Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world which is based on old traditions and cultural norms of Eastern hemisphere. The main peculiarity and distinction of this religion is that it emphasizes meditation practices. Buddhism shows the universal character based on the ritual doctrines and unique practices which awake human spirit and consciousness. A glance at the long history of Buddhism shows that it has been, at different times and in different settings, a dynamic religious movement. Buddhism involves the belief of existence that does not end with death: man is reborn in this world or a similar realm, and existence with all its ills may continue through a dreaded cycle of successive rebirths. Researchers suppose that Buddhism is one of the most popular religions in the world with 5--- million believers (Conze, 1997). It is popular in East Asian countries including India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, etc.
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Historians suppose that Buddhism was founded in the 5th century BC. The starting point was the birth of Buddha and beginning of his teaching. The country of origin is supposed to be Nepal (ancient India). Through many legendd, the Founder, Gautama, is discerned as a young noble of the Sakyan clan in Northern India, some six centuries before the Christian era, who combined a sage moral insight with deep religious conviction. This conviction has been disguised for some by the fact that Gautama avoided exaggerations, for religion, by many minds, has frequently been identified with the abnormal and the extreme (Conze, 1997). Gautama, in his first 'sermon' at Benares, preached a Middle Way. His followers were to avoid sensuality, on the one hand, and, on the other, the extremes of asceticism which he himself had practised in vain. He seems to have shared with his contemporaries a pessimistic valuation of the ceaseless round of Ill, the grim cycle of repeated, frustrating existence in which men felt themselves to be trapped, and the pith of his teaching has often appeared as a diagnosis of cause and effect, linking the suffering of life to man's wayward passions, hot desires, and consequent illusion. Historians suppose that “even an age which saw Gautama primarily as an intellectual moralist, conceiving it possible that an Erasmus could be a Luther, a Buddhaghooa a Gautama, could not fail to note the signs of religious fervor” (Armstrong, 2001, p. 32). During the 5th century BC, missionary journeys were punctuated by times of retreat and assembly. The first monasteries were established, the Order (the Sam%u0323gha) was formed, and through the Order, the Doctrine (the Dhamma) was transmitted by recital until, two or three centuries after Gautama's death, it is embodied in written scriptures (Conze, 1997).
The Main Concepts of Buddhism
The main concepts of the religion involve ideals of liberation reflected in nirvana, three Buddras (Therevada, Mahayana and Buddra eras) and Bodhisattvas. Nirvana, for the Buddhist, is the word of release from this cycle. Positive conceptions, on the other hand, interpret Nirvana in terms of fulfillment, survival and bliss, a continuation of life beyond the cycle of present, and existence. Such conceptions may be compared with the hope of immortality in other religions (Hurst, 1992). They signify an ultimate consummation, even when the conception of individual survival is vague or absent. Some of the earlier scholars agreed that when Buddhism traveled north to China and Japan, Nirvana became a positive conception, but the scriptures of Southern Buddhism, reflecting an earlier, more authentic tradition, implied, they believed, a negative conception. Western scholars, however, are still groping very much in the dark, for Buddhism, so far as the West are concerned, are a recent discovery (Kohn, 1991).
The four noble truths of Buddhism are (1) “there is suffering; (2) there is a cause of suffering; (3) there is the cessation of suffering and (4) there is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering” (Kohn, 1991, p. 43). The religious character of Buddhism may be discerned even in the discord among his followers which began in the Buddha's lifetime and divided the first great council, which was held after his death, for sectarianism is more the sign of religious zeal than of philosophic interest. Rival interpretations led eventually to the two main divisions of Buddhism which exist today -- the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) or Northern Buddhism, prevalent in China and Japan, and the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) or Southern Buddhism, prevalent in Ceylon, Burma and Siam. Prior to this division, there had been a vigorous revival of missionary activity under the great king, Aioka (circa B.C. 245) (Hurst, 1992). Traveling overseas, Buddhism established its citadel in Ceylon when the new faith declined in India before a resurgent Hinduism. Buddhism is essentially tolerant and seldom aggressive, but time and again in its long history it has manifested this fervor and persistence. It has known occasions of decline and even decadence. It has, in places, gone underground and almost disappeared. But through all vicissitudes it has shown a remarkable tenacity, and today it is still one of the living religions of the world. The exclamation arises even more irrepressibly if historians consider the subsequent history of Buddhism. Also, Buddhism does not account on race, caste or nationality.
Every philosopher and philosophical school has developed a unique interpretation of “a self” and “ the essence of life” supporting their arguments by values and laws of their historical epoch. For Buddhist, life is full of doubt and of self-awareness. Its philosophy can be describes as a critical thoughtfulness which has a great influence on his world interpretation (Kohn, 1991). The good life is the life of a lively and inquisitive mind. The main texts of Buddhism include “Jungle of the Transmissions of the Lamp” portraying traveling experience of Bodhidharma. Huike, a follower of Bodhidharma, was appointed the first Chinese patriarch and the second patriarch of Buddhism in China. There is little information about the other patriarchs, but the last one, Huineng, was one of the most important figures in Buddhism history. Another important feature of Buddhism is numerous interpretations of Buddhism teaching developed during the Tang and the Song periods. They represent “Five houses” in Chinese Buddhism: Caodong, Linji, Fayan, Guiyang, Yunmen. In Japan, Buddhism was popular during thirteenth- sixtieth century and was a privilege of samurai class (Hanh, 1994).
Appeal may be made to the Buddhist emphasis on reincarnation (rebirth), and further appeal may be made to the recognized distinction between what is expected of the layman and what is expected of the monk: the layman cannot be required to understand the truth which is only attained through monkish disciplines (Hanh, 1994). These explanations are pertinent. But they are not sufficient. The further explanation is to be found in certain undertones, certain basic tendencies, certain similarities of approach which influence monks and laity alike. These may be summed up and defined as the Emphasis and the Ethical Emphasis. Making these emphases, though in different ways, learned bhikkus and simple villagers are in deeper, more effective sympathy than might be supposed if historians isolate and regard their more explicit and divergent conceptions. In both cases, the resultant outlook is positive rather than negative. Hence the persistence of a lively popular faith which may seem at times to contradict its own basic dogmas Nirvana, then, is Mystery, but it is nevertheless the concept which completes faith and inspires conduct. Agnosticism is here, but it belongs to faith, not to doubt; it is joined with affirmation, not with negation. Every invocation, every blessing, every devotion ends with Nirvana, as does life itself. No gaudy heaven, however attractive, can take the place of the Great Peace. Nirvana is fundamentally a positive concept, in keeping with that hopefulness and buoyancy which historians have remarked as a characteristic of Burmese Buddhism. Religion therefore signifies both human insight and human incapacity, and the insight signified is both stimulated and challenged by human logic. Mysticism, he remarks, is a definite stage in the historical development of religion, making its appearance under certain well-defined conditions (Smith, 1992).
Monastery and Monastic Life
Monastery life is an important part of the religious tradition of Buddhism. A monastery suggests to many minds a cloistered company, shut away behind high walls, or secluded on some remote hillside, as frequently in China. The monastic building, with its seven-tiered roof denoting sanctity, is generally found just outside a village, set in a bamboo grove or flanked by shady mango trees (Hanh, 1994). Rising to a tapering umbrella point (hti) above the trees, there is a tsedi or pagoda which may be painted white or gold. Smaller pagodas are grouped around. Generally within the monastery building, but sometimes outside, there is an image of the Buddha, and probably several others -- but always the same Buddha, Gautama, and invariably in the same posture, seated, with one arm across his lap. The whole atmosphere is one of ordered, unhurried peace, whether within the timbered buildings, or within the surrounding compound. It provides the village school. There the boys learn to read and write. There, moreover, they are tutored in Buddhist lore, with a firm emphasis on ethical requirements. They learn the 'three Jewels' which enjoin reverence for the Buddha, the Law and the Order, and the five precepts -- not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to commit adultery, not to drink intoxicants (Smith, 1992).
The Nature of Teaching
For Buddhists, people’s happiness is caused by doing what is right, and only when a person can reach the state of true utility he achieves happiness, an the good life. All actions of people are aimed toward the positive, and purpose is in nature. These interpretations involve a radical change in the nature of society and the structures of politics. The conditions of possibility, in which such a life can be attempted to be lived, take the view that the institutions of the modern state, as these were developing in the advanced societies, did have the potential for accommodating a range of spheres of life such as private morality and economic activity within which individualism could flourish, but which at the same time were held within a set of political institutions capable of securing. Buddhism incorporates basic traditions and philosophy of Buddhism using such concepts as Four Noble Truths, the five Skandhas, the Eightfold Path, and the three dharma seals. Specific elements of Buddhism are paramitas and universal salvific power. The nature of Buddhism is that enlightenment can be achieved through the understanding of the notion that one is already an enlightened being. This understanding of the existence is often compared with awakening of human consciousness or can be like a flash (Smith, 1992).
Buddhism can be explained as a programming of human mind through meditation. Buddhism teaching includes unconscious ideas that shape everyday behavior of followers. Similar to other religions, Buddhism tradition sees the society in microcosm with its own specific cultures and ways of transmitting these cultures to their members. A special role in Buddhism devoted to direct communication with disciples. The role of a teacher is to interpret and expound notions of dharma, guide meditation and rituals. This understanding limits human existence and Buddhist practice helps to overcome limitation of our views through meditation and contemplation. “A self” and the good life do not exist in opposition or in one-sided dependence: rather “a self” makes explicit in science and philosophy forces at work in nature. It incorporates the being as a part of universe (Smith, 1992).
Meditation takes a special place in Buddhism as a way to “awakening”. Posture and breathing are the main elements of Buddhism practice. Another interesting detail of Buddhism is meditation practices based on Koan which takes a form of story or dialog. Koan means a tool which help to reach enlightenment through answer often unanswerable problems. Usually, this practice is used by Buddhist monks who have a peculiar swing when they walk which bears resemblance with other religious traditions of the world (Smith, 1992).
Buddhism represents a unique combination of Buddhism and Chinese and Japanese cultural norms created and developed along the centuries. It is more a way of living and thinking of people then religion. Buddhism is a tradition which has been “coined” by ancient philosophers and their followers. Buddhism makes nature close to common people helping them to become a part of universal spirit and wisdom. Buddhism teaches that the way of thinking and interpretation of the world is crucial for human happiness and consciousness. It is possible to say that human life is religiously determined and that the key to successful ideas lies in the understanding of universal dogmas and values (Tsiji, 2008).
The frequent festivals not only enliven, they express and stabilise the community life. They are often local, but certain shrines, such as the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon, have become centres of pilgrimage. In a country which has had a strong tendency to de-centralization -- the king's authority was often very weak -- the Buddhist Order has made for cohesion, and, in modern times, Buddhist monks have been active in the movement for national independence. Buddhism is very much a matter of individual concern. Historians have seen this individualism within the monastery. It is equally marked outside the monastery. Since the benefit accruing to the donor partly depends on the worthiness of the object, the maintenance of religion is a valued means of self-help.” Hence the many pagodas. Hence the gifts to the monasteries. There is no more coveted title than 'Builder of Monasteries. Hence, too, the welcome to the monk as he comes in the early morning with his begging bowl” (Welbon, 2003). The monk may seem to be the chief recipient. But in the things which matter, he is the donor. Though others may thus provide the opportunity, essentially the activity is self-help. Emphasis is laid on individual responsibility. It is something a man must do for himself. It also modifies the sense of fatalism which might be derived from another conception, this time a Buddhist conception -- the idea that a man's present character and situation are largely determined, according to inexorable moral law, by what he has done, and not done, in previous births (Welbon, 2003).
Philosophical interpretation of Buddhism
Historians and religious critics underline that the language of religious tradition, following the stage of conscious reflection, may be considered to indicate a more conscious acknowledgment of this Abyss, whether or no it is conceived as the Abyss between Man and God. Some may be content to leave the question there, believing that this is as far as strict science can penetrate. Whether awareness of the Abyss includes awareness of a Somewhat Beyond -God, Brahman, Nirvana -- that is a question intellect persists in raising, but the language of paradox sometimes suggests that intellect will never know the answer. In Buddhism, and not in Buddhism alone, there is the further suggestion that it is this very restlessness of intellect which prevents its purpose, a restlessness joined to a roving fancy which keeps it occupied in a world of little, transient things, uneasily aware of the immensities beyond, but too fevered to face them calmly (Welbon, 2003).
As a consequence, the quality of life came to be judged on the transcendent plane of good and evil instead of on that of subjective criteria like pleasure. It was no longer the life of material blessing, high social position, and physical delight that was considered excellent. Instead, the life lived in accordance with either God's Law or the Buddhist Law, depending on the faith of the evaluator, was held up as exemplary. Salvation is the opposite of the finiteness and suffering of this world. In short, it is the attainment of infinity and liberation from suffering. Believers in primitive religions trace the misery of this world to human dependence on spirits and demons whose sufferance and assistance they attempt to win by means of offerings. Similarly, as you have commented, they make offerings and perform ceremonies for the sake of the happiness and salvation of the dead. The question of whether man may find salvation as personal happiness in this life or may only hope for it in the form of postmortem happiness delineates the higher religions from each other. All these higher religions assume that salvation or damnation after death depends on the extent to which the individual human being has abided by or transgressed certain standards. This is believed to be especially the case when whatever divine principle the religion honors is assumed to be the stand setter (Tsiji, 2008). The Buddhist believes it possible to shape earthly happiness within the bounds of the individual's karma. In addition to this substantial center of faith in salvation, the higher religions have a number of other common features defining their inner dispositions and outer forms and making them all comparable. As has often been said, all of them have something like a moral codex. It is also essential, however, to the formulation, sanctioning, and canonizing of the faith's traditions, which comprise utterances, warnings, and prophecies of the founder collected and annotated by his disciples and other believers. When Indian Buddhism was taken to China, its scriptures, originally given written form in Pali or Sanskrit, were translated into Chinese. When it was introduced into Japan, however, there was no written Japanese language into which to translate the teachings. At the time of the introduction, the Japanese were borrowing the Chinese writing system. Consequently, any Japanese capable of reading at all was ostensibly capable of reading Chinese-language versions of the Buddhist scriptures. Buddhism emphasizes the spirit of compassion. Just as theological definitions for the love of God have been worked out, so Buddhist compassion has also been fundamentally defined as a spirit of concern for weaker beings. But this definition requires expanded explanation. Buddhist thought analyzes compassion further according to the range of beings to which it is applied. Smallscale compassion is directed only toward such intimates as family, friends, and acquaintances. Medium-scale compassion recognizes the dignity of all life and strives to protect the lives of all people, even those of no personal connection at all. Great compassion is demonstrated by people who have plumbed the full depth of the Buddhist Law and who are compassionate in all their acts, conscious and unconscious. Small-scale compassion belongs in the category of natural human love and affection (Welbon, 2003).
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world with the unique set of ideals and religious practices. All of them have liturgical and cultural rules regulating deportment by means of articles of faith. All of them expand their practice of faith into some kind of precepts that usually contain anthropological, convictions. Since such extensively ecclesiastically institutionalized religions are seldom able to usurp political power entirely or for long periods, there are always a variety of other sects, or bodies of believers, claiming to have found their own cultic and dogmatic ways to salvation and, perforce, more or less sharply contrasting with their competitors. The formation of a Buddhist community of believers gives rise to authority in matters of faith. Prerequisite to the assurance of the unity and compactness of the life and teachings of faith, such authority is essential to the ordering and regimentation of the life-rituals of members of the body of believers.