Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Buddha, the Teachings, and the Community of Practitioners

Buddhism traces its root back to the historical Buddha, born Siddharta Gautama, a yogi who lived more than 2,500 years ago in Northern India.

One prerequisite to identification as a Buddhist would be to take refuge in the Three Jewels, ideals at the heart of Buddhism. The Three Jewels include buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha.

Buddha is not just the historical person of the Buddha, but it's also what the Buddha represents-the potential
for awakening (buddha-nature) that we have.

Taking refuge in Buddha is not idolatry, and is more akin to treating him as a role-model rather than a God.

The dharma is the body of teachings that the buddha taught and also the truth that the teachings point to.  Dharma is often translated as "the way"- the way to live to get beyond suffering.

Sangha is the community of like-minded practitioners in the same path.

In the Zen tradition, one who is ordained as a monk must shave their head and dedicate oneself to a life of service to one's zen master and zendo (Zen temple.)

Becoming a monk also means renouncing aspects of one's live and taking on monastic vows.


To be a Buddhist, one must accept all four of these tenets:

1. All compounded things are impermanent.

The quality of your breathing, the energy in your body, and the ceaseless flow of thoughts in your mind. Things are constantly changing or impermanent-this can be observed during the meditation practice.

2. All emotions are pain.

All emotions are impermanent. Joy, which may not be considered "painful," is coupled with the recognition and fear that the experience won't last. There is anxiety lurking behind the joy. Emotions are distinguished from feelings, with emotions being a complex of intense feelings, suffused with thoughts and embedded in a story that eventually has to do with desire.

3. All things have no inherent existence.

The teaching on emptiness. It is less a belief than an experience that arises during meditation.

4. Nirvana is beyond all concepts.

Nirvana is not a concept; it is an experience and one that can be realized in meditation. Nirvana is the cessation of suffering and literally means "blowing out." What gets blown out is the generation upon generation of suffering from the influence of greed, hatred, and delusion.

Different sects of Buddhism differ in importance placed on devotion. Therevada is the least devotional, while Tibetan practices are the most, with the Zen practices being somewhere in between.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many buddhas and bodhisattvas which respond to prayers. Among them is the buddha Amitabha, who is directly believed to intervene in the process of death and rebirth.

In the West, you may want to see the Buddha as an exemplar to inspire practice. If you bow to the Buddha at a zen temple, you are not subjugating yourself to a superior being but bowing to the divinity that resides in yourself.

The Buddha's earliest disciples are the closest things to Saints. They were all arhants (worthy-ones) and included Ananda, Sariputra, Moggalana, and Kashyapa.

Tibetan Buddhists revere bodhisattvas who take the form of tulkus or rinpoche, lamas who have taken rebirth. The word Lama translates to "teacher."

Bodhidharma brought Buddhism to China and founded the Chan sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Dogen brought Chan to Japan and founded Zen Buddhism.

Upaya (skillful means), is a rental Buddhist concept which refers to a teacher's ability to reach a student. 

The Buddha lived and taught in the Axial Age, the period between 800 and 200 B.C.E.

The Axial Age gave birth to the philosophies of Confucius, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster, Socrates, and Plato, as well as the Hebrew prophets Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Jeremiah. 

Conviction that the world was filled with dukkha (suffering) was fundamental to the spirituality emerging in countries during the Axial Age. Concepts associated with Buddhism such as karma and samsara (rebirth) originated in Hinduism. The goal for Hindu mystics was to escape rebirth and samsara by reuniting one's atman (soul) with Brahman (the creator's spirit.)

The Buddha rejected the notion of an everlasting soul and made the radical observation that what is considered self is not a thing but a process, and a process that is ever-changing.

Suffering results not from living inside of a body, but being attached to it.


Notes taken from the following sources:
Kozak, Arnie. The Everything Essential Buddhism Book. F+W Media, Inc, 2015. Print. 

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