Thursday, October 23, 2008
Buddhism, named after its founder Gautama Buddha, is an offshoot of Hinduism and a religion that sprung from the current modern nation of Nepal approximately 560 B.C. before spreading to Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia respectively. Buddhism became a religion after the death of Siddhartha Gautama in 480 B.C.
Siddhartha Gautama’s father was Suddhodana, chief of the Shakya nation, while his mother, Queen Maha Maya, was a Koliyan Princess. There were mixed reactions among the sages before his birth. Some thought he would become a great king while others foresaw in him as having the attributes of a great holy man. He was born in a place called Lumbini which was part of Ancient India under a Sal tree while his mother was on her way to her father’s Kapilvastu principality to conceive. His father, who chose for him a luxurious life as a Prince, protected him from being associated with spiritual wisdom and understanding of human affliction, though at a later age, Siddhartha felt material life was not his ultimate goal.
At the tender age of 16, young Siddhartha got married to Yasodhara, a cousin of the same age who gave birth to a son they named Rahula. When he was 29, Siddhartha began to visualize the material world after seeing an old man, a scene that disturbed him immensely. It was his charioteer, Channa, who broke the news that all people are destined to experience old age in later life-an alarming phenomenon that drove him to further explore the world until he saw a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. Embarking on a journey that became known as “The Great Departure”, Siddhartha escaped from his palace to become a mendicant. This is where he will discover what Buddhists refer to as the Middle Way-a path of self-control that dissuades the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Siddhartha sat under a Bodhi tree for 49 days until he experienced the Enlightenment while aged 35 years. From there on he was known as the Buddha or “The Awakened one” or “the Enlightened one”.
Unlike Hinduism with its millions of deities, Buddhism does not mention the existence of god; followers believe there is no life after death; no heaven, no hell, no paradise and that you are unto yourself. It has no central figure deserving direct worship. Set apart by the development of various movements and divisions within its adherents, Buddhism is today practiced as a central religion most notably in areas where a greater force of its devoted followers are concentrated including Nepal, Bhutan, China, Korea, Burma, Japan, and Vietnam. In Muslim Afghanistan, two great monumental statues of Buddha that towered above the cultural landscape in the sandstone cliffs of Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan northwest of Kabul were intentionally dynamited by the Taliban Mullahs in 2001, despite international outcry. It has since been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Buddhism is based on “Four Noble Truths” namely:
1. Life means suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
Suffering is the human condition; it is caused by possessiveness, greed, and self-centeredness caused by others’ selfishness. The origin of suffering is self-attachment; the cessation of suffering is attainable; and there is a path to the end of suffering-the first reserved communication after the great awakening that evolved as novel discoveries.
According to Buddhism, the main predicaments or root figments of the imaginations are: attachment, anger, and ignorance. On the other hand, Buddha summarized an eight-fold noble path that center on:
1. Correct thought: avoid covetousness.
2. Correct speech: avoid lying, harsh speech, and idle gossip.
3. Correct actions: avoid killing, sexual misconduct, and stealing.
4. Correct livelihood: make a living with thought, speech, and action.
5. Correct understanding: develop genuine wisdom.
6. Correct effort: continue with joyful perseverance
7. Correct mindfulness: Beware of “here and now.”
8. Correct concentration: have steady, calm, and attentive state of mind.
As is common with all humans, fragmentation in religious, philosophical, and idealistic thoughts have not been exempt from Buddhism as it broke ranks into what became known as Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism with Theravada becoming a so common in South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia while Mahayana Buddhism found a place among the nations of Korea, Japan, and Tibet. We will borrow a leaf from modern history to find out how the two sects differ in beliefs. In Theravada, the Buddha is regarded as a saint, supreme teacher, and inspirer while in Mahayana he is a simply a savior; Theravada’s key virtue is wisdom while in Mahayana the key virtue is compassion; Theravada minimizes metaphysics while Mahayana elaborates metaphysics. Theravada minimizes ritual while Mahayana emphasizes it; in Theravada practice centers on meditation while in Mahayana there is an inclusion of petitionary prayer.
A common form of Buddhism that has become widely accepted in the West is Tibetan Buddhism headed by its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama has become an admired figurehead for his unreserved struggle and fight against Chinese oppression of Tibetans and the forceful invasion and illegal annexation of Tibet by communist China in 1959 subsequently leading to his voluntary exile in Dharamsala, his current headquarter in India, with thousands of fellow Tibetan refugees. A Nobel laureate, the Dalai Lama has become a symbol of peace and a man who does not shy away from his pursuit of restraint and dialogue. The Dalai Lama is the Bodhisattva (“one whose essence is perfected wisdom”) known in India as Avalokiteshvara (“the Boddhisattva of compassion” or “the merciful lord of utter enlightenment’), Goddess of Mercy Kwan Yin in China (“Born of the Lotus” in Sanskrit), and Kannon in Japan. He has reincarnated himself for the last centuries to empower and regenerate Tibetan tradition.
What distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from others is that it enables one to attain Nirvana in a single lifetime. Also, Tibetan Buddhism gave Tantra, derived from weaving, where strands warp and denoting interconnectedness, in its current pride and place.