Roman Catholics made up only just over 10% of the population in South Vietnam. As a reward for adopting the religion of their French masters. Catholics had always held a privileged position in Vietnam. The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country and most of the officials who helped administer the country for the French were Catholics.
The main religion in Vietnam was Buddhism. Surveys carried out in the 1960s suggest that around 70% of the population were followers of Buddha. The French, aware of the potential threat of Buddhism to their authority, passed laws to discourage its growth.
After the French left Vietnam the Catholics managed to hold onto their power in the country. President Ngo Dinh Diem was a devout Catholic and tended to appoint people to positions of authority who shared his religious beliefs. This angered Buddhists, especially when the new government refused to repeal the anti-Buddhist laws passed by the French.
On May 8, 1963, Buddhists assembled in Hue to celebrate the 2527th birthday of the Buddha. Attempts were made by the police to disperse the crowds by opening fire on them. One woman and eight children were killed in their attempts to flee from the police.
The Buddhists were furious and began a series of demonstrations against the Diem government. In an attempt to let the world know how strongly they felt about the South Vietnamese government, it was decided to ask for volunteers to commit suicide.
On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Due, a sixty-six year old monk, sat down in the middle of a busy Saigon road. He was then surrounded by a group of Buddhist monks and nuns who poured petrol over his head and then set fire to him. One eyewitness later commented: "As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him." While Thich Quang Due was burning to death, the monks and nuns gave out leaflets calling for Diem's government to show "charity and compassion " to all religions.
The government's response to this suicide was to arrest thousands of Buddhist monks. Many disappeared and were never seen again. By August another five monks had committed suicide by setting fire to themselves. One member of the South Vietnamese government responded to these self-immolations by telling a newspaper reporter: "Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands." Another offered to supply Buddhists who wanted to commit suicide with the necessary petrol.
Then, on June 11, an aged Buddhist priest, Thich Quang Due, sat down at a major intersection, poured gasoline on himself, took the cross-legged 'Buddha' posture and struck a match. He burned to death without moving and without saying a word. Thich Quang Due became a hero to the Buddhists in Vietnam, and he dramatized their cause for the rest of the world.
In the 6th century -- either 538 or 552 CE, depending on which historian one consults -- a delegation sent by a Korean prince arrived at the court of the Emperor of Japan. The Koreans brought with them Buddhist sutras, an image of the Buddha, and a letter from the Korean prince praising the dharma. This was the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan.
The Japanese aristocracy promptly split into pro- and anti-Buddhist factions. Buddhism gained little real acceptance until the reign of the Empress Suiko and her regent, Prince Shotoku (592 to 628 CE). The Empress and the Prince established Buddhism as the state religion. They encouraged the expression of the dharma in arts, philanthropy, and education. They built temples and established monasteries.
In the centuries that followed, Buddhism in Japan developed robustly. During the 7th through 9th centuries, Buddhism in China enjoyed a "golden age" and Chinese monks brought the newest developments in practice and scholarship to Japan. The many schools of Buddhism that developed in China were also established in Japan.
Buddhism: A History and Chronology
- Indus Valley Civilization
- refers to people living in the Indus River Valley in India in the third millenium BCE (c. 2500 BCE)
- significant evidence for the worship of goddesses in conjunction with bull or ram figures
- Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were the principle cities of the region, c. 2500-1250 BCE
- the region was well-organized with evidence of well-developed societies, scholarship, etc.
-Indus Valley civilization disappears (due to possible invasion by Aryans arriving c.1500 BCE?)
-Religious oral traditions and hymns began to be collected
-Life of The Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama, "The Buddha"
* Buddha is the great teacher from the Buddhist tradition
* his teachings are based in the Vedic tradition
* referred to as the "enlightened one" or "one who has awakened"
-Brief chronology of Siddhartha's life:
* born into the ksatriya varna as son and heir of a local ruler
* accidentally attained a meditational experience in youth
* sneaks out of the palace and finds and old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic IE: the Four Passing Sights
* wants to overcome the sickness, suffering, and death in the world that he witnessed in those 4 people
* age 29, Siddhartha renounces the world and begins the path to enlightenment
* when enlightened, Siddhartha, now "The Buddha," experiences the cornerstone of the 4 Noble Truths and the 4 dhyanas
* Buddha dies around 483 BCE
* Note: Siddhartha's birth and death dates are controversial. It is widely held in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia that Siddhartha's life spanned from 624-544 BCE, and in Europe, America, and India from c.566-486 BCE, and further in Japan from 448-368 BCE.
-period of the 4 Councils of Buddhism
* First Council (after Buddha's death c. 483 BCE)
--500 monks gathered to compile Siddhartha's teachings (into a sort of canon), establishing a direction for Buddhism after Siddhartha's death
* Second Council (c.383 or 373 BCE)
--questioning of the 10 points
--possible time of the Great Schism according to some sources
* "Second" Second Council, or 2/3 Council (around 346 BCE)
--first true Great Schism of Buddhism, where the Samgha, or Buddhist order/group split into two separate schools, called Mahasamghikas and Sthaviras
* Third Council (c.250 BCE)
--schism again occurs to separate a third school called sarastivadins
--Asoka(c. 270-230 BCE) was overseer
-Asoka is the third monarch of the Mauryan Dynasty in India
* c.258, Asoka leads a bloody military campaign in the village/region of Kalinga
* the witness of such carnage inspired his conversion to Buddhism
* as a king, he brought India together
* referred to as the pious ruler, establishing a sense of social justice in the region (ie. social service, medical care, humane treatment of the masses)
* became a lay disciple
* ruled over the third council
* sent out missionary efforts to spread Buddhism to other places, i.g: Indian sub-continent, Burma, Sri Lanka, etc.
* Dharma-conquest -- reigned with good moral principles
-associated with the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism
-advocate of the Middle Way between asceticism and hedonism in Buddhist practice
-remembered for his teachings on emptiness or sunyata
-confusion about the biography of Nagarjuna persists, as texts are attributed to him over a five hundred year period
-his principle work is Mulamadhyamikakariakas, in which he critically examines other schools of Buddhism of his time period
-founder of the yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism
-emphasized the practice of Yoga or meditation (hence, Yogacara)
-the elder brother of the prominent Buddhist philosopher, Vasubandhu
-known for his treatise on The Seventeen Stages of yoga, as instructed by bodhisattva Maitreya
-also, Asanga's Abhidharmasamuccaya attempts to exlicate the elements of phenomenal existence from the perspective of the Yogacara school
Vasubandhu (forth or fifth century CE):
-converted from Abhidharma Buddhism to Mahayana
-followed his brother Asanga in converting from Abhidhgarma Buddhism to Mahayan Buddhism, in particular, the Yogacara school (eventually the Vijnanavada school for Vasubandhu)
-he is connected historically to three distinct persons, and thus his biography is not clear
-later in life he moves from a concentration on Yoga practice to Buddhist theory
-he was the author of Abhidharmakosa, an encyclopedic work on Buddhist doctrines and philosophy
-Author of Vimsatika (20 verses) and Trimsika (30 verses)
-the ascribed founder of Buddhist logic
-early on, affiliated with the vatsiputriya school of Abhidhgarma Buddhism, later the Nayaya school
-studied under the great buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (Vijnana-vada phiosophy)
-thought to have written more than a hundred treatises on logic
-was the first Buddhist thinker to consider seriously the "validity or invalidity" of knowledge
Paramartha (c.498-569 CE):
-a notable biographer, missionary and translater of the Buddhist tradition
-studied at the famous Universtity of Nalanda
-spent a considerable amount of time "on mission" in china
-while in China he sitinguished himself as a translator of Sanskrit scriptures into chinese (translating the equivalent of 275 volumes in Chinese)
-he was largely responsible for the introduction of Vasubandhu's philosophy to China
Dharmapala (c.530-561 CE):
-associated with the yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism
-his most influential work is the Parmattha-dipani
-principally responded to the work of an earlier thinker, that of Buddhagosha
-studied at the famous University of Nalanda, later becoming its abbot
-made significant contributions to the Buddhist discussion of "self" and consciousness from a Yogacara school perspective
-a Chinese pilgrim-monk who travelled to India in search of the roots of the Mahayana buddhist tradition (late Sui and early T'ang dynasties)
-great Buddhist scholar and advisor to the emperor of China
-studied extensively both the Abhidhgarma and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, as well as the contemporary, standard Vedic curriculum
-he contributed significanly to the Chinese Buddhist canon as a translator of Indian texts into chinese (this was well funded bye the Chinese government, as he had excellent connections)
-his work in its more pure form lives on in the Hosso school of Japanese Buddhism
Dharmakirti (c.600-660 CE):
-in early life Dharmakirti studied extensively the scholarship of the Vedas and other buddhist phiosophy
-he eventually pursued the study of logic, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dignaga
-was the student of a direct pupil's of Dignaga
-widely considered a genius of his time, Dharmakirti's theory of knowledge forced numerous revisions within the works of other thinkers and other traditions
-significantly, he challenged the divine infallibility of the Vedas
Formation of Schools of Indian Buddhism
Buddhism Outside India: Southeast Asia
-One possible view of Buddhism in spread into Ceylon
-Asoka, emperor of India, sends Mahinda to Ceylon on a missionary trip, who introduces Buddhism to Ceylon
-Second possible view of Buddhism is spread into Ceylon
-Devanampiyatissa leads the conversion of the island
-A sect of Vaitulyavada makes an enterance into Ceylon
-Meu-Po, a Buddhist fugitive from China, propogates Mahayana Sutras in Vietnam
-A-Ham, one of the 2 major Vietnamese sects of Buddhism, begins to take shape
-Mahayana and Abhidhgarma missionaries travel through Vietnam
-Vinitaruci spreads second major Vietnamese Buddhist school, called Thien
-Vo-ngon-Thong continues to develop the Thien school of Buddhism
-Dinh Bo-Linh spreads a form of Buddhism known as Amidism
-Korea's early development is intimately tied to its relations with China (keeping in mind that the process of development is interactive)
-Earliest form of religion in Korea is called Shamanism
-Chinese colonies spring up in Korea
-Buddhism is transmitted to Korea during the Three Kingdoms Period (c.370-670CE)
-Monk Shun-tao from china introduces Buddhism to Korea
-Monk Malanada spreads Buddhism farther in 384 CE
-the first Buddhist monastery erected on Korean soil (c.376)
-broad regional reception and acceptance of Buddhism under the Seradian monk Maranani'a (c.384-onward)
-Monk Ichadon was martyred, and therefore this is the "official" date of introduction
-the last of the Three Kingdoms, that of Silla, embraces Buddhism
6th and 7th Centuries CE:
-in conquering the other two kingdoms, that of Koguryo and Paekehe, Silla found it politically advantageous to support the spread of Buddhism
-Korean monks are sent to China to bring back Buddhist teachings
-the scholastic schools of Chinese Buddhism were introduced into Korea
-ideologies were consolidated and new schools were organized
-Pomnany brings Ch'an (in Korean: "Son") school of Budddhism, taught by Tao-hsin, the fourth patriarch of the Chinese Ch'an school, back to Korea
-called Koryo Period
-Buddhism reaches its peak importance at this time in Korea
-the Koryo School of Buddhism inspires a reconciliation between the Son and scholastic schools
-the unification of these two schools would occupy numerous religious figures over the next centuries
14th and 15th Centuries CE:
-Yi dynasty in power (c.1392)
-Kings were hostile toward Buddhists
Table of Chinese Dynasties
|Han||206 BCE -220 CE|
|The Three Kingdoms|
|Western Chin||265-316 CE|
|Eastern Chin||317-420 CE|
|Liu Sung||420-479 CE|
|Sung North||960-1127 CE|
|Sung South||1127-1279 CE|
Centuries Before 1st Century BCE:
-Taoism and Confucianism are existing religions in China
1st Century BCE - 1st Century CE:
-Buddhism begins to enter China along trade routes
-Buddhism was often mistaken for a simple form of Taoism
-Mahayana was preferred over Abhidhgarma
-Emperor Ming sends embassy to import Buddhism into China
-Emperor Huan mentioned to worship Buddha
-Monks arrived in China to produce texts and translations
-Buddhism officially introduced at 219 CE
-Buddhism adapts to China, and to taoist religion, from 220-419 CE
-Sun-Lun school in China-founded by Kumarujiva (343-413) - was a master of translation, translating many influential Mahayana texts into Chinese
-Buddhism divides into sects.
-the death of Bodhidharma, first Chinese Ch'an patriarch (c.527 CE)
-Hsuan-i, or hidden significance commentaries are written revelaing the characteristics of each sect
-known as the period of consolidation of Buddhism in China
-In 845, Taoist Emperor Wu-tsung sends Buddhism into a decline
-The scholastic sects of Buddhism disappeared during this time-"official" representation of Buddhism
-After the death of Wu-tsung, the popular sects of Buddhism were revived
-A new school called chen-yen was started as well
-printing of the Buddhist canon begins (c.972 CE)
-the popular schools of Chinese Buddhism continued on through this period
-a Buddhist revival occured from 1890-1947, led by T'ai-hsu
-in 1949, Buddhism was suppressed by Communist leaders
Chronology of Japanese Historical Periods:
|Jomon, Yayoi, and Kofun||(prehistoric and protohistoric up to 6th century CE)|
-official introduction date of Buddhism into Japan
-Korean religious figures visit Japan during the 6th century with envoys spreading Buddhism in order to obtain peace with Japan
-distinguishable beginning for Buddhism in Japan (c.552 CE)
-prince regent Shotoku (died 621) helped with the early development of Japanese Buddhism by writing commentaries of scriptures
-Buddhism is declared the state religion of Japan (c.594 CE)
- Kusha (Abhidharmakosa sect)
- Ritsu (based on vinaya)
- Sanron (Madhyamika, San-lun)
- Hosso (Yogacara, Fa-hsiang)
- Kegon (Hua-Yen)
-beginning of the Heian Period in Japan
-capital of Japan is changed to Kyoto (794)
-ruler at time is Emperor Kammu
-the "high water mark" of Japanese Buddhism
-2 schools came from China: --1. Tendai (T'ien-T'ai) -- brought by Saicho (767-822 CE)
--2. Shingon (Chen-yen) -- brought by Kukai (774-835 CE)
-esoteric Buddhism (mikkyo)
-these 2 schools did clash along with the success they both found in this time period
-beginning of Kamakura Period
-power held by a group of Samurai
-new schools of Buddhism begin that are strictly Japanese:
French Indochina and the Vietnam War
The next bit of history is not directly about Vietnamese Buddhism, but it's important to understanding recent developments in Vietnamese Buddhism.
The Nguyen Dynasty came to power in 1802 with some assistance from France. The French, including French Catholic missionaries, struggled to gain influence in Vietnam. In time the Emperor Napoleon III of France invaded Vietnam and claimed it as French territory. Vietnam became part of French Indochina in 1887.
The invasion of Vietnam by Japan in 1940 effectively ended French rule. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, a complex political and military struggle left Vietnam divided, with the north controlled by a Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the south more or less a Republic, propped up by a series of foreign governments until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Since that time the VCP has been in control of Vietnam.
Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree
Reaching the town of Bodh Gaya in what is today the state of Bihar (India), Siddhartha decided to meditate until he found the answers he sought, and to this end, he sat under a bodhi tree. He had a vision of all his previous lives , battled with the demons who threatened his meditation and, finally, many days later, on a full moon night, he discovered the Truth that liberates and became the Buddha.
At first, it seemed to the Buddha that no one would understand the Truth, but Brahma, the King of the gods (in the Hindu pantheon), persuaded him to teach what he had learned, and the Buddha gave his first sermon in Sarnath near Varanasi (in north India). During the sermon he explained the basic tenets of Buddhism – the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
The Origins of Buddhism
Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama (the "Buddha"), is an important religion in most of the countries of Asia. Buddhism has assumed many different forms, but in each case there has been an attempt to draw from the life experiences of the Buddha, his teachings, and the "spirit" or "essence" of histeachings (called dhamma or dharma) as models for the religious life. However, not until the writing of the Buddha Charita (life of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa in the 1st or 2nd century C.E. do we have acomprehensive account of his life. The Buddha was born (ca. 563 B.C.E.) in a place called Lumbini near the Himalayan foothills, and he began teaching around Benares (at Sarnath). His erain general was one of spiritual, intellectual, and social ferment. This was the age when the Hindu ideal of renunciation of family and socia llife by holy persons seeking Truth first became widespread, and when the Upanishads were written. Both can be seen as moves away from the centrality of the Vedic fire sacrifice.
Siddhartha Gautama was the warrior son of a king and queen. According to legend, at his birth a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from the temporal life). To prevent this, his father provided him with many luxuries and pleasures. But, as a young man, he once went on a series of four chariot rides where he first saw the more severe forms of human suffering: old age, illness, and death (a corpse), as well as an ascetic renouncer. The contrast between his life and this human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth where in fact transitory, and could only mask human suffering. Leaving his wife—and new son ("Rahula"—fetter) he took on several teachers and tried severe renunciation in the forest until the point of near-starvation. Finally, realizing that this too was only adding more suffering, he ate food and sat down beneath a tree to meditate. By morning (or some say six months later!) he had attained Nirvana (Enlightenment), which provided both the true answers to the causes of suffering and permanent release from it.
Now the Buddha ("the Enlightened or Awakened One") began to teach others these truths out of compassion for their suffering. The most important doctrines he taught included the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. His first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (dukkha). Life as we normally live it is full of the pleasures and pains of the body and mind pleasures, he said, do not represent lasting happiness. They are inevitably tied in with suffering since we suffer from wanting them, wanting them to continue, and wanting pain to go so pleasure can come. The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving—for sense pleasures and for things to be as they are not. We refuse to accept life as it is. The third Noble Truth, however, states that suffering has an end, and the fourth offers the means to that end: the Eight-Fold Path and the Middle Way. If one follows this combined path he or she will attain Nirvana, an indescribable state of all-knowing lucid awareness in which there is only peace and joy.
The Eight-Fold Path—often pictorially represented by an eight-spoked wheel (the Wheel of Dhamma) includes: Right Views (the Four Noble Truths), Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood/Occupation, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness (total concentration in activity), and Right Concentration (meditation). TheEight-Fold Path is pervaded by the principle of the Middle Way, which characterizes the Buddha's life. The Middle Way represents a rejection of all extremes of thought, emotion, action, and lifestyle. Rather than either severe mortification of the body or a life of indulgence insense pleasures the Buddha advocated a moderate or "balanced" wandering life-style and the cultivation of mental and emotional equanimity through meditation and morality.
After the Buddha's death, his celibate wandering followers gradually settled down into monasteries that were provided by the married laityas merit-producing gifts. The laity were in turn taught by the monks some of the Buddha's teachings. They also engaged in such practices as visiting the Buddha's birthplace and worshipping the tree under which he became enlightened (bodhi tree), Buddha images in temples, and the relics of his body housed in various stupas or funeral mounds. A famous king, named Ashoka, and his son helped to spread Buddhism throughout South India and into Sri Lanka (Ceylon) (3rd century B.C.E.).
Many monastic schools developed among the Buddha's followers. This is partly because his practical teachings were enigmatic on several points for instance, he refused to give an unequivocal answer about whether humans have a soul (atta/atman) or not. Another reason for the development of different schools was that he refused to appoint asuccessor to follow him as leader of the Sangha (monastic order). He told the monks to be lamps unto themselves and make the Dhamma their guide.
One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Greco-Buddhist art, Gandhara.
The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I (reigned c. 200–180 BCE) invaded the Indian Subcontinent, establishing an Indo-Greek kingdom that was to last in parts of Northwest South Asia until the end of the 1st century CE. Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek and Greco-Bactrian kings. One of the most famous Indo-Greek kings is Menander (reigned c. 160–135 BCE). He may have converted to Buddhism and is presented in the Mahāyāna tradition as one of the great benefactors of the faith, on a par with king Aśoka or the later Kushan king Kaniśka. Menander’s coins bear designs of the eight-spoked dharma wheel, a classic Buddhist symbol. Direct cultural exchange is also suggested by the dialogue of the Milinda Pañha between Menander and the Buddhist monk Nāgasena, who was himself a student of the Greek Buddhist monk Mahadharmaraksita. Upon Menander’s death, the honor of sharing his remains was claimed by the cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in stupas, in a parallel with the historic Buddha. Several of Menander’s Indo-Greek successors inscribed “Follower of the Dharma,” in the Kharoṣṭhī script, on their coins.
During the first century BCE the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are found in the lands ruled by the Indo-Greeks, in a realistic style known as Greco-Buddhist. Many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures (see: 1st–2nd century Gandhara standing Buddhas), the stylicized Mediterranean curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the style of the Belvedere Apollo (330 BCE), and the measured quality of the faces, all rendered with strong artistic realism (See: Greek art). A large quantity of sculptures combining Buddhist and purely Hellenistic styles and iconography were excavated at the Gandharan site of Hadda.
Several influential Greek Buddhist monks are recorded. Mahadharmaraksita (literally translated as ‘Great Teacher/Preserver of the Dharma’), was “a Greek (“Yona”) Buddhist head monk”, according to the Mahavamsa (Chap. XXIX), who led 30,000 Buddhist monks from “the Greek city of Alasandra” (Alexandria of the Caucasus, around 150 km north of today’s Kabul in Afghanistan), to Sri Lanka for the dedication of the Great Stupa in Anuradhapura during the rule (165–135 BCE) of King Menander I. Dhammarakkhita (meaning: Protected by the Dharma), was one of the missionaries sent by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist faith. He is described as being a Greek (Pali: “Yona”, lit. “Ionian”) in the Mahavamsa.
Buddhism - History
Buddhism is a major global religion with a complex history and system of beliefs. The following is intended only to introduce Buddhism's history and fundamental tenets, and by no means covers the religion exhaustively. To learn more about Buddhism, please look through our Web Resources section for other in-depth, online sources of information.
Historians estimate that the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from 566(?) to 480(?) B.C. The son of an Indian warrior-king, Gautama led an extravagant life through early adulthood, reveling in the privileges of his social caste. But when he bored of the indulgences of royal life, Gautama wandered into the world in search of understanding. After encountering an old man, an ill man, a corpse and an ascetic, Gautama was convinced that suffering lay at the end of all existence. He renounced his princely title and became a monk, depriving himself of worldly possessions in the hope of comprehending the truth of the world around him. The culmination of his search came while meditating beneath a tree, where he finally understood how to be free from suffering, and ultimately, to achieve salvation. Following this epiphany, Gautama was known as the Buddha, meaning the "Enlightened One." The Buddha spent the remainder of his life journeying about India, teaching others what he had come to understand.
The Four Noble Truths comprise the essence of Buddha's teachings, though they leave much left unexplained. They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. More simply put, suffering exists it has a cause it has an end and it has a cause to bring about its end. The notion of suffering is not intended to convey a negative world view, but rather, a pragmatic perspective that deals with the world as it is, and attempts to rectify it. The concept of pleasure is not denied, but acknowledged as fleeting. Pursuit of pleasure can only continue what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst. The same logic belies an understanding of happiness. In the end, only aging, sickness, and death are certain and unavoidable.
The Four Noble Truths are a contingency plan for dealing with the suffering humanity faces -- suffering of a physical kind, or of a mental nature. The First Truth identifies the presence of suffering. The Second Truth, on the other hand, seeks to determine the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them can only bring suffering. Ignorance, in comparison, relates to not seeing the world as it actually is. Without the capacity for mental concentration and insight, Buddhism explains, one's mind is left undeveloped, unable to grasp the true nature of things. Vices, such as greed, envy, hatred and anger, derive from this ignorance.
The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the end of suffering, has dual meaning, suggesting either the end of suffering in this life, on earth, or in the spiritual life, through achieving Nirvana. When one has achieved Nirvana, which is a transcendent state free from suffering and our worldly cycle of birth and rebirth, spiritual enlightenment has been reached. The Fourth Noble truth charts the method for attaining the end of suffering, known to Buddhists as the Noble Eightfold Path. The steps of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Moreover, there are three themes into which the Path is divided: good moral conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech) meditation and mental development (Action, Livelihood, Effort), and wisdom or insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).
Contrary to what is accepted in contemporary society, the Buddhist interpretation of karma does not refer to preordained fate. Karma refers to good or bad actions a person takes during her lifetime. Good actions, which involve either the absence of bad actions, or actual positive acts, such as generosity, righteousness, and meditation, bring about happiness in the long run. Bad actions, such as lying, stealing or killing, bring about unhappiness in the long run. The weight that actions carry is determined by five conditions: frequent, repetitive action determined, intentional action action performed without regret action against extraordinary persons and action toward those who have helped one in the past. Finally, there is also neutral karma, which derives from acts such as breathing, eating or sleeping. Neutral karma has no benefits or costs.
Karma plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth. There are six separate planes into which any living being can be reborn -- three fortunate realms, and three unfortunate realms. Those with favorable, positive karma are reborn into one of the fortunate realms: the realm of demigods, the realm of gods, and the realm of men. While the demigods and gods enjoy gratification unknown to men, they also suffer unceasing jealousy and envy. The realm of man is considered the highest realm of rebirth. Humanity lacks some of the extravagances of the demigods and gods, but is also free from their relentless conflict. Similarly, while inhabitants of the three unfortunate realms -- of animals, ghosts and hell -- suffer untold suffering, the suffering of the realm of man is far less.
The realm of man also offers one other aspect lacking in the other five planes, an opportunity to achieve enlightenment, or Nirvana. Given the sheer number of living things, to be born human is to Buddhists a precious chance at spiritual bliss, a rarity that one should not forsake.
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History of Buddhism
History of Buddhism
The history of Buddhism religion dates back to the year 580 BC, which started with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born in the Lumbini, Southern Nepal, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of enlightenment. After going through a life of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment, which resulted in the alleviation of all his pain and suffering. He then set on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death.
Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous movements and divisions, such as Theravada, Mahayana, etc.
The First Council
The first council of Buddhism Sangha was organized a few months after Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. It was held in Rajagaha, with the aim of developing an agreement on his teachings. However, the teachings of Buddha were not written down even then.
The Second Council
The second council took place around 100 years after the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. The aim of the council, held at Vesali, was to settle a conflict over the nature of the arahant (or Buddhist saint) and monastic discipline, which had arisen between Mahasanghika majority (Great Assembly) of eastern India and Sthavira minority (the Elders) of the west.
The Era of Asoka the Great
Asoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was the ruler of the Magadhan empire. Initially a ruler obsessed with the aim of expanding his empire, he changed after witnessing the brutal carnage at the battle of Kalinga. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. He laid the foundation of numerous stupas and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha throughout the world.
The Third Council
The third council of Buddhism Sangha was held under Emperor Asoka, in Pataliputra. The reason for the council was deterioration in the standards of the monks. The consequence of the council was exclusion of numerous bogus monks from the Sangha.
Spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Emperor Asoka sent his son, Mahindra, to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism in the state. He succeeded in converting the King of Sri Lanka to Buddhism and soon, Buddhism became the state religion of the country.
The Fourth Council
The Fourth Council took place in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave near the village of Matale. It was in this council that decision was taken to write the teachings of Lord Buddha for the first time. The entire writing was collected in three baskets and given the name of Tipitaka or the Pali Canon. It comprises of three Pitakas, namely Vinaya Pitaka (the rules for the monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha's discourses) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological systemization of the Buddha's teachings). Another Fourth Buddhist Council (Sarvastivada tradition) was held around 100 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir. It is said to have been convened by the Kushana king, Kanishka,
Mahayana Buddhism and New Scriptures
Mahayana Buddhism emerged and grew between 150 BCE and 100 CE. With the rise of this sect, new sutras emerged. The most significant ones are the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.
The period between third and seventh century CE saw the establishment of a new form of Buddhism, which emerged out of the Mahayana sect. This form came to be known as Tantra, Mantrayana and Vajrayana. Tantras emphasized on the bodhisattva ideal and empathy for all beings. At the same time, it also laid stress on drawing of mandalas or 'magic' circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras, the recitation of phrases known as mantras and visualizations. It was also believed that one needs an experienced teacher or guru to learn the teachings of Lord Buddha.
Decline of Buddhism in India
From the seventh century, Buddhism went on a downward spiral in India, because of growth of Hinduism, decline of Buddhist universities and Muslim Turk invasions of northwest India.
Spread of Buddhism in China
Buddhism started gaining entry into China around 1 st century CE.
Spread of Buddhism in Japan
Fourth century CE saw Buddhism gaining ground in Korea and from there, religion spread to Japan in 538 CE. By the end of the century, Buddhism had become the state religion of the country. In 8 th century CE, the religion further spread under the patronage of Emperor Shomu. Six schools of Chinese Buddhism, namely Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu, were also introduced during this period. Later, Tendai and Shingon schools developed in Japan.
Spread of Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism, based on Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, started evolving in Japan around the 12 th century. Founded by Esai Zenji, it came to be known as Rinzai School in the country. Soto School of Zen also developed there in the 13 th century, with its base in Chinese Ts'ao-tung School.
Spread of Buddhism in Tibet
The arrival of an Indian tantric master, known as Padmasambhava, was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet.
Spread of Buddhism in the West
The efforts towards spread of Buddhism in the western countries were made in the 19 th and early-20 th century. T W Rhys Davies laid the foundation of the Pali Text Society there, towards the end of the 19 th century. Other names worth mentioning in this context are those of Edward Arnold, a poet Christmas Humphreys, an English barrister Alan Watts and Dennis Lockwood founder of the Friends of Western Buddhism Order (FWBO). Buddhism started spreading amongst the native population of America in the 1950s. Presently, one can find all schools of Buddhism in the USA.
Current Status of Buddhism
Today, Buddhism has spread to almost all the countries of the world, with the population of Buddhists estimated to be around 350 million. Out of these, almost half the number practice Mahayana tradition. The largest population of Buddhist is in China, while, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have the highest proportion of Buddhists in their population. The religion is also becoming quite widespread in America, Australia and United Kingdom.