Early Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism

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17 Feb 2011
World Religions January 26th-February 2nd, 2011.
Early Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism
Reading: Ch. 8 “The Buddhist Tradition,” pp. 377-404
Sramana found in 3 major cultural regions:
South and South East Asian Buddhism (Theravada School) – e.g. Sri Lanka
Northern Buddhism – e.g. Tibet, Mongolia, Himalayian
Eastern Buddhism – e.g. China, Korea, Japan
Sidhartha – The Buddha
Buddhism centered around insights, experience, and teachings of its founding
figure – Sidhartha born into Gantama, part of Sakya clan
After religious experiences, came to be called “The Buddha (one who is
spiritually aware, spiritually awaken)
Sidhartha was not the first Buddha
More specifically known by the name Sakyamuni
Sakyamuni set 563 to 438 BCE
Everything we know about Buddha comes from hagiographies (biography written
from faith perspective, someone who practices the faith/religion)
Hagiographies recount miraculous religious events in his life
Born into aristocratic family, father was chief of Sakya clan
When born, Sidhartha was examined and was said to be someone of great renown
Prophecy made that he will either be universal emperor or very special figure in
another way, e.g. world renouncer
Therefore either deeply invested in material world or reject material world all
together and become sagely important figure
Father sheltered him to be a world renouncer through life of enjoyment so he will
be so immersed in a luxury life that he cannot comprehend existence outside of it
Raises son sheltered from outside world, confined within space of sizeable palace,
surrounded by youthful people only
Buddha grows up highly accomplished in various ways, father desired his
attachment to life of luxury, roughly age of 16 Buddha gets married to beautiful
However develops curiosity of the outside world – what does it look like?
Asks father what it looks like and states he would like to visit and travel world
Father arranges an outing for his son and tradition holds this outing is
transformative experience for The Buddha
Goes off into streets on his chariot pulled by driver and city streets have been
cleaned up for his visit – all old people, less attractive people have been told to
stay off the streets because his father does not want him to encounter anything
outside of his experience n life
Famously speaking, Buddha encounters 3 experiences, which leave him a bit shaken
in the process:
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1.Buddha sees an old man crossing the street – shocked that old age is what awaits
him in the future
2.Sees very sick, diseased person, whos body is contorted by disease, great
difficulty of moving, high degree of pain/distress
3.Sees funeral procession
Head back to palace, Buddha abused with all sort of thoughts, traumatic
Buddha – cannot understand how can you immerse yourself in music and dance,
be unreflective of what await us in future (old age, disease)
Buddhas wife gives birth to son – catalytic moment for them and he determines
he cannot be there anymore and must leave palace and search for answers for
Sees 4th site: medicament renouncer, person who renounces world as Sramana and
he gets the idea he must leave palace and search for answers and this man is doing
Father refuses to let him go, lock him up, however he escapes and becomes a
Sramana at age 16
Wanders from teacher to teacher, trying different techniques, masters everything
various teachers have to teach him however still unsatisfied, questions in mind still
Tries vigorous forms of asceticism, starving, exposing body to cold, eventually
living on 5 grains of rice every 3rd day to point passing out from hunger
Concludes any manner of extreme practice doesnt seem reasonable, has some sort
of control but starving only makes you hungry and crabby
Decides starvation is not right for him
Felt tranquility and joy not in any relation to anything else and felt answer was
there, that experience held answer
So he found a tree, sat down at base of it, said hes not getting up from base of tree
until he has answers he wants
Over course of night, truth started to unfold upon him and true each phase of night
his understandings grew
By time it was morning, he was awakened, understood and had gotten answers he
had been desperately searching for
Critical experience for him, when he became known to be The Buddha
Tree came to be known as the “Bodhi Tree - Tree of Awakening/Enlightenment
Now 32 years old, sitting at base of tree, sits there for 40 days, absorbing content
of his insight
Goes off to former companion, one with whom hed practice asceticism
They shunned him because he began eating again however they now saw a glow,
something had changed
They became his disciples and they achieve same level of insight as he did
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Document Summary

Sramana found in 3 major cultural regions: south and south east asian buddhism (theravada school) e. g. sri lanka, northern buddhism e. g. tibet, mongolia, himalayian, eastern buddhism e. g. china, korea, japan. Cannot say anything about it because enlightenment understood as person, individual and immediate experience, not to be communicated through language, only experience by individual. Nature of existence: existence as being of 2 broad types: conditioned existence and unconditioned. Existence: conditioned by constraints of life in the world, constraints of karma, whole cycle of birth, death, rebirth, generating karma, unconditioned is mohska, freedom from constraint of the world. Experience in world conditioned by 3 difference elements: anitya quality of existence is characterized by impermanence, things are always changing, duhkha business of change generates anxiety. Sometimes change in our favour, sometime goes against us and causes us distress and very fact that things cannot stay the same as you may like them to be can be a source of suffering, anxiety.

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