Exploring world religions

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The Canadian perspective

Published in Canada By Oxford University Press

Copyright © Oxford University Press Canada 2001

ISBN 0-19-541660-0

424 print pages



Longueuil (Québec)
File 2 of 3

Pages 159-313

This work is produced for persons with perceptual disability as per Canadian Copyright act. Further distribution or reproduction must comply with this act

__ Emphasized text


Chapter 5 Buddhism… 158

Introduction… 159

__Learning Goals__… __160__

Buddhism: Origins… __162__

__Holy Places: The Mahabodhi Temple__… __166__

Check Your Understanding… 168

Beliefs… 168

Check Your Understanding… 174

__Skill Path: Qualitative Research__… __175__

Practices, Rituals, Symbols, and Festivals… 178

__Symbols and Icons: The Wheel of Life, Mandala__… __184__

Check Your Understanding… 187

Milestones… 188

Check Your Understanding… 189

__Living My Religion: Christopher Lawley__… __190__

Sacred Writings… 191


__Sacred Text: Jatakas__… __192__

Check Your Understanding… 193

Groups and Institutions… 193

Check Your Understanding… 199

__Profile: The Fourteenth Dalai Lama__… __200__

Cultural Impact… 202

__Community Study: The Chandrakirti Buddhist Centre__… __204__

Check Your Understanding… 205

__Exploring Issues: The Falun Gong__… __206__

Activities… 208

Glossary… 210

Chapter 6 Judaism… 212

Introduction… 213

__Learning Goals__… __214__

Judaism: Origins… 216

Check Your Understanding… 224

__Holy Places: The Western Wall__…__225__

Beliefs… 226

__Living My Religion: Leora Wise__… __227__

Check Your Understanding… 230

Practices, Rituals, Symbols, and Festivals… 230

__Symbols: Star of David, Menorah__… __233__

Check Your Understanding… 235

Milestones… 235

Check Your Understanding… 237

Sacred Writings… 238

Check Your Understanding… 238

__Sacred Text: The Ten Commandments__… __239__

__Profile: Maimonides__… __240__

Groups and Institutions… 241

Check Your Understanding… 244

__Skill Path: Writing an Essay__… __245__

Cultural Impact… 247

Check Your Understanding… 251

__Community Study: Beth Tzedec Congregation__… __252__

__Exploring Issues: Nazi War Criminals in Canada__… __251__

Activities… 255

Glossary… 257

Chapter 7 Christianity… 260

Introduction… 261

__Learning Goals… __262__

Christianity: Origins… 264

Check Your Understanding… 269

Beliefs… 269

__Exploring Issues: Human Cloning__… __272__

Check Your Understanding… 275

Practices, Rituals, Symbols, and Festivals… 275

__Holy Places: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre__…__278__

__Symbols and Icons: The Cross__… __279__

Check Your Understanding 284

Milestones… 284

__Profile: Mother Teresa of Calcutta__… __288__

Check Your Understanding… 289

Sacred Writings… 290

__Sacred Text: The Sermon on the Mount__… __291__

Check Your Understanding… 293

__Skill Path: In-depth Interview__… __294__

Groups and Institutions… 296

__Profile: Martin Luther__… __301__

__Community Study: The Salvation Army__… __304__

Check Your Understanding… 305

Cultural Impact… 305

__Living My Religion: Renee DesRivieres__… __308__

Check Your Understanding… 309

Activities… 310

Glossary… 312



Chapter five


Look at the photograph and consider the following questions:
1. Describe the setting of the photograph. What is the mood of the picture?
2. A Buddhist monk is walking up a path through trees.

What symbolism is being presented?

3. What impressions about Buddhism do you get from this photograph?
4. Does this picture appeal to you? Explain.


In the last four decades of the twentieth century, Buddhism--a religion that has its origins in the East--has become increasingly popular in the West. In their quest to "find themselves" and the meaning of life, more and more people are looking outside the conventional Western view, and towards Buddhism, for answers to life's questions. What is the appeal of this religion, and why are so many people in the West. particularly in North America, looking to Buddhism to fulfill their spiritual needs?
Buddhism emphasizes __things to do__ rather than __things to believe__ and does not recommend that anyone accept its teachings without experimentation. A Buddhist is not asked to accept teachings on blind faith but through direct religious experience. If this religious experience helps followers to find the truth, they should accept if it does not, they should seek the truth elsewhere. In fact, a central idea in the teachings of Buddhism is that everyone has the right to find the truth for himself or herself, even if it means finding it outside of Buddhism. This tolerance and the general calmness and serenity that is exhibited by many followers of this religion may help to explain Buddhism's growing appeal.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to end suffering and, thereby, attain absolute peace and joy. In western society, we try to achieve happiness by acquiring material possessions. However, in the midst of plenty, suffering and unhappiness are rampant. Buddhism offers an alternative way to end suffering.
What challenges do you face in your life? What types of suffering have you experienced? As you read this chapter, consider these questions to gain a more personal understanding of Buddhism and a deeper understanding of yourself.

Learning Goals

At the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
- understand the origins of Buddhism and recount significant events in its history
- identify important figures in the development of Buddhism and explain their contribution to the religion
- evaluate the importance of key concepts like nirvana and enlightenment
- identify key passages from the Tripitaka and explain their significance
- examine the importance of sacred writings in Buddhism and identify their influence on society
- identify the origin and significance of Buddhist practices, rituals, symbols, and festivals
- understand the role of symbols in Buddhism and their connection to practices
- review the political impact of Buddhism on various cultures
- analyze the role of women in Buddhism
- understand the differences between sects of Buddhism and between Buddhism and Hinduism
- understand how Buddhism has influenced individuals in Canadian society
- identify observances associated with Buddhist festivals and celebrations
- identify topics on Buddhism that require qualitative research
- use primary and secondary sources to conduct research on a topic related to Buddhism
- write newspaper articles and written reports on topics related to Buddhism

563 BCE (approximately) Birth of Siddartha Gautama (who later becomes the Buddha)

530 BCE Enlightenment of Siddartha
531-486 BCE Teaching period of the Buddha
486 BCE Parinirvana, or death, of the Buddha
200 BCE (approximately) Beginnings of Mahayana Buddhism
100 CE (approximately) Buddhism enters China
278 CE Buddhism enters Myanmar, Carnhodi Laos, Vietnam
327 CE Buddhism introduced to Korea from china
538 CE Buddhism spreads into Japan
750 CE (approximately) Buddhism spreads into Tibet
1893 CE Beginning of Buddhist activity in the West
1959 CE Chinese takeover of Tibet; Dalai Lama flees
1989 CE Dalai Lama receives Nobel peace prize
1992 CE The Falun Gong movement is first made public
1990s CE Appearance of the movies Seven Years in Tibet. Kundun, and The Little Buddha in the West spur international interest in Buddhism




Figure 5.1
The founder of Buddhism, Siddartha Gautama (the Buddha), was born in present-day Nepal.


Buddhism was founded approximately 2500 years ago in India. The man who was to become the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around 563 BCE into a family of the Kshatriya caste in a kingdom called Shakya. The kingdom of Shakya was located in the foothills of the Himalayas, inside present-day Nepal (Figure 5.1). Siddhartha's father was King Shuddhodana, who belonged to the Gautama clan. The king's principal wife, and Siddhartha's mother, was Queen Maya. The story of the Buddha's early life varies from one Buddhist tradition to the other and was not recorded in written form until hundreds of years after his death. Later versions of the story are longer and include more miraculous events.

The Early Life of the Buddha

According to Buddhist literature, Siddhartha's birth was miraculous. Siddhartha's mother, Queen Maya, conceived her son when Siddhartha descended from Heaven and entered his mother's womb in the form of a baby white elephant--a symbol of


purity. She carried him for ten months and could see the baby within her womb.
She gave birth from her side on the full-moon day of May, while standing and holding on to a tree. According to some Buddhist stories, the tree lowered a branch to assist her while she gave birth. Although he was born clean and unstained in any way, water poured from the sky to wash the mother and child. His mother died a week after giving birth, and Siddhartha was raised by his aunt. It is written that when Siddhartha was born, he immediately took seven steps and said, "This is my last birth." The meaning of this was that the child would be a great ruler or a great religious teacher. His father, King Shuddhodana, wanted him to be a ruler and was disturbed by the suggestion that he would be a religious leader. He vowed to make life as pleasant as possible for his son so that Siddhartha would not want to leave the palace.
At sixteen, Siddhartha married Princess Yasodhara, and together they had a son named Rahula. They lived in luxury in the three palaces that King Suddhodana built for them.

Figure 5.2

This eighteenth century Tibetan painting depicts the events surrounding Siddartha's miraculous birth. Identify one of these events.


The Four Sights
Even though life was comfortable, Siddhartha craved spiritual satisfaction. His father, fearing that his son would leave home for a religious life,


arranged for the streets of the city to be filled with healthy and happy people so that Siddhartha would not see any unpleasantness that might trouble him.
The King's plan went awry when, at the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha visited the city four times with his charioteer, Channa, and experienced what Buddhists refer to as the __Four Sights__. On the first excursion, he saw an old man--his body broken by life--leaning on a staff. During the second visit, Siddhartha saw a sick man lying by the roadside. On the third trip, he saw a corpse being prepared for cremation. Siddhartha asked Channa for the meaning of these three sightings and was told that "these come to all men." On the fourth outing, Siddhartha's attention was drawn to an __ascetic__ Hindu monk, that is, a monk who practises severe self-denial. The monk's head was shaven, and he wore a tattered yellow robe and was holding a bowl. When Siddhartha asked Channa for the meaning of this sighting, the charioteer answered, "This is a man living the homeless life in order to seek the answer to life's riddle." Siddhartha became inspired by the thought of finding a spiritual solution to the problems of human life. That night, he decided to leave the palace, and his privileged life, to become a homeless beggar.
This story may not be literally true: It may be a fable, where palace life represents complacency and self-delusion, and the vision of the four signs represents the realities of human life. It might also represent the idea thatalthough these realities are all around us, most of us put up mental barriers to keep them at a distance.

Renunciation and Austerities

Siddhartha became a wandering seeker of spiritual knowledge. His first teacher taught him to meditate and attain a state of deep trance. The experience was good but did not produce the permanent solution he sought, since after the trance the same problem still exist-ed. Siddhartha then tried controlled breathing, which involved retaining breath for longer and longer periods of time; this, however, resulted in headaches. Next, he tried reducing food intake to just one grain of rice a day. Siddhartha became emaciated and ill and gave up this form of asceticism, or self-denial, as he realized that extremes of any kind were not productive. He found that self-denial was as unsatisfactory as life in the palaces, so he came to the conclusion that the best course was the __Middle Way__, or a path between both extremes. Siddhartha concluded that the best lifestyle was one of moderation.


Siddhartha began to take food again and returned to meditation. He sat under a tree (Figure 5.3), and in a state of higher consciousness, some-thing comparable to a psychic state, remembered all of his previous lives in detail. He saw the death and rebirth of all types of beings as a consequence of their good and bad deeds; good deeds brought a better life in the next rebirth, while bad deeds brought unpleasantness. In realizing this, he


removed craving and ignorance for himself. In that moment, he achieved __nirvana__, a state of supreme realization and __enlightenment__, an understanding of the truth of life and the freedom from ignorance. By attaining enlightenment, Siddhartha experienced the end of suffering and was released from the endless cycle of rebirth; he had now attained perfect wisdom and absolute peace.
Nirvana is a difficult idea to fully comprehend, and the Buddha suggested it had to be experienced to be understood. However, most observers suggest that nirvana is a state of total liberation and serenity. Some claim it is permanent truth, tranquility, and peace. It is a goal, difficult to put into words, whose promise of peace and liberation from suffering continues to be attractive to many around the world today.
Siddhartha stayed in this state for seven days (or seven weeks according to other versions), pondering his future and deciding to publicize his teachings and ideas about the nature of reality, the __dharma__, to the world.

Figure 5.3

The Bodhi Tree, located at the site of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, is believed to be the site where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Describe this "enlightenment."



Holy Places

The Mahabodhi Temple
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. India, commemorates the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama and is one of Buddhism's most sacred sites. Because it was built at the site of the Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, it marks the birthplace of the religion. The structure is considered Buddhism's oldest and most revered temple.
The base of the temple is 15 m' and 52 m high. The top of the temple is a tapering pyramid; four smaller towers at the corners of the base give balance to the structure. The temple houses an immense 1700-year-old statue of the Buddha, which is facing in the same direction as the Buddha when he attained enlightenment.
During the third century BCE, King Ashoka, the king of the Mauryan Empire of India and a Buddhist, built a fence around the Bodhi tree to commemorate the enlightenment of the Buddha. It is believed that he built a monastery at the site and eventually the Mahabodhi Temple. In the twelfth century CE, Muslim invaders destroyed the temple completely. In 1891, the Maha Bodhi Society of India was formed. One of the goals of this organization was to restore the Mahabodhi Temple, which it has done with the financial help of Buddhists from around the world.
Today, the Mahabodhi Temple is an active pilgrimage site and learning centre. Buddhists from all over the world visit the temple to seek the enlightenment of the Buddha.


1. Why is the Mahabodhi temple such a revered place for Buddhists around the globe? Would you like to visit this site? Explain why or why not.
2. How do you think the Buddha would view the Mahabodhi site? Why?
3. Does this temple resemble any religious or secular buildings that you have seen? Explain.

Figure 5.4

Picture of the Mahabodhi temple



The First Sermon

Siddhartha came to be known as the __Buddha__, which means "the Enlightened One" or "One Who Has Awakened." He went to Sarnath, in India, and, in a park reserved for royal deer, he preached his first sermon. This event is referred to as the "Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma." In Deer Park, he shared his new understanding of life with five Hindu ascetics who accepted his insights and became __bhikkhus__, or Buddha's monks. This was the beginning of the Buddhist community. His teachings spread quickly, and after five years, an order of monks, the __sangha__, was established. An order of nuns, called the __bhikkhuni sangha__, was also established, and the Buddha praised the work of the nuns in preaching the dharma. For the next forty-five years, the Buddha travelled all over northern and central India preaching his philosophy.


When he was eighty years old, the Buddha was in poor health. The question came up as to whether or not he would have a successor. Since he never considered himself the "leader," the Buddha declared that the dharma, together with the rules of monastic life, would be the people's spiritual guide when he was gone. He believed that each person should decide, for himself or herself, which teachings to follow, based on personal evaluation and that, ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her own salvation. He expressed this view on his deathbed, where he is believed to have spoken the following words to his followers:

Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. A monk becomes his own lamp and refuge by continually looking on his body, feelings, perceptions, moods and ideas in such a manner that he conquers the cravings and depressions of ordinary men and is always strenuous, self-possessed, and collected in mind. Whoever among my monks does this, either now or when I am dead, if he is anxious to learn, will mach the summit.

The Buddha died in 486 BCE, resting between two trees. Upon his death, he reached the state of __parinirvana__, or complete nirvana, which released him from the cycle of involuntary rebirth.

Buddhism's Hindu Origins

The Buddha was born into the Kshatriya caste, and was therefore born a Hindu. In fact, some Hindus believe that the Buddha is an incarnation of the god Vishnu. The religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama grew out of Hinduism, and while there were many aspects of the Hindu religion to which the Buddha objected, there were some elements that he retained. These include the notions of reincarnation, __samsara__, karma, dharma, and nirvana.
There were several aspects of the Hindu religion, as it existed in his day, that the Buddha rejected. The first was the caste system--particularly


the power of the Brahmin caste. The caste system was contrary to the Buddhist notion of the equality of all individuals. The Buddha also believed that people were responsible for seeking their own spiritual fulfillment rather than being dictated to by the Brahmins.
The Buddha objected to Hindu rituals, which he saw as insignificant activities that dominated the religion. These included making offerings to the gods, chants, and sacrifices. Brahmins often collected money for performing these rituals. The Buddha was determined to keep Buddhism free of meaningless rituals.
He considered questions and theories about the creation and eternity of the world futile. The Buddha believed that these questions could not be answered and that it was pointless to try. The religion he preached was practical and free of such mystical obsessions.
The Buddha disapproved of the language of Hinduism. The Brahmins continued to use Sanskrit, a language that, at the time of the Buddha, few spoke or understood. This left the Hindu religion under the control of the priests. The Buddha gave all his talks in Pali, the language common to the people of his region. This made Buddhism accessible to all.
Finally, the Buddha disagreed with the Hindu notion that an individual can achieve nirvana only after thousands of lifetimes and upon reaching the Brahmin caste. He believed that this prospect made nirvana virtually impossible for most Hindus. Buddhism preaches that through self-effort, enlightenment could be achieved in one lifetime, regardless of one's position in society.


Check Your Understanding
1. Describe Siddhartha's origins. How are the circumstances of his birth different from those of other religious founders? How are they similar?
2. What are the Four Sights? Why are they so impoitant?
3. What is the meaning of the term Buddira? How did Siddhartha earn that name?
4. Which aspects of Hinduism did the Buddha accept? Which did he reject and why?
5. Assume you were present at We Buddha's funeral. Write a brief eulogy in which you share your thoughts about this great religious leader.


Many of Buddhism's teachings are challenging, and it can be difficult to grasp such a different and unique view of the world. To understand this religion, it is helpful to remember its ultimate goal: the end of human suffering. If we concentrate on what


Buddhism is addressing, perhaps we will find it easier to comprehend its answers to life. As you read this section, consider the following personal questions: How happy are you? What are the most important goals in your life? What makes us suffer? How do we deal with suffering?
Every religion has its own defining characteristic or distinguishing nature. Buddhism is in many ways an introspective religion, with the single most important aspect being personal responsibility for one's own salvation.
Unlike Christianity or Islam, Buddhism does not have a single, central source of beliefs such as the Bible or the Qur'an. There are, however, a number of sources for the Buddhist to use in the search for spiritual truth. Taken together, these sources form a guide to a proper life. All Buddhist teachings show the way to end the suffering of life and to stop __samsara__. __Samsara__ is the endless cycle of uncontrolled rebirths. These rebirths, referred to as __reincarnation__, involve the transference of one's mind or consciousness into new bodies after death. As explained earlier in this chapter, when one achieves nirvana, one has attained perfect wisdom and is released from the endless cycle of __samsara__.

Women in Buddhism

In Buddhist thought, there is no distinction made between men and women because gender is part of those delusions that we have as unenlightened humans.
All humans have had past lives as both males and females. Rebirth as a female entails more suffering because of experiences like childbirth, menstruation, and pregnancy. However, in Buddhism, suffering is not necessarily considered an obstacle since it may lead someone to live a more spiritual life (Figure 5.5).

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