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Ninian Smart’s Seven dimensions of religion, applied to Buddhism: 1. Practice and Ritual Not as much in Buddhism as in, say, Judaism, because Buddhist monks have no priestly role, and are not intermediaries between God and man, so have no supernatural authority, but there are rituals of initiation. 2. Experiential and Emotional Extremely important: the Buddha’s personal experience of enlightenment is the bedrock of the entire Buddhist tradition, and the Buddha exhibited profound compassion which motivated his teachings (Dharma). The religious life is essentially a course in self-transformation, using, among other means meditation. 3. Narrative and Myth If “myth” is a story that has compelling force because of its ability to work on several different levels, then Buddhism has many (including one in which the Buddha does battle with Māra, the Evil One.) 4. Doctrinal and Philosophical There are core teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths, and the custody of texts and interpretation is the responsibility of the Sangha (Order of Monks). 5. Ethical and Legal Buddhism is particularly strong here: the central principle is ahimsā, the principle of non-harming 6. Social and Institutional The Buddha always denied that he was the leader of the community of his followers, and there has never been a single head and central office like the Pope for Catholicism, but there are many schools and leaders such as the Dalai Lama for Tibet. 7. The Material Dimension Buddhism has given the world numerous artworks and religious sites including the ubiquitous stūpa, a dome-shaped monument. Summary  Like the elephant, Buddhism can be different things for different people. It can be: • a rational philosophy free of religious superstition • a quest for mystical experience • a set of humanistic moral values. “Buddha” is a title meaning awakened one. THE Buddha’s name was Siddhattha Gotama, and he lived around 566-486 BCE (conventionally, although recent research suggests 410 BCE would be a more accurate date for his death). The Life of the Buddha 1. Birth  His mother dreamed of a baby white elephant, a symbol either of a great emperor or great religious leader. On being born, he is said to have taken seven steps and announced that he had been born for the last time. 2. The Four Signs  The Buddha’s father tried to keep him from becoming a religious leader by sheltering him, and ensuring that he never saw suffering. But finally, on successive trips to the market, he is said to have seen the following, that revealed the truth about the world: a. an old man 1
Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Buddhism and Elephants 
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: The Buddha 
A Buddhist creation myth found in the Aggañña Sutta describes how the inhabitants of a world-system which has been destroyed are gradually reborn within a new one that is evolving. 5. After finding these wonderful but transient. he had attained nirvana. who were ordained as monks. the Buddha traveled on foot around an area about 150 miles long. who taught him (not that he needed much teaching) the two highest Jhānas of meditation. He said that the Dharma should be the guide after his death.) The Six Realms of Rebirth  2 . because he denied that he was a leader. and monks should hold fast to this and the Vinaya. Competition for food leads to quarrels.’ Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Karma and Rebirth  Samsāra (‘endless wandering’): repeated rebirth The Buddhist Universe  The universe comprises two categories – the physical and the life-forms within it. Renunciations and Austerities  Two teachers: Alāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. Over his life. he tried experiments with breathing control and fasting. the beings become attracted to it and begin to consume it like food. all five achieved enlightenment (or so they thought – see the Mahāyāna Parable of the Burning House below) and became Arhats (saints) – a step down from Buddhas. the Buddha set out the Four Noble Truths. but as the new world-system becomes denser. cross-referencing with the scriptures. The Buddha died at 80. Slowly they become more material until they have physical bodies. (Thus the origin of human suffering is in desire. First Sermon and Teaching Career  In his first sermon (preserved as a discourse called Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma). so the people elect a king to keep the peace. 6. who find enlightenment for themselves. while unsatisfactory. as we shall see in the First Noble Truth. The five elements of the physical world (including space) interact to form world-systems (what we would call galaxies). a corpse d. his last words being ‘Decay is inherent in all things: be sure to strive with clarity of mind (for nirvana). a religious mendicant 3. that. able to see death and rebirth of all types of beings in the universe Third: his spiritual defilements had been eliminated.b. They start out seethrough and genderless. Each person should think for herself on matters of doctrine. 4. The Enlightenment  First watch of the night: power to look back through previous existences Second: clairvoyance. proved to him that enlightenment lay in moderation (the ‘Middle way’). and converted five followers. There is some suggestion that the fate of the world-systems is affected by the moral status of the beings within each. 250 miles wide. which go through cycles of evolution and disintegration over billions of years. a sick man c. the code of rules for monastic life. Death of the Buddha  The Buddha declined to name a successor. teaching and (occasionally) performing miracles with his psychic powers (one of these miracles was walking on water – sound familiar?). On hearing his second sermon. thus founding social life.
Sphere of sense-desires (kāmāvacara) 2. given the makeup of humans. However. Noble Truth 1: The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha)  The suffering is not so much pain as unsatisfactoriness: “not to get what one wants is suffering” In his second sermon the Buddha analyzes human nature into 5 factors: 1. Suffering can have an end. but until you recognize this there can be no hope of a cure. second. 3. thirst for sensual pleasure (sights. 2. explains its cause. sounds. he diagnoses the disease. third. Hell The animal realm The realm of ghosts the level of the Titans the human world the mansions of the gods (levels 6-31) levels 23-27 are the pure abodes – only attained by non-returners The Three Spheres of Existence  1. Noble Truth 2: The Truth of Arising (Samudāya)  In the Fire Sermon. 4. an apt metaphor. thirst for existence (delusion) 3 Chapter 4: Chapter 4: The Four Noble Truths  . et. Sphere of formlessness (arūpāvacara Merit  Is there a conflict between karma and nirvana? No.) (greed) 2. because fire consumes what it feeds on without being satisfied. the Buddha spoke of all human experience as being ‘ablaze’ with desire. 2. tastes. a person’s moral identity. al.1. 4. Suffering is caused by craving. suffering is inevitable. determines that a cause exists. sentiency (viññāna) (There is no immortal soul to bind these things together.” Desire is like the fuel of the car (not to mix metaphors or anything) mentioned above: desire binds us to life and causes rebirth. and fourth. connoting desire that has been somehow perverted) which are the three roots of evil: 1. 6. nirvana includes both virtue (sila) and wisdom (panna) The Four Noble Truths: 1. causing suffering. sensations and feelings (vedanā) 3. character traits and dispositions (sankhāra) 5. 5. spreads rapidly. cognitions (saññā) 4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering. becomes attached to new objects and “burns with the pain of unassuaged longing. eventually the combination of these five factors will rearrange and decay. The Buddha said that the first noble truth was the hardest to grasp: akin to admitting that one has a serious disease. unlike in Hinduism (atman)) So what is it that is reborn continually? Answer. because just as a car will breakdown. 3. 3 types of tanhā (a narrower term than desire. the physical body (rūpa) 2. Sphere of pure form (rūpāvacara) 3. sets out the treatment. Life is suffering. Medical analogy: the Buddha as doctor – first.
66-7].3. what is the nature of final nirvana)? Apparently neither annihilation nor immortality. There are two kinds of nirvana: nirvana-in-this-life – this the Buddha attained at age 35 by reaching enlightenment final nirvana – this the Buddha achieved in dying. representing the cycle of rebirth. the absence of self-essence (anattā). This is a twelve-stage process. characterized by peace. and the Eightfold Path sets out a way to live to achieve those. desire to destroy (low self-esteem is this desire attached to the self) (hatred) Positive versus negative desires: tanhā: the desire for another cigarette chanda: the desire to give up smoking (good because it breaks the cyclic pattern of a compulsive negative habit) The three roots of evil are represented in Buddhist art as a cock.. The Buddha discouraged queries about its nature. deep spiritual joy. What happened to the Buddha after death? (i. a pig and a snake chasing each other with their tails in each other’s mouths. compassion. Right Speech telling the truth. and a refined and subtle awareness. These are interrelated: unsatisfactory because impermanent because lacking selfessence. Right Resolve committing to developing right attitudes 2. How this comes about is explained in a teaching called paticca-samuppāda (origination-in-dependence) [note: this notion is really developed by the Mahāyāna philosopher Nāgājuna (see pp.e. Nirvana means ‘quenching’ or ‘blowing out’ and what is extinguished are the three roots of evil which lead to rebirth. uncaused. In sum: the Buddhist universe is characterized by cyclic change: Psychological level: craving and gratification Personal level: death and rebirth Cosmic level: creation and destruction of galaxies Noble Truth 3: The Truth of Cessation (Nirodha)  Craving (and thus suffering) can be removed by attaining nirvana. one has a transformed state of personality. speaking in a thoughtful and sensitive way } } Wisdom } (Paññā) } } } } 4 . impermanence (anicca) 3. Everything that comes into being has three ‘marks’: 1. but can be boiled down to the idea that nothing exists for itself. The Eightfold Path (AKA the Middle Way 1. Noble Truth 4: The Truth of the Path (Magga)  The highest form of life is one which leads to the development of virtue and knowledge. Right Understanding acceptance of Buddhist teachings 1. unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) 2. proceeds to ask a string of questions about the person who shot it. but only comes into being as part of a network of causes: everything depends on something else. Without them. instead of just pulling it out. by escaping the cycle of life and rebirth. after nirvana-in-this-life. comparing the questioner to someone struck with a poisoned arrow (analogous to the fact of the cycle of rebirth) who.
His early teachings are not taken to be definitive. This led to the “Great Schism” between two main groups. Mahāyāna Sūtras  The major Mayāhāna Sūtras (whose authors are unknown). he used “skilful means (upāya-kausalya) to put the truth before them in a simplified form. someone who takes a vow to work tirelessly over countless lifetimes to lead others to nirvana. This is depicted in the Parable of the Burning House of the Lotus Sūtra: a father saves his children from a burning house (samsāra) by telling them there are toys outside. but instead work to save others. 2. The ideal is the bodhisattva.3. Right Action } Morality avoiding wrongs like killing. Philosophical Developments  5 Chapter 5: Chapter 5: The Mahāyāna  . stealing } (Sīla) 4.} vating positive states of mind } Meditation 6. like the Lotus Sūtra (around 200 CE) drastically re-envision Buddhist history: the Buddha is now seen as having always been enlightened. This led eventually to a new ‘Buddhology’ whereby the Buddha is seen to have three bodies (trikāya): 1. Right Meditation } The Great Schism  Around a century after the death of the Buddha. Right Effort } gaining control of one’s thoughts and culti. there will be a second coming. The only remaining descendent of the Elder school is the Theravāda and a new movement called the Mahāyāna (“the Great Vehicle”). which themselves splintered. Right Livelihood } not engaging in an occupation that causes } harm to others } 5. who epitomizes compassion (karunā). Heavenly (sambhogakāya): located in a “blissful realm somewhere ‘upstream’ from our world” 3. where a Buddha called Maitreya will appear and usher in a utopian era in which multitudes will gain enlightenment. and of whom the Dalai Lamas are said to be incarnations. To avoid confusing his early followers. the Buddha began to be seen as more otherworldly and sublime. Bodhisattvas who reach the higher stages of their careers become very close to Buddhas. Followers of the Mahāyāna reasoned that a being as compassionate as he would not cut himself off from his followers and must still be ‘out there’ somewhere. whose main innovation was the idea that one should not simply seek one’s own salvation. Transcendent (dharmakāya): the Buddha as identical with ultimate truth. a disagreement developed between the ‘Elders’ (Sthaviras) and the ‘Universal Assembly (Mahāsanghikas). Furthermore. New Ideas about the Buddha  With the bodhisattva now representing the earthly ideal. Right Mindfulness } (Samādhi) cultivating constant awareness } 7. Earthly (nirmānakāya): the human body he had on earth. who epitomizes wisdom (prajñā). but instead simple crude intros to the much more sophisticated Mahāyāna teachings. and two who took on celestial form were Avalokitesvara (The Lord who Looks Down). and only appeared to be a mortal for our sake. and Mañjusri (Gentle Glory).
Cambodia) Mayāhāna has spread in the North (China. spells and charms play a role. continually being created in accordance with origination-in-dependence. advocating achieving enlightenment through the mundane. which insists (among other things) on celibacy. middle way). which has nothing to say about the supernatural. Laos. which frowns on the study of texts. dharmas were “empty of any real being” – the true status of phenomena is somewhere midway between being and non-being (hence. were real. only consciousness. the monks (which include the Dalai Lamas) hold strictly to the Monastic Rule. Tibet. it was seen to complement Confucianism. which are obscure and written in a mysterious ‘twilight language’ only taught by a lama. the idea that there is no matter. whose teachings are the Tantras. and from this interaction came Ch’an Buddhism. however. Tantra holds that passions are not wicked. which became Zen Buddhism when it reached Japan. This had the radical implication that there is no difference between samsāra and nirvana (because there is no ‘being’ to either). in time. According to Nāgārjuna. Nichiren (1222-82)’s school. a form of nature-mysticism founded by Lao-tzu (b. Buddhism was similar to Taoism. Japan  Three main forms of Buddhism in Japan: 1. the Sōtō school b. and south to Vietnam) China  Buddhism reached China in the middle of the first century CE. and was received suspiciously. Bhutan. Zen. 6 Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Buddhism in Asia  Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Meditation  . Rinzai Zen (from which we get kō-ans. However. the building-blocks of the universe were “dharmas” which. taking up the idea that nirvana and samsāra are not different. In the Theravāda scholastic tradition. and. which made the Lotus Sūtra central 3. The Jhānas or Levels of Trance  Forms of ‘calming meditation’ (samatha) are divided into 8 Jhānas. Theravāda Buddhism is popular throughout Southern Asia (Sri Lanka. Japan. Myanmar. the Gelug-pa. unanswerable riddles. on this view. who founded the ‘Middle School’ (Madhyamaka).The most famous of the philosophers who attempted to give a theoretical underpinning to the new sūtras was Nāgārjuna (around 150 CE). because it challenged both Confucian ideals of family loyalty and the power structure of the emperor. and flourished in the form of Tantra. is a matter of achieving correct and purified vision: the removal of spiritual ignorance (avidyā) and the realization that things are empty destroys the fear/craving we have for them. and sexual energy in particular can be a potent force for spiritual development. However. but just energy. Nirvana is achieved beyond the eighth. Korea. 604 BC). though impermanent. in the most influential Tibetan school. Symbols. Comes in two varieties: a. like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”) Tibet  Buddhism reached Tibet in the eighth century. Thailand. This is Nāgārjuna’s Doctrine of Emptiness (sūnyavāda). The Pure Land school – based on devotion to the Buddha Amida 2. Achieving nirvana. A further Mayāhānan doctrine is the teaching of ‘Mind Only’ (cittamātra) – idealism.
The Ten Precepts (dasasila) 4. and in Japan. like everything else in samsāra. stealing c. However. where abortion is very common. The Buddha thus developed a new kind of meditation. or the Inviolability of Life  The Buddhists were influenced by the Jains. Forbid a. the wrongness of abortion is counteracted by a special mizuko kuyō memorial service for aborted infants. Joy 1: Discursive thought. Skilful Means  7 . vipassanā (insight meditation). taking intoxicants 2. Detachment. Sets of precepts in Buddhism 1. Rapture. lying e. and outlawed all animal sacrifice.Sphere of Formlessness (Jhānas 5-8): 8: Neither perception nor non-perception (what the Buddha learnt from his second teacher) 7: Nothingness (what the Buddha learnt from his first teacher) 6: Infinite consciousness 5: Infinite Space Sphere of Pure Form (Jhānas 1-4): 4: Concentration. why did the Buddha turn his back on his teachers? Because. whereby one can critically analyze every aspect of one’s subjective experience. Equanimity. Chapter 8: Chapter 8: Ethics  Dharma  ‘Dharma’ has many meanings. who go to great lengths to avoid even breathing in tiny creatures. Equanimity 2: Concentration. observing without becoming involved. Buddhism is renowned for its toleration. The Eight Precepts (atthangasila) 3. The Five Precepts (pañcasila) – for laymen. The Monastic Disciplinary Code (pātimokkha) Virtues  Three “Cardinal Virtues” (the counterparts to the three roots of evil) • Non-attachment (arāga) • Benevolence (adosa) • Understanding (amoha) Ahimsā. sexual immorality d. Abortion  Ahimsā means that abortion is wrong. ‘Beyond pleasure and pain’ [Psychic powers attained at this stage] 3: Concentration. Rapture. but the central idea is of a universal law that governs both the physical and moral law of the universe. The Ten Good Paths of Action (dasakusalakammapatha) 5. especially because Buddhism has always taught that life begins at conception. Joy Insight Mediation (Vipassanā)  If meditation is such a powerful technique. meditative states are impermanent. killing b.
Recall that the Mahāyāna taught that the Buddha’s teachings were not to be understood literally. because each of them can be interpreted as provisional and not final. but were simplified teachings that would “reach” the unenlightened. Chapter 9: Chapter 9: Buddhism in the West  8 . This doctrine of ‘skilful means’ allows great play in the interpretation of moral rules. This is a ‘situational’ ethics.