Buddhism Essay Research Paper Buddhism is a

Buddhism Essay, Research Paper Buddhism is a religion and philosophy founded by Siddhartha Gautama in northeast India during the period from the late 6th century to the early 4th century BC.

Buddhism Essay, Research Paper

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy founded by Siddhartha Gautama in northeast

India during the period from the late 6th century to the early 4th century BC.

Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan,

Buddhism has played an influential role in the spiritual, cultural, and social

life of much of the Eastern world. The Buddha, which means the "Enlightened

One," died in northeastern India between 500 and 350 BC. According to

tradition, his family name was Gautama; later sources call him Siddhartha, which

means "He Who Has Reached His Goal." He was reared in a minor royal

family of the ruling Kshatriya, or warrior, caste. Shocked as a young man after

wittness by pure accident sickness, old age, and death, he renounced his family

life in order to wander as a shramana, or ascetic, in search of religious

understanding and a way of release from the human condition. Discarding the

teachings of his contemporaries, through meditation he achieved enlightenment,

or ultimate understanding. Thereafter, the Buddha instructed his followers (the

sangha) in the dharma (Pali dhamma, "truth") and the "Middle

Way," a path between a worldly life and extremes of self-denial. The

essence of the Buddha’s early preaching was said to be the Four Noble Truths:

(1) life is fundamentally disappointment and suffering; (2) suffering is a

result of one’s desires for pleasure, power, and continued existence; (3) in

order to stop disappointment and suffering one must stop desiring; and (4) the

way to stop desiring and thus suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path–right

views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right

effort, right awareness, and right concentration. The realization of the truth

of anatman (no eternal self) and pratitya-samutpada (the law of dependent

origination) was taught as essential for the indescribable state of release

called nirvana ("blowing out"). After the death of the Buddha (at

which time he passed into final nirvana) efforts were made to consolidate the

teachings and structures of the Buddhist community. Several important Buddhist

councils were held to decide questions of faith and order, leading finally to

the distinction between those who believed they held to the most ancient

traditions (the Theravadins) and those who claimed their understandings

represented the highest and most complete account of Buddha’s message (the

Mahayanists). Scholars think that by the 3rd century BC, Theravada doctrine and

practice were fairly formalized. The Theravada canon of sacred scriptures, the

Tipitaka (Sanskrit Tripitaka, "The Three Baskets"), all written in the

Pali language, include the Vinaya Pitaka ("Basket of Discipline"), the

Sutta Pitaka ("Basket of Discourses"), and Abhidhamma Pitaka

("Basket of Scholasticism"). Theravada doctrine emphasizes the

composite nature of all things. The Theravada tradition explicated necessary

regulations for the community, meditative techniques and rituals, and the stages

leading to arhatship (the pinnacle of spiritual attainment). Moral instruction

for both monastic and lay followers was elaborated by reference to specific

rules and to paradigms available in the Jataka tales of the Buddha’s

incarnations. The great Indian king Ashoka (reigned mid-3rd century BC)

patronized Buddhism, supporting a missionary enterprise that carried the

Theravada tradition into Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, where it remains the

predominant form of Buddhism. Between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD,

there appeared new Buddhist scriptures that implied to represent the Buddha’s

most advanced and complete teaching. The communities for which these new

Sanskrit texts were important called themselves followers of the "Greater

Vehicle" (Mahayana), in contradistinction to followers of what they

regarded as the "Lesser Vehicle" (Hinayana). Their ideal was that of

the bodhisattva ("enlightenment being"; one who has taken the vow to

become a buddha), whose compassionate vow to save all sentient beings was

contrasted with the aloof self-preoccupation of the Theravada arhat. The

Mahayana schools developed an expanded vision of the universe and a new

understanding of the Buddha. The human manifestation of the True Law in the

figure of Gautama Buddha was identified with the many celestial forms

experienced in meditation and with the dharma-kaya, the ineffable absolute.

Certain Mahayana schools (Madhyamika in India, T’ien-t’ai and Hua-yen in China,

etc.) developed sophisticated philosophical arguments concerning the two levels

of truth (the relative and absolute) and the identification of samsara (this

world of life and death) with nirvana. The Pure Land schools of Mahayana

emphasized simple faith over logic and were more concerned with salvific rebirth

in Buddha’s "pure lands" than with the achievement of enlightenment in

this world. The influential Dhyana (Chinese: Ch’an; Japanese: Zen) tradition

stressed meditation and a sudden enlightenment experience. Mahayana became the

predominant form of Buddhism throughout East Asia and has had an immeasurable

impact on the civilizations of China, Korea, and Japan. Known also as Vajrayana

(the "Diamond Vehicle"), or Mantrayana (the "Vehicle of the

Mantra"), Tantric Buddhism became prominent in India in the 7th century AD.

An esoteric path requiring strict guidance under an accomplished master, Tantric

ritual involved both the identification of the initiate with a visualized deity

and action intended to demonstrate the adept’s transcendence of all dualistic

categories such as good and evil, male and female, samsara and nirvana. Tantric

masters developed elaborate ritual usage of mudras (sacred gestures), mantras

(sacred sounds), and mandalas (maps of the spiritual cosmos). Tantrism became

the predominant influence on the development of a special form of Buddhism in

Mongolia and Tibet. Wherever Buddhist doctrine and philosophy have spread in

Asia, they have given rise to a remarkable flowering of material culture.

Architectural and iconographic features naturally vary from country to country,

but basic functions remain the same. The temple is the main sanctuary, in which

services, both public and private, are performed. The monastery is a complex of

buildings, located usually in a spot chosen for its beauty and seclusion. Its

function is to house the activities of the monks. Images are important features

of temples, monasteries, and shrines in both Theravada and Mahayana. Throughout

Southeast Asia these generally represent the historic Buddha in postures of

meditating, teaching, or reclining. For the devout these call to mind his

enlightenment, years of teaching, and passing to nirvana. In countries of

central Asia, the treatment of images is more complex. In Mahayana sanctuaries,

the representations are of different buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints, and guardian

deities derived from India. In China and Tibet these constitute a pantheon, the

worship of which is practically polytheistic. In addition to temple design and

decoration, Buddhism historically has stimulated creativity in other artistic

areas; the traditions of poetry and painting associated with Zen Buddhism are

notable examples.