|An Introduction to Buddhism|
As a result of the seeds sown by the Indian missionaries,
Buddhism soon flowered into a number of distinctive schools
which were the products of the Chinese mind. Each of these
schools developed its own method of practice basing on a par-
ticular text and appealing to different sets of people. e most
outstanding schools amongst them being the T'ien-tai, Hua
Yen, Ch'an and Pure Land. e Pure Land School with its easy
method of practice that leads to salvation, together with such
a lovable deity as the Greatly Compassionate Kuan Shih Yin
P'usa easily won the largest number of adherents to make it the
principal school of Buddhism among the Chinese. Kuan Yin is
so popular that She is even worshipped in Taoist temples as the
Goddess of Mercy.
Buddhism is a universal religion, one which has brought peace
of mind, happiness and harmony to mil ions of people in its long
history of more than 2,500 years. It is suitable for anyone who
has a mind to perceive the Truth and who wishes to live his life
meaningful y for the benefit of others as it teaches one to have a
realistic view of both life and the world. It has no place however,
for those who are selfish and narrow-minded.
Buddhism does not encourage blind faith nor indulge in fright-
ening and agonising people with imaginary fears and feelings
of guilt in order to convert them. It is a practical religion which
encourages its fol owers to reason and query, even the teachings
of the Buddha. To live the life of a Buddhist, one must be ready
to fol ow the way of life that the Buddha has taught and this
requires great discipline, determination and self-effort. Right
practice of the religion leads to peace, tranquil ity, happiness,
wisdom and perfect freedom. For these and many other reasons,
Buddhism has satisfied the spiritual needs of more than one
third of mankind.
Buddhism is a way of life. It is also a religion of reason and dis-
ciplinary meditational practices leading to the purification of the
mind and Deliverance, the full liberation from the cycle of birth,
old age, diseases and death. In its long history, Buddhism has not
shed a single drop of blood in persuading people to walk its gen-
tle path. It is a religion that requires all its fol owers to practise
loving kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings.
Sakyamuni Buddha was deeply concerned with suffering in life
and for some forty-five years after his Enlightenment, taught
ways and means to overcome and transcend it. e Buddha's
theme is therefore one of liberation from all suffering and
e Buddha established the Noble Order of the Sangha, the
community of monks, more than 2500 years ago. After His
death (Parinirvana), His Teachings (Dharma) became the sole
guide and source of inspiration to the Sangha. However, the vast
teachings together with their profundity brought about different
understanding and interpretations so that two main schools of
thought came into being.
At the second Buddhist Council in Vaisali, held some 100
years after the death of the Buddha, the two great traditions
of the Hinayana and Mahayana were formal y established. e
Hinayanists (eravadins) fol ow the Pali Canon while the
Mahayanists took to heart the scriptures that were written in
is chart gives a brief summary of the two great schools of
Buddhism: Hinayana and Mahayana.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
DEVELOPMENT OF BUDDHISM
e chools of uddhism
e Pali Canon
Sanskrit and Translations in
Chinese & Tibetan
Pure Land, Ch'an and other
Chinese, Japanese & Tibetan
From India Buddhism gradual y spread out all over the Asian
continent with the eravada being widely accepted in Sri
Lanka, Burma, ailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia while
China, Mongolia, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan
accepted the Mahayana School of thought.
two great traditions share the same basic teachings of the
Buddha but their interpretations of the ideals and practices are
not quite the same. e eravada, often referred to as the Hi-
nayana, focuses on the attainment of the Arhat level of realisa-
tion while the Mahayana, being much more progressive, liberal
and open-minded, strives not for self liberation but to serve
mankind actively through the attainment of Bodhisat vahood.
e Mahayana recognises the weakness of human beings and
offers help in salvation through the services of the Bodhisat vas.
is great concern and at itude earns it the title "Mahayana" or
"Great Vehicle" as it seeks to benefit all beings by awakening their
enlightenment thought which leads them to practise the Bodhi-
sat va path. It is open to all who wish to practise it, whether
monk or laity, and therefore has won the hearts of countless
people, especial y the Chinese. As the Mahayana spreads across
the land, it absorbed the different cultures and indigenous be-
liefs, thus al owing the Great Vehicle to transform the wisdom
of Buddhahood to different people in a variety of ways. us we
find that there are more schools of Mahayana Buddhism which
are but different paths of practice leading to the same goal.
Hinayana Buddhism is not a metaphysical doctrine but a philo-
sophical one. It does not speculate on the origin of the world nor
the existence of God and neither does it accept the divinity of
the Buddha. e Buddha, himself is regarded as a man, a great
teacher, but not a God or Deity. e stress is on self-reliance and
it fol ows therefore that one should not expect miraculous help
from any deity in heaven at al . One should rather rely on one's
own efforts and conduct to achieve one's goals.
In Hinayana, the main aim of the strenuous religious disci-
plines is to develop oneself into a spiritual being of the highest
level, that of an ARHAT, a `worthy one' or a `perfected being',
who is able to bring to an end, the repeated rounds of rebirths
in the suffering worlds known as Samsara. Within Samsara
are six different kinds of existences: that of the Devas (gods),
Asuras (demi-gods), Humans, Animals, Pretas (ghosts) and
Hel -beings. Each being in these worlds or realms are subject
to the pains of birth, disease, old age and death which wil be
discussed in details later on.
Mahayana Buddhism is Devotional Buddhism which requires
its adherents to put ful faith in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
who possess the infinite power to save al beings. It is the path
of compassion and it rejects the idea of pursuit of Nirvana as a
lone quest which is considered self-centred and selfish. It also
teaches the concept of the Bodhisattva who is ful y concerned
in the salvation of al living beings. Bodhisattvahood, there-
fore, is the goal of the Mahayana which requires a resolve to
win ful enlightenment for the benefit of al that lives, and
thereafter, until Buddhahood, passes countless lifetimes in the
practice of the Six Perfections (Paramitas) of Giving, Moral-
ity, Patience, Perseverance, Meditation and Wisdom. rough
the practice of Giving, Morality and Patience, vast merits are
gained; through the practice of Meditation and Wisdom, tran-
scendental Knowledge is attained; and in order to be success-
ful in these practices the Perfection of Perseverance must be
What then is a Bodhisat va?
BODHISATTVA is a Sanskrit term with BODHI meaning Wisdom
or Enlightenment, and SATTVA, which means Essence or Being.
A Bodhisat va is thus a Wisdom-being or an Aspiring Buddha
who is determined to attain Buddhahood.
When enlightened, he renounces Nirvana and goes on living
Samsaric existences for the sake of others, perfects himself dur-
ing an incalculable period of time and final y realises Nirvana
and becomes a Ful y Enlightened Buddha, a Samyaksambuddha.
His main at ributes are love, compassion, selflessness and wis-
dom and his capacity for service to others is unlimited. e Vows
that he aspires to fulfill are:
"owever innumerable sentient beings are, vow to save them.
owever inexhaustible the defilements are, vow to extinguish them.
owever immeasurable the harmas are, vow to master them.
owever difficult nlightenment is, vow to at ain it!"
ese great Vows thus commit the Bodhisat va to lead all beings
to liberation and to remain in this world till the end, even for the
sake of a single being. ey are known as the Bodhisat va Vows
which all Mahayanists should practise.
A Bodhisat va is usual y presented as the personification of a
particular trait of the Buddha, and as there are numerous such
traits, so also are there different Bodhisat vas. A transcendent
Bodhisat va who enjoys the most devotion and popularity as
helper to liberation is AVALOKITESVARA (Kuan Shih Yin), who
is the compassionate aspect of the Buddha. He and other popu-
lar Celestial Bodhisat vas described in this book will help to
remove incorrect ideas and speculative doubts from the minds of
those who have lit le or no knowledge of the Bodhisat vas of the
While the Hinayana Arhat accumulates meritorious karma for
his own salvation through fol owing and practising the teach-
ings of the Buddha, he also serves others though his capacity to
do so is limited. e Mahayana Bodhisat va, on the other hand,
relentlessly carries out his mission of universal salvation, transfer-
ring his vast merits to the less fortunate ones so that they too
may enjoy the fruits of such merits. us the Bodhisat va Ideal
brings about much hope for the down-trodden and provides a
noble goal to those who are seriously on the Buddha's path. e
Arhat ideal may not sound as noble as that of the Bodhisat va
but it does not necessarily mean that the Mahayana is in any way
superior to the Hinayana practice. Both are ideal paths that lead
to enlightenment and those who are aspiring to become Arhats
are not necessarily selfish since Arhatship cannot be attained if
there is even the slightest tinge of selfishness left in his being. A
true Buddhist will not indulge in glorifying his path of practice,
he should realise that without the Hinayana there can be no
Mahayana path. What is more important is that they both share
the same fundamental teachings such as:-
1. Sakyamuni Buddha as the Original Buddha.
2. ere is no supreme deity who created the world and
3. e Four Noble Truths.
4. e Noble Eightfold Path.
5. e Truth of Dependent Origination (Pat icasamupada).
6. e concepts on Impermanence (Anicca), Suffering
(Dukkha) and Non-self (Anatta).
7. e ree Trainings (Trisiksa) of Morality (sila),
Meditation (samadhi) and Wisdom (prajna).
Both Schools of Buddhism entered China a few hundred years
after the Buddha's death but the Mahayana took firm roots in the
hearts of the Chinese as can be seen by the number of Mahayana
Sects that eventual y developed.
Historical record has it that two Buddhist missionaries from
India, on the 30th day of the 12th month, in the year 68 AD,
arrived at the court of Emperor Ming (ruled 5875 AD) of the
Han Dynasty. ey enjoyed imperial favours and stayed on to
translate various Buddhists Texts, one of which, e Sutra in
Forty-two Sections, enjoyed wide popularity which continues to
be so even today. Buddhism soon took roots in the Chinese soil
covering the entire country with monasteries which welcome all
who felt a call to enter a monastic life. ese monasteries sub-
sisted on a common fund sustained by gifts from the charitable.
ey became a refuge for the unhappy, the unwanted and those
who have noble intentions.
What gave the early Buddhists their popularity can be at ributed
mainly to the doctrines of the common brotherhood of men and
the Law of Cause and Effect. is taught that every good act
such as worship, charity, reading and printing scriptures, wish-
ing for the good of others and other good deeds would infal ibly
cause good results. e rewards of their faith in the compassion
and saving powers of the Buddhas and Bodhisat vas and other
Mahayana teachings easily at racted a great fol owing. More-
over, one could be a good Buddhist without actual y entering the
Order, as was impossible according to the Hinayana. Another
very important factor which helped to spread and popularised
Mahayana Buddhism was its non-rejection of the peoples' ethnic
faiths so that their gods and spirits were absorbed into its vast
pantheon. ere was no real harm in worshipping such deities so
long as it was recognised that englightenment could be won only
by fol owing the way of the Buddha and not gained through
godly worship. e Chinese could thus continue to turn to their
gods for worldly boons such as success in love affairs, business,
gaining wealth, recovering of il ness and even requesting for
extension of life. is may seem a superstitious practice but do
not people of other faiths also pray to their gods for such help?
Chinese Buddhism has therefore, its own unique flavour and
beauty since it has, to a certain extent, been influenced by Tao-
ist thoughts. us the Chinese Pantheon came into being. e
sole intention of producing this book is to provide useful infor-
mation to the uninformed Buddhists who worship such figures
in the temples. It also serves to explain to non-Buddhists that
Buddhists often respect and honour gods and deities but do not
take refuge in them.
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