THICH HUYEN VI
B U D D H I S M
Shakyamuni Buddha appeared on the stage of this world with four great noble tasks to perform, namely to open up the treasury of truth, to indicate its meaning, to cause men to apprehend it, and to lead them to it,(1) which can be achieved by the penetrative power of Buddha’s wisdom or vision, i.e., Buddha a, Buddha nature.
It is said, “Every religion is good”. Due to varying life styles and degrees of intellect, the doctrines of the world’s religions and philosophies differ greatly, though it may, perhaps, be only an apparent difference in regard to aim and result. So it might well be concluded, from a study of comparative religion that all teachings are good. If such be the case, what then would be the purpose of the appearance of the Buddha Shakymuni in this world?
Though the religions of India were many they did not reach to the heart of the Truth, the Good and the Beautiful Goal.
So, the Buddha became incarnate, the transformation body, (2) in order to teach being the way, “The Anuttara Samyaksambuddha”. i.e. Unsurpassed Omniscient, completely Enlightened the Universal Knowledge of the Buddha in order to be free from the bondage of the wheel of birth and death to become an Enlightened One by one’s own power. Therefore, in the Sad-dharmapundarika sutra, it is stated that, “For the sake of a great cause, the Lord Buddha appeared i. e. to transform illusion into Enlightenment…”
What is the great cause?
The Lord Buddha wanted to open, to indicate for humanity the way to apprehend and lead into the penetrative power of Buddha’s wisdom, i. e. the Buddha-nature; to induce all beings to reject the transmigration worlds and enter into Nirvana enlightenment, to embrace dispassion and enter into Bodhi or knowledge.
I. WHAT IS BUDDHISM?
Buddhism generally comprises all the teachings of the Lord Buddha Shakymuni. He who realized that the way of release from the chain of rebirth and death lay not in asceticism but in moral purity. He explained first his diagnosis, in four tenets, and the eight aspects of the noble way, and later amplified and developed the same theme in many discourses.
He founded his community of the basis of chastity, poverty and insight meditation, and became known as the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
What is the meaning of the Buddha?
Buddha is a Sanskrit or Pali word, meaning Enlightened One. One who enlightens self and others? There are three meanings of Enlightenment:
1. Enlightenment for self means enlightenment ourselves.
2. For others, means to inspire others to attain enlightenment.
3. Perfect enlightenment and accomplishment, the enlightenment of a Buddha. (The first is the enlightenment of an arhat, the first and second of a Bodhi-sattva, and all three are included within the enlightenment of a Buddha).
According to the Theravada, the Buddha is one who has attained Enlightenment. The texts mention two kinds of Buddha: via, Pacceka-Buddha, i.e. Buddha’s who attain complete enlightenment but do not preach the way of deliverance to the world, and Sammassam-Buddha’s who are omniscient and are teachers of the way to Nirvana (3)
The central point of Buddhism is aptly expressed in the gatha as follows
- Abstention from all evils
- Performance of meritorious deeds
- Complete purification and control of the mind
- This is the teaching of the Buddha (4)
We quote below the opinions of different scholars on Buddhism.
About Buddhism, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan wrote, “Buddhism did not start as a new and independent religion. It was an off shoot of the more ancient faith of the Hindu, perhaps a schism or a heresy. While on the fundamentals of metaphysics and ethics of the Buddha agreed with the faith he inherited, he protested against certain practices which were in vogue at the time. He refused to acquiesce in the Vedic ceremonialism.”(5) This is an opinion of a contemporary India philosopher. But we must also examine the opinions of others.
As Professor P.V. Banat says, “Buddhism is the religion of kindness, humanity and equality. While the religion of the Vedas allowed animal sacrifice to propitiate the gods, Buddhism set its face against such sacrifices; on the contrary, it waged a merciless campaign against this practice.
The complicated nature of the sacrificial ritual required the services of the brahmanas, who had specialized in that lore. The Brahmanas, therefore, came to hold a unique position in the social structure of the Indo-Aryans”. (6)
Answering the question, “What is Buddhism?” the Japanese scholar, Rev. Soyen Shaku wrote, “It seems to be very appropriate and even necessary at the outset to draw a well-defined line of demarcation between what is known as Mahayana Buddhism? Most people imagine that there is only one school of Buddhism and that school is no other than the Buddhism, they have learned from the Buddhist books written or compiled or translated by western orient lists who are in many respects prejudiced against the doctrine which they propose to study most impartially. Owing to these unhappy circumstances the outsides are either generally ignorant or misunderstanding of the true character of Buddhism. For what is generally understood in the west as Buddhism is no more than one of its main divisions, which only partially expresses the spirit of its founder”. (7)
II. THE ADVENT OF BUDDHISM
a)The spirit of Buddhism is without beginning, the Buddha-truth is without beginning and infinite as well as without period and space.
Because Buddhism is universal mind, conceived as pure intelligence. Therefore, the advent of humanity was also the advent of Buddhism; humanity appeared in this world system a long time ago, Buddhism also manifested itself a long time ago!
b) According to extent historical records, Buddhism dates to 2,527 years, i.e. 544 B.C.
III. WHO WAS THE FOUNDER OF BUDDHISM?
The followers of Buddhism must understand the history of its founder. Buddhism is known among its followers as the sad dharma that is the religion preached by Buddha.
A Buddha is one who attained Bodhi. By Bodhi is meant an ideal state of intellectual and ethical perfection. Historically speaking, of the many who have attained Bodhi the best known to history is Gautama Shakymuni.(8)
The following account is a dilation of the main points of the history of the founder of the Buddhism, Shakymuni Buddha.
The Shakymuni Buddha was the Prince Siddhartha or Sarvartha Siddha of Kapilavastu City. He was the son of the King of a small country in the North of India. It lies to the South of Nepal. His father’s name was Suddhodana, his mother was Mayadevi. His surname was Gautama. Sakya is the clan of family name of the Buddha. Sakya means strong, powerful, and muni means one that dwells in seclusion.
From early childhood Prince Siddhartha had an extraordinary capacity for knowledge. When he grew up he considered human beings as a temporary combination formed by the skandhas and the twelve indabas being the product of previous causes and without a real self for permanent soul. Being acutely aware of the world’s impermanence and suffering, he therefore determined to leave home and become a monk in order to seek the way of release for self and others, to guide humanity to the door of release.
After six years of austerities at Uruvilvakasyapa, the forest near Gaya he decided that the practice of ascetic discipline was useless. He had practiced the most severe ascetic penances, until his body became shrunken like a withered branch. One day he accepted the offering of milk-rice from Sujata, the daughter of the village headman. Then the Bodhisattva sat under the Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya and made this firm resolution, “Let my skin, sinews and bones along remain, and let my blood and fresh dry up, yet never will I move from this seat without first attaining full enlightenment” (9)
With this material resolution Siddhartha, subsequently, obtained deliverance. Anuttara Samyaksam Buddha. He preached Dharma to all, from love and compassion his whole life and after thus serving the world for more than forty-five years (Mahayana texts mention forty-nine), the blessed one reached the ripe age of eighty. He had fulfilled his mission on earth. The last days of the Buddha, as recorded in Mahaparinirvana sutra, were very active. In anticipation he was making his last journey visiting assemblies of his disciples and instructing them in the fundamentals of his teachings. At last, we see him lying between the twins Sala trees at Kusinara surrounded by his disciples”. (10)
The Lord Buddha was the supreme Doctor. He knew all the sicknesses of humanity. According to the size of the mind’s disease, he gave the medicine of the law, capable of healing all misery.
IV. WHAT IS THE DOCTRINE OF BUDDHISM?
The Doctrine of the Buddhism consists of three “baskets” or sections, i.e. the trip taka. There are the scriptures (sutra), the law (vinaya) and dissertations or essays (Abhidharma).
1) The scriptures (sutrapitaka): The doctrines of the Sutras as spoken by the Buddha. It contains the Sermons of the Shakymuni Buddha. It includes all the Jataka and the great Birth and a collection of aphorisms accorded to the Buddha. Those who follow it destroy suffering and attain Nirvana.
2) The laws (Vinayapitaka): The discipline or monastic rules, the precepts and commands of moral asceticism and monastic discipline said to have been given by Buddha, and intended for the four varga (groups), i.e. monks (Bhikshu), nuns (Bhiksunt), male devotee (upasaka) and female devotee (upasika).
3) The dissertations or essays (Abhidharmapitaka): It comprises the philosophical works. The first compilation is accredited to Mahakasyapa, a disciple of the Buddha, but the work is of a later period. It includes all the work treating of doctrinal philosophy.
There are two kinds of “three baskets”. One is the Mahayana Tripitaka and the others are the Theravada Tipitaka.
We quote below some of the opinions of the scholar about the Mahayana Tripitaka and the Theravada Tipitaka:
According to Karl Ludvig Reichell, “It may be stated on a conservative estimate that the Buddhist Tripitaka itself is seven hundred times larger than the Christian Bible. In addition to this there are immense collections of classic commentaries and essays, only a small fraction of which have been properly examined and translated into any European language. As a larger part of the Hinayana writings has also been included in the Mahayana collection it will be seen that China, Japan, and Korea at present have the largest literary treasure in Eastern Buddhism”. (11)
The Ven. Mahathers Narada says, “The voluminous Tipitaka, which contains the essence of the Buddha’s Teachings, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible. (12)
Buddhism had been divided in two main sects, that is, Hinayana or Southern Buddhism and Mahayana or Northern Buddhism. After the second conference was held in Visalia city, the disagreement between the Sanskrit and the Magadha Sangha gave rise subsequently to their separation into two parties, those of Hinayana and the Mahayana. The former, who scriptures are preserved in Pali, the later, whose scriptures are in Sanskrit.
According to a dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Termes, “Mahayana, the great Yana, wain or conveyance, or the greater vehicle in comparison with the Hinayana. It indicates Universalism, or Salvation for all, for all is Buddha and will attain Bodhi. It is also called Northern Buddhism.
It is interpreted as the greater teaching as compared with the small or inferior. Hinayana, which is undoubtedly nearer to the original teaching of the Buddha, is unfairly described as endeavors’ to seek Nirvana through an ash covered body, and extinguished intellect and solitariness, its followers are Sravakas and Pratyeka-Buddha’s. Mahayana, on the other hand, is described as seeking to find and extend all knowledge and in certain schools, to lead all to Buddha hood”. (13)
V. NOW WAS BUDDHISM PROPAGATED?
After the Mahaparinibbana of the Shakymuni Buddha, there were many great disciples of the Buddha, such as Mahakasyapa, Ananda, Mahakatyayana and so on, who took upon themselves the task of propagating the Doctrines of the Master all over India. Thereafter, the founder of every sector school of Buddhism spread the Buddha-Dharma.
From central India, Buddhism was propagated to the adjoining countries and then it spread all over Asia and the world. This propagation of Buddhism was done through two routes, namely Northern and Southern.
The form of Buddhism prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and in other places in the Far East is called Northern Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism.
On the other hand, the school or sect that has maintained its supremacy mainly in the South is Theravada Buddhism. It comprises the countries Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and others.
But nowadays thanks to the easy mode of communication, the Tripitaka (Three Baskets) has found its way all over the countries. Therefore, the separation between Northern Buddhism and Southern Buddhism is not as water-tight as it was formerly. We can say that the Northern Buddhism Doctrines some elements of Southern Buddhism and vice versa.
IV. THE BENEFITS OF BUDDHISM
The purpose of Buddhism is to confer permanent benefits on human beings. It consists of four Nirvana Virtues or values, according to the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra, as follows:
1) The true permanence or eternity. Human beings ran aground in the ocean of mortality, moral life Samsara or transmigrations; they are living in the impermanence view, birth, age, sickness and death. Buddhism brings back for believers one stage of attainment which has never been disturbed by the law of impermanence that is the true and eternal reality of Buddha-truth.
2) The true joyful. Living beings are unfortunate, they are a prey to suffering, if they get some happiness, but it only for a short time, as people when thirsty drink salt water to relieve thirst only for a moment, but afterwards that thirst will trouble them more than the first time. The Doctrine of the Buddha can hand over to beings the joyful realm.
3) The real or Nirvana ego. People are bearing many adverse circumstances bound like the prisoners who are detained in the house of detention, they are never free and they would like to be released. The purpose of Buddhism is to guide people on the enlightened way in order to counteract the illusory or temporal ego.
4) The true purity. The mind and the body of every person is full of five impurities (Kasaya) i.e. the kappa in decay, when it suffers deterioration and gives rise to the ensuing form; deterioration of view egoism, etc., arising, the passions and delusion of desire, anger, stupidity, pride and doubt prevail; in consequence human miseries increase and happiness decreases and human life gradually diminishes to ten years. The second and third are described as the impurity itself and the fourth and fifth its results.(14) The Buddha would like to guide them to go to the true and pure teaching of the Mahayana, are affirmed by the Sutra in the transcendental.
It is not only in the future that Buddhism will bring back benefits for human beings, but in the present also.
- Buddhism, thanks to the spirit of compassion and pity, makes human living love one another closer and closer.
- Buddhism, thanks to the light of knowledge and discernment (Prajna) i.e. knowledge of things and realization of truth, makes people in the society to decrease of ignorance and misery. They can choose where the right way is and where is the wrong way.
- Buddhism, with its humanity and absolute, equality, will remove injustice from society of the human living and change this world to a more brilliant and happier one.
Those are the benefits that Buddhism brings back for this world.
- The above previous benefits will never come to us if we do not learn and practice Doctrine of Buddhism.
1) To study Doctrine in Buddhism: Lord Buddha, in spite of being very intelligent, when he left home and became a monk tried to study day and night as well. He spent so much time to search with ardour the wonderful Doctrine which is held back from us. So, we want to become the honest disciple of Buddha. First of all, we have to learn the Buddhist Doctrine. We not only learn the Doctrine of Buddha, but also to practice the learning by the commandments, or prohibitions, so as to guard against the evil consequences of error by speech, body and mind, by dhyana or meditation, by philosophy, i.e. study of principles and solving of doubts of the Buddha.
2) To practice the Doctrine in Buddhism: Learning which not practice is. That comes to the same thing as keeping book in the pocket and not reading them. They know many subjects but is useless for enlightenment.
Therefore, for us, Buddhists, study and practice should go hand and hand. What Lord Buddha practiced, we follow. The Buddha has four immeasurable (Catvari apramanani): boundless kindness (maître); boundless pity (Karuna); boundless joy (mudita) and limitless indifference (uppeksa). We try our best to practice these qualities.
To do so, we should never ashamed with the name of Buddhist and practice so we can pay back a debt of gratitude to Lord Buddha by practicing even only one unit of the precepts for his thousand units.
The truth of Buddha is infinite;
The door of truth is wide open.
End of Chapter I