Buddhism today is divided into two major branches known to their respective followers as Theravada , the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana , the Great Vehicle. The number of Buddhists worldwide has been estimated at between and million. The reasons for such a range are twofold: Throughout much of Asia religious affiliation has tended to be nonexclusive; and it is especially difficult to estimate the continuing influence of Buddhism in Communist countries such as China.
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Origins As did most major faiths, Buddhism developed over many years. Buddha's Life No complete biography of the Buddha was compiled until centuries after his death; only fragmentary accounts of his life are found in the earliest sources. Western scholars, however, generally agree on BC as the year of his birth.
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Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Lumbini near the present Indian-Nepal border, the son of the ruler of a petty kingdom. According to legend, at his birth sages recognized in him the marks of a great man with the potential to become either a sage or the ruler of an empire. The young prince was raised in sheltered luxury, until at the age of 29 he realized how empty his life to this point had been. Renouncing earthly attachments, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment, seeking release from the cycle of rebirths.
For the next few years he practiced Yoga and adopted a life of radical asceticism. Eventually he gave up this approach as fruitless and instead adopted a middle path between the life of indulgence and that of self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree, he meditated, rising through a series of higher states of consciousness until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching.
Once having known this ultimate religious truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggle.
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He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way he spent the rest of his life. Buddha's Teachings The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His beliefs were codified by later followers.
This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, wisdom, and samadhi, or concentration.
Anatman Buddhism analyzes human existence as made up of five aggregates or "bundles" skandhas : the material body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or karmic tendencies, and consciousness.
A person is only a temporary combination of these aggregates, which are subject to continual change. No one remains the same for any two consecutive moments. Buddhists deny that the aggregates individually or in combination may be considered a permanent, independently existing self or soul atman. Indeed, they regard it as a mistake to conceive of any lasting unity behind the elements that constitute an individual. The Buddha held that belief in such a self results in egoism, craving, and hence in suffering. Thus he taught the doctrine of anatman, or the denial of a permanent soul.
He felt that all existence is characterized by the three marks of anatman no soul , anitya impermanence , and dukkha suffering. The doctrine of anatman made it necessary for the Buddha to reinterpret the Indian idea of repeated rebirth in the cycle of phenomenal existence known as samsara. To this end he taught the doctrine of pratityasamutpada, or dependent origination. This linked chain of causation shows how ignorance in a previous life creates the tendency for a combination of aggregates to develop.
These in turn cause the mind and senses to operate. Sensations result, which lead to craving and a clinging to existence.http://leakdown.com/2986.php
The Buddhist universe
This condition triggers the process of becoming once again, producing a renewed cycle of birth, old age, and death. Through this causal chain a connection is made between one life and the next. What is posited is a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from life to life—in effect a belief in rebirth without transmigration. Karma Closely related to this belief is the doctrine of karma.
Karma consists of a person's acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice.
The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One's karma determines such matters as one's species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. According to the Buddha, karma of varying types can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even one of the Hindu gods.
Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same predicament as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. Of the possible modes of rebirth, human existence is preferable, because the deities are so engrossed in their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation.
Enlightenment is possible only for humans. Nirvana The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana , an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After attaining nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana parinirvana is attained at the moment of death.
In theory, the goal of nirvana is attainable by anyone, although it is a realistic goal only for members of the monastic community. In Theravada Buddhism an individual who has achieved enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path is known as an arhat, or worthy one, a type of solitary saint. For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. This lesser goal is generally pursued by lay Buddhists in the hope that it will eventually lead to a life in which they are capable of pursuing final enlightenment as members of the sangha.
The ethic that leads to nirvana is detached and inner-oriented. It involves cultivating four virtuous attitudes, known as the Palaces of Brahma: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centered on fulfilling one's duties to society. It involves acts of charity, especially support of the sangha, as well as observance of the five precepts that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The precepts prohibit killing, stealing, harmful language, sexual misbehavior, and the use of intoxicants.
By observing these precepts, the three roots of evil—lust, hatred, and delusion—may be overcome. Early Development Shortly before his death, the Buddha refused his disciples' request to appoint a successor, telling his followers to work out their own salvation with diligence. At that time Buddhist teachings existed only in oral traditions, and it soon became apparent that a new basis for maintaining the community's unity and purity was needed.
Thus, the monastic order met periodically to reach agreement on matters of doctrine and practice. Four such meetings have been focused on in the traditions as major councils. Major Councils The first council was held at Rajagrha present-day Rajgir immediately after the Buddha's death. Presided over by a monk named Mahakasyapa, its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha's actual teachings and on proper monastic discipline.
About a century later, a second great council is said to have met at Vaishali.
Its purpose was to deal with ten questionable monastic practices—the use of money, the drinking of palm wine, and other irregularities—of monks from the Vajjian Confederacy; the council declared these practices unlawful. Some scholars trace the origins of the first major split in Buddhism to this event, holding that the accounts of the council refer to the schism between the Mahasanghikas, or Great Assembly, and the stricter Sthaviras, or Elders.
More likely, however, the split between these two groups became formalized at another meeting held some 37 years later as a result of the continued growth of tensions within the sangha over disciplinary issues, the role of the laity, and the nature of the arhat. In time, further subdivisions within these groups resulted in 18 schools that differed on philosophical matters, religious questions, and points of discipline.
Of these 18 traditional sects, only Theravada survives. Convened by the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to purify the sangha of the large number of false monks and heretics who had joined the order because of its royal patronage. This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them.
In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures Tipitaka was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy abhidharma to the doctrine dharma and monastic discipline vinaya that had been recited at the first council. Another result of the third council was the dispatch of missionaries to various countries. Both branches of Buddhism may have participated in this council, which aimed at creating peace among the various sects, but Theravada Buddhists refuse to recognize its authenticity.
Formation of Buddhist Literature For several centuries after the death of the Buddha, the scriptural traditions recited at the councils were transmitted orally. These were finally committed to writing about the 1st century BC. Some early schools used Sanskrit for their scriptural language.
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Although individual texts are extant, no complete canon has survived in Sanskrit. In contrast, the full canon of the Theravadins survives in Pali, which was apparently a popular dialect derived from Sanskrit. The Buddhist canon is known in Pali as the Tipitaka Tripitaka in Sanskrit , meaning "Three Baskets," because it consists of three collections of writings: the Sutta Pitaka Sutra Pitaka in Sanskrit , a collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications.
The Sutta Pitaka is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada Religious Sentences , a summary of the Buddha's teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular. The Vinaya Pitaka consists of more than rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns.
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