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RLGA01H3 Chapter Notes -Gautama Buddha, Bodhisattva Vow, Theravada

Course Code
Henry Shiu

of 6
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
Religious Life in Ancient India
~500 BCE, northern India was one of the most active centres of civilization in the
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
All traditions agree Shakyamuni lived till 80, though scholars don’t know WHEN he
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
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
o Buddha’s father, King Shuddhodana holds a naming festival
Name chosen Siddhartha - ‘he who achieves success’
Rarely used. Shakyamun or (Lord) Buddha is often used
o Based on bodily, physical signs, the Brahmins made predictions of his
If he stayed in the world, he’d become a powerful emperor
If he departs the world, he’ll achieve what every monk strives for: full
o His father wanted Siddhartha to become a great emperor
He ordered that no evidence of sickness, old age, and death be allowed
near Siddhartha
No adversities = no reason to try to walk the spiritual path
o The bodhisattva’s childhood was full of signs of his spirituality
Knowledge of the alphabet; winning martial arts tourneys
The Four Sights and the Great Departure
At 30, Buddha sees everything his father tried to hide: sickness, old age, and death
He also sees a monk, who is calmly detached from the world