New to Buddhism


 

- Buddha Web

 

"Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its orthodox form, because it has had the smallest element of persecution". The intellectuals of the West have agreed that for the first time in the history of the world, Buddha proclaimed a salvation, which each man could gain for himself, and by himself in this world, during his life, without the least help from God or Gods."
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970, Philosopher and mathematician who was a Christian)

 

Recommended book for new Buddhist Scholars

Mind unshaken: A modern approach to Buddhism
by Walters, John Rider

Useful Links for Beginners

- What is Theravada Buddhism? (from Access to Insight)

- Suggested Entry Points to Access to Insight Web for Bigginers

- Just Be Good (contain introductory materisls on Theravada Buddhism)

- Buddhism in Nutshell (A Comprehensive Artical by Ven Narada Mahathera)

- Basic Buddhism Guide (at Buddhanet)

- The Path to Freedom- A Self-guided Tour of the Buddha's Teachings (from Access to Insight)

- Frequently Asked Questions about Buddhism (from Access to Insight)

- Light of Asia (by Sir Edwin Arnold, Online pdf book)

 

Why are the same words spelt differently in the various Buddhist traditions?

During the time of the Buddha, the language commonly used was Pali, as opposed to Sanskrit which was used primarily by the Brahmins (or priestly castes).  The Buddha chose to speak and teach mainly in Pali as He wanted as many people as possible to learn and benefit from His Teachings.

The Theravada school of Buddhism uses Pali spellings and pronunciations, and the Mahayana/Zen and Tibetan schools use mainly Sanskrit.  Examples of  Pali spellings would be Dhamma, kamma, nibbana.  The Sanskrit versions of these words would be Dharma, karma, nirvana.
(Ref: http://www.justbegood.net/)

 

Theravada Buddhism is not...

Buddhism is not an ethnic religion.

Buddhism is not a conservative religion.

Buddhism is not based on (blind) faith.

Buddhism does not support anyone to escape from reality.

Buddhism is not a religion that relies on a "Savoir" or God to save us all from the mass of suffering.

Buddhists are not slaves of Gods or Buddha.

Buddhists do not condemns non-believers or non-followers.

Buddhism is not a religion that believes chanting mantras (sacred words), performing ceremonial rites.

 

Woman and Buddhism

In Theravada Buddhist countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka wife has the same rights as his husband. She does not even take the name of her husband. She can work or run her own business, and take personal decisions. In the case of children wife has the ultimate decision making power over the husband. These are new revolutionary concepts came to west in recent past. But this ‘modern woman’ has been there for centuries in Buddhist Asia.

The Buddha

Siddartha Gautama was born about 2,500 years ago into a royal family.  His father was the ruler of a kingdom located in northern India close to the border of what is now Nepal.  As the crown prince, he lived a life of decadent luxury surrounded by riches and beautiful women.  However, even as a youth he realized that he would get no lasting satisfaction from such a lifestyle.

He began to see that all human existence is unavoidably subject to illness, old age and death. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy the fleeting material pleasures of a Royal household.  At the age of 29, and inspired by the sight of a calm and dignified hermit, he decided to forgo his luxurious lifestyle.  He left his wife and child in the good hands of the royal family to seek the answers to lasting happiness. It was an unprecedented historic renunciation; for he renounced not in his old age but in the prime of manhood, not in poverty but in plenty.

After 6 years of wandering and severe ascetic practices, he realized that neither a decadent lifestyle nor extreme ascetism will lead him to the answers he sought. He decided to pursue the 'Middle Way' between these two extremes.

One happy morning, while He was deeply absorbed in meditation, unaided and unguided by any supernatural power and solely relying on His efforts and wisdom, He eradicated all defilements, purified Himself, and, realizing things as they truly are, attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood) at the age of 35. From then on, the Prince became known as the Buddha which means literally, the 'Awakened One'. He was not born a Buddha, but he became a Buddha by his own striving. As the perfect embodiment of all the virtues he preached, endowed with deep wisdom commensurate with his boundless compassion. He devoted the remainder of his precious life to serve humanity both by example and precept, dominated by no personal motive whatever.

The Buddha then spent the next 45 years of his life teaching what he finally came to understand.  He founded a community of monks known as the Sangha, and Buddhism spread throughout northern India.  Kings, nobles, merchants and peasants became his disciples and followers, and even now countless people everywhere benefit from his Teachings.

The Buddha was a human being. As a man he was born, as a man He lived, and as a man His life came to an end. Though a human being, He became an extraordinary man (Acchariya Manussa), but He never arrogated to Himself divinity. The Buddha laid stress on this important point and left no room whatever for anyone to fall into the error of thinking that he was an immortal divine being.

The Buddha exhorts his disciples to depend on themselves for their deliverance, for both purity and defilement depend on oneself. Clarifying his relationship with his followers and emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving, the Buddha plainly states: "You should exert yourselves, the Tathagatas (Buddha) are only teachers."
 

Why are there different Buddhist traditions?

Buddhism was founded more than 2,500 years ago, and with this long passage of time, three main traditions and four smaller schools have evolved.  These developments took place as Buddhism adapted to the different countries, conditions and cultures it spread to. 

However, the Buddha's Teachings have proved to be very resilient as while the outer trappings may be dissimilar, the core Buddhist doctrines remain the same among the various traditions.  For example, the acceptance of the core doctrines, or "Unifying Points", between the different traditions was formally endorsed by the World Buddhist Sangha Council in Sri Lanka in 1966. 

Buddhists accept and respect diversity, and consider the various traditions merely as different routes to the same destination.

The Theravada tradition is the oldest and most conservative.  It is the closest to the original form of Buddhism as taught by the Buddha Himself.  It is simpler than the other traditions in approach with few ceremonies and rituals, preferring instead to stress on discipline and morality and the practice of meditation.

The Mahayana tradition started to develop in India between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D.  It has adapted to different Asian cultures absorbing elements of Hinduism and Taoism.  Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes very much on compassion and faith with the goal of helping all others attain enlightenment.  The Zen, Nichiren and Pureland sects are offshoots of Mahayana Buddhism.

The Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition rose around 300 A.D. in Tibet when Buddhist Indian monks brought over a brand of Buddhism with tantric practices.  This combined with elements of the local Bon religion gives Vajrayana its unique practices.  It tends to be heavier on rituals, mantra chanting and visualizations.  The most well-known face of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, is the spiritual head of the Vajrayana tradition.

 

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada (pronounced more or less "terra-VAH-dah"), the "Doctrine of the Elders," is the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Tipitaka, or Pali canon, which scholars generally agree contains the earliest surviving record of the Buddha's teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental
Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) and Sri Lanka. Today Theravada Buddhists number well over 100 million
worldwide. In recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West.

 

A Brief Summary of the Buddha's Teachings

On gaining enlightenment, the Buddha realized the Four Noble Truths. 

1. The Noble Truth of Dukkha or Suffering 
Dukkha is usually translated as suffering but it actually encompasses a wide range of negative feelings including unsatisfactoriness, discontent, stress and physical suffering.  Dukkha exists as all beings are subject to illness, separation from loved ones, not getting one's desires, aging and death.


2. The Noble Truth of Cause of Suffering 
All beings crave pleasant sensations, and also desire to avoid unpleasant sensations.  These sensations can be physical or psychological sensations, and dukkha arises when these desires and cravings are not met.


3. The Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering
Nibbana is the state of peace where all greed, hatred and delusion, and thereby dukkha, have been eradicated. 


4. There is a Way Out of Dukkha,  Which is The Noble Eightfold Path.
Dukkha can be reduced, or eradicated and Nibbana thereby attained, by following this path (the Noble Eightfold Path) as taught by the Buddha.

  • Right Understanding
        Understanding and accepting the Four Noble Truths.
  • Right Thoughts (Resolve)
        To cultivate thoughts of generosity, loving-kindness and compassion.
  • Right Speech
        To refrain from lying, slander, harsh words and gossip.  To cultivate truthful, peaceful, kind and meaningful speech.
  • Right Action
        To abstain from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.  To cultivate harmlessness, honesty and faithfulness.
  • Right Livelihood
        To keeps life going with right livelihood and to avoid dishonest livelihood involving killing of both humans and animals, the sale of animal flesh, the trading of humans, weapons, poisons and intoxicants.
  • Right Effort
         To apply mental discipline such that unwholesome thoughts are prevented from arising, and those unwholesome thoughts that have arisen are dispelled.  To develop wholesome thoughts, and to maintain those wholesome thoughts that have arisen. 
  • Right Mindfulness
         To be aware of the body, and bodily postures and sensations.  To be aware of the mind and its thoughts, emotions and feelings.
  • Right Concentration
         To practice Samatha or concentration meditation to train the mind to be focused and disciplined

When a man clearly understands the fourfold Noble truth, then the Noble Eightfold path will lead him away from greed; and if he is free from greed, he will not quarrel with others, he will not kill nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor cheat, nor abuse, nor flatter, nor envy, nor lose his temper, nor forget the transiency of life nor will be unjust.

Following the noble path is like entering a dark room with a light in the hand; the darkness will be cleared away and the room will be filled with light. People who understand the meaning of the noble truths and have learned to follow the Noble path are in possession of the light of wisdom that will clear away the darkness of ignorance.

Buddha leads people, merely by indicating to them the fourfold Noble truth. Those who understand it properly will attain Enlightenment; they will be able to guide and support others in the bewildering world, and they will be worthy of trust. When the fourfold truth is clearly understand, all the sources of worldly passion are dried-up.

Buddhism is occasionally criticized as being overly pessimistic as it seems to focus on suffering rather than on happiness and joy.  However, all conditions of happiness and joy are impermanent because all beings are subject to sickness, old age and death, and as a result, all beings are undeniably subject to dukkha. 

Instead, Buddhism is actually realistic as the Buddha has taught us how to overcome or reduce dukkha, and how to achieve the permanent bliss of Nibbana.  By following the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha, Nibbana can be experienced even in this present lifetime.
 

The Three Marks of Existence

The Buddha also discovered that all existence have three marks or characteristics.

Impermanence (Anicca)
All things are impermanent, and everything is in the process of changing into something else.  For example, we are all in the process of aging.  Even the stars and galaxies are in the process of change.

Unsatisfactoriness/Suffering (Dukkha )
Because all things are impermanent, existence is subject to dukkha.  There will always be the craving for the pleasant, and the aversion to the unpleasant, due to the ever-changing nature of existence.

No Self (Anatta)
There is no permanent or unchanging self.  The 'self' which we are conditioned to believe exists, is comprised of nothing more than different mental and physical constituents, which are in a state of constant change due to cause and effect

 

Concept of Kamma

In the Buddha's teaching of the doctrine of kamma, the term kamma is used as a technical term in a special religious meaning.
In this usage it means volitional action or action done with a particular intention. According to the Buddha's teaching all volitional or intentional actions give rise to consequences. The correlation between such volitional actions and their consequences constitute the Buddhist doctrine of kamma.

There are three modes through which we perform all our actions. These three modes are the body, speech and mind. Thus these three-fold actions are bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions. These actions performed through body, speech and mind constitute a person's behaviour. Only 'intentional behaviour' is called kamma. Hence all unintentional actions are not considered kamma. such actions could be grouped under accidental or negligent actions.

The Buddha's teaching of kamma is not deterministic; nor is it indeterministic, for it operates according to a causal pattern.

 Law of kamma is only one of the causal laws in nature that affects the life of an individual. There are five such causal laws in nature. They are physical laws (utuniyama), biological laws (bijaniyama), psychological laws (cittaniyama), kammic laws (kamma niyama) and spiritual laws (dhamma niyama). Therefore it is wrong to believe that the law of kamma is the only law that determines the life of a man, and that all pleasure and pain he experiences is strictly determined by his previous kamma.

This makes it clear that one should not attribute to kamma all ups and downs one experiences in life and give up striving to improve one's life. As man is supreme and as he has freedom of choice, ability to put forth effort, ability to persevere, he can control his kamma and shape his own destiny.

 

Practice of Damma

Genoricity (Dana)

This simply means 'Giving' or helping others.  This can be practiced in many different ways.  You can do so through speech by using kind and encouraging words to others.  Even giving something as simple as a smile can help another if it cheers them up and brightens their day.   

You can always lend a hand to anyone who needs help.  You can volunteer your efforts or your resources to the less fortunate.  You can also share the Buddha's Teachings to anyone interested, which is the greatest gift of all.

However, try to do all this without regret, discrimination or ulterior motives.  Practice Dana with kindness, compassion and empathy.


Morality (Sila)

This means 'Morality' and the Buddha has advised us to observe the Five Precepts in the cultivation of Sila : 

1.  Abstain from killing any living beings.
2.  Abstain from taking what is not given.
3.  Abstain from sexual misconduct.
4.  Abstain from lying and false speech.
5.  Abstain from the abusive consumption of intoxicants and drugs.  

These Precepts are not commandments, but are rules that Buddhists take upon themselves to observe.  They are observed not through fear of punishment but because we realize that such actions harm others as well as ourselves.


Meditation (Bhavana) 

Bhavana means the practice of 'Mind Cultivation' or simply meditation.  Meditation can be said to purify the mind by making it easier to develop Generosity and Compassion, and then to finally acquire Wisdom.

Buddhist meditation is usually classified into two types - Vipassana or Insight meditation and Samatha or Concentration meditation.  There are many forms of Samatha meditation. Anapana (concentrate on breath) and Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation are its more widely practiced forms.  All these types of meditation have their benefits.

However, it is usually recognized that it is through the practice of Vipassana or Insight meditation that we can come to fully know ourselves, and that through this we will be able to better realize and understand the Buddha's Teachings.

  
Ref:
- Access to Insight
- Buddhism in a Nutshell by Ven. Narada Mahathera
- Just be Good net
- http://www.sanuja.com/
- The Human Side by Albert Einstein: edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press