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Buddhism in Canada
Buddhism is the 12th-largest religion in Canada.
Because of immigration, Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing

religions in Canada.
Between the census of 1991 and 2001, the number of Canadian
Buddhists increased by 84%, to about 300 000 followers.
Many Canadian Buddhists trace their faith origins to family
roots in Asian countries.
The largest number of Buddhists live in Ontario and British
Since the 1980s, Halifax, Nova Scotia, has also developed a
substantial Buddhist community.

The History of Buddhism

Buddhism has its roots in northern India and Hinduism.
It began as a reform movement within Hinduism.
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, sought a new
way of practising religion.

The Life of the Buddha

About 400 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince of a small Hindu

A wise man prophesied that he would either become a great king or a
great religious leader.
He said if the child were exposed to suffering, he would follow the
spiritual path.
Siddharthas father wanted him to become a king, so he tried to shield
him from suffering.
When he was 16 he went on a journey that exposed him to suffering and
led to the creation of Buddhism.
Siddhartha saw an old man, an ill man, and a dead man being wept
over by his family.
He hadnt known that old age, disease, or death existed until then.
He also saw a calm and peaceful holy man and was curious about
He left his family to become a religious ascetic.
When he was about 35, the Buddha gave his first sermon, called the
Dharmachakra, or Wheel of Dharma, about the nature of human
existence and what people must do to release themselves from
He continued to teach for 45 years, until his death at 80.
His teachings were not written down during his lifetime; they were
written down by his followers 400 years later.

Siddhartha Becomes the Buddha

Siddhartha travelled from teacher to teacher, but failed to find

enlightenment as to the cause and cure of suffering.

He concluded that neither his old life of luxury nor the life of a
religious ascetic was the right way to live.
He began to develop a middle way between luxury and asceticism,
giving up greed and selfishness as well as harsh denial of pleasure.
Siddhartha resolved to sit in meditation until he attained
For 49 days, he meditated and had a struggle against the evil god
He finally attained the Great Enlightenment and became known as
the Buddha.
The Buddhas enlightenment gave him a special understanding of
human suffering and how people might escape that suffering,
attain complete peace, and enter nirvana.
The Buddha decided to remain on Earth to share his insights
instead of immediately entering nirvana.
He accepted disciples (male and female) and converted his five
ascetic companions, who became the first monks.

Where Buddhism Is Practised

Buddhism originated in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
Most Buddhists today live in Southeast Asia.
Buddhism is the worlds 4th-largest religion in terms of number of

Buddhism Spreads through Asia

The ideas taught by the Buddha were spread by his disciples throughout

By 390 BCE, there were two distinct groups within Buddhism: Theravada
and Mahayana.
Buddhism became the state religion of a powerful empire in the Indian
subcontinent ruled by Emperor Asoka.
Asoka converted to Buddhism, sent out missionaries, and called on a
council to agree on the Buddhist scriptures.
Buddhist missionaries travelled as far west as Afghanistan, north into
Tibet and Mongolia, south into what is now Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and
east through China as far as Korea and Japan.
Over time, the spread of Islam and strengthening of Hinduism reduced
the influence of Buddhism in India, but it was growing in other lands and
Beyond Asia, followers have developed what some call Western
Today, the majority of Canadian Buddhists follow the Mahayana school.

Buddhists believe rituals help them achieve enlightenment, either
in the present life or in the future.
Rituals also bond them with the Buddhist community (sangha).
The main rituals are meditation, worship at home or at a temple or
shrine, rituals marking milestones in life, and festivals.

The Buddha used the Hindu techniques of meditation to gain

As Buddhism spread, meditation techniques from other traditions
were added to the Hindu methods practised by earlier Buddhists.
Meditation quiets the mind so the meditator can more fully enter
the spiritual world.
Buddhists who meditate can bring about a state of mindfulness
(awareness only of the present moment) by focusing on the act of
Meditators can also focus on a visual object, such as a flame, a
sacred diagram, or a mandala.
They can recite or chant a word or phrase, called a mantra, such as
the Mahayana Om Mani Padme Hum mantra (Hail the jewel in the

Buddhist worship can include individual worship at a home

shrine, or a temple service led by monks with a formal

Buddhist holy buildings have a broad base to symbolize earth,
and a spire or point at the top to symbolize sky.
A worshipper entering a monastery or temple bows to show
devotion and respect.
Bowing can range from lowering ones head with palms
together, to kneeling and touching the head to the floor.
Buddhists make offerings to the Three Jewels by burning
incense, lighting candles, and giving food and flowers.
The offerings symbolize respect for the Three Jewels, can help a
Buddhist get closer to enlightenment, and give material support
so the monks can live.
Worship practices vary between cultures and interpretations of
Buddhism, but can include silent meditation; rhythmic chanting;
and sermons about applying some aspect of the dharma to
daily life.
A Japanese Zen Buddhist ceremony includes longer periods of
meditation and less preaching on the dharma.

Marking Time
Milestone Rituals
Buddhists do not mark a change in adolescence except for those
becoming novice monks.
Marriage is a civic practice rather than a religious one, so
Buddhist monks do not generally officiate at weddings.

Rituals to celebrate births vary in Buddhism.
In the Theravadin tradition, a Buddhist family may take the
newborn to a temple to be blessed.
The closing ritual consists of melting candle wax into a bowl to
symbolize the union of earth, air, fire, water, and sky.
The Three Jewels are recited on behalf of the child.

A dying Buddhist may be visited by monks, who will offer comfort
by chanting verses from the scriptures that deal with death.
Buddhists believe in reincarnation: until someone achieves
enlightenment and nirvana, death is the end of one life and the
beginning of another.
In some funeral rituals, a cup is filled until it overflows, meaning
that the merit built up in this life spills into the next.

Vesak celebrates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama and, in some
countries, also the day of his enlightenment and death.

Asalha Puja
Asalha Puja, or Dharma Day, marks the beginning of the
Buddhas teaching.
Buddhists show thanks that the Buddha and other enlightened
teachers shared their knowledge.
People may give up luxuries such as sweets, meat, or alcohol to
reinvigorate their spiritual practices.

Esala Perahera
After the Buddhas death, one of his teeth was placed in a
temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
In August, a colourful procession carries the tooth through the

The Community and Scriptures

Although Buddhists share central beliefs, there are differences
among the three main groups of Buddhists and the scriptures
they follow.
The three main groups are
Theravada Buddhism (smaller and more traditional)
Mahayana Buddhism (the majority)
Vajrayana Buddhism (developed in Tibet and Mongolia)
Zen Buddhism is a Japanese adaptation of Mahayana Buddhism.

Theravadins believe that only monks make up the sangha and

only monks can achieve enlightenment.

Theravadins ideal figure is the monk who is so saintly he is
close to achieving enlightenment.
They reject the idea of heavenly figures helping followers.
They do not consider the Buddha to be divine, but an
enlightened human being.
Theravadin Buddhists believe in the Tripitakas (Three Baskets),
often called the first Buddhist scriptures.

Mahayana Buddhism believes all followers of the Buddha, not just
monks and nuns, can achieve enlightenment.
The ideal is the Bodhisattvaspeople who have achieved
enlightenment but have chosen to stay on the human plane of
They will accept help from Bodhisattvas and other forms of the
Buddha besides the historical one.
The Tripitakas are worthy scriptures, but there are others as well.

A third and later form of Buddhism, it developed in Tibet,
Mongolia, Bhutan, and Nepal.
Vajrayana Buddhists absorbed elements of their local religion into
their own beliefs.
The result was a unique set of spiritual disciplines.

Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism emphasizes enlightenment through meditation.
To achieve this state, people do certain exercises, such as
meditating on riddles or puzzling questions.

Central Beliefs
The Buddha grew up Hindu and accepted large parts of the Hindu

This included the belief in samsarathe cycle of birth, death, and
Buddhists aim to break out of the cycle to achieve nirvana.
Nirvana is a state of being freed from having desires.
Buddhists, like Hindus, use the term karma related to samsara and
Buddhism sees karma as directly related to intentions and merit.
In contrast to Hindu understandings of God and deities, the
Buddha taught that questions about the existence of God were for
individuals to discern and address themselves.
Theravada Buddhists believe it is no good focusing on the
possibility of outside help when we have the means ourselves.
The main Buddhist beliefs about how a person should live are
reflected in the dharma.
These teachings are arranged into numbered sets:
the Three Jewels
the Three Marks of Existence (Three Universal Truths)
the Four Noble Truths
the Noble Eightfold Path

The Three Jewels

The Buddhist creed can be summed up in the Three Jewels.
They are the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.
The Three Marks of Existence (or the Three Universal Truths)
The Buddhist view of the material world is founded on three
1. Anicca (Impermanence)
Buddhists believe nothing is permanent.
Clinging to the notion of permanency adds to our dissatisfaction and
2. Dukkha (Suffering)
All life involves suffering.
People may be happy for most of their lives, but in the end they
must face physical decay and death.
3. Anatta (Not Self)
There is no permanent identity or existence.
All parts are impermanent and ultimately an illusion.
Wise or enlightened Buddhists are detached from material goods
and images of themselves.

The Four Noble Truths

1. People suffer (dukkha).
all our lives, we hurt physically and emotionally
2. This suffering is caused by desire, greed, ignorance, and
we can adapt to physical pain, but unfulfilled longings and
cravings make our suffering deep
3. To remove suffering, we must remove desire, greed, ignorance,
and attachment.
if we stop the things that cause us to desire, then suffering
will stop
taming our desires requires great discipline
4. To end suffering and achieve enlightenment, unending peace,
and freedom from all desire, people should follow the Noble
Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Buddha proposed a way to deal with human expectations

and desires and avoid sorrow, called the Noble Eightfold Path.
It describes ways to think, behave, and meditate to avoid

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Buddha proposed a way to deal with human

expectations and desires and avoid sorrow, called the

Noble Eightfold Path.
It describes ways to think, behave, and meditate to avoid
not meant as a sequential learning process, but as eight
aspects of life, all of which are to be integrated in every
day life
the heart of the middle way, which turns from extremes,
and encourages us to seek the simple approach.
meant as a guideline, to be considered, to be
contemplated, and to be taken on when, and only when
each step is fully accepted as part of the life you seek.

1. Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble

Truths are noble and true.
2. Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice
Buddhist faith.

4. Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of


untrue and abusive speech.

Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa),
as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual
Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or
working at jobs that force you to violate others.
Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts
and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of ones mental state
and bodily health and feelings.
Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest
level of enlightenment.

The Five Precepts
The Five Precepts are ethical guidelines that Buddhists follow:
1. To refrain from destroying living creatures
2. To refrain from taking that which is not given
3. To refrain from sexual misconduct
4. To refrain from incorrect speech
5. To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs

Five Buddhist Values

In addition to the explicit teachings that Buddhists follow, they
also share common values.
1. Self-determinationeach persons responsibility to follow
the Noble
Eightfold Path alone
2. Mindfulnessbeing aware of the present moment
3. Compassionseeing and feeling things from anothers
point of view
4. Loving-kindnessextending goodwill
without expecting a reward
5. Detachmentlooking at all events without bias and

Family Life
Buddhists see the family as the foundation of the community.
Husbands and wives are expected to honour, respect, and be

faithful to each other.

Parents are expected to raise their children as Buddhists.
Children are expected to obey their parents and to preserve family
Divorce is not forbidden in Buddhism, but it seldom occurs.
Life is sacred to Buddhists, and because they consider life to begin
at conception, abortion is generally condemned.
One of the more challenging values of Buddhism is nonattachment.
Buddhism teaches that attachment ultimately brings suffering.
Living in a family involves necessary material and emotional
Theravada tradition expects only monks, who leave their
families when they take their vows, to achieve enlightenment.
Others see the family as a spiritual environment where a deep
understanding of attachment can be explored.
Buddhism asks followers to let go of the negative bonds that tie us
to others, such as lust, prejudice, jealousy, fear, and hate.
The Buddha encouraged Buddhists to treat their friends with
generosity, kind words, helpfulness, impartiality, and integrity.

Interreligious Dialogue
Buddhism and the Catholic Church
With the Second Vatican Council (19621965), the Church expressed

its desire to learn how the Spirit may be at work in Buddhism.

Both faiths have since learned from each other in a genuine
Buddhism is a very practical religion.
Buddha rejected discussion of God because he wanted his followers
to focus on something they could understand and do something
For Catholics, suffering is not the main evil to be overcome.
In some cases, suffering can be redemptive.
For Catholics, God suffered and died on a cross.
This suffering for others is seen as an act of liberating people to
Love is what Christians seek and, for them, God is the greatest
example and source of love.
The question of suffering is at the heart of CatholicBuddhist
theological dialogue.
Most CatholicBuddhist dialogue has been about spiritual experience.
Both faiths have an intense and long spiritual tradition.

Monastic Traditions
Because both Catholics and Buddhists have long-standing monastic

traditions, the Church turned to the Benedictines to initiate dialogue.

Buddhist monks and nuns have lived with Catholic monks and nuns to
learn the others spiritual traditions and meditation techniques.
Buddhist monks, such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, have
encouraged Christians to enter more deeply into their tradition.
Catholic monks have spent time in Zen and Tibetan monasteries.
In 1991, Pope John Paul II said they have learned from each other the
universal value of self-discipline, silence, and contemplation in the
development of the human person.

Catholics and Buddhists share a common concern for the health of the

Both faiths believe there is a spiritual dimension to the ecological crisis
of today, which is related to the human desire for material goods.
Dealing with this desire is part of the contribution that religions can
make to these issues.
Catholics and Buddhists are taking a more active part in trying to solve
environmental problems.
In some countries, Buddhists have formed Green Buddhist movements.