RLG100Y1 Study Guide - Gautama Buddha, Dharma, Parinirvana
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The Buddhist Tradition
•Buddhism has 3 main traditions or ‘vehicles’, all of which originated in India.
oTheravada (a.k.a. Hinayana)- the earliest. Spread to Southeast Asia.
oMehayana- Became principle school in East Asia.
oVajrayana- developed out of Mehayana and became closely associated with the Himalayan religion.
•Buddhists say they ‘take refuge’ in the ‘Triple Gem’: (1)the Buddha; (2)the dharma; (3)the sangha.
•As they progress along the path of enlightenment, they seek to become more compassionate, more generous, more
detached from desire and hatred, more focused mentally, more pure of mind, and more spiritually wise.
•The area along the Ganges River was a hotbed of economic activity in the 7th + 6th centuries BCE.
•The emergence of a money economy led to the establishment of one of the world’s first banking systems.
•The new money economy also created a new class of urban merchants and bankers.
•The conservative Brahmins- the priestly class- disapproved of the bankers as money-lenders.
•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 Jainism developed.
•It is not accurate to say that Buddhism developed ‘out of Hinduism’.
•Buddhism rejected the authority of the Brahmin scriptures (the Vedas) and the hereditary authority of the Brahmin
•Buddhism represented a continuation of the traditional religion of India, and claimed to reach back hundreds or
even thousands of years before the time of Buddha himself.
•Both Hinduism and Buddhism evolved out of ancient Indian spirituality: Hinduism from the Brahmin tradition and
Buddhism from the non-Brahmin ascetic tradition.
•Religious training camps emerged- they were the forerunners of Buddhist monasteries.
•Students (all men) were required to take a vow of celibacy. Expected to deny themselves bodily pleasures for sake
of spiritual development.
•The ethical values of the masters were rooted in the concept of ahimsa (non-harming or non-violence).
•Leaving the everyday life of the ‘householder’ behind to follow the path of spiritual development, 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 small role in life of the shramanas.
•Students were expected to develop through their own efforts. The spiritual master shows the path, but the disciples
must walk it themselves.
•Among the students who made their way to the Ganges was one named Siddhartha Gautama- he would become
known as Shakyamuni and the Buddha.
The 1st Gem: The Buddha
•The Buddhist view of the cosmos is that universes arise and pass away in endless succession. Within each
universe, various eras come and go. The law of Karma means that living creatures are reborn again and again, for
better or worse depending on their moral conduct in previous lives.
•Whenever dharma teachings have declined, a new Buddha for that era arises.
•There have been buddhas in previous eras and there will be other buddhas in eras to come.
Siddhartha’s Birth and Childhood
•Birth occurs on the full-moon day of the rainy month called Vaishakha (usually falls in May). That night a bright
light illuminates the world, marking the holy event.
•Siddhartha conceived miraculously, without sexual intercourse.
•Buddha’s mother married to King Shuddhodana but is under a vow of celibacy.
•Buddha both outside, in a grove. And his birth announced by angels.
•Appears similar to birth of Jesus. (thieves! LOL)
•The child is raised as a pampered prince, sheltered from life’s problems.
•Frustrated by his failure to achieve a spiritual breakthrough, despite years of striving, the bodhisattva (Pre-
enlightened Buddha), is now at a loss.
•Decides to try new approach: chooses a pleasant spot by a cool river, under a Bodhi tree and sits and meditates.
•Mara (satan-figure) appears and tries to tempt him, but Buddha will not be swayed.
•Just before dawn, the bodhisattva enters a state of complete awareness, of total insight into the nature of reality;
this state is called bodhi. After hundreds of lives, he has fulfilled his bodhisattva vow.
•He is no longer a sattva (‘being, person’) striving for bodhi; he is now a Buddha, a ‘fully enlightened one’.
•Having completed the path to full enlightenment, he has earned the title Tathagata (‘thus-gone one’).
•Another term for this state of enlightenment is Nirvana.
•This state has 2 aspects, negative and positive: In its negative aspect, nirvana represents freedom from worldly
evils such as greed, hatred, and delusion. In its positive aspect it represents transcendent happiness.
Setting the Wheel in Motion
•The newly-enlightened Buddha’s first concern is to seek out and instruct his two former yoga teachers, but through
psychic powers he perceives that both have died.
•Buddha begins by telling his 5 friends to follow the path of moderation between self-indulgence and asceticism.
•Only after Buddha began to eat, drink and sleep in moderation was he able to reach enlightenment. The principle
of moderation eventually becomes the basis for a general ethic of the ‘Middle Way’.
•For the next 45 years the Buddha travels throughout the Middle Region, ordaining disciples and teaching
thousands of lay followers.
•Buddha is eating a meal with his friends and suspects the dish is tainted, so he eats it to make sure no one else
does- this causes him to fall ill and eventually die.
•Prior to his death, his disciples ask him whom they should follow if he dies, and he tells them to follow the
dharma. Thus, in Buddhism, no individual has absolute authority, although there are senior authorities in particular
•On his deathbed, the Buddha meditates through the yoga stages, then at the moment of death he experiences
parinirvana: the final end of the cycle of rebirth, the total cessation of suffering, the perfection of happiness.
The 2 nd
•The Sanskrit term ‘dharma’ is related to the Latin firma; thus we could understand ‘dharma’ to refer to teachings
that are firm or lasting.
•At the core of Buddha’s 1st sermon in the deer park were the “Four Noble Truths” about suffering and the
“Eightfold Path” to overcoming it:
1) Noble Truth and Suffering: No living being can escape suffering. Birth, sickness, senility, and death
are all occasions of suffering, whether physical or psychological.
2) Noble Truth of Origin: Suffering arises from craving, from excessive desire.
3) Noble Truth of Cessation: Suffering will cease when desire ceases.
4) Noble Truth of the Eightfold Path: It is possible to put an end to desire and hence to suffering by
following the Eightfold Path:
Right view or understanding (specifically the Four Noble Truths)
Right thought (free of sensual desire, ill-will, and cruelty)
The Three Characteristics of Existence and the Three Instructions
•According to dharma, existence has 3 characteristics: (1)Suffering; (2)impermanence; (3)’no-soul’.
•In the 5th century CE a monk named Buddhaghosa wrote a famous commentary on the dharma called the “Path of
•The Three Instructions: (1)Follow moral principles; (2)Develop a mental state which one is focused, tranquil and
alert (this is essential to reach nirvana); (3)Wisdom involves insight into things such as causality, including karma.
Dependent Origination and the Twelve-Spoked Wheel
•Buddhism teaches that everything is conditional: everything originates in dependence of other factors. (Doctrine of
•There are 12 links in the chain of dependent origination and are divided into 3 stages, reflecting the movement
through Past, Present and Future:
1) Ignorance, leading to
2) Karma formulations (the state of the individual’s karma complex at death), leading to
3) a new individual ‘consciousness’, leading to…
4) a new body-mind complex, “ “
5) the bases of sensing, “ “
6) sense impressions, “ “
7) conscious feelings, “ “
8) craving, “ “
9) clinging to things, “ “
10) ‘becoming’ (the drive to be reborn) “ “
11) rebirth, “ “
12) old age and death
•The process does not stop with the 12th link, since old age and death lead to yet another birth.
Tripitaka: The Three Baskets of Sacred Texts
•Shakyamuni (Buddha) did not write down his dharma teachings or rules of discipline.
•The teachings were finally put into writing by Theravada monks in Sri Lanka in the 1st century CE, after a famine
had so reduced the sangha there that the oral tradition was in danger of disappearing.
•The Sutra Pitaka, or “discourse basket”, contains the talks on dharma attributed to Shakyamuni, or his early
•The Vinaya (‘discipline’) Pitaka contains the rules of monastic discipline and stories about how Shakyamuni came
to institute each rule.
•The Abhidharma (‘further discourses’) Pitaka contains 7 books by early Buddhists who systematically analyzed
every conceivable aspect of reality from the standpoint of various principles.
The 3 rd
Gem: The Sangha
•Sangha: The ‘congregation’ or community of Buddhist monks and nuns. Some forms of Buddhism also refer to
the congregation of lay persons as a sangha.
•Have 2 components: the monastic community of ordained men and women, and the broad community of all the lay
people who follow the Buddha’s path.