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Lecture

RLGA01 BUDDHISM NOTES.docx

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Department
Religion
Course Code
RLGA01H3
Professor
Henry Shiu

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Buddhism Overview  Buddha passed into nirvana about 2500 yrs ago o Aged 35  Buddha spent the remaining 45 yrs of his life teaching that this world is in a cycle of living and dying o Dharma – teaching  Buddha ordered his followers to carry the dharma to other places o Sangha – community  Disciples; followers  Buddhism has 3 main traditions; all originated in India o Theraveda (aka Hinayana)  Spread to SE Asia o Mahayana  Principle school in East Asia o Vajrayana  Developed from Mahayana tradition  Prevalent in the Himalayan region o All these trads also have followers in Europe and NA Origins Religious Life in Ancient India  ~500 BCE, northern India was one of the most active centres of civilization in the world  trade was thriving, enriching the vaishya (merchant) class o agriculture grew on the large estates owned by the Kshatriyas and Brahmins, which was worked by commoners and slaves  There was tension b/w the lower and upper classes; lower classes were getting richer, but was still looked down on by the upper classes o The most significant cultural tension was b/w the religion of the Brahmins and the trad religious beliefs of the region  Animal sacrifice, as was practiced by the Brahmins, was not accepted by ascetic masters, such as Jain ascetic Mahavira and Shakyamuni Buddha; ahimsa (nonviolence) was preferred  Deities played a small role in non-brahminic religions o Minor gods may provide practical help now and gain o Assistance in reaching the spiritual path was NOT asked for by the gods o Ascetics could only achieve liberation from their own efforts o Spiritual masters led the way, but the disciples had to walk the path themselves w/ no supernatural assistance  Buddhism had some new elements: the soul was impermanent, social egalitarianism o But the notion of karma, reincarnation, ideals of ascetic withdrawal from the world, gods, demons, and spirits, were all common beliefs of not only Buddhists, but to all the traditions of the Ganges region  A prince from the small kingdom of the Shakya ppl named Siddhartha Gautama was among the students along the ancient Ganges o Became known as Shakyamuni, the ‘Shakyan sage’, then eventually became known as the Buddha of the current age The First Gem: The Buddha The Bodhisattva Vow and Previous Lives  Our current universe is in the declining phase of its life cycle when Shakyamuni, the Buddha of the present age, was born  When the unavoidable decline of morality and truth (dharma) becomes severe, a highly developed being is born to become the Buddha for that era o Though Buddhists believe in gods, none is needed for the arrival of a buddha; buddhas know the state of the world and know when to come  There is a Buddha of every era o There have been is previous eras, and will be in future ones. Buddhas considered fully enlightened o But, there are others who are considered to have reached near enlightenment, or some degree of it  Pratyeka buddhas live in isolation from the world and do not teach, are an example  Arhats, ‘worthy ones’, or almost always translated to ‘saints’  Bodhisattvas, those who’ve dedicated themselves to achieving Buddhahood  All traditions agree Shakyamuni lived till 80, though scholars don’t know WHEN he lived o Several texts indicate he lived b/w 624 & 448 BCE  Shakyamuni perfected his ‘mind of enlightenment’ through 100s of previous lives o He’s not a god, but just a human who’s perfeted the spiritual potential of all living creatures  Buddha refers to Shakyamuni, where as buddha (lowercase) refers to any enlightened being  Story of Buddha: o Ppl are filling mudholes in anticipation of a previous era’s buddha. The buddha reaches one mud hole before it’s filled, and the man filling it goes in it to serve as a stepping stone. The buddha tells this man that he will be the next buddha. o The man takes the ‘bodhisattva’ vow, a promise to work towards buddhahood. o This man goes through many lives, slowly purifying himself in each of them  Chronicled in the Jataka, ‘birth stories’  >500 stories o In his last incarnation as a bodhisattva, the young man is reborn as Vessantara, a prince.  Vows to perfect generosity; when someone asks him for something, he’ll give it to them  When he assumes the throne, he gives away lots of charity  He’s exiled when he gives away the kingdom’s lucky white elephant to a rival kingdom  Even in exile, he continues giving away things, even his wife and kids o These events have been guided by the gods as a test o His actions are used as a model for Buddhists to follow Siddhartha’s Birth and Childhood  After Vessantara dies, he’s not reborn immediately o He waits in heaven as a new being resulted from past karma o He CHOOSES to return to the world when the dharma of the previous buddha is lost – when the world needs him  Story of the birth of Buddha (Theraveda interpretation): o His mother, Mahamaya, queen of the Shakya ppl, vows sexual abstinence. o She dreams of being taken to a grove of trees by the four ‘world protectors’ (minor gods, one for ea fundamental direction) o In the grove, a spiritual being in the form of a sacred white elephant descends from the heavens and enters through her side, where it becomes an embryo of the Buddha-to-be  Numerous supernatural events take place during and after the birth of Buddha o Buddha’s father, King Shuddhod
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