Enlightenment & Teachings
Buddha's original name was Siddhartha. It meant one who had accomplished his aim. Gautama was Siddhartha's family name. Siddhartha was known all over the world as Buddha, the Enlightened. He was also known by the name of Sakhya Muni, which meant an ascetic of the Sakhya tribe.
Siddhartha spent his boyhood at Kapilavastu and its vicinity. He was married at the age of sixteen. His wife's name was Yasodhara. Siddhartha had a son named Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha Gautama suddenly abandoned his home to devote himself entirely to spiritual pursuits and Yogic practices. A mere accident turned him to the path of renunciation. One day he managed, somehow or the other, to get out of the walled enclosure of the palace and roamed about in the town along with his servant Channa to see how the people were getting on. The sight of a decrepit old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk finally induced Siddhartha to renounce the world. He felt that he also would become a prey to old age, disease and death. Also, he noticed the serenity and the dynamic personality of the monk. Let me go beyond the miseries of this Samsara (worldly life) by renouncing this world of miseries and sorrows. This mundane life, with all its luxuries and comforts, is absolutely worthless. I also am subject to decay and am not free from the effect of old age. Worldly happiness is transitory".
Gautama left for ever his home, wealth, dominion, power, father, wife and the only child. He shaved his head and put on yellow robes. He marched towards Rajgriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. There were many caves in the neighbouring hills. Many hermits lived in those caves. Siddhartha took Alamo Kalamo, a hermit, as his first teacher. He was not satisfied with his instructions. He left him and sought the help of another recluse named Uddako Ramputto for spiritual instructions. At last he determined to undertake Yogic practices. He practiced severe Tapas (austerities) and Pranayama (practice of breath control) for six years. He determined to attain the supreme peace by practicing self-mortification. He abstained almost entirely from taking food. He did not find much progress by adopting this method. He was reduced to a skeleton. He became exceedingly weak.
At that moment, some dancing girls were passing that way singing joyfully as they played on their guitar. Buddha heard their song and found real help in it. The song the girls sang had no real deep meaning for them, but for Buddha it was a message full of profound spiritual significance. It was a spiritual pick-me-up to take him out of his despair and infuse power, strength and courage. The song was:
"Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
The string overstretched breaks, the music dies,
The string overslack is dumb and the music dies,
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high."
Buddha realized then that he should not go to extremes in torturing the body by starvation and that he should adopt the golden mean or the happy medium or the middle path by avoiding extremes. Then he began to eat food in moderation. He gave up the earlier extreme practices and took to the middle path.
Once Buddha was in a dejected mood as he did not succeed in his Yogic practices. He knew not where to go and what to do. A village girl noticed his sorrowful face. She approached him and said to him in a polite manner: "Revered sir, may I bring some food for you ? It seems you are very hungry". Gautama looked at her and said, "What is your name, my dear sister ?". The maiden answered, "Venerable sir, my name is Sujata". Gautama said, "Sujata, I am very hungry. Can you really appease my hunger ?"
The innocent Sujata did not understand Gautama. Gautama was spiritually hungry. He was thirsting to attain supreme peace and Self-realization. He wanted spiritual food. Sujata placed some food before Gautama and entreated him to take it. Gautama smiled and said, "Beloved Sujata, I am highly pleased with your kind and benevolent nature. Can this food appease my hunger ?". Sujata replied, "Yes sir, it will appease your hunger. Kindly take it now". Gautama began to eat the food underneath the shadow of a large tree, thenceforth to be called as the great 'Bo-tree' or the tree of wisdom. Gautama sat in a meditative mood underneath the tree from early morning to sunset, with a fiery determination and an iron resolve: "Let me die. Let my body perish. Let my flesh dry up. I will not get up from this seat till I get full illumination". He plunged himself into deep meditation. At night he entered into deep Samadhi (superconscious state) underneath that sacred Bo-tree (Pipal tree or ficus religiosa). He was tempted by Maya in a variety of ways, but he stood adamant. He did not yield to Maya's allurements and temptations. He came out victorious with full illumination. He attained Nirvana (liberation). His face shone with divine splendour and effulgence. He got up from his seat and danced in divine ecstasy for seven consecutive days and nights around the sacred Bo-tree. Then he came to the normal plane of consciousness. His heart was filled with profound mercy and compassion. He wanted to share what he had with humanity. He traveled all over India and preached his doctrine and gospel. He became a saviour, deliverer and redeemer.
Buddha gave out the experiences of his Samadhi: "I thus behold my mind released from the defilement of earthly existence, released from the defilement of sensual pleasures, released from the defilement of heresy, released from the defilement of ignorance."
In the emancipated state arose the knowledge: "I am emancipated, rebirth is extinct, the religious walk is accomplished, what had to be done is done, and there is no need for the present existence. I have overcome all foes; I am all-wise; I am free from stains in every way; I have left everything and have obtained emancipation by the destruction of desire. Myself having gained knowledge, whom should I call my Master ? I have no teacher; no one is equal to me. I am the holy one in this world; I am the highest teacher. I alone am the absolute omniscient one (Sambuddho). I have gained coolness by the extinction of all passion and have obtained Nirvana. To found the kingdom of law (Dharmo) I go to the city of Varnasi. I will beat the drum of immortality in the darkness of this world".
Lord Buddha then walked on to Varnasi. He entered the 'deer-park' one evening. He gave his discourse there and preached his doctrine. He preached to all without exception, men and women, the high and the low, the ignorant and the learned - all alike. All his first disciples were laymen and two of the very first were women. The first convert was a rich young man named Yasa. The next were Yasa's father, mother and wife. Those were his lay disciples.
Buddha argued and debated with his old disciples who had deserted him when he was in the Uruvila forest. He brought them round by his powerful arguments and persuasive powers. Kondanno, an aged hermit, was converted first. The others also soon accepted the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Buddha made sixty disciples and sent them in different directions to preach his doctrine.
Buddha told his disciples not to enquire into the origin of the world, into the existence and nature of God. He said to them that such investigations were practically useless and likely to distract their minds.
" ... Natthi raagasamo aggi,
Natthi dosasamo gaho,
Natthi mohasama"m jaala"m,
Natthi ta.nhaasamaa nadii ... ". (Dhp. 251)
"There is no fire like the fire of lust.
There is no grip like the grip of anger.
There is no net like the net of delusion.
There is no river like the river of craving"
Spreading the Doctrine
The Three Buddhist Precepts
Buddham Sharanam Gacchami
Buddha is a state of no mind, no prana or life force. In that state surrender dawns on you.
Dhammam Sharanam Gacchami
Dharma is an internal practice—an eight-fold path that adherents tread.
Sangham Sharanam Gacchami
This is spiritual brotherhood. In a no-mind state, religions can't exist.
The number of Buddha's followers gradually increased. Nobles, Brahmins and many wealthy men became his disciples. Buddha paid no attention to caste. The poor and the outcastes were admitted to his order. Those who wanted to become full members of his order were obliged to become monks and to observe strict rules of conduct. Buddha had many lay disciples also. Those lay members had to provide for the wants of the monks.
In the forest of Uruvila, there were three brothers - all very famous monks and philosophers. They had many learned disciples. They were honoured by kings and potentates. Lord Buddha went to Uruvila and lived with those three monks. He converted those three reputed monks, which caused a great sensation all over the country.
Lord Buddha and his disciples walked on towards Rajgriha, the capital of Magadha. Bimbisara, the king, who was attended upon by 120,000 Brahmins and householders, welcomed Buddha and his followers with great devotion. He heard the sermon of Lord Buddha and at once became his disciple. 110,000 of the Brahmins and householders became full members of Lord Buddha's order and the remaining 10,000 became lay adherents. Buddha's followers were treated with contempt when they went to beg their daily food. Bimbisara made Buddha a present of Veluvanam - a bamboo-grove, one of the royal pleasure-gardens near his capital. Lord Buddha spent many rainy seasons there with his followers.
Every Buddhist monk takes a vow, when he puts on the yellow robe, to abstain from killing any living being. Therefore, a stay in one place during the rainy season becomes necessary. Even now, the Paramahamsa Sannyasins (the highest class of renunciates) of Sankara's order stay in one place for four months during the rainy season (Chaturmas). It is impossible to move about in the rainy season without killing countless small insects, which the combined influence of moisture and the hot sun at the season brings into existence.
Lord Buddha received from his father a message asking him to visit his native place, so that he might see him once more before he died. Buddha accepted his invitation gladly and started for Kapilavastu. He stayed in a forest outside the city. His father and relatives came to see him, but they were not pleased with their ascetic Gautama. They left the place after a short time. They did not make any arrangement for his and his followers' daily food. After all, they were worldly people. Buddha went to the city and begged his food from door to door. This news reached the ears of his father. He tried to stop Gautama from begging. Gautama said: "O king, I am a mendicant - I am a monk. It is my duty to get alms from door to door. This is the duty of the Order. Why do you stop this ? The food that is obtained from alms is very pure". His father did not pay any attention to the words of Gautama. He snatched the bowl from his hand and took him to his palace. All came to pay Buddha their respects, but his wife Yasodhara did not come. She said, "He himself will come to me, if I am of any value in his eyes". She was a very chaste lady endowed with Viveka (discrimination), Vairagya (dispassion) and other virtuous qualities. From the day she lost her husband she gave up all her luxuries. She took very simple food once daily and slept on a mat. She led a life of severe austerities. Gautama heard all this. He was very much moved. He went at once to see her. She prostrated at his feet. She caught hold of his feet and burst into tears. Buddha established an order of female ascetics. Yasodhara became the first of the Buddhistic nuns.
Yasodhara pointed out the passing Buddha to her son through a window and said, "O Rahula! That monk is your father. Go to him and ask for your birthright. Tell him boldly, 'I am your son. Give me my heritage'". Rahula at once went up to Buddha and said, "Dear father, give me my heritage". Buddha was taking his food then. He did not give any reply. The boy repeatedly asked for his heritage. Buddha went to the forest. The boy also silently followed him to the forest. Buddha said to one of his disciples, "I give this boy the precious spiritual wealth I acquired under the sacred Bo-tree. I make him the heir to that wealth". Rahula was initiated into the order of monks. When this news reached the ears of Buddha's father, he was very much grieved because after losing his son, he now lost his grandson also.
Buddha performed some miracles. A savage serpent of great magical power sent forth fire against Buddha. Buddha turned his own body into fire and sent forth flames against the serpent. Once a tree bent down one of its branches in order to help Buddha when he wanted to come up out of the water of a tank. One day five hundred pieces of firewood split by themselves at Buddha's command. Buddha created five hundred vessels with fire burning in them for the Jatilas to warm themselves on a winter night. When there was flood, he caused the water to recede and then he walked over the water.
Ananda, one of Buddha's cousins, was one of the principal early disciples of Buddha and was a most devoted friend and disciple of Buddha. He was devoted to Buddha with a special fervour in a simple childlike way and served him as his personal attendant till the end of his life. He was very popular. he was a very sweet man with pleasant ways. He had no intellectual attainments, but he was a man of great sincerity and loving nature. Devadatta, one of Ananda's brothers, was also in the Order. Devadatta became Buddha's greatest rival and tried hard to oust Buddha and occupy the place himself. A barber named Upali and a countryman called Anuruddha were admitted into the Order. Upali became a distinguished leader of his Order. Anuruddha became a Buddhistic philosopher of vast erudition.
Once Buddha went to the house of a rich Brahmin with bowl in hand. The Brahmin became very angry and said, "O Bhikshu, why do you lead an idle life of wandering and begging ? Is this not disgraceful ? You have a well-built body. You can work. I plough and sow. I work in the fields and I earn my bread at the sweat of my brow. I lead a laborious life. It would be better if you also plough and sow and then you will have plenty of food to eat". Buddha replied, "O Brahmin! I also plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat". The Brahmin said, "You say you are an agriculturist. I do not see any sign of it. Where are your plough, bullocks and seeds ?". Then Buddha replied, "O Brahmin! Just hear my words with attention. I sow the seed of faith. The good actions that I perform are the rain that waters the seeds. Viveka and Vairagya are parts of my plough. Righteousness is the handle. Meditation is the goad. Sama and Dama - tranquillity of the mind and restraint of the Indriyas (senses) - are the bullocks. Thus I plough the soil of the mind and remove the weeds of doubt, delusion, fear, birth and death. The harvest that comes in is the immortal fruit of Nirvana. All sorrows terminate by this sort of ploughing and harvesting". The rich arrogant Brahmin came to his senses. His eyes were opened. He prostrated at the feet of Buddha and became his lay adherent.
Lord Buddha preached: "We will have to find out the cause of sorrow and the way to escape from it. The desire for sensual enjoyment and clinging to earthly life is the cause of sorrow. If we can eradicate desire, all sorrows and pains will come to an end. We will enjoy Nirvana or eternal peace. Those who follow the Noble Eightfold Path strictly, viz., right opinion, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right employment, right exertion, right thought and right self-concentration will be free from sorrow. This indeed, O mendicants, is that middle course which the Tathagata has thoroughly comprehended, which produces insight, which produces knowledge, which leads to calmness or serenity, to supernatural knowledge, to perfect Buddhahood, to Nirvana.
"This again, indeed, O mendicants, is the noble truth of suffering. Birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, association with unloved objects is painful, separation from loved objects is painful, the desire which one does not obtain, this is too painful - in short, the five elements of attachment to existence are painful. The five elements of attachment to earthly existence are form, sensation, perception, components and consciousness.
"This again, indeed, O mendicants, is the truth of the cause of suffering. It is that thirst which leads to renewed existence, connected with joy and passion, finding joy here and there, namely, thirst for sensual pleasure, and the instinctive thirst for existence. This again, indeed, O mendicants, is the noble truth of cessation of suffering, which is the cessation and total absence of desire for that very thirst, its abandonment, surrender, release from it and non-attachment to it. This again, indeed, O mendicants, is the noble truth of the course which leads to the cessation of suffering. This is verily the Noble Eightfold Path, viz., right opinion, etc."
Some of the fundamentals of the teachings of Gautama Buddha are:
* The Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an inherent part of existence; that the origin of suffering is ignorance and the main symptoms of that ignorance are attachment and craving; that attachment and craving can be ceased; and that following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of attachment and craving and therefore suffering.
* The Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
* Love. The Buddha stressed the importance of calming the mind and seeking the peace that each individual has within. With this inner peace, we can react to awkward situations with love, compassion and generosity.
Conquer the angry man by love.
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
Conquer the miser with generosity.
Conquer the liar with truth.
* Power of the Mind. The Buddha taught it is our own mind which creates our own suffering, but also we can use this power to create happiness.
"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much
as your own unguarded thoughts."
- The Buddha
"All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him.
If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought,
happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him. "
- Lord Buddha
BASIC TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA
THE THREE UNIVERSAL TRUTHS
One day, the Buddha sat down in the shade of a tree and noticed how beautiful the countryside was. Flowers were blooming and trees were putting on bright new leaves, but among all this beauty, he saw much unhappiness. A farmer beat his ox in the field. A bird pecked at an earthworm, and then an eagle swooped down on the bird. Deeply troubled, he asked, "Why does the farmer beat his ox? Why must one creature eat another to live?"
During his enlightenment, the Buddha found the answer to these questions. He discovered three great truths. He explained these truths in a simple way so that everyone could understand them.
1. Nothing is lost in the universe
The first truth is that nothing is lost in the universe. Matter turns into energy, energy turns into matter. A dead leaf turns into soil. A seed sprouts and becomes a new plant. Old solar systems disintegrate and turn into cosmic rays. We are born of our parents, our children are born of us.
We are the same as plants, as trees, as other people, as the rain that falls. We consist of that which is around us, we are the same as everything. If we destroy something around us, we destroy ourselves. If we cheat another, we cheat ourselves. Understanding this truth, the Buddha and his disciples never killed any animal.
2. Everything Changes
The second universal truth of the Buddha is that everything is continuously changing. Life is like a river flowing on and on, ever-changing. Sometimes it flows slowly and sometimes swiftly. It is smooth and gentle in some places, but later on snags and rocks crop up out of nowhere. As soon as we think we are safe, something unexpected happens.
Once dinosaurs, mammoths, and saber-toothed tigers roamed this earth. They all died out, yet this was not the end of life. Other life forms like smaller mammals appeared, and eventually humans, too. Now we can even see the Earth from space and understand the changes that have taken place on this planet. Our ideas about life also change. People once believed that the world was flat, but now we know that it is round.
3. Law of Cause and Effect
The third universal truth explained by the Buddha is that there is continuous changes due to the law of cause and effect. This is the same law of cause and effect found in every modern science textbook. In this way, science and Buddhism are alike.
The law of cause and effect is known as karma. Nothing ever happens to us unless we deserves it. We receive exactly what we earn, whether it is good or bad. We are the way we are now due to the things we have done in the past. Our thoughts and actions determine the kind of life we can have. If we do good things, in the future good things will happen to us. If we do bad things, in the future bad things will happen to us. Every moment we create new karma by what we say, do, and think. If we understand this, we do not need to fear karma. It becomes our friend. It teaches us to create a bright future.
The Buddha said,
"The kind of seed sown
will produce that kind of fruit.
Those who do good will reap good results.
Those who do evil will reap evil results.
If you carefully plant a good seed,
You will joyfully gather good fruit."
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Once there was a woman named Kisagotami, whose first-born son died. She was so stricken with grief that she roamed the streets carrying the dead body and asking for help to bring her son back to life. A kind and wise man took her to the Buddha.
The Buddha told her, "Fetch me a handful of mustard seeds and I will bring your child back to life." Joyfully Kisagotami started off to get them. Then the Buddha added, "But the seeds must come from a family that has not known death."
Kisagotami went from door to door in the whole village asking for the mustard seeds, but everyone said, "Oh, there have been many deaths here", "I lost my father", I lost my sister". She could not find a single household that had not been visited by death. Finally Kisagotami returned to the Buddha and said, "There is death in every family. Everyone dies. Now I understand your teaching."
The Buddha said, "No one can escape death and unhappiness. If people expect only happiness in life, they will be disappointed."
Things are not always the way we want them to be, but we can learn to understand them. When we get sick, we go to a doctor and ask:
- What's wrong with me?
- Why am I sick?
- What will cure me?
- What do I have to do get well?
The Buddha is like a good doctor. First a good doctor diagnoses the illness. Next he finds out what has caused it. Then he decides what the cure is. Finally he prescribes the medicine or gives the treatment that will make the patient well again.
The Four Noble Truths
1. There is Suffering Suffering is common to all.
2. Cause of Suffering We are the cause of our suffering.
3. End of Suffering Stop doing what causes suffering.
4. Path to end Suffering Everyone can be enlightened.
1. Suffering: Everyone suffers from these thing
Birth- When we are born, we cry.
Sickness- When we are sick, we are miserable.
Old age- When old, we will have ache and pains and find it hard to get around.
Death- None of us wants to die. We feel deep sorrow when someone dies.
Other things we suffer from are:
Being with those we dislike,
Being apart from those we love,
Not getting what we want,
All kinds of problems and disappointments that are unavoidable.
The Buddha did not deny that there is happiness in life, but he pointed out it does not last forever. Eventually everyone meets with some kind of suffering. He said:
"There is happiness in life,
happiness in friendship,
happiness of a family,
happiness in a healthy body and mind,
...but when one loses them, there is suffering."
2. The cause of suffering
The Buddha explained that people live in a sea of suffering because of ignorance and greed. They are ignorant of the law of karma and are greedy for the wrong kind of pleasures. They do things that are harmful to their bodies and peace of mind, so they can not be satisfied or enjoy life.
For example, once children have had a taste of candy, they want more. When they can't have it, they get upset. Even if children get all the candy they want, they soon get tired of it and want something else. Although, they get a stomach-ache from eating too much candy, they still want more. The things people want most cause them the most suffering. Of course, there are basic things that all people should have, like adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Everyone deserve a good home, loving parents, and good friends. They should enjoy life and cherish their possessions without becoming greedy.
3. The end of suffering
To end suffering, one must cut off greed and ignorance. This means changing one's views and living in a more natural and peaceful way. It is like blowing out a candle. The flame of suffering is put out for good. Buddhists call the state in which all suffering is ended Nirvana. Nirvana is an everlasting state of great joy and peace. The Buddha said, "The extinction of desire is Nirvana." This is the ultimate goal in Buddhism. Everyone can realize it with the help of the Buddha's teachings. It can be experienced in this very life.
4. The path to the end of suffering: The path to end suffering is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. It is also known as the Middle Way.
THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
When the Buddha gave his first sermon in the Deer Park, he began the 'Turning of the Dharma Wheel'. He chose the beautiful symbol of the wheel with its eight spokes to represent the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha's teaching goes round and round like a great wheel that never stops, leading to the central point of the wheel, the only point which is fixed, Nirvana. The eight spokes on the wheel represent the eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path. Just as every spoke is needed for the wheel to keep turning, we need to follow each step of the path.
1. Right View. The right way to think about life is to see the world through the eyes of the Buddha--with wisdom and compassion.
2. Right Thought. We are what we think. Clear and kind thoughts build good, strong characters.
3. Right Speech. By speaking kind and helpful words, we are respected and trusted by everyone.
4. Right Conduct. No matter what we say, others know us from the way we behave. Before we criticize others, we should first see what we do ourselves.
5. Right Livelihood. This means choosing a job that does not hurt others. The Buddha said, "Do not earn your living by harming others. Do not seek happiness by making others unhappy."
6. Right Effort. A worthwhile life means doing our best at all times and having good will toward others. This also means not wasting effort on things that harm ourselves and others.
7. Right Mindfulness. This means being aware of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
8. Right Concentration. Focus on one thought or object at a time. By doing this, we can be quiet and attain true peace of mind.
Following the Noble Eightfold Path can be compared to cultivating a garden, but in Buddhism one cultivates one's wisdom. The mind is the ground and thoughts are seeds. Deeds are ways one cares for the garden. Our faults are weeds. Pulling them out is like weeding a garden. The harvest is real and lasting happiness.
THE FIVE PRECEPTS
All religions have some basic rules that define what is good conduct and what kind of conduct should be avoided. In Buddhism, the most important rules are the Five Precepts. These have been passed down from the Buddha himself.
1. No killing Respect for life
2. No stealing Respect for others' property
3. No sexual misconduct Respect for our pure nature
4. No lying Respect for honesty
5. No intoxicants Respect for a clear mind
The Buddha said, "Life is dear to all beings. They have the right to live the same as we do." We should respect all life and not kill anything. Killing ants and mosquitoes is also breaking this precept. We should have an attitude of loving-kindness towards all beings, wishing them to be happy and free from harm. Taking care of the earth, its rivers and air is included. One way that many Buddhists follow this precept is by being vegetarian.
If we steal from another, we steal from ourselves. Instead, we should learn to give and take care of things that belong to our family, to the school, or to the public.
No sexual misconduct
Proper conduct shows respect for oneself and others. Our bodies are gifts from our parents, so we should protect them from harm. Young people should especially keep their natures pure and develop their virtue. It is up to them to make the world a better place to live. In happy families, the husband and wife both respect each other.
Being honest brings peace into the world. When there is a misunderstanding, the best thing is to talk it over. This precept includes no gossip, no back-biting, no harsh words and no idle speech.
The fifth precept is based on keeping a clear mind and a healthy body. One day, when the Buddha was speaking the Dharma for the assembly, a young drunkard staggered into the room. He tripped over some monks who were sitting on the floor and started cursing loudly. His breath reeked of alcohol and filled the air with a sickening stench. Mumbling to himself, he reeled out the door.
Everyone was astonished at his rude behavior, but the Buddha remained calm. "Great assembly!" he spoke, "Take a look at this man! He will certainly lose his wealth and good name. His body will grow weak and sickly. Day and night, he will quarrel with his family and friends until they abandon him. The worst thing is that he will lose his wisdom and become stupid."
Little by little, one can learn to follow these precepts. If one sometimes forgets them, one can start all over again. Following the precepts is a lifetime job. If one kills or hurts someone's feelings by mistake, that is breaking the precepts, but it was not done on purpose.
Buddhists do not believe that death is the end of life. When one dies, one's consciousness leaves and enters one of the six paths of rebirth.
- Asuras are beings who have many good things in life, but still like to fight. They appear in the heavens or on earth as people or animals.
- Hungry ghosts are beings who suffer from constant hunger.
These are the six states on the wheel of life. At the top are the heavens, where everyone is happy. Below are the hells where the suffering is unbearable. Beings can rise or fall from one path to another. If one does good deeds, one will be born into the paths of gods, humans, or asuras. If one does evil deeds, one will be born into the paths of animals, hungry ghosts, or hell-beings. From one life to the next one can suddenly change from an human to an animal or from a ghost to a hell-being, according to the things one has done.
How to Escape the Turning Wheel
The wheel of life and death is kept turning by the three poisons of greed, hatred, and stupidity. By cutting off the three poisons, we can escape the wheel and become enlightened. There are four stages of enlightenment.
- Buddhas- perfect in enlightenment.
- Bodhisattvas- enlighten themselves as well as others.
- Pratyekabuddhas- hermits who retreat from the world to enlighten themselves.
- Arhats- enlighten themselves.
VISITING BUDDHIST TEMPLES
In this unit, we will pretend to visit different Buddhist temples. When visiting a temple, we should dress modestly and follow the rules and customs of the temple. Buddhists pay their respects to the Triple Jewel by facing the altar and bowing when entering the temple. Visitors may join in the worship rituals or just watch quietly.
In Buddhism, the monks and nuns are treated with great respect. They sit or stand in front of everyone else and take their food first. When we talk to them, we should put our palms together and speak politely.
Our first visit is to a Theravada Buddhist monastery in the forest in Thailand where only the monks live. We sit in the quietness of a small bamboo temple built on stilts, surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds and rustling trees. A young monk who is our guide explains to us. "The monks live alone in huts called 'kutis'. They are built on stilts to keep the animals and insects out. There they practice sitting and walking meditation, which is very important for their spiritual life. In front of each hut is a path for walking meditation. The monks sweep them clean to keep from stepping on insects and killing them."
The guide continues, "Early in the morning and in the evening, the monks meet together for meditation and recitation. After the ceremonies called pujas, they study the Dharma. Before entering the temple they wash their feet with water carried up to the monastery from a stream below. It is traditional for the monks and nuns to live in the forest as part of their early training. The older ones, however, are not required to do so. Some monks and nuns may live all their lives in the forest, while others live in the temples in towns and cities.
Someone asks, "Living in the jungle, aren't you afraid of tigers?"
The monk answers, "Sometimes, when the monks are walking in the jungle, they sense tigers following them. But since they hold the precept of no killing, they're not afraid and the tigers know they will not be harmed."
Next we will visit a Tibetan temple. A young Tibetan boy named Lobsang is our guide. He smiles as he talks, "Our temple is very colorful. It is decorated with many kinds of Buddha images and wall hangings called thankas. On the altars are beautiful lamps and incense holders. Big prayer wheels are set into the walls of the temple. Mantras, written on strips of rice paper, are placed inside the wheels. They are symbolic phrases with deep spiritual meanings. We recite them over and over as we turn the prayer wheels. There are also hand-held prayer wheels that people whirl as they walk about.
"To us Tibetans, Buddhism is a happy religion. My favorite days are the festivals. People in masks and costumes act out dramas about the life of the Buddha. Bright, new prayer flags are hung on these days. They blow in the wind along the hillsides and remind us to live in harmony with nature. Now that your visit is over, may you go with the spirit of the Buddha."
At a Japanese temple, we are met by Taro. She will tell us about her Sunday School: "We chant 'Namo Amida Butsu' to show our gratitude to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. We believe that by reciting his name we will have a good life and be reborn in his Western Pure Land. You can see a statue of Amida in the front of the hall. On the altar you can see other beautiful things, but the most important is the offering of rice cakes.
"I will tell you why. Rice is very important to Asian people. If you were to ask a young Japanese boy or girl, 'What did you eat today?' He or she would probably say, 'Rice'" When we see rice offered, it reminds us to offer our best to the Buddha. In Sunday school, we sit in meditation on cushions called zafus. Japanese meditation is called zen.
Today we are visiting a Chinese-American monastery in California. It is called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. There are over ten thousand small Buddha statues inside the main worship hall. Our guide is a young novice named Gwo Cheng from mainland China. She came to the United States when she was 10 years old and became a novice at age 11.
Gwo Cheng: "The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a Buddhist community where people from all over the world come to study Buddhism. The City has its own schools, but you do not have to be a Buddhist to attend our schools or to live here.
"A day at the temple begins at 4:00 a.m. with the morning ceremony. After that we bow, sit in meditation, and recite Sutras. These ceremonies lift everyone's spirits and help us live together in harmony. We do our ceremonies in both English and Chinese. There are many ceremonies throughout the day. We finish off the day with an evening ceremony and a Dharma talk.
"Everyone goes to work or school at 8:00 in the morning. In our school, we learn the way of truth and goodness We also learn both Chinese and English. We young novices attend school and are in training to become nuns. We can become fully ordained nuns when we are twenty-one, so we have time to make up our minds. We are not expected to do everything the nuns do, but we do our best. At first it was difficult to get up so early and to sit in meditation, but now we are used to it. It's a healthy life!
"After school, we help with the temple duties and do other chores. I really like gardening and planting. Many people ask me if the novices ever have any fun. We do! We are very good friends and enjoy studying together. We go on walks and picnics and sing Buddhist songs. The nuns are always thinking of fun things for us to do. We also like to see our families who live here and visit with us."
JATAKA TALES AND OTHER BUDDHIST STORIES
The Buddha was a great storyteller and often told stories to get his message across. Stories were also told about the Buddha by his followers both to explain and understand the Dharma. These stories have been passed down to the present day and the most popular ones are the Jataka tales, a collection of hundreds of tales about the Buddha's past lives. They show the kind of life one should lead to become a Buddha one day. In many of these stories, the Buddha appears as an animal to teach the value of qualities such as kindness, compassion, and giving.
The Monkey King and the Mangoes
Once upon a time, the Buddha came into the world as a Monkey King and ruled over 80,000 monkeys. He was very tall and strong and had wisdom like the sun. In his kingdom on the banks of the Ganges River, there was a mango tree as big as the moon. The 80,000 monkeys jumped from branch to branch chattering and eating the lovely fruit that was big and sweet and delicious. Sometimes a ripe mango fell into the river.
One day, the Monkey King strolled downstream and came upon a river palace where a human king lived. "Soon danger will come if the mangoes float downstream," he told the monkeys. "Pick all the mangoes and flowers on the trees and take them deep into the forest."
But one mango, hidden by a bird's nest, was left unseen by the 80,000 monkeys. When it was large and ripe, it fell into the river and floated downstream where the human king was bathing.
The human king, who was very curious, tasted the beautiful mango. "This is delicious!' he exclaimed. "I must have more. Servants, find all the mangoes and bring them to me at once!"
Deep in the forest, the servants found hundreds of mango trees. In the trees were the 80,000 monkeys. When the human king heard about the monkeys, he was very angry, "The monkeys are eating my mangoes. Kill them all!" he ordered his archers.
"Very well," said the archers and chased the monkeys to the edge of the forest where they came to a deep cliff. There was no way for the monkeys to escape. Shivering with fright, they ran to the Monkey King asked, "What shall we do?"
"Don't be afraid. I will save you," said their king. Quickly, he stretched his huge body as far as possible and made a bridge over the cliff to a bamboo grove on the other side.
"Come monkeys, run across my back to the bamboo grove," he called. And so the 80,000 monkeys escaped.
The human king watched all that happened. He was amazed, "This Monkey King has risked his life to save his whole troop! And all I'm doing is being selfish. I have learned a great lesson." Then he called to his archers, "Put down your bows. It isn't right to kill this King of Monkeys."
Forgetting about the mangoes, the human king went back to his palace by the river and ruled kindly and wisely for the rest of his life.
The Deer King
Long ago in a forgotten forest, lived a deer named Banyan. He was golden like the sun and his horns glistened like silver. His body was as large as a colt and his eyes sparkled like jewels-alight with wisdom. He was a King of Deer and watched over a herd of 500 deer.
Not far away, another herd of deer was watched over by another golden deer named Branch. In the tall grass and shadows of the deep forest, the two herds lived in peace.
One day, the King of Benares was out on a hunt and spied the beautiful green forest where the deer lived. "What a perfect hunting ground!" he declared and into the forests he dashed with his thousands of hunters and came upon the two herds of deer. Without a moment's hesitation, he notched an arrow in his bow. Suddenly he spotted the two golden deer. Never had he seen such beautiful creatures! "From this day on," he commanded, "No one is to harm or kill these golden deer."
Thereafter, he came to the forest everyday and killed more deer than was needed for his dinner table. As the weeks went by, many deer were wounded and died in great pain.
Finally Banyan Deer called the two herds together, "Friends, we know there is no escape from death, but this needless killing can be prevented. Let the deer take turns going to the chopping block, one day from my herd and the next day from Branch's herd."
All the deer agreed. Each day the deer whose turn it was went to the chopping block on the edge of the forest and laid its head upon the block.
One day, the turn fell to a pregnant doe from Branch's herd. She went to Branch Deer and begged, "Grant that I be passed over until after my fawn is born. Then I will gladly take my turn."
Branch Deer replied, "It is your turn. You must go."
In despair, the poor doe went to Banyan Deer and explained her plight. He gently said, "Go rest in peace. I will put your turn upon another." The deer king went and laid his golden head upon the chopping block. A deep silence fell in the forest.
When the king of Benares came and saw the golden deer ready for sacrifice, his heart skipped a beat, "You are the leader of the herd," he exclaimed, "You should be the last to die!" Banyan Deer explained how he had come to save the life of the doe.
A tear rolled down the cheek of the king. "Golden Deer King," he exclaimed. "Among men and beasts, I have not seen one with such compassion. Arise! I spare both your life and hers.
"So we will be safe. But what shall the rest of the deer do?" "Their lives I shall also spare." "So the deer will be safe, but what will the other four-footed animals do?" "From now on they too will be safe." "And what of the birds?" "I will spare their lives." "And the fish in the water" "The fish shall be spared- all creatures of the land, sea, and sky will be free."
Having saved the lives of all creatures, the golden deer raised his head from the chopping block and returned to the forest.
The Wounded Swan
One day when Prince Siddhartha and his cousin Devadatta were walking in the woods, they saw a swan. Quickly, Devadatta drew his bow and shot the swan down. Siddhartha rushed to the wounded swan and pulled out the arrow. He held the bird in his arms and caressed it.
Devadatta angrily shouted at Prince Siddhartha, "Give me the swan. I shot it. It belongs to me!"
"I shall never give it to you, You will only kill it!" said the prince firmly. "Let's ask the ministers of the court and let them decide."
The ministers all had different views. Some said, "The swan should be given to Devadatta." Others said, "It should go to Prince Siddhartha." One wise minister stood up and said, "A life belongs to one who saves it, not to one who will destroy it. The swan goes to the prince."
Prince Siddhartha took care of the swan until it could fly again. Then he turned it loose so it could live freely with its own kind.
Aniruddha and the Golden Rabbit
Once there was a poor farmer who offered his only bowl of rice to a holy man who was even poorer than he. This meant he would have nothing to eat that day. He went back to his work and forgot all about having given his rice away. Suddenly a rabbit hopped alongside the farmer and jumped on his back. The surprised farmer tried to brush it off. He tried to shake it off, he tried to knock it off, but the rabbit would not bulge.
He ran home to his wife, crying, "Get this rabbit off my back!" By this time the rabbit had turned into solid gold! The wife flipped the rabbit into the air. It hit the floor with a "Crackkk!" One of its golden legs broke off and another one magically grew in its place.
From that day on, whenever the farmer and his wife needed money, they would break off a piece of the golden rabbit. And from that life onward, Aniruddha was never poor. This was his reward for giving.
A LESSON IN MEDITATION
Concentration on the Breath
A very simple way of meditating is concentrating on your breath. The breath is like a bridge between your body and mind. When you concentrate on your breath for a while, your body becomes relaxed and your mind becomes peaceful.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.
- Place your hands in your lap with the left hand on the bottom.
- Keep your eyes half-closed or closed.
- Concentrate on the tip of your nose. Notice your breath going in and out.
Full lotus is the best sitting posture. Begin by sitting in half-lotus, then work your way up to full lotus.
- Full-lotus- Sit on the edge of a cushion. Place your left ankle on your right thigh. Then lift your right ankle onto your left thigh.
- Half-lotus- Lift your left ankle onto your right thigh.
Note: It is best to sit at the same time and place everyday. Increase your sitting time little
by little. You may sit in a chair or stand if necessary.