You are on page 1of 8

Damien Keown: Buddhism, A Very Short Introduction

Ninian Smarts 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 Buddhas 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 Mra, 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 ahims, 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 stpa, a dome-shaped monument. Summary [13] 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 Buddhas 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 [18] 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 [20] The Buddhas 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 [1]

Chapter 2: Chapter 2: The Buddha [15]

b. a sick man c. a corpse d. a religious mendicant 3. Renunciations and Austerities [21] Two teachers: Alra Klma and Uddaka Rmaputta, who taught him (not that he needed much teaching) the two highest Jhnas of meditation. After finding these wonderful but transient, he tried experiments with breathing control and fasting, that, while unsatisfactory, proved to him that enlightenment lay in moderation (the Middle way). 4. The Enlightenment [22] First watch of the night: power to look back through previous existences Second: clairvoyance, able to see death and rebirth of all types of beings in the universe Third: his spiritual defilements had been eliminated, he had attained nirvana. 5. First Sermon and Teaching Career [24] In his first sermon (preserved as a discourse called Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma), the Buddha set out the Four Noble Truths, and converted five followers, who were ordained as monks. On hearing his second sermon, all five achieved enlightenment (or so they thought see the Mahyna Parable of the Burning House below) and became Arhats (saints) a step down from Buddhas, who find enlightenment for themselves. Over his life, the Buddha traveled on foot around an area about 150 miles long, 250 miles wide, teaching and (occasionally) performing miracles with his psychic powers (one of these miracles was walking on water sound familiar?). 6. Death of the Buddha [27] The Buddha declined to name a successor, because he denied that he was a leader. He said that the Dharma should be the guide after his death, and monks should hold fast to this and the Vinaya, the code of rules for monastic life. Each person should think for herself on matters of doctrine, cross-referencing with the scriptures. The Buddha died at 80, his last words being Decay is inherent in all things: be sure to strive with clarity of mind (for nirvana).

Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Karma and Rebirth [29]

Samsra (endless wandering): repeated rebirth The Buddhist Universe [30] The universe comprises two categories the physical and the life-forms within it. The five elements of the physical world (including space) interact to form world-systems (what we would call galaxies), which go through cycles of evolution and disintegration over billions of years. There is some suggestion that the fate of the world-systems is affected by the moral status of the beings within each. A Buddhist creation myth found in the Aggaa Sutta describes how the inhabitants of a world-system which has been destroyed are gradually reborn within a new one that is evolving. They start out seethrough and genderless, but as the new world-system becomes denser, the beings become attracted to it and begin to consume it like food. Slowly they become more material until they have physical bodies. Competition for food leads to quarrels, so the people elect a king to keep the peace, thus founding social life. (Thus the origin of human suffering is in desire, as we shall see in the First Noble Truth.) The Six Realms of Rebirth [32] 2

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

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 [35] 1. Sphere of sense-desires (kmvacara) 2. Sphere of pure form (rpvacara) 3. Sphere of formlessness (arpvacara Merit [40] Is there a conflict between karma and nirvana? No, nirvana includes both virtue (sila) and wisdom (panna) The Four Noble Truths: 1. Life is suffering. 2. Suffering is caused by craving. 3. Suffering can have an end. 4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering. Medical analogy: the Buddha as doctor first, he diagnoses the disease, second, explains its cause, third, determines that a cause exists, and fourth, sets out the treatment. Noble Truth 1: The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha) [46] 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. the physical body (rpa) 2. sensations and feelings (vedan) 3. cognitions (sa) 4. character traits and dispositions (sankhra) 5. sentiency (vina) (There is no immortal soul to bind these things together, unlike in Hinduism (atman)) So what is it that is reborn continually? Answer, a persons moral identity. However, suffering is inevitable, given the makeup of humans, because just as a car will breakdown, eventually the combination of these five factors will rearrange and decay, causing suffering. The Buddha said that the first noble truth was the hardest to grasp: akin to admitting that one has a serious disease, but until you recognize this there can be no hope of a cure. Noble Truth 2: The Truth of Arising (Samudya) [49] In the Fire Sermon, the Buddha spoke of all human experience as being ablaze with desire, an apt metaphor, because fire consumes what it feeds on without being satisfied, spreads rapidly, becomes attached to new objects and burns with the pain of unassuaged longing. Desire is like the fuel of the car (not to mix metaphors or anything) mentioned above: desire binds us to life and causes rebirth. 3 types of tanh (a narrower term than desire, connoting desire that has been somehow perverted) which are the three roots of evil: 1. thirst for sensual pleasure (sights, sounds, tastes, et. al.) (greed) 2. thirst for existence (delusion) 3

Chapter 4: Chapter 4: The Four Noble Truths [44]

3. desire to destroy (low self-esteem is this desire attached to the self) (hatred) Positive versus negative desires: tanh: 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, a pig and a snake chasing each other with their tails in each others mouths, representing the cycle of rebirth. How this comes about is explained in a teaching called paticca-samuppda (origination-in-dependence) [note: this notion is really developed by the Mahyna philosopher Ngjuna (see pp. 66-7]. This is a twelve-stage process, but can be boiled down to the idea that nothing exists for itself, uncaused, but only comes into being as part of a network of causes: everything depends on something else. Everything that comes into being has three marks: 1. unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) 2. impermanence (anicca) 3. the absence of self-essence (anatt). These are interrelated: unsatisfactory because impermanent because lacking selfessence. 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) [52] Craving (and thus suffering) can be removed by attaining nirvana. 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, by escaping the cycle of life and rebirth. Nirvana means quenching or blowing out and what is extinguished are the three roots of evil which lead to rebirth. Without them, after nirvana-in-this-life, one has a transformed state of personality, characterized by peace, deep spiritual joy, compassion, and a refined and subtle awareness. What happened to the Buddha after death? (i.e., what is the nature of final nirvana)? Apparently neither annihilation nor immortality. The Buddha discouraged queries about its nature, comparing the questioner to someone struck with a poisoned arrow (analogous to the fact of the cycle of rebirth) who, instead of just pulling it out, proceeds to ask a string of questions about the person who shot it. Noble Truth 4: The Truth of the Path (Magga) [54] The highest form of life is one which leads to the development of virtue and knowledge, and the Eightfold Path sets out a way to live to achieve those. The Eightfold Path (AKA the Middle Way 1. Right Understanding acceptance of Buddhist teachings 1. Right Resolve committing to developing right attitudes 2. Right Speech telling the truth, speaking in a thoughtful and sensitive way } } Wisdom } (Pa) } } } }

3. Right Action } Morality avoiding wrongs like killing, stealing } (Sla) 4. Right Livelihood } not engaging in an occupation that causes } harm to others } 5. Right Effort } gaining control of ones thoughts and culti- } vating positive states of mind } Meditation 6. Right Mindfulness } (Samdhi) cultivating constant awareness } 7. Right Meditation }

The Great Schism [57] Around a century after the death of the Buddha, a disagreement developed between the Elders (Sthaviras) and the Universal Assembly (Mahsanghikas). This led to the Great Schism between two main groups, which themselves splintered. The only remaining descendent of the Elder school is the Theravda and a new movement called the Mahyna (the Great Vehicle), whose main innovation was the idea that one should not simply seek ones own salvation, but instead work to save others. The ideal is the bodhisattva, someone who takes a vow to work tirelessly over countless lifetimes to lead others to nirvana. New Ideas about the Buddha [59] With the bodhisattva now representing the earthly ideal, the Buddha began to be seen as more otherworldly and sublime. Followers of the Mahyna reasoned that a being as compassionate as he would not cut himself off from his followers and must still be out there somewhere. This led eventually to a new Buddhology whereby the Buddha is seen to have three bodies (trikya): 1. Earthly (nirmnakya): the human body he had on earth. 2. Heavenly (sambhogakya): located in a blissful realm somewhere upstream from our world 3. Transcendent (dharmakya): the Buddha as identical with ultimate truth. Furthermore, there will be a second coming, where a Buddha called Maitreya will appear and usher in a utopian era in which multitudes will gain enlightenment. Mahyna Stras [61] The major Mayhna Stras (whose authors are unknown), like the Lotus Stra (around 200 CE) drastically re-envision Buddhist history: the Buddha is now seen as having always been enlightened, and only appeared to be a mortal for our sake. His early teachings are not taken to be definitive, but instead simple crude intros to the much more sophisticated Mahyna teachings. To avoid confusing his early followers, he used skilful means (upya-kausalya) to put the truth before them in a simplified form. This is depicted in the Parable of the Burning House of the Lotus Stra: a father saves his children from a burning house (samsra) by telling them there are toys outside. Bodhisattvas who reach the higher stages of their careers become very close to Buddhas, and two who took on celestial form were Avalokitesvara (The Lord who Looks Down), who epitomizes compassion (karun), and of whom the Dalai Lamas are said to be incarnations, and Majusri (Gentle Glory), who epitomizes wisdom (praj). Philosophical Developments [66] 5

Chapter 5: Chapter 5: The Mahyna [57]

The most famous of the philosophers who attempted to give a theoretical underpinning to the new stras was Ngrjuna (around 150 CE), who founded the Middle School (Madhyamaka). In the Theravda scholastic tradition, the building-blocks of the universe were dharmas which, though impermanent, were real, continually being created in accordance with origination-in-dependence. According to Ngrjuna, however, dharmas were empty of any real being the true status of phenomena is somewhere midway between being and non-being (hence, middle way). This had the radical implication that there is no difference between samsra and nirvana (because there is no being to either). Achieving nirvana, on this view, is a matter of achieving correct and purified vision: the removal of spiritual ignorance (avidy) and the realization that things are empty destroys the fear/craving we have for them. This is Ngrjunas Doctrine of Emptiness (snyavda). A further Mayhnan doctrine is the teaching of Mind Only (cittamtra) idealism, the idea that there is no matter, only consciousness. Theravda Buddhism is popular throughout Southern Asia (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia) Mayhna has spread in the North (China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Bhutan, and south to Vietnam) China [75] Buddhism reached China in the middle of the first century CE, and was received suspiciously, because it challenged both Confucian ideals of family loyalty and the power structure of the emperor. However, in time, it was seen to complement Confucianism, which has nothing to say about the supernatural. Buddhism was similar to Taoism, a form of nature-mysticism founded by Lao-tzu (b. 604 BC), and from this interaction came Chan Buddhism, which became Zen Buddhism when it reached Japan. Japan [77] Three main forms of Buddhism in Japan: 1. The Pure Land school based on devotion to the Buddha Amida 2. Nichiren (1222-82)s school, which made the Lotus Stra central 3. Zen, which frowns on the study of texts, advocating achieving enlightenment through the mundane. Comes in two varieties: a. the St school b. Rinzai Zen (from which we get k-ans, unanswerable riddles, like what is the sound of one hand clapping?) Tibet [80] Buddhism reached Tibet in the eighth century, and flourished in the form of Tantra, whose teachings are the Tantras, which are obscure and written in a mysterious twilight language only taught by a lama. Symbols, spells and charms play a role, and, taking up the idea that nirvana and samsra are not different, Tantra holds that passions are not wicked, but just energy, and sexual energy in particular can be a potent force for spiritual development. However, in the most influential Tibetan school, the Gelug-pa, the monks (which include the Dalai Lamas) hold strictly to the Monastic Rule, which insists (among other things) on celibacy. The Jhnas or Levels of Trance [89] Forms of calming meditation (samatha) are divided into 8 Jhnas. Nirvana is achieved beyond the eighth. 6

Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Buddhism in Asia [70]

Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Meditation [84]

Sphere of Formlessness (Jhnas 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 (Jhnas 1-4): 4: Concentration, Equanimity, Beyond pleasure and pain [Psychic powers attained at this stage] 3: Concentration, Equanimity 2: Concentration, Rapture, Joy 1: Discursive thought, Detachment, Rapture, Joy Insight Mediation (Vipassan) [93] If meditation is such a powerful technique, why did the Buddha turn his back on his teachers? Because, like everything else in samsra, meditative states are impermanent. The Buddha thus developed a new kind of meditation, vipassan (insight meditation), whereby one can critically analyze every aspect of ones subjective experience, observing without becoming involved.

Chapter 8: Chapter 8: Ethics [97]

Dharma [97] Dharma has many meanings, but the central idea is of a universal law that governs both the physical and moral law of the universe. Sets of precepts in Buddhism 1. The Five Precepts (pacasila) for laymen. Forbid a. killing b. stealing c. sexual immorality d. lying e. taking intoxicants 2. The Eight Precepts (atthangasila) 3. The Ten Precepts (dasasila) 4. The Ten Good Paths of Action (dasakusalakammapatha) 5. The Monastic Disciplinary Code (ptimokkha) Virtues [99] Three Cardinal Virtues (the counterparts to the three roots of evil) Non-attachment (arga) Benevolence (adosa) Understanding (amoha) Ahims, or the Inviolability of Life [100] The Buddhists were influenced by the Jains, who go to great lengths to avoid even breathing in tiny creatures, and outlawed all animal sacrifice. Abortion [101] Ahims means that abortion is wrong, especially because Buddhism has always taught that life begins at conception. However, Buddhism is renowned for its toleration, and in Japan, where abortion is very common, the wrongness of abortion is counteracted by a special mizuko kuy memorial service for aborted infants. Skilful Means [107] 7

Recall that the Mahyna taught that the Buddhas teachings were not to be understood literally, but were simplified teachings that would reach the unenlightened. This doctrine of skilful means allows great play in the interpretation of moral rules, because each of them can be interpreted as provisional and not final. This is a situational ethics.

Chapter 9: Chapter 9: Buddhism in the West [110]