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BUDDHISM: A GENERAL DESCRIPTION
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha: "the awakened one". The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (or dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth.
Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada, "The School of the Elders," and Mahayana, "The Great Vehicle". Theravada—the oldest surviving branch—has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications Vajrayana—a subcategory of Mahayana practiced in Tibet and Mongolia—is recognized as a third branch. While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Estimates of Buddhists worldwide vary significantly depending on the way Buddhist adherence is defined. Lower estimates are between 350–500 million.
Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Taking "refuge in the triple gem" has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Other practices may include following ethical precepts, support of the monastic community, renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic, the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation, cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment, study of scriptures, devotional practices, ceremonies, and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
1. "Buddhism". (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 26, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition.
2, Major Religions Ranked by Size
3. U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2004.
4. Perry Garfinkel, "Buddha Rising", National Geographic Dec. 2005: 88–109.
5. The World Factbook
6. Robinson et al., Buddhist Religions, page xx; Philosophy East and West, vol 54, ps 269f; Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, 1st ed., 1989, 2nd ed., 2008, p. 266.
7. Buddhist faith and sudden enlightenment — Google Books. Books.google.com. 1983.
8. "Principal Vipassana Teacher S N Goenka". Vridhamma.org.
9. Light of Wisdom — Google Books. Books.google.com. 2004-05-18.
DAOISM AND CONFUCIANISM
I have included Daoism and Confucianism on this webpage devoted to Buddhism for several reasons. The first is the simple and practical problem I had when designing this website that I could only deal with some of the major religions. Five years ago when this 4th edition of my website was in the planning stage, I was able to include only 80+ different webpages. In the last 5 years I have sub-divided many of these webpages so that I could include other major topics or disciplines. My website now has 110+ divisions and sub-divisions. The second reason for including Daoism and Confucianism on this Buddhism webpage is that in Chinese history, the three religions of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism stand on their own independent views, and yet are "involved in a process of attempting to find harmonization and convergence among themselves, so that we can speak of a 'unity of three religious teaching.'"
Taoism or Daoism) is a philosophical, ethical or religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also romanized as Dao). The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies & religions other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind, everything that exists. For a detailed overview of Taoism go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism
Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is an ethical and philosophical system, also described as a religion, developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE). Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han Dynasty. Following the official abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of the Han. Nonetheless, from the Han period onwards, most Chinese emperors have used a mix of Legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine. The disintegration of the Han in the second century CE opened the way for the soteriological doctrines of Buddhism and Taoism to dominate intellectual life at that time. For more on Confucianism go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucianism
Buddhist philosophy is the elaboration and explanation of the delivered teachings of the Buddhaas found in the Tripitaka and Agama. Its main concern is with explicating the dharmas constituting reality. A recurrent theme is the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist Middle Way. Early Buddhism avoided speculative thought on metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics, andepistemology, but was based instead on empirical evidence gained by the sense organs. Nevertheless, Buddhist scholars have addressed ontological and metaphysical issues subsequently. Particular points of Buddhist philosophy have often been the subject of disputes between different schools of Buddhism. These elaborations and disputes gave rise to various schools in early Buddhism of Abhidhamma, and to the Mahayana traditions and schools of the prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, buddha-nature and Yogacara. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_philosophy
TWO NEW BOOKS ON BUDDHA AND BUDDHISM
The following two books came out in 2014 and were reviewed in September in the London Review of Books: (a) From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha by Donald S. Lopez Jr, and (b) In Search of the Christian Buddha: How an Asian Sage Became a Medieval Saint by Donald S. Lopez Jr and Peggy McCracken. Eliot Weinberger, the reviewer, writes: "In 125 CE, Aristides, defending Christianity before the Emperor Hadrian at the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries, divided the world into four: Greeks (which included Egyptians and Chaldeans), Jews, Christians and barbarians. In the Christian West the coming of Islam revised this list into a taxonomy that would remain in place for a millennium: Jews, Christians, ‘Mahometans’ and ‘idolaters’.
Idolatry, by the time of the crusades, included everyone in the non-white world from Aztecs to Taoists. Regardless of their strict prohibitions against graphic representations of God or of the Prophet, Muslims are seen praying to a menagerie of idols, including Apollo & Lucifer in The Song of Roland. Exempt from the charge of idolatry were, of course, the Christians themselves. Their Disneylands of architectural extravaganzas might be filled with colourful and thrilling, terrifying or sentimental images of Jesus and Mary and the saints, but these were not, they explained, objects of worship: they served only as didactic tools for the illiterate. Not idols for whom prayers were uttered & candles lit, they were edifying comic books.
Eliot Weinberger(1949-) is a contemporary American writer, essayist, editor, and translator. His work regularly appears in translation & has been published in some thirty languages. Collections of his essays have most recently appeared in Russia, Albania, Flemish Belgium, Spain and Germany. For more on Weinberger go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliot_Weinberger
BUDDHISM IN CYBERSPACE
There are many locations and items on the internet with Buddhist messages and manners, tones and modes. There have also been many famous people who have taken an interest in Buddhism. The following internet link and the following prose-poem provide information in these connections. Here is one link at u-tube: http://youtu.be/f3zUYK4YU8M Here is one prose-poem:
On 29 March 1951, when I was six years old, and two years before my mother first began to attend Baha'i activities in the then small town of Burlington Ontario, Shoghi Effendi referred to the "rise of the World Administrative Centre" of the Baha'i Faith and "the spiritual conquest of the entire planet." In that same letter he described a system of nine concentric circles and their heart and centre on Mt. Carmel. Jack Kerouac, a beat poet I came to learn about in the 1960s, began writing seriously about this time.-In Citadel of Faith: Messages to America: 1947-1957, Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, 1957, pp.91-98; and ABC TV, "On the Road to Desolation", 1 November 1998, 2 pm.
You began to churn out words,(1)
a stream-of-consciousness that
brought you fame after he died,(2)
exhausted by a labour that had
worn him to the bone, another
writer, shy, another reserved
observer, on a different road,
a different desolation of a world
wholly and spiritually glorious
and made him a culture hero for
generations to come, while you
toyed with Buddhism and jazz,
drowned in alcohol, went West,
becoming TV's first writer-celebrity.
1 November 1998
(1) Jack Kerouac died at the age of 47 after writing ten books between 1951 and 1957, his most famous book being On the Road. He was one of the central founders of the 'beat generation.'
2 Shoghi Effendi died exhausted with "a strange desolation of hopes" at 60 according to Ruhiyyih Rabbani in The Priceless Pearl, p.451. Kerouac spent 63 days on Mt. Desolation in 1957. Hoping to have a spiritual experience, he had instead an experience of abyssal nothingness in his confrontation with himself.
A BOOK ON BUDDHISM
The following book places the religion of Buddhism in a comparative context. The title of the book is: The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach by Moojan Momen. (Publisher: Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 1999, 626 pages. Reviewer: Christopher Buck)
Moojan Momen's The Phenomenon of Religion is a phenomenology of religion not to be confused with Ninian Smart's Phenomenon of Religion. Note the distinction between the terms, phenomenon and phenomenology. Both derive from the Greek root, phainomenon, meaning, "that which appears." Add the suffix, logos, which means "reflection." The phenomenology of religion is a methodological approach to the academic study of religion, influenced by the philosophical phenomenology articulated by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). It is the complement of the history of religions. Together, the history of religions and phenomenology of religion comprise what was once called the "science of religion" and, later, "comparative religion," the preferred term now being the academic study of religion, also known as religious studies. The problem with the latter term is that it is somewhat misleading in that, while the object of study is "religious," the methodology is not.
The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach by Moojan Momen is reviewed by Christopher Buck and is found at at the following link:
In his book on Theravada Buddhism, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism(Cambridge, 323 pages,1982), Steven Collins refers to ‘water imagery’ expressive of the state of mind of the meditator. It is "watery imagery in which all mental phenomena can be seen and classified as they really are." All these phenomena can be seen like a clear pond through which the stones, plants, and suchlike, on the bottom can be seen with ease. Part of the attraction of Buddhism comes from the promise it offers of making such extraordinary clarity of vision a permanently available ability. It shares this, however, with many other views of the world that promise mystical insight. In a powerful study of the Buddhist tradition: Le Bonheur-Liberté: Bouddhisme Profond et Modernité(637 pages,1983) Serge Kolm argues that this clarity is also uniquely suited to the rational scientific mind, by virtue of its emphasis on materialism, determinism and method. Both works underline the elimination of suffering as the goal to which the theory and practice of Buddhism are harnessed.
The two books are nonetheless strikingly different, and not always consistent with each other. They deal with the same subject-matter: the relation between Buddhism and Brahmanism, between the Theravada and Mahayana schools, between exoteric and esoteric forms, between non-self and moral responsibility, between freedom from illusion and freedom from suffering. Collins has written a scholarly study of Buddhism, without attempting to evaluate its central doctrines. His stated concern is a philosophical one, but he does not go beyond the clarification of the basic notions. For more on these two books go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v05/n10/jon-elster/nobody-at-home
Tibetan Buddhism is the extant form of the Pāla tradition of Buddhism, practiced historically in the Indian university of Nālanda and others. Once known merely as the main religion of the Tibetan nation, it is now understood as the modern form of that predecessor, whose literature, once in Sanskrit, is now in Tibetan language. It is the body of Buddhist religious doctrine and institutions characteristic of Tibet, Mongolia, Tuva, Bhutan, Kalmykia and certain regions of the Himalayas, including northern Nepal, and India (particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Dharamsala, Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim). It is the state religion of Bhutan. It is also practiced in Mongolia and parts of Russia (Kalmykia, Buryatia, and Tuva) and Northeast China. Texts recognized as scripture and commentary are contained in the Tibetan Buddhist canon, such that Tibetan is a spiritual language of these areas. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_Buddhism
If you can’t keep a good man down, it’s no wonder if that genuine rarity, a very good man, sometimes seems to be incessantly on the up and up. The Dalai Lama has already achieved cinematic immortality in Seven Years in Tibet, even though obliged to survive association with a slightly dodgy Austrian. He has further film apotheoses in prospect, threatening to turn even Gandhi into an also-ran. Meanwhile, he makes a cameo appearance in Michael Dobbs’s new Good-fellow MP thriller, which revolves around the hunt for his next incarnation in London. Readers might like to know more about Dobbs than the Dalai Lama since: (a) The Times calls Dobbs "one of the brightest and best mass-market storytellers around;' (b) The Scotsman says: 'Dobbs is without equal as a writer. He succeeds because he is a storyteller of the highest calibre; and (c) the Cardiff Western Mail says: 'He's the master of political deviousness.' For more go to: https://www.qbd.com.au/product/9780006477105
Go to the following link for more of the above review of the following several books on Buddhism, its history and culture: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n07/th-barrett/close-relations:The Buddha of Brewer Street by Michael Dobbs, HarperCollins, 288 pages, 1998; The Book of Tibetan Elders: Life Stories and Wisdom from the Great Spiritual Masters of Tibet by Sandy Johnson, Constable, 282 pages, 1997; The Art of Tibet by Robert Fisher, Thames and Hudson, 224 pages,1997; Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations by Warren Smith Jr., Westview, 732 pages, 1996; The Way to Freedom by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Thorsons, 181 pages, 1997; Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart by His Holiness The Dalai Lama,Thorsons, 238 pages, 1997; and Kundun: A Biography of the Family of the Dalai Lama by Mary Craig, HarperCollins, 392 pages, 1997.
The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsongkhapa (1357–1419). The name is a combination of the Mongolian word dalai meaning "ocean" and a Tibetan word meaning "guru, teacher, mentor". For more on the Dalai Lama go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalai_Lama
A U-TUBE ITEM ON BUDDHISM
Sen no Rikyū was a Japanese philosopher who understood the role of a cup of tea in a wise and calm life. Sen no Rikyu(1522-1591) is also known simply as Rikyū. He is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese "Way of Tea", particularly the tradition of wabi-cha. He was also the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty of self. Originating from the Sengoku period and the Azuchi–Momoyama period, these aspects of the tea ceremony persist. Rikyū is known by many names. There are three iemoto (sōke), or "head houses" of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū. This u-tube item is brought to you by: http://www.theschooloflife.com ; you can access it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpE-XL0u5yI&feature=em-subs_digest and at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sen_no_Riky%C5%AB
ABORTION AND BUDDHISM
A short review of the book Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William LaFleur(Princeton, 250 pages, 1993) begins as follows: "The casual visitor to Japan does not have to wander very far from the beaten tourist track to discover two distinctive but contrasting phenomena of the country’s material culture. The first consists of a row of small stone statues, apparently of dwarfs, each with a red bib tied round its neck; such rows are to be found somewhere in the precinct of almost any Buddhist temple. The second is decidedly part of the modern rather than the traditional aspect of Japanese culture. In its most usual form it is a characterless concrete building, which could be a small block of flats, but whose clinical appearance makes it clear that it is a hospital. The Japanese themselves are left in no doubt: a large notice board invariably gives the names of the doctors who own and operate it."
For a book related to the above theme, a book entitled: Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture, by Jane Marie Law and Vanessa R. Sasson, readers might enjoy the following introduction:
"In contemporary Western culture, the word “fetus” introduces either a political subject or a literal, medicalized entity. Neither of these frameworks gives sufficient credit to the vast array of literary and oral traditions emerging from religious cultures around the world that see within the fetus a symbol, a metaphor, an imagination. The editors of this book maintain that the fetus has been hijacked by two dominant and powerful modes,’the political and the medical,’ and the potential of the fetus as symbol to serve as a gateway to imagination has been reduced as a result. This volume grows out of the acknowledgment of the fact that, throughout much of human history and across most of the world’s cultures, when the fetus was imagined, it enjoyed a much wider range of symbolic and cultural subjectivities, often contributing possibilities of inclusivity, emergence, liminality, and transformation. The purpose of this book is to restore the nuance of fetal symbolism and liberate it from the stultifying parameters of the abortion/embryonic stem cell debate, giving it room once again to function as a symbol of greater and more complex human emotions, dilemmas, and aspirations."
BUDDHISM AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
When Freud insisted that psychoanalysis had nothing to do with ethical enquiry, and was not in the business of making moral worlds or of providing a new Weltanschauung, he was trying to dissociate himself from the Judaism of his forefathers, and trying to dissociate psychoanalysis from any connection with religion, or mysticism. If psychoanalysis was seen to be compatible with traditional religious belief, it would lose both its scientific credibility and its apparent originality. Recontextualised from the 1970s onwards by historical research, and revived by literary studies, psychoanalysis, fortunately, has had all its boundaries blurred. No longer owned, and so defined, exclusively by anyone, its ‘splendid isolation’ has been turned into a more interesting muddled pluralism. It has now spilled into all sorts of other areas: religion, history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, among others – with which it has much in common. By joining in the conversation it has been increasingly unable to disown these family resemblances, and so has lost some of the pomposity of its own supposedly unique rigour.
The religion Nina Coltart is most interested in--in her slim book of 200 pages Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Further Psychoanalytic Explorations published in 1992 is Buddhism. Coltart is also a practicing Buddhist. Her book is worth having for its essay on psychoanalysis and Buddhism alone. She thinks that analysts have got a lot to learn from novelists, that they are all novelists manqués, that is: unfulfilled or frustrated in the realization of their novelistic ambitions or capabilities. Though psychoanalysis is not a religion, and is notably insufficient if used as one, its preoccupations are of a piece with those traditionally thought of as religious.
The novelist she quotes from to such good effect, and with whom she shares certain affinities, is Iris Murdoch; the other novelist she draws on is Henry James. She is interested, that is to say, in the mixing but not the muddling of traditions, and in psychoanalysis as inescapably a moral enterprise – ‘tending as it does towards greater freedom in the making of moral choices’ – that has to work hard not to become a moralistic one. Rather like Iris Murdoch, Coltart is a kind of aesthetic pragmatist; she wants theories, which she refers to as ‘toolkits’, that she can use, and she wants to get things done properly; words like ‘skill’ and ‘discipline’ do a lot of work in her writing. But she also cares a good deal about what it all sounds and looks like. She refers several times in her book to the ‘ugly’ parts of the personality as the ones she least likes. By being carefully but not self-consciously written, her book manages to make a kind of common sense: masochism, for example, is ‘making the best of a bad job’; ‘a percentage of good manners is knowing what to do with one’s body in public’ – and yet in the shrewd lucidity of her writing she is recognisably a member of the Independent Tradition in British psychoanalysis. For more go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n05/adam-phillips/i-feel-guilty
REVEALING OUR INNER WORLDS
Allen Ginsberg died in 1996 at the age of 71. He was one of the leading poets of his generation, of the several epochs in which I have travelled, pioneered and written poetry myself. The following poem makes some comparisons between his life and my own. The TV documentary on Ginsberg's life which I just watched made some useful comments on his life, his times and poetry, culture and religion in the last half of the twentieth century. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, Sunday, 25 March 2001, 3:35-4:25 pm.
In 1956 you read your poem Howl
and I was just starting to read
His prayers and meditations
with my mother in those days
of world peril on an eve of destruction.1
In 1962 you went to India
with the poet Gary Snyder
and learned about Buddhism
and meditation and I began
my life of pioneering at the end
of that ninth stage of history.
You wrote book after book
of poems and so did I,
revealing our inner worlds,
buried as they are within
our minds and hearts
and the changes and suffering
of life which seem to bewilder
and mystify us until we die.
You became famous
in the big world
for half a century
and I remained unknown
and by myself in these vast regions,
having planted the seeds of a new Faith
which embodies the greatest Force
in the greatest drama
in the world's religious history.
1 Shoghi Effendi wrote in April 1957 that the world was "hovering on the brink of self-destruction."
25 March 2001
ANGELED IN HEAVEN
The year that Shoghi Effendi, the appointed successor of Abdul-Baha, died, Jack Kerouac a major Beat writer of the fifties published his book On the Road. For many it was an enduring testament of ideas for that generation. I was only thirteen in 1957, just a little early for me to have an appreciation of this experimentation with language, although I did come in contact by my mid-teens with this revolution in word. But my contact with the Beat generation of writers in the late fifties and early sixties was largely peripheral. I was fully occupied acquiring the highest marks I could to be one of the top students in my year in 1960 and 1961, working in the summer to earn money, playing hockey baseball and football, falling in unreciprocated love, winning sport trophies, being the only son of two parents of retirement age and slowly spinning into the vortex of a new world religion.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 21 September 2002.
I missed you back then
when you were beginning
your run in the 40's and 50's.
You were just getting into
Buddhism and I was
on the edge of new world
religion from Persia,
just a start at a young age
through my mother, 1953.
This was long before my writing,
but I was later to follow
some of your advice:
be in love with your life
something you feel
finds its own form
tell your story and the world's
through an interior monologue
accept loss forever
believe in life's holy contour
struggle to sketch the flow
which exists in the mind
be the writer-director
of your own movie
sponsored and angeled in heaven.
21 September 2002
BUDDHISM: AN OVERVIEW
Buddhism can be described in many ways. Readers might enjoy the following introductory words at this link: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/buddhism Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhist practices like meditation are means of changing yourself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a path — a path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood. An enlightened being sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.
Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, caste, sexuality, or gender. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realise and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives.