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Buddhism Notes.doc

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Walid Saleh

Buddhism Overview: - Buddha passed into everlasting nirvana some 2500 years ago - After a deep enlightenment experience at the age of 35 he spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching that all worldly things - Set the wheel of dharma (teaching) in motion, established a community (sangha) of disciples and charged his followers to carry the dharma to all regions of the world - Buddhism is the dominant religion in many parts of East, South, and Southeast Asia - Buddhism has three main traditions or vehicles - The earliest is Theravadaalso known as Hinayana, which spread to Southeast Asia - The Second is Mahayana, which became the principal school in East Asia and the third is Vajrayana, which developed out of Mahayana and became closely associated with the Himalayan region - Buddhists say they take refuge in the triple gem: (1) the Buddha, (2) the dharma, and (3) the sangha Origins Religious life in Ancient India - Perhaps the most important cultural tension was religious, between the Hinduism of the Brahmins and the indigenous religious traditions of the region, out of which Buddhism and Janism developed - It would not be accurate to say that Buddhism developed out of Hinduism in the same way that Christianity developed out of Judaism - Buddhism explicitly rejected the authority of the Brahmin scriptures (the Vedas) and the hereditary authority of the Brahmin class - A more accurate way to understand its relationship with Hinduism is to recognize that both evolved out of ancient Indian spirituality; Hinduism from the Brahmin tradition and Buddhism from the non-brahmin ascetic tradition that flourished in the region of the Ganges - There were camps that served as centers for the study of the various religious tradition - Each camp has its spiritual master, who laid down a discipline (vinaya) and a set of teachings (dharma) - Rival masters competed for followers while students shopped around for the teacher who seemed most advanced spiritually - These religious training camps were the forerunners of Buddhist monasteries - Students were required to take a vow of celibacy- there were also dietary restrictions - Most masters required their disciples to rise early and spend part of the day doing physical work to sustain the camp, in addition to studying and meditating - Students were expected to deny themselves bodily pleasures for the sake of spiritual development - Some of the ascetic practices required standing for hours at a time, fasting on full moon days, or sleeping on the ground - Exposing themselves to the rain and cold, standing naked in the sun for hours in summer, piercing their skin, going without food or water for long periods of time - The ethical values of the masters were rooted in the concept of ahimsa (non-violence) - Students departed the world, took vows of celibacy and poverty and became shramanas (disciples) - Apart from the creator god Brahma and the storm god Indra, deities played a surprisingly small role in the life of shramanas - Students were expected to develop through their own efforts, without relying on the grace bestowed by a god - The spiritual master shows the path, but the disciples must walk it themselves - Among the students who make their way to the Ganges was one named Siddartha Guatama: a prince from a small kingdom of Shakya - Siddhartha became to be known as Shakyamuni (Shakyan sage) and the Buddha: the most recent in a succession of fully enlightened teachers who have come to earth through the ages The First Gem: the Buddha - The law of karmameans that living creatures are reborn again and again, for better or worse depending of their moral conduct in previous lives - Whenever dharma teachings have declined, a new Buddha for that era arises - No god is needed to mastermind this system - One school of Buddhism venerates a Buddha of a previous age, named Amida, and that all of Buddhists look forward to a future Buddha known as Maitreya - Although era is considered to have only one fully enlightened, teaching buddha, there are numerous beings in each era who are though to have achieved some degree of enlightenment - There are several types of these spiritually advanced beings, including Arhats (saints), Pateyka Buddhas (hermit buddhas) and Bodhisattvas (those who have vowed to become buddhas) - All Buddhist traditions agree that Shakyamuni lived to the age of 80, although they do not agree on the dates - In Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia he is said to have lived from 624 to 544 BCE - Shakyamuni is venerated for having achieved enlightenment (perfection of spiritual wisdom) and liberation (moksha) from samsara (the cycle of rebirths) after striving through hundreds of previous lives to perfect his mind of enlightenment - Buddha is not an incarnate god but a human being who has fulfilled his spiritual potential - Shakyamuni becoming Bodhisattva- hole in road, stepping stone - A collection called Jataka, recounts more than 500 lives lived by Shakyamuni as he progresses towards the final purification of his mind - The last Jataka story tells of a prince named Vessantara who in keeping his vow of generosity, gives away everything, including his kingdom, his wife and his children though in the end they are restored Siddartha’s Birth and Childhood - When Vessantrara dies, the bodhisattva is reborn in the heavens, where he waits until the earth needs a new Buddha to set the wheel of dharma (dharmachakra) in motion once again - Most Buddhist traditions hold that the birth occurs on the full moon day of the rainy month called Vishakha which usually fall in May --> Jesus and Buddha have similar birth stories - Both conceived miraculously, without sexual intercourse - Buddhas mother is married to King Shuddhodana but is under a vow of celibacy, Mary is said to be an unwed virgin - Infants are born outside house, Buddha in a grove, Jesus in a stable - Both births are announced by a bright light in the sky and sages foretell the infants’ future greatness - The child is presented to the king, who names him Siddartha (a successful one) - The court Brahmin then examine the child’s body for signs predicting his future - Found 32 signs of the Great Person - Long ear lobes (signs of great spiritual wisdom), a golden complexion (inner tranquility), wheel patterns on the soles of his feet (he will be a wheel-turner) - A hermit sage named Asita (“blacky”) correctly foresees that the baby will become a Buddha - But the king wants Siddartha to become a great emperor so he orders that no evidence of sickness, old age or death be allowed near the boy, lest the knowledge of life’s inevitable sufferings lead him to abandon the world and follow a spiritual path - One of his childhood events; he enters a meditational trance state while sitting in the shade of a rose apple tree The 4 Sights and the Great Departure - The prince finally learns the truth when he is nearly thirty - He is married and has a son named Rahula - During a chariot ride through the royal park, he sees 4 great sights that will alter the course of his life - A sick man, a suffering old man, a dead mean and a monk whose calm detachment from the world suggest a path of overcoming suffering - That night, the bodhisattva takes his horse and servants and flees the palace, aka the Great departure - Eventually dismisses his servant and horse and exchanges his princely clothes for those of a poor hunter, obtains an alms bowl and embarks on the life of a wandering student seeking spiritual truth - Travels toward the Ganges - Studies under a yoga teacher, then another yogi, but leaves because he is not satisfied - Then with 5 others, he undertakes a very strict ascetic practice that including standing in the cold rain and hot sun - He excels in the discipline of fasting, living on only one palmful of water and food per day - Becomes extremely thin and loses consciousness, but the 4 world protectors look after him Enlightenment - He leaves the cave where he was living and goes to a town called Bodh Gaya - Choosing a pleasant spot beside a cool river, under a pipal tree, he sits, meditates, vowing that he will not get up until he has achieved nirvana - At this point, in the month of Vaishaka, Mara (the lord of death) arrives - His main function is to come for people’s souls at death and oversee their rebirth in appropriate place - Tries to tempt the bodhisattva to give up his mission - First summons his daughters whose names suggest greed, boredom and desire - Then offers to grant any worldly wish if he returns home and live a life of good karma - Then calls for his sons whose names suggest fear, anger and attack, but the bodhisattva’s spiritual power serves as a force field to protect him - Then challenges bodhisattva to a debate claiming that Mara is the one worthy to sit on the Bodhi seat, but the bodhisattva has the power both of his great merit and of having truth on his side- replies that he is the one with generosity, courage, wisdom and perfect through countless previous lives - The bodhisattva calls on Earth to bear witness to the truth of his claim, and the earthquakes an
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