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RLGA01H3 Chapter Notes -Gautama Buddha, Bodhisattva Vow, Theravada


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

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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
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