Bodhisattva [Sanskrit bodhi = enlightenment + sattva = existence]
According to Mayhayana Buddhist belief, the bodhisattva is the near enlightened being who forestalls complete enlightenment in order to lead others to a similar state of awareness.
The bodhisattva is said to have seen the proverbial door leading to total enlightenment but waits before entering in order to help others reach that same realization.
Wikipedia elaborates as such:
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व bodhisattva; Pali: बोधिसत्त bodhisatta) is either an enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva) or an enlightenment-being or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, “heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi).” The Pali term has sometimes been translated as “wisdom-being,” although in modern publications, and especially in tantric works, this is more commonly reserved for the term jñānasattva (“awareness-being”; Tib. ཡེ་ཤེས་སེམས་དཔའ་་, Wyl. ye shes sems dpa’).
Because the bodhisattva has a sincere desire to lead others to enlightenment (as they understand it), they’re often venerated as a personal savior, which seems a bit ironic considering Buddhists usually claim that ultimate truth is beyond individuals, veneration, status, attachment to others, etc.
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According to Buddhist legend, the Bodhi Tree the tree under which the seated Buddha-to-be resolved to find Truth.
Apparently the future Buddha was first pursued by demons and then received what he believed were heavenly visions.
Rejecting both as temporary and unreal, he attained Nirvana, which for him and his followers is the ultimate, true and unchanging reality.
The term Bodhi Tree also refers to a number of trees that Buddists believe are descendents from the original Bodhi Tree. Wikipedia explains:
The Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is called the Sri Maha Bodhi. According to Buddhist texts the Buddha, after his Enlightenment, spent a whole week in front of the tree, standing with unblinking eyes, gazing at it with gratitude.¹
Buddhists preach about non-detachment and anatman (no-self) and yet, like adherents of most other religions, tend to venerate a whole series of ritualistic objects, from this kind of tree to well-kept rock gardens. In fact, one could argue that some Buddhist monasteries – not unlike some Christian monasteries – appear more like well-funded middle class havens instead of a place where any kind of real letting go of worldly things occurs.
That would be fine if admitted as such. But the sanctimonious preaching about renunciation that often comes from these places sometimes seems facile and, perhaps, a touch hypocritical.
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The word “church” has different meanings. Architecturally it refers to a building used for public religious worship.
Church also refers to an entire body of religious believers and usually the hierarchically ordained clergy who guide and instruct that body of worshippers.
Wikipedia tells us:
The above meanings may or may not apply to Christian belief. In today’s world, “church” also applies to Buddhism and, in fact, to any government-recognized religious body of believers and their creed.
These assemblies are usually tax exempt so stringent criteria must be met before a public assembly is designated as a church. And follow-up procedures are sometimes necessary to guard against the public being scammed by fraudsters setting up a “church” for the sole purpose of tax evasion.
Most Christian and Buddhist churches have undergone serious divisions, each splinter group claiming they’ve uniquely preserved and, perhaps, elaborated on the true source of their faith.
From the perspective of conventional reasoning all of the truth claims arising from the different churches (and their many divisions) cannot be correct. But also from conventional reasoning it doesn’t follow that all of these claims are necessarily incorrect.
It’s conceivable (if improbable) that one church teaches absolute, perfect truth while others contain no or, perhaps, partial truths. It’s also conceivable that one church is truest (but not absolutely true) while others remain somewhat less true.
Other perspectives suggest that all churches and the truths they proclaim are equally valid and true. This is the “anything goes” perspective we sometimes find among New Age enthusiasts. Interestingly, this perspective is allegedly supported by interior visions and other extraordinary experiences. Most mainstream currents of belief also tend to claim some kind of supernatural authority. However, these various ‘authorities’ usually say something entirely unique. It’s a fallacy to say that all religions teach the same thing. They do not—not when each religion is taken on its own terms, at any rate.
Alternately, some maintain that all churches and the truths they proclaim are bogus.
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Ch’an Buddhism is the Chinese equivalent of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Based on the Sanskrit word dhyana, Ch’an apparently was brought to China in the early 6th century by the Buddhist Missionary Bodhidharma (also said to be the first to develop the koan).
Ch’an essentially is a meditation school. While interpretations differ as to the character of its ultimate goal (i.e. Buddha-mind), generally it can be described as a stillness where no distinctions exist between subject and object, good and evil and where emotion is brought to a place of quiescence or indifference. In other words, Ch’an claims to offer a path that leads beyond duality.
These lines sum up Bodhidharma’s teaching:
A special transmission outside the scripture
No dependence upon words or letter
Direct pointing to the soul of man
Seeing into nature and attainment of Buddhahood.¹
It should be noted, however, that Ch’an doesn’t scorn conceptual knowledge. Instead, it tries to avoid excessive intellectualization. This is an important distinction that many Buddhists and, perhaps, Gnostics seem to miss. There’s nothing wrong with thinking and forming concepts, Ch’an says. As human beings we simply must do. And healthy thinking can even extend to trying to map out ultimate concerns—that is, to develop a cosmology. The problem, as Ch’an sees it, is when we cling to intellectual ideas without enough spiritual experience to justify doing so.
We find this kind of excessive intellectualization not just in Asian religions, but in any immature fundamentalism where people “think” about what’s right and what is, without any truly elevated experience behind their ideas. These people latch onto or proclaim a pet theory because doing so gives them social comfort and, perhaps, pays the bills (as in fundamentalist organizations that demand or pressure workers to believe in a particular interpretation of sacred scripture).²
Another interesting feature of Ch’an is that its insights do not rely on seated meditation. Instead, a great deal of creative physical activity goes hand in hand with the inner quest.
As D. Howard Smith puts it:
The search for direct communication with the inner nature of things and the vision of a world beyond all opposites led to a great outpouring of creative art in China and Japan.³
So with Ch’an we don’t always find navel gazing meditators who artificially try to remove themselves from all that the world has to offer. Instead, there seems to be more of a creative integration between the contemplative and creative aspects of the human self. This path arguably comes closer to the Hindu ideal of karma-yoga (the yoga of action).
¹ Cited in S. G. F. Brandon, ed., Dictionary of Comparative Religion (1970), p. 186.
² Whether or not these workers actually believe in and privately follow what they outwardly display through their sugar-coated, squeaky clean work personas is another matter altogether.
³ D. Howard Smith in S. G. F. Brandon (1970), p. 187.
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Happiness is also regarded as dukkha because of its impermanence. For Buddhists, the inevitable loss of worldly happiness begets unhappiness.
By way of contrast, most Buddhists would argue that the allegedly ‘supreme bliss’ attained from Nirvana is permanent.
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The Diamond Sutra is a well-known Buddhist work of thirty-two chapters, taking the form of a dialogue between the Sakyamuni Buddha and the disciple, Subhuti. It comes from a Mahayana school of Buddhism known as the perfection of wisdom school (Prajñāpāramitā), and therefore is also known as part of the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras.
The Diamond Sutra or “Diamond Cutter” is unique in that it involves a dialogue between an enlightened being and a mere disciple, whereas other dialogues within the collection are usually between the Buddha and other achieved bodhisattvas.¹
A copy in Chinese translation is, according to the British Museum, the earliest surviving complete book with a date (May 11, 868 CE), and it’s the only surviving copy we have of this text.²
Contextually, the Diamond Sutra purports that all of what we take for reality is said to be a projection of the mind. True reality, it claims, is sunyata (emptiness). It also advocates other Buddhist staples like detachment and non-abiding (avoiding conditioned mental constructs).
¹ S. G. F. Brandon ed., A Dictionary of Comparative Religion (1971), p. 507.
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Dharma is the idea of sacred duty in Hinduism. The concept originates from India’s ancient legal texts, so it’s not surprising that “doing the right thing” within this belief system is usually bound up within specific caste and gender biases, which many today would see as hopelessly backward.
As a Hindu ideal, dharma is doing one’s divine duty in an apparently impersonal manner. In essence, the mind is said to be fixed on God while correct action is performed without care for the personal “fruit” of those actions.
The belief that one’s actions may be entirely untainted by personal biases and desires seems questionable. And this is no scholarly quibble. Orthodox Hinduism, for instance, advocates killing as the appropriate dharma for members of the kshatriya caste. And in domestic affairs, the dharma of the wife is often marked by servitude to her husband and family, a position widely held to be sexist.¹
The idea of surrendering to God is nothing new but each religion tends to define the notion of appropriate surrender differently. Despite the obvious problems with the idea of dharma, recent social movements within India are compelling the middle classes, especially, to become increasingly aware of the often conflicting distinction between the idea of universal human rights and this ancient view of religious duty.
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The Dhammapada is a highly influential collection of 423 verses 26 sections within the Pali Canon of Indian Theravada Buddhism, traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself. Basically an anthology of sayings, the Dhammapada deals with avoiding worldly desire and cultivating wisdom and joy.
In verse 78 we have the universal idea:
Don’t keep friends with ugly souls; avoid evil souls. Keep friends with beautiful souls; associate with those whose souls are good.
Within the New Testament (NT) story we find the rough parallel where Jesus loves his enemies but doesn’t allow them to destroy him before his allotted time to die (Luke 4:28-30, John 8:59). While some vulgar interpretations of the NT see this as cowardice or a shrinking away from the spiritually ugly, a more mature perspective sees it for what it is, namely, wisdom.
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In the Buddhist sense enlightenment means achieving absolute spiritual realization through loss of the ego and, ultimately, one’s individuality. Once enlightened the Buddhist believes they’re no longer reborn and, and through the annihilation of any kind of individuality, even spiritual individuality, they apparently free themselves from suffering.
A spiritual meaning for the word enlightenment is not restricted to Buddhism, however. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that, as far back as 1621, enlightenment has been used in Christianity to refer to the idea that God illuminates individual souls and that such souls are powerless to illuminate themselves with divine grace and understanding.
1621 R. Aylett Song of Songs i. iv. iv. 83 The Word, without the Spirits enlightenment, Is as good Seede sowne on vntilled ground.¹
In the historical sense the period of “The Enlightenment” refers to an 18th-century philosophical movement emerging out of the 17th-century Scientific Revolution, to include the works of Adam Smith, Locke, Hume and Newton. It advocated reason and education over what was regarded as superstition, blind faith and historically laden dogmas. So in this context, the word enlightenment has a totally different meaning than the quotation above.
1836 N. Amer. Rev. July 176 When he [sc. Tieck] made his first appearance, it was, under the banner of Nicolai, as one of the Berlin advocates of enlightenment and reason, and enemies of superstition and mysticism.²
The Enlightenment championed the idea of “progress” as a challenge to entrenched forms of Christianity; however the idea of progress, and all the unspoken connotations that go with it, is now questioned by many. In France the Enlightenment produced the first great encyclopedias of Diderot and d’Alembert, with contributions from leading figures like Voltaire, Montesquieu, Condorcet and Rousseau.
In the Western contemporary sense enlightenment means a novel thought, a new way of looking at things, insight or the dispelling of ignorance.
¹ OED third edition, November 2010; online version March 2012. <http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/view/Entry/62448>; accessed 01 May 2012. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1891.
- Right views
- Right intention
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
The path is not to be followed in a linear sense; the aspirant usually shifts from one prescription to another. And interpretations of each prescription differ according to the doctrine of a particular Buddhist school, of which there are myriad. Japan, alone, had 162 different Buddhist schools in 1972 (Eliade Guide to World Religions: 1991, p. 40).
Having said that:
- Right views generally refers to accepting the Buddha’s teaching, particularly the Four Noble Truths.
- Right intention refers to cultivating a state of mind leading to the flowering of awareness known as enlightenment (bodhi).
- Right speech means avoiding harsh, unnecessary and untruthful speech.
- Right action means monks following the rules of their order or laypersons avoiding slothful, violent and generally unethical actions.
- Right livelihood means avoiding unethical occupations.
- Right effort means harnessing all of one’s thoughts and activities to the goal of enlightenment.
- Right mindfulness dispassionately observes the flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations, with a view towards controlling and stilling them.
- Right concentration refers to focusing on a single point, ultimately leading to the achievement of nirvana. Right concentration could be seen as the doorway to meditation, the last step towards the Buddhist understanding of enlightenment.
Many compare the Eightfold Path, in a very superficial way, to the Hindu Vedanta or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But an honest, clear-minded analysis reveals important differences among the teachings of these world religions. By way of analogy, it’s like saying coke is identical to corn syrup, which is identical to water. While these all share the quality of being liquids, they’re also quite different liquids. And so it is, many would contend, with the teachings (and effects) of different world religions.
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