Tree of Life Lessons
Level 1 Lesson 7 World Religions
Buddhism is more of an ethereal and psychological approach to God than a religion; but because it has a systematic approach to devotion, it is classified as a religion. There are over 350,000,000 followers of the Enlightened One.
The doctrines and teachings of Buddha were handed down by oral tradition for several centuries after his transition. After this time, they were written and took the form of a canon. Some of the earliest writings we have are from the Ceylonese monks. This is called the Pali version, which is the best authority for early Buddhism.
Another version of the canon is found among the monks of
At this time, there was a scholastic expansion and elaboration of Gautama’s teachings. During this period, the classification of the basic teachings was also started.
There are two major schools of Buddhism. The “Mayahana” School follows the path of “glory realization” meaning they see Buddha as One who gave up the world so that all men might find the Truth.
The sutras, which are distinctively Mahayana, are explained by stating that each branch of Buddhism was given teachings by Buddha according to their spiritual development.
These sutras hold the key to realization so that one may become either Buddha Amitabha (those who have gained Buddhahood and continue evolving after transition) or Bodhisatt (those who have gained purification and emancipation, but refuse to enter Nirvana out of love for mankind and return to help them find salvation).
In a cosmic sense, the Theravadas hold the whole cosmos in “momentariness”; yet, this lack of stability within a form does not hamper one’s spiritual development or the growth of the cosmos.
The real line of continuity is in the “causal laws” which no follower of Buddha denies. All being is thus causally interrelated to the total beingness of the cosmos.
Buddhism is then an extension of Hinduism -- cleansed and strengthened with an esoteric-scientific knowing. Buddha gave his followers four “Noble Truths” as guidelines. They are:
1. The Novel Truth concerning Suffering. All sentient existence is suffering continued through an endless succession of lives under the inexorable Law of Retribution.
2. The Second Noble Truth. The origin of suffering is the craving and desire either on a physical level or on a spiritual level. This is caused by ignorance.
The Third Noble Truth.
If one wishes to end the suffering, this can be done by letting go of desire.
Buddha said: “Whatsoever is subject to origination is subject to cessation.”
The Fourth Noble Truth.
This is the “Middle Path” which leads to the cessation of suffering. It is
above the sensual plane and keeps away from self-torture. It is the “Noble
Eightfold Path” -- Right View,
Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Right
The goal of the path
is Nirvana. This is not defined in Gautama’s teachings. All disciples seek
this goal though.
The canon, which contains these laws, is called the Dharma.
The Dharma consists of “Three Baskets”. These are: (1) Monasticism, (2)
Discourse (sutra), and (3) Abstract
We must not assume
that all the teachings were written. Buddha said that the “Noble Truths”
must be learned from the Supreme Buddha.
Only after countless
reincarnations on this plane with the sole aim of each lifetime of becoming a
Buddha can one achieve the full Light. He then descends from Heaven in a dense
body, gains the supreme Illumination, and preaches the Truth.
When the Buddha goes
through transition, he enters complete Nirvana and can neither hear nor answer
prayers. His memory is honored by the Brothers who meditate upon him and receive
much from doing this.
The external “Order” of Brother is on an equal basis with Buddha and the Law and Doctrine. It is one of the “Three Jewels” and, therefore, of supreme veneration.
For over two
centuries, we have had little information concerning the growth of Buddha’s
teachings. Between the transition of Buddha and the time when the religion
started gaining national attention, two councils were held which are of
The first council was
called “Rajagaha”. It was held shortly after Gautama’s transition, and
defined and fixed the canon of discipline and doctrine.
The other council --
held a century after -- was called the Council of Vesali. This council settled
ten disputed points of discipline.
After 250 BCE,
Buddhism began its conquest of
Soon after the spread of Christianity, two schools appeared -- Mahayana,
or “Great Vehicle”, and Theravada, or “Little Vehicle”.
Through the 7th
century, these two schools existed side by side although some of their teachings
were radically different.
itself to its surroundings and merged comfortably with Hinduism although the two
faiths remained distinct.
In the 12th
century, Islam dealt an all but fatal blow to Buddhism in northern
Buddhism was brought
Buddhism as taught by
Gautama is today found only in
Buddhists in some
areas of Asia, especially
pile no wood for fires or altars;
kindle a flame within me
heart the hearth, the flame the redeemed Self.”
When Buddha began his
work, it was a period of “radical social readjustment and deepening religious
need.” There were wars between the local rulers which gave added power to the
formation of a rigid cast system. Life was becoming a fight just to have enough
food and shelter.
The past was choking
religion to death. The Vedas were taught as the final authority rather than
living truths which were to be viewed through each generation’s eyes.
Rite and ceremony
became the norm of one’s devotion rather than actions. Cosmologies abounded --
some teachers holding more than one and each teacher claiming his was the
Yet, Buddha saw at the
core that religion was once again losing contact with the people. Dogma and
ceremony was choking all practical fulfillment. Into this, Buddha infused light
and love and swept it clean.
Buddha taught that the
Self was Lord. Man should seek to walk with God always. Tibetan Buddhists look
to the manifestation of God in every facet of human life. Out of this, an
abstract system of thought emerges a belief which remains stubbornly practical
at its core.
Buddhist logic relies
very much upon the Law of Cause and Effect. All things spring from a cause, and
the First Cause is God.
Man awakens -- Bodhisattva: “an awakened being”; Buddha: “Awake”
or “The Wake” -- through a chain of causes. The being striving to become
awakened in many lifetimes (that is, possessing the “will to live”) works
with and through the wheel of Karma to achieve further lifetimes until he is
able to achieve Nirvana.
As stated previously,
Buddha did not bother to define Nirvana or Heaven. He was much too concerned
with the practical needs of the people. From the bits and pieces where he
alludes to Nirvana, it might be likened to “the flight of the Alone to the
Alone ascending into heaven.”
Buddha did have much
to say about Karma. He stated that the Law of Karma controlled the universe as
well as individuals. It is due to ignorance (“avidya”) and involves many
A Doctrine of
Ignorance resulted with twelve Nidanas, or steps on the causal chain. According
to the Abhedharmakosa, “being ignorant in our previous life as to the
significance of our existence, we let loose our desires and act wantonly. Owing
to this Karma, we are destined in the present life to be endowed with
consciousness, name and form, and six organs of sense and sensation, and to
cling to these illusive existences which have no ultimate reality whatsoever.”
Much of this has to do
with knowing -- of Knowledge. Each school defines different forms of Knowledge.
These different views are taken from Buddha’s teachings.
“Illusion” is one
form that appears in every school. It
is stressed that many of life’s troubles are illusions springing from ego
which is nourished by ignorance.
accepts the fact that the absolutes cannot be gleaned from everyday life.
Therefore, to deal with everyday situations, relative truth is sufficient.
knowledge” (Truth) is for the enlightened. It is perfect knowing and is the
goal all Buddhists strive towards. Absolute knowledge (“prajna”) leads to
Buddhists also stress
the doctrine of Tathata or “suchness”. This is taking things as they are. It
is not, however, a separate entity in itself, but is the one-ness of all things.
Suchness means “being”.
imply void when speaking of suchness. Void, or “Sunyata”, is the state of
all objects which are experienced and to which we incline ourselves. These are
Void, of Void, from Void, with Void, and in Void.
Buddhism can teach us
much. In a fundamental sense, it is Logic and Reason spiritually applied in a
practical way. Buddha knew that only after man could control his own universe --
his own animal -- could the Light become a part of his reality.
Buddha once told his
followers: “I live, yet not I, but the Law within me.”