant Sinhalese nationalists. Other Buddhist leaders, however, tried to adopt a more moderate position and to encourage a negotiated solution that would reestablish the kind of peaceful coexistence that had characterized Sri Lankan politics through the greater part of the islands long history. But a cease-fire signed in 2002 did not have the hoped-for effect, and it was abandoned a few years later. The Tamil Tigers ultimately were defeated in 2009.

The peoples of Southeast Asia have not been mere satellites of the more powerful Indian and Chinese civilizations. On the contrary, the cultures that arose in these three vast areas might better be thought of as alternative developments that occurred within a greater Austroasiatic civilization, sometimes called the Asia of the monsoons. The transmission of Buddhism and Hinduism to Southeast Asia can thus be regarded as the spread of the religious symbols of the more-advanced Austroasiatic peoples to other Austroasiatic groups sharing some of the same basic religious presuppositions and traditions.

In Southeast Asia the impact of Buddhism was felt in very different ways in three separate regions. In two of these (the region of Malaysia/Indonesia and the region on the mainland extending from Myanmar to southern Vietnam), the main connections have been with India and Sri Lanka via trade routes. In Vietnam, the third region, the main connections have been with China.

Although some scholars locate the Suvarnabhumi (Land of Gold), to which Ashokan missionaries were supposedly sent, somewhere on the Malay Peninsula or in Indonesia, this is probably not accurate. It is certain, however, that Buddhism reached these areas by the early centuries of the 1st millennium ce.

With the help of the monk Gunavarman and other Indian missionaries, Buddhism gained a firm foothold on Java well before the 5th century ce. Buddhism was also introduced at about this time in Sumatra, and by the 7th century the king of Srivijaya on the island of Sumatra was a Buddhist. When the Chinese traveler Yijing visited this kingdom in the 7th century, he noted that Hinayana was dominant in the area but that there were also a few Mahayanists. It was also in the 7th century that the great scholar from Nalanda, Dharmapala, visited Indonesia.

The Shailendra dynasty, which ruled over the Malay Peninsula and a large section of Indonesia from the 7th century to the 9th century, promoted the Mahayana and Tantric forms of Buddhism. During this period major Buddhist monuments were erected in Java, including the marvelous Borobudur, which is perhaps the most magnificent of all Buddhist stupas. From the 7th century onward, Vajrayana Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the area. King Kertanagara of Java (reigned 126892) was especially devoted to Tantric practice.

In the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia, as in India, Buddhism gradually lost its hold during the first half of the 2nd millennium ce. In some areas Buddhism was assimilated to Hinduism, forming a Hindu-oriented amalgam that in some places (for example in Bali) has persisted to the present. In most of Malaysia and Indonesia, however, both Hinduism and Buddhism were replaced by Islam, which remains the dominant religion in the area. In modern Indonesia and Malaysia, Buddhism exists as a living religion primarily among the Chinese minority, who in the early 21st century constituted about one-quarter of the population and were recognized by the constitution as Buddhist. There is also a small non-Chinese community of Buddhists that is concentrated in the vicinity of Borobudur.

A second area of Buddhist expansion in Southeast Asia extends from Myanmar in the north and west to the Mekong delta in the south and east. According to the local Mon and Burman traditions, this is Suvarnabhumi, the area visited by missionaries from the Ashokan court. It is known that Buddhist kingdoms had appeared in this region by the early centuries of the 1st millennium ce. In Myanmar and Thailand, despite the presence of Hindu, Mahayana, and Vajrayana elements, the more-conservative Hinayana forms of Buddhism were especially prominent throughout the 1st millennium ce. Farther to the east and south, in what is now Cambodia and southern Vietnam, various combinations of Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism became prevalent. Throughout much of the history of Angkor, the great imperial centre that ruled Cambodia and much of the surrounding areas for many centuries, Hinduism seems to have been the preferred tradition, at least among the elite. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, however, the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII built a new capital called Angkor Thom that was dominated by both Mahayana and Vajrayana monuments, which represent one of the high points of Buddhist architecture.

In mainland Southeast Asia, as in Sri Lanka, a Theravada reform movement emerged in the 11th century. Drawing heavily on the Theravada heritage that had been preserved among the Mon in southern Myanmar, as well as on the new reform tradition of Sri Lanka, this revival soon established the Theravada tradition as the most dynamic in Myanmar, where the Burmans had conquered the Mon. By the late 13th century, the movement had spread to Thailand, where the Thai were gradually displacing the Mon as the dominant population. During the next two centuries, Theravada reforms penetrated as far as Cambodia and Laos.

The preeminence of Theravada Buddhism continued throughout the area during the remainder of the premodern period. The arrival of the Western powers in the 19th century brought important changes. In Thailand, which retained its independence, a process of gradual reform and modernization was led by a new Buddhist sect, the Thammayut Nikaya, which was established and supported by the reigning Chakri dynasty. In the 20th century reform and modernization became more diversified and affected virtually all segments of the Thai Buddhist community.

Two late 20th-century Buddhist groups, Santi Asoke (founded 1975) and Dhammakaya, are especially interesting. Santi Asoke, a lay-oriented group that advocates stringent discipline, moral rectitude, and political reform, has been very much at odds with the established ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Dhammakaya group has been much more successful at gathering a large popular following but has also become very controversial because of its distinctive meditation practices and questions concerning its care of financial contributions from its followers.

In the other Theravada countries in Southeast Asia, Buddhism has had a much more difficult time. In Myanmar, which endured an extended period of British rule, the sangha and the structures of Buddhist society have been seriously disrupted. Under the military regime of General Ne Win, established in 1962, reform and modernization were limited in all areas of national life, including religion. With the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in the late 1980s, the countrys military rulers used their support of a very traditional form of Buddhism to legitimize their highly repressive regime. Nevertheless, in the second decade of the 21st century, both government restrictions on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and rules regarding political participation were eased, and the future of Buddhism seemed destined for change. In Laos and Cambodia, both of which suffered an extended period of French rule followed by devastation during the Vietnam War and the violent imposition of communist rule, the Buddhist community has been severely crippled. Beginning in the 1980s, however, it showed increasing signs of life and vitality. In Laos it was recognized by the government as a part of the national heritage, and in Cambodia it was even given the status of a state religion.

There are indications that Vietnam was involved in the early sea trade between India, Southeast Asia, and China, and it is quite probable that Buddhism reached the country via this sea route near the beginning of the 1st millennium ce. The northern part of what is now Vietnam had been conquered by the Chinese empire in 111 bce and remained under Chinese rule until 939 ce. Hinayana and Mahayana traditions spread into the two Indianized states, Funan (founded during the 1st century ce) and Champa (founded 192 ce). The long-term development of Buddhism in Vietnam, however, was most affected by Zen and Pure Land traditions, which were introduced from China into the northern and central sections of the country beginning in the 6th century ce.

The first dhyana (Zen; Vietnamese thien), or meditation, school was introduced by Vinitaruchi (Vinitaruci), an Indian monk who had gone to Vietnam from China in the 6th century. In the 9th century a school of wall meditation was introduced by the Chinese monk Vo Ngon Thong. A third major Zen school was established in the 11th century by the Chinese monk Thao Durong. From 1414 to 1428 Buddhism in Vietnam was persecuted by the Chinese, who had again conquered the country. Tantrism, Daoism, and Confucianism also filtered into Vietnam at this time. Even after the Chinese had been driven back, a Chinese-like bureaucracy closely supervised the Vietnamese monasteries. The clergy was divided between those who were highborn and Sinicized and those in the lower ranks who often were active in peasant uprisings.

During the modern period Mahayana traditions in northern and central Vietnam have coexisted with Theravada traditions from Cambodia in the south. Rather loosely joined together, Vietnamese Buddhists managed to preserve their traditions through the period of French colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. During the struggle between North and South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s, many Buddhists worked to achieve peace and reconciliation, though they met with little success; to protest the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, some Buddhist monks turned to self-immolation. Under the communist regime that has ruled the reunited country since 1975, conditions have been difficult, but Buddhism has persisted. Reports since the late 1980s indicated signs of vitality despite serious government limitations on Buddhist activities.

Buddhism, according to Tibetan tradition, was introduced into Tibet during the reign of King Srong-brtsan-sgam-po (c. 627c. 650). His two queens were early patrons of the religion and were later regarded in popular tradition as incarnations of the female Buddhist saviour Tara. The religion received active encouragement from Khri-srong-lde-btsan, in whose reign (c. 755797) the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet was built at Bsam-yas (Samye), the first seven monks were ordained, and the celebrated Tantric master Padmasambhava was invited to come from India. Many legends surround Padmasambhava, who was a mahasiddha (master of miraculous powers); he is credited with subduing the Bon spirits and demons (the spirits and demons associated with the indigenous religion of Tibet) and with subjugating them to the service of Buddhism. At the time, Chinese Buddhist influences were strong, but it is recorded that a council held at the Bsam-yas monastery (792794) decided that the Indian tradition should prevail.

Following a period of suppression that lasted almost two centuries (from the early 800s to the early 1000s), Buddhism in Tibet enjoyed a revival. During the 11th and 12th centuries many Tibetans traveled to India to acquire and translate Buddhist texts and to receive training in Buddhist belief and practice. With the assistance of the renowned Indian master Atisa, who arrived in Tibet in 1042, Buddhism was established as the dominant religion. From this point forward Buddhism penetrated deeply into all aspects of Tibetan life, and it became the primary culture of the elite and a powerful force in affairs of state. One of the great achievements of the Buddhist community in Tibet was the translation into Tibetan of a vast corpus of Buddhist literature, including the Bka-gyur (Translation of the Buddha Word) and Bstan-gyur (Translation of Teachings) collections. The Bka-gyur contains six sections: (1) Tantra, (2) Prajnaparamita, (3) Ratnakuta, a collection of small Mahayana texts, (4) Avatamsaka, (5) Sutras (mostly Mahayana sutras, but some Hinayana texts are included), and (6) Vinaya. The Bstan-gyur contains 224 volumes with 3,626 texts, divided into three major groups: (1) stotras (hymns of praise) in one volume, including 64 texts, (2) commentaries on tantras in 86 volumes, including 3,055 texts, and (3) commentaries on sutras in 137 volumes, including 567 texts.

A major development in the history of Tibetan Buddhism occurred in the late 14th or early 15th century, when a great Buddhist reformer named Tsong-kha-pa established the Dge-lugs-pa school, known more popularly as the Yellow Hats. In 1578 representatives of this school converted the Mongol Altan Khan, and under the Khans sponsorship their leader (the so-called third Dalai Lama) gained considerable monastic power. In the middle of the 17th century, the Mongol overlords established the fifth Dalai Lama as the theocratic ruler of Tibet. The succeeding Dalai Lamas, who were regarded as successive incarnations of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, held this position during much of the remainder of the premodern period, ruling from the capital, Lhasa.

The fifth Dalai Lama instituted the high office of Panchen Lama for the abbot of the Tashilhunpo monastery, located to the west of Lhasa. The Panchen Lamas were regarded as successive incarnations of the buddha Amitabha. Unlike the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama has usually been recognized only as a spiritual ruler.

Throughout much of Tibetan history, many of the great monasteries were controlled by aristocratic abbots who were able to marry and pass along their monastic possessions to their sons. Monks were often warriors, and monasteries became armed fortresses. The Manchus in the 18th century and subsequently the British, the nationalist Chinese, and the Chinese communists have all tried to exploit the division of power between the Panchen and Dalai lamas for their own ends. In 1959, after the Dalai Lama fled to India, the Chinese communists took over his temporal powers.

In the period since 1959, Tibetan refugees have set up a major centre in Dharmshala in northern India and have been dispersed to many different places, including India, Europe, Canada, and the United States. These exiles have made great efforts to preserve as much of their Buddhist tradition as possible and to spread Tibetan Buddhist teachings in the lands where they have settled.

In their own country Tibetan Buddhists have suffered periods of destructive attacks and severe persecution, especially but not exclusively during the Cultural Revolution. In the late 20th century, repression by Chinese authorities lessened somewhat, and a sense of normalcy was restored. Nevertheless, many Tibetan Buddhists remained strongly nationalistic, and their relationship with China continued to be very tense.

Tibetan Buddhism has exerted a strong influence on neighbouring areas and peoples. Most important in this regard was the conversion of the Mongol tribes to the north and east of Tibet. There are some indications that Buddhism was present among the Mongols as early as the 4th century, but sources for this early period are scarce. It is clear, however, that during the 13th century close relationships developed between the Mongol court in China and some Tibetan Buddhist leaders. Kublai Khan became a supporter of Tibetan Buddhism. Kublai Khans Tibetan advisers helped to develop a block script for the Mongolian language, and many Buddhist texts were translated from Tibetan into Mongolian. In general, however, the religion failed to gain widespread popular support during this period.

In 1578 a new situation developed when the Altan Khan accepted the Dge-lugs-pa version of the Tibetan tradition and supported its spread among his followers at all levels of Mongol society. Over the centuries the Mongols developed their own very rich Buddhist traditions. Mongolian scholars translated a large corpus of texts from Tibetan, and they produced their own sophisticated original texts. The Mongols based their Buddhist doctrine, practice, and communal organization on Tibetan models, but they developed and adapted them in distinctive ways.

Between 1280 and 1368 China was part of the Mongol empire, and the Mongols established their variant of Tibetan Buddhism in China. When they no longer held power in China, they preserved their Buddhist traditions in their homeland areas. During much of the 20th century, Mongolian Buddhism was severely undermined by the communist regimes that ruled in Mongol areas in the Soviet Union, in Mongolia itself, and in China. Pressures against the Buddhist Mongol communities eased in the late 20th century, and by the early 21st century a resurgence of Buddhist institutions and practices had begun.

Tibetan Buddhism has exerted a considerable influence in the Himalayan areas situated along Tibets southern border. In Nepal Buddhism interacted with both India and Tibet. Although there is evidence that suggests that the Buddha was born in the southern part of the area that is now Nepalat Lumbini, about 15 miles (24 km) from Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu)Buddhism seems to have been actively propagated only later, probably under Ashoka. By the 8th century Nepal had fallen into the cultural orbit of Tibet. A few centuries later, as a result of the Muslim invasions of India, both Hindus (such as the Brahmanic Gurkha aristocracy) and Buddhists took refuge in the country. The Tibetan influence on the Himalayan tradition is indicated by the presence of Tibetan-style prayer wheels and flags. The Indian heritage is especially evident in the caste system that embraces Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. In the late 20th century a significant Theravada reform movement took root among the Newari population. The adherents of this movement, who have important connections with Theravada practitioners in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, oppose the maintenance of traditional caste distinctions.

In Bhutan a Tibetan lama introduced Buddhism and a Tibetan style of hierarchical theocracy in the 17th century. Buddhism practiced in Bhutan has been influenced by the Tibetan Bka-brgyud-pa sect, which has stressed the magical benefits of living in caves and has not enforced on its clergy the discipline of celibacy. Buddhism in Bhutan, like Buddhism in Nepal, is coming into increasing contact with modernizing forces that are beginning to undermine many of its traditional practices.

Buddhists have always recognized the importance of community life, and over the centuries there has developed a distinctive symbiotic relationship between monks (and in some cases nuns) and the lay community. The relationship between the monastics and the laity has differed from place to place and from time to time, but throughout most of Buddhist history both groups have played an essential role in the process of constituting and reconstituting the Buddhist world. Moreover, both the monastics and the laity have engaged in a variety of common and complementary religious practices that have expressed Buddhist orientations and values, structured Buddhist societies, and addressed the soteriological and practical concerns of individuals.

The sangha is the assembly of Buddhist monks (and in some contexts nuns) that has, from the origins of Buddhism, authoritatively studied, taught, and preserved the teachings of the Buddha. In their communities monastics have been responsible for providing an example of the ideal mode of Buddhist life, for teaching Buddhist principles and practices to the laity, for generating and participating in basic ritual activities, for offering fields of merit that enable lay members of the community to improve their spiritual condition, for providing protection against evil forces (particularly though not exclusively supernatural forces), and for maintaining a variety of other services that have varied over time and place. In exchange for their contributions, the monastics have received veneration and support from the laity, who thereby earn merit, advance their own well-being, and contribute to the well-being of others (including, in many cases, the ancestors of the living).

Besides serving as the centre of Buddhist learning, meditation, ritual activity, and teaching, the monastery offers the monk or nun an opportunity to live apart from worldly concerns, a situation that has usually been believed necessary or at least advisable in order to follow the path that leads most directly to release.

According to scholars of early Buddhism, at the time of the Buddha there were numerous mendicants in northeastern India who wandered and begged individually or in groups. They had forsaken the life of a householder and the involvement with worldly affairs that this entails in order to seek a pattern of belief and practice that would meaningfully explain life and offer salvation. When such a seeker met someone who seemed to offer such a salvific message, he would accept him as a teacher (guru) and wander with him. The situation of these mendicants is summed up in the greeting with which they met other religious wanderers. This greeting asked, Under whose guidance have you accepted religious mendicancy? Who is your master (sattha)? Whose dhamma is agreeable to you?

According to early Buddhist texts, the Buddha established an order of male monastics early on in his ministry and outlined the rules and procedures for governing their common life. These texts also report that later in his career he reluctantly agreed to a proposal made by his aunt Mahapajapati and supported by his favourite disciple, Ananda, to establish an order of nuns. The Buddha then set down rules and procedures for the order of the nuns and for the relationship between the order of nuns and the order of monks. (In the discussion that follows, the emphasis will be on the order of monks.)

The various mendicant groups interrupted their wanderings during the rainy season (vassa) from July through August. At this time they gathered at various rain retreats (vassavasa), usually situated near villages, where they would beg for their daily needs and continue their spiritual quest. The Buddha and his followers may well have been the first group to found such a yearly rain retreat.

After the Buddhas death his followers did not separate but continued to wander and enjoy the rain retreat together. In their retreats the Buddhas followers probably built their own huts and lived separately, but their sense of community with other Buddhists led them to gather at the time of the full and new moons to recite the patimokkha, a declaration of their steadfastness in observing the monastic discipline. This occasion, in which the laity also participated, was called the uposatha.

Within several centuries of the Buddhas death, the sangha came to include two different monastic groups. One group, which retained the wandering mode of existence, has been a very creative force in Buddhist history and continues to play a role in contemporary Buddhism, particularly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The other, much larger group gave up the forest life and settled in permanent monastic settlements (viharas); it is the earliest truly cenobitic monastic group about which any knowledge exists.

There appear to be two major reasons for the change in the mode of living of most Buddhist monks. First, the Buddhas followers were able, through their common loyalty to the Buddha and his teachings, to build up a certain coherent organization. Second, as acts of piety, the laity gave gifts of land and raised buildings in which the followers of the Buddha might live permanently, assured of a supply of the staples of life and also able to fulfill the Buddhas directive to minister to the laity. In this manner small viharas were established in northeastern India and adjoining areas into which Buddhism spread.

Already in the period prior to the reign of King Ashoka, the Buddhist monastic community had become a strong, widely dispersed religious force. The support of Ashoka encouraged further expansion, and in the post-Ashokan period the number, wealth, and influence of the monasteries increased. As Buddhism continued to develop, many kinds of monastic centres were established throughout India, several of which received lavish support from royal courts or from wealthy merchants, who were among the strongest supporters of Buddhism. Among the most interesting centres were the magnificent cave monasteriesfor example, at Ajanta and Ellorawhich contain some of the greatest examples not only of Buddhist art but of Indian art more generally. Perhaps the most influential monasteries were the great university-like mahaviharas that developed somewhat later in northeastern India.

In all Buddhist countries monasteries served as centres of teaching, learning, and outreach. Different types of monastic establishments developed in particular areas and in particular contexts. In several regions there were at least two types of institutions. There were a few large public monasteries that usually functioned in greater or lesser accord with classical Buddhist norms. There were also many smaller monasteries, often located in rural areas, that were much more loosely regulated. Often these were hereditary institutions in which the rights and privileges of the abbot were passed on to an adopted disciple. In areas where clerical marriage was practicedfor example, in medieval Sri Lanka, in certain Tibetan areas, and in post-Heian Japana tradition of blood inheritance developed.

The transformation of the sangha from a group of wandering mendicants, loosely bound together by their commitment to the Buddha and his teachings, to monks living closely together in a permanent monastery necessitated the development of rules and a degree of hierarchical organization. It appears that the earliest organization within Indian monasteries was democratic in nature. This democratic character arose from two important historical factors. First, the Buddha did not, as was the custom among the teachers of his time, designate a human successor. Instead, the Buddha taught that each monk should strive to follow the path that he had preached. This decision placed every monk on the same footing. There could be no absolute authority vested in one person, for the authority was the dhamma that the Buddha had taught. Second, the region in which Buddhism arose was noted for a system of tribal democracy, or republicanism, that had existed in the past and was preserved by some groups during the Buddhas lifetime. Within this tradition each polity had an elected assembly that decided important issues.

This tradition, which was consonant with the antiauthoritarian nature of the Buddhas teaching, was adopted by the early sangha. When an issue arose, all the monks of the monastery assembled. The issue was put before the body of monks and discussed. If any solution was forthcoming, it had to be read three times, with silence signifying acceptance. If there was debate, a vote might be taken or the issue referred to committee or to arbitration by the elders of a neighbouring monastery. As the sangha developed, a certain division of labour and hierarchical administration was adopted. The abbot became the head of this administrative hierarchy and was vested with power over monastic affairs. In many countries there developed state-controlled hierarchies, which enabled kings and other political authorities to exert a significant amount of control over the monks and their activities.

The antiauthoritarian character of Buddhism, however, continued to assert itself. In China, for instance, the abbot referred all important questions to the assembled monks, who had elected him their leader. Similarly, in Southeast Asian countries there has traditionally been a popular distaste for hierarchy, which makes it difficult to enforce rules in the numerous almost-independent monasteries.

As the Buddhist sangha developed, specific rules and rites were enacted that differ very little in Buddhist monasteries even today. The rules by which the monks are judged and the punishments that should be assessed are found in the vinaya texts (vinaya literally means that which leads). The Vinaya Pitaka of the Theravada canon contains precepts that were supposedly given by the Buddha as he judged a particular situation. While in many cases the Buddhas authorship may be doubted, the attempt is made to refer all authority to the Buddha and not to one of his disciples. The heart of the vinaya texts is the patimokkha, which became a list of monastic rules.

Ideally, the patimokkha is recited by the assembled monks every fortnight, with a pause after each one so that any monk who has transgressed this rule may confess and receive his punishment. While the number of rules in the patimokkha differs in the various schools, with 227, 250, and 253, respectively, in the Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan canons, the rules are essentially the same. The first part of the patimokkha deals with the four gravest sins, which necessarily lead to expulsion from the monastery. They are sexual intercourse, theft, murder, and exaggeration of ones miraculous powers. The other rules, in seven sections, deal with transgressions of a lesser nature, such as drinking or lying.

In the Theravada countriesSri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laosthe Buddhist monastic community is composed primarily of male monks and novices (the order of nuns died out in the Theravada world more than a millennium ago, and contemporary efforts to reestablish it have met with only minimal success), white-robed ascetics (including various types of male and female practitioners who remain outside the sangha but follow a more or less renunciatory mode of life), and laymen and laywomen. In some Theravada countries, notably in mainland Southeast Asia, boys or young men were traditionally expected to join the monastery for a period of instruction and meditation. Thus, the majority of men in these areas were (and to a lesser extent still are, especially in Myanmar) directly involved with the monastic ethos. This practice has fostered a high degree of lay participation in monastic affairs.

In the Mahayana and Vajrayana countries of China and Tibet, there was traditionally a stage of one year before the aspirant could become a novice. This was a year of probation, during which the aspirant did not receive tonsure and remained subject to governmental taxation and service while receiving instructions and performing menial tasks within the monastery. At the end of this period, the aspirant had to pass a test, which included the recitation of part of a well-known sutrathe length depending upon whether the applicant was male or femaleand a discussion of various doctrinal questions. In China usually only those who were of exceptional character or who were affiliated with the government progressed beyond the novice stage.

According to vinaya rules, entry into the sangha is an individual affair that depends on the wishes of the individual and his family. In some Buddhist countries, however, ordination was often under the control of the state, which conducted the examinations to determine entry or advancement in the sangha. In certain situations ordination could be obtained through the favour of high officials or through the purchase of an ordination certificate from the government. At times the government engaged in the selling of ordination certificates in order to fill its treasury.

The life of a Buddhist monk originally involved wandering, poverty, begging, and strict sexual abstinence. The monks were supposed to live only on alms, to wear clothes made from cloth taken from rubbish heaps, and to possess only three robes, one girdle, an alms bowl, a razor, a needle, and a water strainer for filtering insects from drinking water (so as not to kill or imbibe them). Most Buddhist schools still stress celibacy, though some groups, particularly in Tibet and Japan, have relaxed the monastic discipline, and some Vajrayana schools have allowed sexual intercourse as an esoteric ritual that contributes to the attainment of release. In all schools, however, begging has become merely a symbolic gesture used to teach humility or compassion or to raise funds for special purposes. Also, the growth of large monasteries has often led to compromises on the rule of poverty. While the monk might technically give up his property before entering the monasterythough even this rule is sometimes relaxedthe community of monks might inherit wealth and receive lavish gifts of land. The acquisition of wealth has often led to the attainment of temporal power. This factor, in addition to the self-governing nature of Buddhist monasteries and the early Buddhist connection with Indian kingship, has influenced the interaction of the sangha and the state.

Buddhism is sometimes inaccurately described as a purely monastic, otherworldly religion. In the earliest phases of the tradition, the Buddha was pictured as a teacher who addressed not only renouncers but lay householders. Moreover, although he is not depicted in the early texts as a social reformer, the Buddha does address issues of social order and responsibility. Perhaps the most famous early text on this topic is the Sigalovada-sutta, which has been called the householders vinaya.

Throughout their history Buddhists have put forth varying forms of social ethics based on notions of karmic justice (the law that good deeds will be rewarded with happy results while evil deeds will entail suffering for the one who does them); the cultivation of virtues such as self-giving, compassion, and evenhandedness; and the fulfillment of responsibilities to parents, teachers, rulers, and so on. Moreover, Buddhists have formulated various notions of cosmogony, cosmology, and soteriology that have provided legitimacy for the social hierarchies and political orders with which they have been associated. For the most part, Buddhism has played a conservative, moderating role in the social and political organization of various Asian societies, but the tradition has also given rise to more radical and revolutionary movements.

Over the course of Buddhisms long history, the relationship between the Buddhist community and state authority has taken many forms. The early Buddhist sangha in India appears to have been treated by Indian rulers as a self-governing unit not subject to their power unless it proved subversive or was threatened by internal or external disruption. Ashoka, the king whose personal interest in Buddhism contributed to the religions dramatic growth, appears to have been applying this policy of protection from disruption when he intervened in Buddhist monastic affairs to expel schismatics. He came to be remembered, however, as the Dharmaraja, the great king who protected and propagated the teachings of the Buddha.

In Theravada countries Ashokas image as a supporter and sponsor of the faith has traditionally been used to judge political authority. In general, Buddhism in Theravada countries has been either heavily favoured or officially recognized by the government. The sanghas role in this interaction, at least ideally, has been to preserve the dhamma and to act as spiritual guide and model, revealing to the secular power the need for furthering the welfare of the people. While the sangha and the government are two separate structures, there has been some intertwining; monks (often from elite families) have commonly acted as governmental advisers, and kingsat least in Thailandhave occasionally spent some time in the monastery. Moreover, Buddhist monastic institutions have often served as a link between the rural peoples and the urban elites, helping to unify the various Theravada countries.

In China Buddhism has been seen as a foreign religion, as a potential competitor with the state, and as a drain on national resources of men and wealth. These perceptions have led to sharp persecutions of Buddhism and to rules curbing its influence. Some of the rules attempted to limit the number of monks and to guarantee governmental influence in ordination through state examinations and the granting of ordination certificates. At other times, such as during the early centuries of the Tang dynasty (618907), Buddhism was virtually a state religion. The government created a commissioner of religion to earn merit for the state by erecting temples, monasteries, and images in honour of the Buddha.

In Japan Buddhism experienced similar fluctuations. From the 10th to the 13th century, monasteries gained great landed wealth and temporal power. They formed large armies of monks and mercenaries that took part in wars with rival religious groups and in struggles for temporal power. By the 14th century, however, their power had begun to wane. Under the Tokugawa regime in the 17th century, Buddhist institutions were virtually instruments of state power and administration.

Only in Tibet did Buddhists establish a theocratic polity that lasted for an extended period of time. Beginning in the 12th century, Tibetan monastic groups forged relationships with the powerful Mongol khans that often gave them control of governmental affairs. In the 17th century the Dge-lugs-pa school, working with the Mongols, established a monastic regime that was able to maintain almost continual control until the Chinese occupation in the 1950s.

During the premodern period the various Buddhist communities in Asia developed working relationships of one kind or another with the sociopolitical systems in their particular areas. As a result of Western colonial incursions, and especially after the establishment of new political ideologies and political systems during the 19th and 20th centuries, these older patterns of accommodation between Buddhism and state authority were seriously disrupted. In many cases bitter conflicts resultedfor example, between Buddhists and colonial regimes in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, between Buddhists and the Meiji reformers in Japan, and between Buddhists and many different communist regimes. In some cases, as in Japan, these conflicts were resolved and new modes of accommodation established. In other cases, as in Tibet, strong tensions remained.

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July 14th, 2018 at 1:41 pm

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