Who was the Buddha?
The Buddha was a prince in ancient India, born in Nepal 2600 years ago to the Sakya Clan. His father dreamed of him becoming a powerful world leader and expanding their Kingdom. But Siddhartha (Buddha’s name before enlightenment) would disappoint his father and leave the life of a prince, to seek a way to end the world’s suffering.
The Buddha gave up all his wealth and comfort and became a homeless ascetic living in the forest, studying with different teachers, until he decided to strike out on his own. After 6 years of arduous practice, Siddhartha attained full awakening under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India, and became known as the Buddha, or fully awakened one.
The Buddha followed the middle path between the extremes of self denial and hedonism. After many trials and tribulations he attained the perfect peace of enlightenment – a final, permanent state. When one attains enlightenment, one ends all ignorance and self grasping and cuts the root of all negative emotions, one no longer has to be born in the wheel of birth and death.
The Buddha formulated the Four Noble Truths and the eight Fold Noble Path which is the most essential of his many teachings.
There is Suffering/ Disatisfactoryness
“Now this, bhikkhus (monks), is the noble truth of suffering:
birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering;
union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates (that comprise the relative mind and body) subject to clinging are suffering.”
There is a cause of Suffering
There is an end of suffering (enlightenment)
“Now this, bhikkhus (monks), is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.”
There is a path leading to the end of suffering - the Noble Eight Fold Path"
“Now this, bhikkhus (monks), is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”
The Eight Fold Noble Path
1. Right Understanding
Includes a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths, how ignorance gives rise to self grasping, negative emotion, actions, karma, and the many sufferings of life and the wheel of rebirth.
2. Right Thought
The aspiration to act with correct intention, doing no harm, abandoning the negative emotions of ignorance, aversion/hate and craving/unskilful desire and cultivating wisdom, loving kindness and compassion and simplicity and contentment.
3. Right Speech
Cultivating skillful speech that is truthful, kind, uplifting and wise, timely and that sets oneself and others on the path of wisdom and justice. It also means abstaining from lying, and divisive or abusive speech.
4. Right Action
Creating places of safety for the vulnerable, creating a great store of generosity and positive karma, aiding those who suffer. Also acting in ways that do not cause harm, such as not taking life, not stealing, and not engaging in sexual misconduct.
5. Right Livelihood
Making an ethically sound living, being honest in business dealings, avoiding unethical or violent occupations. Being just with your colleagues and employees.
6. Right Effort
Endeavoring to give rise to skillful thoughts, words, and deeds and renouncing unskillful ones. Giving rise to virtuous spiritual states that have not yet arisen, prolonging those that arise and cutting off unwholesome states of mind.
7. Right Mindfulness
Being mindful of one’s body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities by cultivating the four foundations of mindfulness. Living in the present moment, returning to peace and the breath many times per day. The past is gone, the future is just a dream. The present moment is where the miracle of life is taking place.
8. Right Wisdom
Practicing skillful meditation informed by all of the preceding seven aspects and realizing the interdependent nature of how everything is interconnected and arises in dependence upon each other. For example you arise in dependence upon your mother, father, farmers growing your food, education, water, shelter, culture, air and many other factors. If we remove one of those factors, you may be a completely different person or not exist at all. Because you arise in dependence upon so many non self elements, we say you are without a permanent lasting self, being empty of a permanent self, your relative conditioned mind body continuum is full of all of heaven and earth. But your non self elements are also empty of a pure lasting existence, arise dependently, are impermanent, and conditioned. Thus you have a sacred interconnectedness with all of life. This we call emptiness, but it also means fullness. It cannot be called God or soul.
(Understanding this fundamental teaching of emptyness requires a much deeper and more thorough investigation.)
The Schools of Buddhism
After the Buddha passed away, Buddhism thrived in much of India, becoming one of the major religions, for a time. Buddhism travelled down the Silk Road and gradually with time and evolution, different schools of Buddhism formed.
This is one of the earliest school of Buddhism found in much of South Asia in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
The early suttas of Buddhism found in the Pali Connon are emphasised here, as is meditation, morality and renunciation. Monks in this tradition tend to follow the monks rules more strictly. The aim of Theravada is to become enlightened as an Arhat – someone beyond all ignorance and negative emotions who is not reborn in the world again.
The main focus of Theravada is the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Noble Path, mindfulness, an ethical, kind and simple life of non violence leading to awakening.
Over time from around the 5th century AD on Mahayana, or the great Vehicle (path) arose. Mahayana emphasises compassion and flexibility. Generally lay people occupy a higher status in this tradition and the ideal of the Bodhisattva – a compassionate spiritual warrior who strives to become a fully awakened Buddha (a Buddha has more merit and spiritual power to help others on the path than an Arhat does) to liberate all beings from suffering. The bodhisattva develops the boundless attitude of bodhicitta (described above) and follows the six perfections
4) Joyous Effort
Zen, Chan and the sutric schools of Tibetan Buddhism all belong to Mahayana. Mahayana initially developed in Northern India and Kashmir and then spread to Northern Asia in places like Gandhara (Afghanistan), China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
Mahayana views the Buddha more as a superhuman being and also an awakened force of compassion present in all beings. Mahayana sparked a creative art, architectural and poetic renaissance in Asia.
Vajrayana developed in secret in Northern India and is an esoteric form of Mahayana Buddhism that is founded upon the bodhisattva ethos, but employs esoteric visualizations to quickly bring about full awakening.
The basic idea is that we live in a world of form, sound, smell, taste and touch and that to purify physical form we visualise the form of an awakened being or archetype. To purify negative speech we say mantras and to purify impure vision we merge our mind with the mind of the Buddha and realise that the Buddha’s awakened nature us inseparable with our own. Rather than abandoning the world and the senses, we try to purify them into the pure vision of a Buddha. Because of the esoteric nature of Vajrayana, confusion and self deception arises more easily. Thus is why one needs a peoper underunderstanding of the foundational Theravada and Mahayana.
Proper preliminary practice and guidance from a qualified teacher is needed in this tradition as all the texts are esoteric and need explanation. There is also a living lineage of realisation and transmission that is required. One should carefully investigate the potential teacher, check their are ethical and have an authentic lineage. Tantra or Buddhist Vajrayana is not about sexual exploitation or abuse.