Essay, Research Paper: Buddhism


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Buddhism is one of the biggest religion founded in India in the 6th and 5th
cent. B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. One of the great Asian
religions, it teaches the practice of and the observance of moral precepts. The
basic doctrines include the four noble truths taught by the Buddha. Since it was
first introduced into China from India, Buddhism has had a history which has
been characterized by periods of sometimes awkward and irregular development.
This has mainly been the result of the clash of two cultures, each with a long
history of tradition. Most of the difficulties have arisen due to the
transplanting of an Indian religious/philosophical system onto a culture
strongly dominated by indigenous secular, philosophical and religious systems.
In spite of these difficulties, Chinese Buddhism has come to have an important
influence on the growth and development of Buddhism in general and this has
occurred largely because of its own innovatory contributions.(Eliade, M.
p.16-29) The spread of Buddhism into China began in Central Asia and was
facilitated by the efforts of the Indo-Scythian king Kanishka (Encyclopedia
Britt. 273-274) of the Kushan dynasty which ruled in northern India, Afghanistan
and parts of Central Asia in the 1st and 2nd centuries (Encyclopedia Britt.
274). He is said to have undergone an Ashoka-like conversion upon seeing the
slaughter caused by his campaigns. Around the beginning of the common era,
Buddhism started to filter into China from Central Asia via the Silk Road,
brought by monks, merchants and other travelers. It also entered later via trade
routes around and through Southeast Asia. It was nurtured in the expatriate
community of Loyang and other northern cities. (The Encyclopedia of Religion
p58-62) Siddhartha (Buddha) was born around 563 B.C.E. in the town of
Kapilavastu (located in today's Nepal). Siddhartha's parents were King
Shuddhodana and Queen Maya, who ruled the Sakyas. His history is a miraculous
one... One night, Queen Maya dreamed that an elephant with six tusks, carrying a
lotus flower in its trunk, touched her right side. At that moment her son was
conceived. Brahmins (learned men) came and interpreted the dream. The child
would be either the greatest king in the world or the greatest ascetic (a holy
man who practices self-denial). The future child would be named Siddhartha,
which means "he whose aim is accomplished." (Snelling, J. p 12-19)
Later when Queen Maya was going to her father's home to prepare for the birth,
she stepped off her chariot in the Lumbini Gardens and held the branch of a sal
tree to rest. In that instant, Siddhartha emerged from her right side without
any help. The infant walked seven steps each in four directions of the compass,
and lotus flowers sprouted from where his foot touched the earth. Then the
infant said, "No further births have I to endure, for this is my last body.
Now shall I destroy and pluck out by the roots the sorrow that is caused by
birth and death." Seven days later Queen Maya died. Mahaprajapati, Maya's
sister, looked after Siddhartha. King Shuddhodana shielded Siddhartha from all
kinds of suffering and hardship. When Siddhartha was about 20, he married
Yasodhara, daughter of one of the King's ministers, and one year later they had
a child named Rahula (meaning "fetter" or "impediment"). At
age 29, Siddhartha asked his charioteer, Channa, to take him out of the city two
times without the consent of the king. During these two trips, Siddhartha saw
"Four Sights" that changed his life. On the first trip, he saw old
age, sickness, and death. The second trip, he saw a wandering holy man, an
ascetic, with no possessions. Siddhartha started questioning the holy man, who
had a shaved head, wore only a ragged yellow robe, and carried a walking-staff.
The man said, "I am... terrified by birth and death and therefore have
adopted a homeless life to win salvation... I search for the most blessed state
in which suffering, old age, and death are unknown."(Snelling, J. p33) That
night, Siddhartha silently kissed his sleeping wife and son, and ordered Channa
to drive him out to the forest. At the edge of the forest, Siddhartha took off
his jeweled sword, and cut off his hair and beard. He then took off all his
princely garments and put on a yellow robe of a holy man. He then ordered Channa
to take his possessions back to his father. Siddhartha then wandered through
northeastern India, sought out holy men, and learned about Samsara
(reincarnation), Karma, and Moksha. Attracted to the ideas of Moksha, Siddhartha
settled on the bank of Nairanjana River, and adopted a life of extreme
self-denial and penances, meditating constantly. After six years of eating and
drinking only enough to stay alive, his body was emaciated, and he was very
weak. Five other holy men joined him, hoping to learn from his example. One day,
Siddhartha realized that his years of penance only weakened his body, and he
could not continue to meditate properly. When he stepped into the river to
bathe, he was too weak to get out, and the trees lowered their branches to help
him. In that instant, a milk-maid named Nandabala came and offered a bowl of
milk and rice, which Siddhartha accepted. The five holy men left Siddhartha
after witnessing this. Refreshed by the meal, Siddhartha sat down under a fig
tree (often referred to as the Bo tree, or Tree of Enlightenment) and resolved
to find out an answer to life and suffering. While meditating, Mara (an evil
god) sent his three sons and daughters to tempt Siddhartha with thirst, lust,
discontent, and distractions of pleasure. Siddhartha, entered a deep meditation,
and recalled all his previous rebirths, gained knowledge of the cycle of births
and deaths, and with certainty, cast off the ignorance and passion of his ego
which bound him to the world. Thereupon, Siddhartha had attained enlightenment
and became the Buddha (enlightened one). His own desire and suffering were over
and, as the Buddha, he experienced Nirvana... "There is a sphere which is
neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor air...which is neither this world nor
the other world, neither sun nor moon. I deny that it is coming or going,
enduring, death or birth. It is only the end of
suffering."( Instead of casting off his body and his
existence, however, Buddha made a great act of self-sacrifice. He turned back,
determined to share his enlightenment with others so that all living souls could
end the cycles of their own rebirth and suffering. Buddha went to the city of
Sarnath and found the previous five holy men that deserted him earlier at a deer
park. When they saw Buddha this time, they realized that he had risen to a
higher state of holiness. The Buddha began teaching them what he had learned. He
drew a circle in the ground with rice grains, representing the wheel of life
that went on for existence after existence. This preaching was called his Deer
Park Sermon, or "Setting in Motion the Wheel of Doctrine." Siddhartha
revealed that he had become the Buddha, and described the pleasure that he had
first known as a prince, and the life of severe asceticism that he had
practiced. Neither of these was the true path to Nirvana. The true path was the
Middle Way, which keeps aloof from both extremes. "To satisfy the
necessities of life is not evil," the Buddha said. "To keep the body
in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of
wisdom and keep our mind strong and clear." Buddha then taught them the
Dharma, which consisted of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The
five holy men and others soon joined Buddha, accompanying him everywhere. As
more joined, Buddha organized the Sangha, a community of bhikkus (dedicated
monks and later nuns). The Sangha preserved the Dharma, and allowed bhikkus to
concentrate on the goal of Nirvana. On raining seasons they would settle in
Viharas (resting places in cave dwellings) followers who believed in Buddha's
teachings, but could not follow the strict rule of the Sangha, were taught to
follow the Five Precepts. Buddha returned to his birthplace in Kapilavastu, and
his father was mortified to see his son begging for food. Buddha kissed his
father's foot and said, "You belong to a noble line of kings. But I belong
to the lineage of Buddha’s, and thousands of those have lived on
alms."( King Shuddhadana then remembered the Brahmin's
prophesy and reconciled with his son. Buddha's wife, son, and cousin (Ananda)
later joined the Sangha. When Buddha was about eighty, a blacksmith named Cuanda
gave him a meal that caused him to become ill. Buddha forced himself to travel
to Kushinagara, and laid down on his right side to rest in a grove of shala
trees. As a crowd of followers gathered, the trees sprouted blossoms and
showered them on Buddha. Buddha told Ananda, "I am old and my journey is
near its end. My body is like a worn-out cart held together only by the help of
leather straps." Three times, Buddha asked the people if they had any
questions, but they all remained silent. Finally Buddha said, "Everything
that has been created is subject to decay and death. Everything is transitory.
Work out your own salvation with diligence. After passing through several states
of meditation, the Buddha died, reaching Parinirvana (the cessation of
perception and sensation). Buddha is not a Supreme God nor the Creator of
Universe in Buddhism. Buddha is just an enlightened being. If a person
enlightened, the person is Buddha too. All sentient beings can be Buddha. There
are numerous enlightened beings in millions and millions of worlds in millions
and millions of years. Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was the enlightened
being in the world of time. Although Buddha is the most supreme being known in
all realms, he has no power to control everything. For instance, he is unable to
change the principle of cause and effect. In other words, if you commit an evil
deed, Buddha cannot save you by "waiving" the effect caused by your
evil deed. Nevertheless, Buddha can advise you how to mitigate the diverse
effect, if a person repent of his/her’s evil deed.( Snelling, J. p47-55)
Buddhism is perhaps the only religion that claims the eventual extinction of
itself, and also the sutra. Buddhism and its sutra inevitably abide by the
universal truth of impermanence. Whichever exists, it will extinguish, and vice
versa. Buddhism is a "vehicle" to carry all beings to the shore of the
Sea of Suffering. When you arrive at the shore, get off the vehicle. Don't
attach to it! Let other beings use it. It is just a "convenient tool"
to facilitate all beings to understand and certify the reality of the nature and
lives, and liberate themselves. Thus, in view of highest wisdom, all verbal and
written Buddhism with names and forms are "not real" By the time of
enlightenment, there will be no Buddhism. However, before one is enlightened,
one has to study and practice Buddhism wholeheartedly and vigorously,
cultivating all merits and virtues.(Buswell, R. p29-46) Buddhism is pragmatic
and practical. Buddhism was originated from and established for the sentient
beings. It teaches how to observe and understand and certify the reality of the
nature and lives in objective and scientific way. Do practice and don't just
study theories, especially those which are abstract. Some people would like to
know about the origin of the universe, finite or not, eternal or not, before
they will undertake to practice a religion. It is just like a man who is wounded
by an arrow wishes to know who shoots the arrow, what the arrow is made of, and
other irrelevant questions before he will have the arrow removed. Buddhism is
optimistic and enthusiastic towards life. It rejects the principle of fate,
though it emphasizes karma. The principle of impermanence and the principle of
no-self enlighten us that we should not attach and crave to fame and wealth, not
benefit ourselves by hurting others. One can enlighten and realize oneself by
enlightening and realizing others. Therefore, one has to cultivate and commit
oneself in society. Without selfishness, we can really serve the society and
people. Without the craving and clinging to personal fame and wealth, we can be
really free, comfortable and "rich". The principle of Middle Way
enlightens us about the interdependent nature of existence, therefore we should
not go extreme. Be optimistic! The secret of happiness is not doing things what
we like, but liking things what we do. The 3 processes of learning, namely
belief/faith, interpretation, practice and certification, are known as The three
Ways. The faith to a religion should not be affected by the behavior or
performance of an individual in the religion. A group of people is just a
miniature of society, having some good guys and some had guys. All religions and
philosophies have their doctrines, values and functions. Within a specific time
frame and space, different religions will serve and benefit a particular group
of human beings towards kindness and wholesomeness. Amongst the right religions,
there is no such religion that is "better" than the others. However,
since the wisdom and vision of the founders of the religions are different,
there are different levels in their doctrines, different methods of teaching and
different goals and objectives. Therefore, the extent of the benefits of the
religions is different.(Hinnells, J, 45-68)

BibliographySiddhartha Hesse, herman New York; bantam 1951 Buddhism: Central Asia and
China. 1994. The New Encyclopedia Brittanica. (15th ed). Vol 23. Chicago:
Encyclopedia Brittanica Inc. pp.273-274. Buswell, R. (Ed). 1990. Chinese
Buddhist apocrypha. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Eliade, M. (Ed). 1987.
The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Hinnells,
J. (Ed). 1985. A handbook of living religions. London: Penguin Books. Snelling,
J. 1992. The Buddhist handbook: A complete guide to Buddhist teaching and
practice. London: Rider.
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