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1. What is Buddhism?
2. The Buddha
3. The Dhamma
4. The Sangha
5. The Triple Gem
6. The Middle Path
7. Different Traditions of Buddhism
8. Dhamma or Dharma
9. Should Buddhists be vegetarians?
10. Bodhisattas - Who are they?
11. What are the significant sacred places in Buddhist history?
12. Preservation of Buddha's Teachings - The Buddhist Councils
13. Buddhist Calendar

  • What is Buddhism?

    Buddhism is widely understood to be the religion founded by the Buddha, and originates from India. Apart from that, Buddhism can also be viewed not solely as a religion, but also as a philosophy, and even a way of life. The widely recognized founder of Buddhism, the Buddha, actually has a name and was born a human being like any one of us. 

    The word "Buddha" can be defined as "the Enlightened One", or "the Awakened One". 

  • The Buddha

    The Buddha was born in 623 B.C. in a country called Kapilavatthu in Northern India (its present site within Nepal's boundary). Born in the noble Sakya clan, he was named Siddhattha Gotama. As a prince of the country, he did not have to face the unsatisfactoriness and sufferings encountered by the common folks. He married his cousin Princess Yasodhara, who bore him a son by the name of Rahula. Life was good and without worries. 

    However, things changed after Prince Siddhattha took a private visit out of the palace and saw the four sights of Sickness, Old Age, Death and a holy man. That prompted him to renounce his comfortable life to seek out the truth in order to end the sufferings of common people. At the age of 29, he left his palace quietly in search of the truth. He had studied under ascetic teachers, and tried various methods of self-mortification, but to no avail. He learnt later that extremes (of indulgence versus torture) are not going to work out. After searching for 6 years, one day, he sought shelter under a tree, and through intense meditation that he finally attained Enlightenment, and sees things as they really are. Henceforth, he is known as the Buddha. The tree under which the Buddha gained Enlightenment has since been known as the Bodhi Tree. 

    The story did not stop here. Out of his compassion for all beings, he set off to expound the Truth (the Dhamma) that he had newly realized. Gradually, a pool of disciples benefited from his teachings  after comprehending his teachings. The organization of the Buddha's disciples had come to be known as the Sangha. 

    The Buddha and his disciples travelled vast areas (on foot) throughout India to expound the Dhamma, helping lots of suffering people along the way. His relentless effort lasted for 45 years. The Buddha passed into Parinibbana (or passed away in simplified layman's term) at the ripe old age of 80. 

  • The Dhamma

    The Dhamma could simply mean the teachings of the Buddha. No doubt there were many scriptures and expositions made by him, the most concise essence of the Truth could be found in the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha. For more details, please see the Dhamma section

  • The Sangha

    The Sangha refers to the followship of disciples of the Buddha. Generally, it includes the Buddhist monks and nuns, who had made their commitments to lead a monastic way of life, and to carry on and preserve the teachings and tradition left behind by the Buddha. On a wider scope, Sangha includes the lay disciples. 

  • The Triple Gem

    Also termed the Three Refuges, the Triple Gem comprises of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. 

  • The Middle Path

    As described above, in his quest for Enlightenment, the Buddha realized that extreme measures of self-mortification weakens one physically and intellectually, which impedes spiritual progress. Similarly, self-indulgence would not contribute to progress. Middle Path is the way, which implies moderation. This notion of Middle Path is still of very much practical use even today.

  • Different Traditions of Buddhism

    There exists today different Buddhist schools of thoughts. Why there are different schools could be boiled down to two main reasons:-

    • In early Buddhist history, all sermons and teachings were spoken and committed to memory. It was only later that scriptures were written down on leaves and then paper. Variation in interpretation by different people of the same principle could arise. Furthermore, it was also highly possible that the Buddha gave a variety of teachings to different people to suit individual aptitude, ability and interest.
    • The different schools also reflect different cultural attributes, which were influenced by the route where Buddhism propagated geographically. E.g. The Theravada tradition spreaded south to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, etc.; the Mahayana tradition went northwards to Vietnam, China, Japan, etc.

    The Major Schools of Buddhism are:-

    • Theravada School (The Way of the Elders)
    • Mahayana School (The Great Vehicle)
    • Vajrayana School

    Despite the differences in traditions, it must be stressed that doctrinally there is absolutely no disagreement concerning the Dhamma as contained in the sacred texts - Tipitaka. Also, it must be emphasized that Buddhism teaches tolerance, and it would be counter-productive to discriminate one tradition/sect against another. In fact, there were wrongful reference of Theravadin tradition as Hinayana (the lesser vehicle, in contrast with the greater vehicle), which by itself is of derogatory connotation and this misunderstood record should be set straight. Diversity in tradition should not be the issue here - the application of the Buddha's teachings for the common good of all beings should be the key. What good does it do if one keep saying that "I'm of abc tradition and is more superior than efg tradition" per se? At the end of the day, it pays to remember that the Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal. 

  • Dhamma or Dharma?

    Is there a spelling mistake? Why do some books spell the Buddha's teachings as Dhamma, whereas some spell as Dharma? Similarly, is it Kamma or Karma? It should be understood that both are correct spelling, and at times, the different formats are used interchangeably. The words Dhamma, Kamma, etc are in Pali language whereas Dharma, Karma are in Sanskrit. Both were languages used in India from olden times, though Pali language is the closest and most original form of the language spoken during the Buddha's time. Pali language is used by the Theravadin tradition, in both the scriptures and suttas chanting. Sanskrit could be found extensively in Mahayana texts. 

    Examples of Pali / (Sanskrit) comparison:-
    Dhamma /  (Dharma)
    Kamma / (Karma)
    Sutta / (Sutra)
    Nibbana / (Nirvana)
    Gotama / (Gautama)

  • Should Buddhists be vegetarians?

    It was the impression of many that a "true" Buddhist should not eat meat. Certain Buddhist traditions (e.g. Mahayana, or Chinese Buddhism) actually practise vegetarianism. The intention of vegetarianism is actually of a noble one - out of compassion for all sentient beings, human beings should try not to consume flesh of other animals. However, many Theravadin tradition monastic orders do not impose strict vegetarianism; that is why it can be observed that Thai monks for example, can eat meat (Note that many of these monks have to go on alms rounds every morning, and have to accept whatever food that is given by devotees). Many debates and questions were raised on this issue. Now, should it be or not?

    In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha covered the topic on vegetarianism:-
    "... I have declared that one should not make use of meat if it has been seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. I allow the monks meat that is quite pure in 3 respects: if it is not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk."
    Being a vegetarian alone does not necessary means a worthy cause; if one's action, speech and thoughts are impure despite being a vegetarian, what good does it do? The Buddha also made this point clear:-

    "Taking life, beating, cutting, binding, stealing, lying, fraud, deceit, pretence at knowledge, adultery; this is uncleanliness and not the eating of flesh."

    Of course, going to a seafood restaurant to order a fish will not be covered under what the Buddha had said - you jolly well know that there are life fishes swimming in the fish tanks, and when you place an order, one of the fish is definitely going to be killed to be served to your table. You know that. And that is intentional killing.

  • Bodhisattas

    Who is a Bodhisatta (or Bodhisattva in Sanskrit)? 

    The components of the term explains. Bodhi refers to "enlightenment" and Satta means "devoted to". As such, this term can generally be used to refer to someone who is striving for enlightenment. In a focused sense, a Bodhisatta is someone who will eventually become a Buddha. 

    The key characteristic of a Bodhisatta is that he/she wants the welfare and good of all satient beings in the world. Compassion is one of the great qualities embodied in him/her. Just as a mother who would protect and provide for the well-being of her own child, a Bodhisatta, may in certain cases sacrifice his own life in order to save others from misery. A Bodhisatta is selfless. 

    A Bodhisatta in the course of helping others, practices the Perfections:-
    • Generosity
    • Morality
    • Renunciation
    • Wisdom
    • Energy
    • Patience
    • Truthfulness
    • Determination
    • Loving-kindness
    • Equanimity

    One of the most well known Bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, also known as Kuan Yin in Chinese, and some people called him the Goddess of Mercy. Note that I use "him" in the previous sentence. For a cultivated state of mind which has achieved wisdom or enlightenment, gender becomes not relevant anymore; it is a state of mind. The reason why the Goddess of Mercy is called is that Avalokitesvara has in the past known to manisfest in female form (e.g. a motherly manifestation, as can be seen from drawings/portraits worldwide) in the course of saving satient beings. 

    Lastly, it should be noted that Bodhisatta is not a 'proprietary' idea of Buddhism. In a broad sense, we can find Bodhisattas around us in our daily lives, e.g. those individuals full of energy to serve the elderly and the sick. The late Mother Teresa is an example of a person who practiced the Bodhisatta ideal.

  • Significant Sacred Places in Buddhist History

    Birth Place of the Buddha - Lumbini Park

    The mother of the then Prince Siddhattha, Queen Maha Maya gave birth at Lumbini Park, on the Indian borders of Nepal. Why not in the palace? It is known that the custom of that time was for the queen to return to her maternal home to give birth, but things couldn't wait and the birth took place during her journey mid-way.  

    Where the Buddha Gained Enlightenment - Buddhagaya

    After struggling for 6 years, the Buddha finally gained enlightenment by his own effort, and sees things as they truly are. Buddhagaya marks the location where this took place more than 2,500 years ago.

    Deer Park - Hear The Buddha's First Lecture

    The Buddha delivered his first discourse - the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta after his enlightenment. It was not at a lecture hall, but at the beautiful deer park at Sarnath. 

    The Buddha's Last Stop - Kusinara

    The Buddha attained Parinibbana (or passed away in laymen's language) at 80 years old, after 45 years of tireless years of travelling and preaching the doctrine. This took place at Kusinara. 

    The rights of the original photographer's work are asserted. It's through these beautiful pictures that we once again feel close to the Buddha, who although left more than 2,500 years ago, but his teachings are always there to guide and inspire. 

  • The Buddhist Councils

    As you would have guessed, the primary aim of a Buddhist Council was to preserve and safeguard the originality of the Buddha's teachings. 

    It all started this way: It was understood that after the Buddha passed away, some not so righteous members of the Sangha then were happy that the Buddha was not there to oversee their conduct anymore, and they thought that they were free to do what they wanted. Alarmed by such behaviours and the possibility for heretic views to grow, the major disciples congregated together for a convention. Apart from stomping out any unrighteous elements of the Order, the most important activities performed were the recital and reaffirmation of the major teachings passed down by the Buddha, including the code of conduct for the Sangha, the discourses given by the Buddha, and the higher teachings. All these compilation were later known as the Tipitaka. This was the initial effort to preserve Buddhism, till it passes down to the present day. 

    The 1st Buddhist Council took place 3 months after the passing away of the Buddha. The other two major councils took place after 100 and more than 200 years later, respectively. 

  • Buddhist Calendar

    Have you ever come across some calendar referencing current year as something like 2540? There's nothing puzzling about it, as it refers to the Buddhist Calendar

    As you may know, the Buddha was born in 623 B.C. and passed away at the age of 80 years old, which was year 543 B.C. The Buddhist Calendar starts its reference point from here. Hence, year 2003 would translate to (2003 + 543) = year 2546.

    You can see the usage of Buddhist Calendar in Buddhist countries such as Thailand.

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