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Path of the Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva is based on the self-sacrificing spirit as captured by the Mahayana Monk named Arya zura in his Jatakamala written in the 4th century Common Era (C.E). His text contains narratives concerning the prior lives of Buddha. In one of the narratives, Buddha is born as a revered Brahmin, the son of a ruler, but he could not enjoy life in that status owing to the fact that he was torn between his urges of renunciation and his legal studies. The wealthy Brahmin finally renounced the world and went to a solitary retreat in a forest. His presence in the forest created such a calming effect those wild animals which prey on each other stopped the habit to live like hermits. Over time, the wealthy Brahmin gained pupils and became a renowned teacher. One day he decided to travel with one of his disciples. While passing next to a mountain cave, his attention was drawn by a tigress had had recently given birth but was now in a desperate situation due to starvation. He sent his disciple to get the mother tigress something to eat while he would remain behind to prevent the mother tigress from harming anybody (Jestice 2004, 671).
Concerned about the possibility of the tigress harming himself or turning to her cubs to satisfy her hunger, the bodhisattva offered himself as food for the tigress by hurling himself on the mountainside landing near the tigress which devoured the lifeless corpse. Meanwhile, the disciple who had been sent returned back empty handed after failing to get any meat. He found the tigress busy devouring the of his master. This narrative represents the ideal virtues of the bodhisattva attained through the process of selection and experimentation by monks over a period of time. The process was influenced by the growth of devotional religion in India and the idealization of the figure of Buddha.
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The term “Bodhisattva” means an enlightened being though this direct translation does not capture the full spirit of the ethos of this figure. According to the Mahayana perspective, the importance of the bodhisattva is brought to the fore when one compares it with that of arhat, the fully enlightened being, and pratyekabuddha, a person who is self-enlightened. The pratyekabuddha gains enlightenment by himself and does not proclaim the truth to other in the world. He is considered a nonteaching Buddha, which the Mahayana school considers narrow-minded and selfish. The arhat is a person who works out his liberation by himself but involves himself in proclaiming the truth to others. Mahayana school considers these two ideals as selfish, placid and inert. The bodhisattva, in contrast to the arhat and pratyekabuddha, works both for his liberation and that of others.
A person must help others because all human beings are interrelated as part of this reality. It is this simple philosophical background that forms the context for the four fundamental vows of the bodhisattva: to save all beings, to destroy all evil passions, to learn the truth and teach others about it and to lead all beings toward Buddhahood or salvation.
Becoming a bodhisattva
According to the Mahayana teaching, there is a number of perfections or paramitas that any bodhisattva needs to develop and practice. Each of the said perfections possess three phases; ordinary, extraordinary to supremely extraordinary. The perfections are arranged in a hierarchy so that to proceed to the next perfection, one must fulfill the requirements of the previous one. It is these perfections that define a bodhisattva.
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Generosity, giving or charity is the first perfection to be practiced. Generosity is a basic ancient Indian cultural virtue that can assume many forms. For instance, one can give material assistance like shelter to the homeless or mental and spiritual giving such as educating a child and counseling a troubled person. It means showing sympathy to others in what they are going through in life and sharing in their joys and in their sorrows along the course of life. The story of saving the mother tiger is an illustration of extreme generosity in which one can give out his own life for the sake of others.
However, bodhisattvas are warned against sacrificing their lives for an insignificant course. They are advised to maintain a balance between compassion for others and wisdom. Giving should be done devoid of selfish motives and without expecting a reward as a result of the giving. The result of giving in an unselfish, disinterested and detached manner is that the giver creates and accumulates merit or what is called punya because merit is as a result of righteous action. The merit so accumulated by the bodhisattva can be transferred to others for their own good.
The second perfection is moral or zila. It relates to self-control. The aspiring bodhisattva does a self-analysis aimed at discovering personal shortcomings. Moral perfection is attained by extinguishing passions. According to the Mahayana teaching morality is not attained by refraining from the action but rather by actively doing being conscious that what one does affects others morally. The controlling principles of morality therefore are conscientiousness and shame.
The third perfection that every bodhisattva must master is forbearance and endurance also called Kzanti. This is defined as freedom from anger and excitement. It reflects the ability to withstand and forgive hurting inflicted upon oneself. The bodhisattva is cautioned against anger and impatience over actions done by ignorant people. When faced with situations that bring pain, the bodhisattva must practice endurance. The bodhisattva is advised to respond to critical and offensive language with dignity. He is cautioned against retaliation for any form of abuse.
The fourth perfection is energy or vigor (virya). The bodhisattva is expected to be proactive in nature. Since being a bodhisattva is a lifestyle in which hardships is part of it, it is necessary to be energetic in order to remain afloat. In absence of this energy, the bodhisattva may be overcome by physical or mental weaknesses and negative feelings when one’s effort fail to yield positive results. Vigor is also described as the ability of oneself to become a submissive servant towards others. One is not encouraged move through his life by acting habitually, in contrast he or she should always be awake and aware of what to do at all times. Bodhisattva needs to perfect the energy which is tied to resolution.
The fifth perfection is meditation (dhyana). The act of meditation does not demand any physical isolation for instance in a cave or forest in which to practice. This perfection rather involves meditation within a complex social web consisting of interrelationships that increases a Bodhisattva’s chances of reaching to appoint where he is aware of the similarity of everything. It also involves mediating on the brahma-viharas, the divine states of mind which consists of working on four feelings: compassion (karuna), loving kindness (maitri), equanimity (upesksa) and sympathetic joy (mudita). These virtues are supposed to be cultivated and eventually practiced in a pragmatic way with the aim of benefiting others; they should not, however, be simply meditated upon as if they were a sacred diagram being used to enhance the meditator’s concentration.
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The sixth, and most significant perfection from the entire path of the Bodhisattva is the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita). Wisdom is considered to be the supreme virtue for the Mahayana Buddhism; and one having possessed wisdom is equivalent to one who has attained nirvana. It involves seeing things as they truly are, representing a direct insight into reality. It is also defined as a mental event, state of consciousness which involves the investigation and analysis of things. It does not entail the intellectual knowing conceptual in content such as having a conception of justice, beauty or abstract truth. Although it is an understanding deriving from analysis, wisdom is sometimes referred to as a meditative absorption which is connected directly to the outcome of analysis.
Wisdom is directly related to liberation. As explained in the holy teaching of Vimalakirti, the integration between liberation and wisdom consists of motivation from the great compassion and the concentration on cultivation of auspicious marks and signs. This means that things are vacant and do not contain any distinguishing marks, meaning that wisdom is associated with a non conceptual experience, since conceptualizing emptiness is impossible. Wisdom is a non dual since it is being aware of emptiness.
The Mahayana school added four perfections to the six as it developed. Upaya meaning skillful is the seventh perfection. It is the ability of teaching in accordance to the needs of the others. Before teaching others, a Bodhisattva must be able to access their needs and levels of the ability to understand. The pattern of skillful begins with the recognition of human beings being in a condition of ignorance.
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Next in the pattern is a compassionate being making a appearance to dispel the ignorance. The compassionate person present those being taught with tangible creations or objects of fantasy because he is sensitive to their needs. However, the followers will begin to realize the unreality and limitations of the fanciful creations and of the objects as they mature. This awareness will then onward motivate them towards perfection of wisdom (the enlightenment).
This process can be well compared to the fanciful creation made by the leader to a group of men as in a parable from Lotus Sutra. In the parable, a group of men were proceeding to their destination through a forest. At one point, they became weary and despaired of ever achieving their goal. In order to distract them from the desperate situation held by the group, the leader created a magic city to make it look as if the men’s goal had been achieved.
The magicity of the city then fades away after despair and weariness are overcome, and the group refreshes and gets ready to proceed to their goal. In this parable, Buddha functions as the leader and the sojourners represents the ordinary humans in bondage to their world for they lack insight into nature’s reality. Upon reflecting on this pattern, one realizes that if the correct determination is made, it is obvious that the Bodhisattva would be successful in converting and conversing with others. Summarily, skillful perfection means presupposing that there is only a single truth, but accepts that the means and ways of reaching that single truth are many.
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The eighth perfection is parnidhana (the vow of resolution), of which a bodhisattva manifests by helping others to gain salvation and by them making personal vows to accomplish that. The ninth perfection is bala (power of strength). This is demonstrated when a bodhisattva strives to increase virtues such as patience and wisdom. The final perfection is jnana (knowledge), which is almost similar to wisdom, although wisdom more directly refers to intuition, whereas knowledge is more precisely referred to intellectual ability. The intellectual ability enables people to know things as direct as they are in fact.
All the ten perfections preassume that an aspiring bodhisattva is an unformed, unfinished and unpolished figure figure that requires nurturing and development so as to become fit for the highest knowledge. Also, evident is from this situation is that the perfections represents a symbolic purification process of self-culture which assists a person reconstruct him or herself to be more prepared to help others. The large Sutra makes it clear that the bodhisattva is empty on perfect wisdom in the final analysis. This point is, howeve,r not intended in a negative or positive way; it only depicts how a bodhisattva is supposed to stand in perfect wisdom.
Continuity and Change
The development of Mahayana Buddhism never resulted in a complete break with schools and sects that precede it. It still continued to share with it certain features that were in the earlier tradition. It maintains the theme of going a spiritual journey to a certain specific goal, though the centralarhat and bodhisattva’s figures are different. The original and later Mahayana traditions both emphasized on virtues such as non violence and compassion. The core importance of the goal of nirvana and wisdom are maintained, together with beliefs about impermanence, rebirth and suffering. The role for the laity increased and continued as same as the role for the historical Buddha in Mahayana. The ancient tradition and Mahayana shared the conviction that consciousness is clear and pure.
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On the other hand, there are significant differences between earlier Buddhists movements and the Mahayana. Mahayana offers an expansive vision of the universe which includes many Buddhas staying in various Buddha realms. With some developments such as Pure Land Schools, Mahayana increased and developed fully the potential for devotional practice for the monastic and lay members. With schools like Yogacara and Mwdhyamika, and those texts that influenced the said schools, an emphasis on wisdom developed together with the realization of emptiness.
Culturally, Mahayana Buddhism significantly contributed to significant changes in culture in countries beyond India, the cultures it encountered influenced it and itself was changed. Its ever changing nature and continuity with the past Buddhist schools shows that the Mahayana Buddhism is not static, rather a dynamic phenomenon.
The Sramana Movement
The Sramana movement was one of the three major Indian schools of thought which led to the modern Buddhism religion, alongside the Vedic religion and Jainism. Though the three schools of thought began in separate parts of India, they eventually met and conceived the modern Buddhism. The Sramatic movement was a branch that seemed more or less like Brahmanism. Sacrifice in the Sramana movement was more directed towards the progression of the individuals symbolically. The most important focus of belief in this movement was the concept of Brahman-the spiritual force which made the universe and sustained it, and Atman-the most static, immortal and purest spirit existing in the universe. The idea of the Karma theory and reincarnation were introduced.
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The circumstances in early Buddhism that provided the occasion for the rise of Mah%u0101y%u0101na
Five hundred monks met soon after Buddha’s death during the first council that was held at Rajagrha and was led by Kashyapa. They recited the monastic code and Buddha’s lessons as they remembered it. The monks then debated into details and voted on the final versions which were then committed to the other monks for memory. They were to translate them into the various languages of the Indian plains. Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over two hundred years. In the net, few centuries, its original unity began to fragment.
The most significant split happened after the second council meeting that was held one hundred years after the first. Kanishka, the Kushan ruler, convened the council in Kashmir and the council witnessed the following: the introduction of Heart Sutra, Amitabha Sutra and Lotus Sutra to the existing Tripitaka; the Theravadas rejected the council over that. Also, they re-wrote the new scriptures in Sanskrit and oversaw the incorporation of the concepts of salvation for masses through the potential future Buddhas. After debates between traditionalists and a more liberal group, the liberal left, labeling themselves the Mahasangha meaning “the great sangha (group of clergy).” They had more liberal attitudes towards monastic tradition. This allowed the lay community to have a greater say on the nature of Buddhism. The Mahasangha rebellion eventually evolved into the Mahayana tradition of the Northern Asia. The Mahayanists were able to meet the needs of the common folk, which were simpler. For instance, they were used to gods and heroes.
Therefore, the Trikaya doctrine came into being. Buddha was not only an enlightened man, but was also represented by the various god-like Buddha’s in various appealing heavens, or Buddha-mind, or Shunyatta (emptiness), or Dharma itself, depending on which interpretation is looked at-the sort of a Buddhist’s Father, Son or Holy Ghost. However, the more important circumstance was the increased importance of Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is a person who has gained enlightenment, but has chosen to remain in the world with the intention of bringing others to enlightenment; he is more of a saint, spiritual hero for people to appeal to and admire. (Boeree, 1999).
How Buddhism in China grew from a purely Indian import to a distinctly Chinese enterprise
In China, the introduction of Buddhism was more influenced by reason of the Chinese government at that time of moving conquered groups of people into China proper from countries west of China. These people came along with their own religion. For instance, the current province of Shansi was populated by this method by the Hsiung-n, whose majority were Buddhists. Moreover, the decline of Taoism and Confucianism hastened the introduction of Buddhism and its spread. The Han dynasty had established a confcianism-founded-government. However, the character of th officials and rulers gradually deteriorated as aresult of the great increase in power and wealth under the dynasty.
The Confucian regulations were becoming burdensome to the people and they ceased respecting their leaders. Taoism became meaningless and was eventually abandoned. Coincidentally, there arose a sect of men in North China called Purists. They initially urged people to practice the Taoist mystics but later came across Buddhism and were captivated by it. They devoted all the best of their ability and religious will to spreading Buddhism which became very successful. The tenets of the two religions were called by various emperors for assemblies of Taoists and Buddhists inorder to unite the two religions. If the emporer was influenced by Buddhism, he would try to force Taoists to become Buddhists and vice versa. This did not work.After the dynasty had ended, the country was broken into small kingdoms for about 400 years.Although Chinese were prohibited from becoming monks, Buddhism grew rapidly . The restriction was removed in the fouth century where by nine tenths of northwestern dwellers had converted to Buddhism.Buddhism has since then been an an established factor in the life of the Chinese people (Hodus 2006 12). When it entered China, Buddhism brought a new world; it was a new, practical and spiritual. It came with it some knowledge that was not known before regarding nature, the heavenly bodies, medicine, and it was a practice highly above the magical arts. According to the Chinese, Buddhism proclaimed a spiritual universe that was far more extensive and real than any of which they dreamed. In comparison with the new universe, the Indian imagination had created; the universe of the Chinese was geometric and wooden. Since Buddhism was an organized and greater system, they readily accepted it and eventually made it their own.
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The differences between the practice of mindfulness (concentration) and insight (wisdom) meditations in early Buddhism
Concentration or Samadhi is the core of the Buddhists discipline and gateway to enlightenment. Concentration has two major aspects: the practice of calming and insight. It is a process of the withdrawal of the mind and the senses from their involvement with the phenomenal world and attachment to worldly objects. It involves focusing the mind on one stimulus, for instance mantra, breath, loving kindness or other objects of meditation, excluding other stimuli. Concentration has been taught in many Indian traditions so as to help individuals calm down their minds and develop the attitude of equanimity.
Insight meditation, also mindfulness, is unique to Buddhism. The practice is taught with an aim of helping individuals to understand the workings and nature of their minds, and manage the feelings, thoughts and emotions that arise. While concentration meditation mainly focuses on cultivation of the right concentration, insight meditation puts more emphasis on cultivation of right mindfulness and observation.
Why Shinto and Buddhism have been able to coexist successfully in Japan
Shinto and Buddhism are two ancient religious groups that have coexisted in Japan for centuries. Despite their coexistence and possible influence on each other, they are, in fact, quite different. Buddhism is complex in both its temples and its philosophies, yet it remains one of the main religions in Japan, and one of the largest in the world. Shinto, the other main religion in Japan is Japan’s native religion, and it existed long before Buddhism was introduced into Japan. These two religions coexist together partly because none of them makes an exclusive claim to the truth. Shinto does not focus on what is wrong or right; nothing is considered as absolutely right or wrong. It displays humans as naturally good and its evil spirits that cause them to do wrong (Schnell 1999 61).
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Buddhism is a teaching thought to have the ability of improving the worth of a person by teaching him that he should work on improving his inner self rather than the outer self or physical. These religions are unlike in Christianity where Christians are urged to follow Jesus for He is “the way the truth and the life” John 14:6, and Islam also require its adherents to follow certain exclusive doctrines which makes it unable to blend them with other religions. The most notable distinction that makes Buddhism and Shinto blend unlike other religions is truth.
The Dalai Lama system
The first Dalai Lama was Gendun Drub who was born in 1391 and became the spiritual leader of Tibet. By the time of the fifth Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama had taken over the spiritual as well as secular power of Tibet. He established the present system of government; which continued until the invasion of Tibet. At this time, the 14th Dalai Lama had just inherited power. There have been fourteen Dalai Lamas, who are an incarnation of the same person; a Bodhisattva. According to Tibet’s unique Dalai Lama system, Dalai Lama serves as the temporal leader of the Tibetans and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhism. He is believed to be a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion and protector of deity in Tibet, who has the responsibility to choose to reincarnate serving and helping ease people’s suffering (Mullin 1988 370).
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