Chapter 8
The Story of Buddhism
Buddhism in Canada
• Buddhism is the 12th-largest religion in Canada.
• Because of immigration, Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in
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Canada.
Between the census of 1991 and 2001, the number of Canadian Buddhists
increased by 84%, to about 300 000 followers.
Many Canadian Buddhists trace their faith origins to family roots in Asian
countries.
The largest number of Buddhists live in Ontario and British Columbia.
Since the 1980s, Halifax, Nova Scotia, has also developed a substantial
Buddhist community.
The History of Buddhism
• Buddhism has its roots in northern India and Hinduism.
• It began as a reform movement within Hinduism.
• Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, sought a new way of
practising religion.
The Life of the Buddha
• About 400 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince of a small Hindu
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kingdom.
A wise man prophesied that he would either become a great king or a great
religious leader.
– He said if the child were exposed to suffering, he would follow the
spiritual path.
Siddhartha’s father wanted him to become a king, so he tried to shield him from
suffering.
When he was 16 he went on a journey that exposed him to suffering and led to
the creation of Buddhism.
– Siddhartha saw an old man, an ill man, and a dead man being wept over
by his family.
– He hadn’t known that old age, disease, or death existed until then.
– He also saw a calm and peaceful holy man and was curious about him.
– He left his family to become a religious ascetic.
When he was about 35, the Buddha gave his first sermon, called the
Dharmachakra, or Wheel of Dharma, about the nature of human existence and
what people must do to release themselves from suffering.
He continued to teach for 45 years, until his death at 80.
His teachings were not written down during his lifetime; they were written
down by his followers 400 years later.
Siddhartha Becomes the Buddha
• Siddhartha travelled from teacher to teacher, but failed to find enlightenment
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as to the cause and cure of suffering.
He concluded that neither his old life of luxury nor the life of a religious ascetic
was the right way to live.
He began to develop a middle way between luxury and asceticism, giving up
greed and selfishness as well as harsh denial of pleasure.
Siddhartha resolved to sit in meditation until he attained enlightenment.
For 49 days, he meditated and had a struggle against the evil god Mara.
He finally attained the Great Enlightenment and became known as the
Buddha.
The Buddha’s enlightenment gave him a special understanding of human
suffering and how people might escape that suffering, attain complete peace,
and enter nirvana.
The Buddha decided to remain on Earth to share his insights instead of
immediately entering nirvana.
He accepted disciples (male and female) and converted his five ascetic
companions, who became the first monks.
Where Buddhism Is Practised
• Buddhism originated in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
• Most Buddhists today live in Southeast Asia.
• Buddhism is the world’s 4th-largest religion in terms of number of followers.
Buddhism Spreads through Asia
• The ideas taught by the Buddha were spread by his disciples throughout India.
• By 390 BCE, there were two distinct groups within Buddhism: Theravada and
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Mahayana.
Buddhism became the state religion of a powerful empire in the Indian
subcontinent ruled by Emperor Asoka.
Asoka converted to Buddhism, sent out missionaries, and called on a council to
agree on the Buddhist scriptures.
Buddhist missionaries travelled as far west as Afghanistan, north into Tibet and
Mongolia, south into what is now Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and east through
China as far as Korea and Japan.
Over time, the spread of Islam and strengthening of Hinduism reduced the
influence of Buddhism in India, but it was growing in other lands and cultures.
Beyond Asia, followers have developed what some call Western Buddhism.
Today, the majority of Canadian Buddhists follow the Mahayana school.
Rituals
• Buddhists believe rituals help them achieve enlightenment, either in the
present life or in the future.
• Rituals also bond them with the Buddhist community (sangha).
• The main rituals are meditation, worship at home or at a temple or shrine,
rituals marking milestones in life, and festivals.
Meditation
• The Buddha used the Hindu techniques of meditation to gain enlightenment.
• As Buddhism spread, meditation techniques from other traditions were added
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to the Hindu methods practised by earlier Buddhists.
Meditation quiets the mind so the meditator can more fully enter the spiritual
world.
Buddhists who meditate can bring about a state of mindfulness (awareness
only of the present moment) by focusing on the act of breathing.
Meditators can also focus on a visual object, such as a flame, a sacred diagram,
or a mandala.
They can recite or chant a word or phrase, called a mantra, such as the
Mahayana Om Mani Padme Hum mantra (Hail the jewel in the lotus).
Worship
• Buddhist worship can include individual worship at a home shrine, or a temple
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service led by monks with a formal chanting.
Buddhist holy buildings have a broad base to symbolize earth, and a spire or
point at the top to symbolize sky.
A worshipper entering a monastery or temple bows to show devotion and
respect.
Bowing can range from lowering one’s head with palms together, to kneeling
and touching the head to the floor.
Buddhists make offerings to the Three Jewels by burning incense, lighting
candles, and giving food and flowers.
The offerings symbolize respect for the Three Jewels, can help a Buddhist get
closer to enlightenment, and give material support so the monks can live.
Worship practices vary between cultures and interpretations of Buddhism, but
can include silent meditation; rhythmic chanting; and sermons about applying
some aspect of the dharma to daily life.
A Japanese Zen Buddhist ceremony includes longer periods of meditation and
less preaching on the dharma.
Marking Time
Milestone Rituals
• Buddhists do not mark a change in adolescence except for those becoming
novice monks.
• Marriage is a civic practice rather than a religious one, so Buddhist monks do
not generally officiate at weddings.
Birth
• Rituals to celebrate births vary in Buddhism.
• In the Theravadin tradition, a Buddhist family may take the newborn to a
temple to be blessed.
• The closing ritual consists of melting candle wax into a bowl to symbolize the
union of earth, air, fire, water, and sky.
• The Three Jewels are recited on behalf of the child.
Death
• A dying Buddhist may be visited by monks, who will offer comfort by chanting
verses from the scriptures that deal with death.
• Buddhists believe in reincarnation: until someone achieves enlightenment and
nirvana, death is the end of one life and the beginning of another.
• In some funeral rituals, a cup is filled until it overflows, meaning that the merit
built up in this life spills into the next.
Festivals
Vesak
• Vesak celebrates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama and, in some countries, also
the day of his enlightenment and death.
Asalha Puja
• Asalha Puja, or Dharma Day, marks the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching.
• Buddhists show thanks that the Buddha and other enlightened teachers
shared their knowledge.
• People may give up luxuries such as sweets, meat, or alcohol to reinvigorate
their spiritual practices.
Esala Perahera
• After the Buddha’s death, one of his teeth was placed in a temple in Kandy, Sri
Lanka.
• In August, a colourful procession carries the tooth through the city.
The Community and Scriptures
• Although Buddhists share central beliefs, there are differences among the three
main groups of Buddhists and the scriptures they follow.
• The three main groups are
– Theravada Buddhism (smaller and more traditional)
– Mahayana Buddhism (the majority)
– Vajrayana Buddhism (developed in Tibet and Mongolia)
• Zen Buddhism is a Japanese adaptation of Mahayana Buddhism.
Theravada
• Theravadins believe that only monks make up the sangha and only monks can
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achieve enlightenment.
Theravadins’ ideal figure is the monk who is so saintly he is close to achieving
enlightenment.
They reject the idea of heavenly figures helping followers.
They do not consider the Buddha to be divine, but an enlightened human being.
Theravadin Buddhists believe in the Tripitakas (Three Baskets), often called the
first Buddhist scriptures.
Mahayana
• Mahayana Buddhism believes all followers of the Buddha, not just monks and
nuns, can achieve enlightenment.
• The ideal is the Bodhisattvas—people who have achieved enlightenment but
have chosen to stay on the human plane of existence.
• They will accept help from Bodhisattvas and other forms of the Buddha besides
the historical one.
• The Tripitakas are worthy scriptures, but there are others as well.
Vajrayana
• A third and later form of Buddhism, it developed in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan,
and Nepal.
• Vajrayana Buddhists absorbed elements of their local religion into their own
beliefs.
• The result was a unique set of spiritual disciplines.
Zen Buddhism
• Zen Buddhism emphasizes enlightenment through meditation.
• To achieve this state, people do certain exercises, such as meditating on riddles
or puzzling questions.
Central Beliefs
• The Buddha grew up Hindu and accepted large parts of the Hindu worldview.
• This included the belief in samsara—the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
• Buddhists aim to break out of the cycle to achieve nirvana.
– Nirvana is a state of being freed from having desires.
• Buddhists, like Hindus, use the term karma related to samsara and
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reincarnation.
Buddhism sees karma as directly related to intentions and merit.
In contrast to Hindu understandings of God and deities, the Buddha taught
that questions about the existence of God were for individuals to discern and
address themselves.
Theravada Buddhists believe it is no good focusing on the possibility of outside
help when we have the means ourselves.
The main Buddhist beliefs about how a person should live are reflected in the
dharma.
These teachings are arranged into numbered sets:
– the Three Jewels
– the Three Marks of Existence (Three Universal Truths)
– the Four Noble Truths
– the Noble Eightfold Path
The Three Jewels
• The Buddhist creed can be summed up in the Three Jewels.
• They are the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.
The Three Marks of Existence (or the Three Universal Truths)
• The Buddhist view of the material world is founded on three understandings:
1. Anicca (Impermanence)
• Buddhists believe nothing is permanent.
• Clinging to the notion of permanency adds to our dissatisfaction and suffering.
2. Dukkha (Suffering)
• All life involves suffering.
• People may be happy for most of their lives, but in the end they must face
physical decay and death.
3. Anatta (Not Self)
• There is no permanent identity or existence.
• All parts are impermanent and ultimately an illusion.
• Wise or enlightened Buddhists are detached from material goods and images
of themselves.
The Four Noble Truths
1. People suffer (dukkha).
– all our lives, we hurt physically and emotionally
2. This suffering is caused by desire, greed, ignorance, and attachment.
– we can adapt to physical pain, but unfulfilled longings and cravings
make our suffering deep
3. To remove suffering, we must remove desire, greed, ignorance, and
attachment.
– if we stop the things that cause us to desire, then suffering will stop
– taming our desires requires great discipline
4. To end suffering and achieve enlightenment, unending peace, and freedom
from all desire, people should follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
• The Buddha proposed a way to deal with human expectations and desires
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and avoid sorrow, called the Noble Eightfold Path.
It describes ways to think, behave, and meditate to avoid suffering.
Morality
The Five Precepts
• The Five Precepts are ethical guidelines that Buddhists follow:
1. To refrain from destroying living creatures
2. To refrain from taking that which is not given
3. To refrain from sexual misconduct
4. To refrain from incorrect speech
5. To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs
Five Buddhist Values
• In addition to the explicit teachings that Buddhists follow, they also share
common values.
1. Self-determination—each person’s responsibility to follow the Noble
Eightfold Path alone
2. Mindfulness—being aware of the present moment
3. Compassion—seeing and feeling things from another’s point of view
4. Loving-kindness—extending goodwill without expecting a reward
5. Detachment—looking at all events without bias and emotion
Family Life
• Buddhists see the family as the foundation of the community.
• Husbands and wives are expected to honour, respect, and be faithful to each
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other.
Parents are expected to raise their children as Buddhists.
Children are expected to obey their parents and to preserve family traditions.
Divorce is not forbidden in Buddhism, but it seldom occurs.
Life is sacred to Buddhists, and because they consider life to begin at
conception, abortion is generally condemned.
One of the more challenging values of Buddhism is non-attachment.
Buddhism teaches that attachment ultimately brings suffering.
– Living in a family involves necessary material and emotional
attachments.
– Theravada tradition expects only monks, who leave their families when
they take their vows, to achieve enlightenment.
– Others see the family as a spiritual environment where a deep
understanding of attachment can be explored.
Buddhism asks followers to let go of the negative bonds that tie us to others,
such as lust, prejudice, jealousy, fear, and hate.
The Buddha encouraged Buddhists to treat their friends with generosity, kind
words, helpfulness, impartiality, and integrity.
Interreligious Dialogue
Buddhism and the Catholic Church
• With the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Church expressed its desire
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to learn how the Spirit may be at work in Buddhism.
Both faiths have since learned from each other in a genuine dialogue.
Buddhism is a very practical religion.
Buddha rejected discussion of God because he wanted his followers to focus
on something they could understand and do something about—suffering.
For Catholics, suffering is not the main evil to be overcome.
– In some cases, suffering can be redemptive.
– For Catholics, God suffered and died on a cross.
– This suffering for others is seen as an act of liberating people to love.
– Love is what Christians seek and, for them, God is the greatest example
and source of love.
The question of suffering is at the heart of Catholic–Buddhist theological
dialogue.
Most Catholic–Buddhist dialogue has been about spiritual experience.
Both faiths have an intense and long spiritual tradition.
Monastic Traditions
• Because both Catholics and Buddhists have long-standing monastic traditions,
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the Church turned to the Benedictines to initiate dialogue.
Buddhist monks and nuns have lived with Catholic monks and nuns to learn
the other’s spiritual traditions and meditation techniques.
Buddhist monks, such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, have
encouraged Christians to enter more deeply into their tradition.
Catholic monks have spent time in Zen and Tibetan monasteries.
In 1991, Pope John Paul II said they have learned from each other “the
universal value of self-discipline, silence, and contemplation” in the
development of the human person.
Ecology
• Catholics and Buddhists share a common concern for the health of the Earth.
• Both faiths believe there is a spiritual dimension to the ecological crisis of
today, which is related to the human desire for material goods.
• Dealing with this desire is part of the contribution that religions can make to
these issues.
• Catholics and Buddhists are taking a more active part in trying to solve
environmental problems.
• In some countries, Buddhists have formed Green Buddhist movements.