Mahayana Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism: The ?Big Vehicle? The Spread of Mahayana Buddhism into East AsiaMahayana Buddhism spread into East India. It became the principal form of Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan. Buddhism entered China through Central Asia in 1st c. CE. The Theravadin emphasis on the monk was not accepted by the Chinese people, who wanted their sons to marry and raise families. Ancestor worship in China made essential the continuation of male heirs. Mongol and Turkic invaders brought a Mahayanist form of Buddhism, compatible with family life and presented attractive pictures of afterlife not present in Confucianism. In Confucianism, one would join one?s ancestors at death and be dependent for ever thereafter on the filial piety. By the 7th c. CE, Buddhism had gained prominence throughout China. Buddhism spread to Korea through China, beginning by the 4th c. CE through the work of individual monks. Official recognition of Buddhism by the royal houses of Korea came in the first quarter of the sixth century. In the 7th c. Buddhism flourished. The Buddhist hierarchy was closely linked with the court. The dominance of Buddhism lasted until the 14th c. Then Confucianism ascended as the state religion Buddhism reached Japan from Korea in the 6th c. It was in competition with Shintoism, a traditional Japanese religion. Buddhism brought other aspects of Chinese culture, writing, literature, and art. During the Meiji (?enlightened rule?) period (1868-1912), Japan became a modern industrial and military power. Shintoism became the official ideology and Buddhism declined. After WWII, with the imposition of freedom of religion in the constitution, Buddhism plays a more significant role in Japanese life. Buddhism came to Tibet by way of Nepal in the 7th c. It met strong opposition from supporters of the indigenous animistic religion of Tibet called Bon. Buddhist monks from India established large monasteries. The abbots of the monasteries held political and spiritual power. Disputes among the monasteries led to the creation of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Yellow Sect, led by the Dalai lama, won out the struggle and became the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet. Why did Mahayana Buddhism spread successfully? - Mahayana Buddhism allowed many pre-Buddhist beliefs and practices to survive. Indigenous gods became heavenly Buddhas. - recognizes that people find themselves at different stages of spiritual evolution. Some need images of gods to pray to, others need a community of devout friends, and a few, silence. Mahayana Buddhist Texts of IndiaMahayana Buddhism has a diverse set of sacred writings. Most of them were written in Sanskrit during the first five centuries CE, and later freely translated into Chinese and Tibetan. The most popular Mahayana text is the ?Lotus Sutra? or the ?Lotus of the Good Law? (100 CE). - It contains sayings of the Buddha. - There the Buddha explains that he taught his first disciples the spiritual self-reliance of Theravada doctrine because they were not ready for the ultimate truth. That truth is the revelation that the historical Buddha is but a manifestation of the real Buddha. The real Buddha is the cosmic Buddha who wants to show compassion for all beings. He can materialize in many forms simultaneously throughout the cosmos. His dying was a show, performed to encourage the active practice of devotees so that they would take seriously the shortness of mortal life. - The book claims that a higher goal was to become like the Buddha by seeking enlightenment for the sake of saving others. We are not called just to individual liberation but to save all. So, the goal is not to become an arhat (?perfect being?, ?worthy?), a person who has reached nirvana, but a bodhisattva (literally, ?a being intended for enlightenment? or ?future Buddha?). For Mahayana Buddhists, the bodhisattva has postponed enlightenment and nirvana for himself or herself in order to help other beings in their spiritual quests. Mahayana teachers explain that given the reality of interdependence, no one can be an enlightened ?being? somehow independent of others. Any person is potentially a bodhisattva, however it takes many lives to become one. As they progress on the path, bodhisattvas accumulate a store of merits that they can share with others who turn to them for help. How do you become a bodhisattva? The aspiring bodhisattva should develop clear and calm insight (prajna) and take the Great Vow of compassion for all living beings. Other texts focused on Bodhisattvas: The Lotus Sutra is only one among a large class of texts that focus on bodhisattvas. These bodhisattvas have gained the merit necessary to earn rebirth as divinities. These ?celestial bodhisattvas? continue to serve humanity by offering compassionate intervention to secure worldly blessings and even the means to salvation. The most popular bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara (probably, ? The Lord Who Looks Down from Above?), known as Guanyin (?hears all cries?) in China, Kannon in Japan, Chenrizi in Tibet, Karunamaya in Nepal. The Lotus Sutra says that this bodhisattva will take any form that is needed to help others. In East Asia, Guanyin is represented as female, often as the giver or protector of babies. She is frequently shown seated on a lotus, holding a child. In Indian texts, he is a prince. Main Characteristics of Mahayana Worldview1. The Three Bodies or Aspects of the Buddha (trikaya). According to Mahayana Buddhism, there are three natures of Buddha. a. nirmana-kaya (?transformation body?), the earthly manifestation or body of the Buddha (Siddartha) b. sambhoga-kaya, the heavenly body of the Buddha. The cosmic Buddha can take bodily shape in supernatural Buddhas. Among them are the Dhyani, contemplative Buddhas. These Buddhas inhabit fully spiritual realms (the Buddha Lands). They have compassionately postponed final entrance into Nirvana to actively minister to human needs. For example: * Vairocana or the solar Buddha * Amitabha Buddha in India (Chinese, Amito-fo; Amida in Korea and Japan). He created a Buddha Pure Land in the western direction of the setting sun to receive the dying who wish enlightenment after death and return to the world to save others. Usually Buddhas of contemplation or Dhyani Buddhas sit or stand in the simple garments of the monk. The heavenly Buddhas also comprise the bodhisattvas who have lived on earth and have been reborn but retain an interest in saving other beings. They may appear miraculously on earth or may be reborn to help others. Usually Bodhisattvas are princely in aspect and wear rich clothes. Their attire symbolizes their active role in the world. For example, the future historical Maitreya will descend to earth at the end of times and inaugurate a golden age. In China, he is called Milo-fo and is often portrayed as an overweight joyful, laughing Buddha. Another example is Manjusri (Chinese, Wen-shu). He assists those who wish to know and follow the Buddhist Law (the Dharma). He is often represented as a princely figure. He carries a sword to cut down ignorance, a book describing the perfections of wisdom. Another example is Avalokiteshvara or Lord Avalokita (= Guan-Yin, goddess of mercy in China). He has come to earth 300 times in human form to assist humanity. How do you become a Bodhisattva? To become one, you must manifest the necessary qualities and take the Great Vow of compassion for all living beings. Literature developed to explain the different stages. c. dharma-kaya (?law body,? or ?body of reality?) is the cosmic body or nature of the Buddha, who is present in all reality. From this perspective, each human and every other being has the nature of the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, Buddha is an historical figure who no longer exists but who left his dharma (law as revealed by Buddha) as a guide. Whereas Theravada is nontheistic, Mahayana elevated Buddhahood to almost theistic value. The common people recognize a multitude of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to whom they can pray for help. Some Mahayanists interpret the three bodies of Buddha symbolically, as metaphors for aspects of consciousness within the mysteries of the cosmos. 2. Karuna (compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness). We all are part of the same ever-changing universe. To be kind to others is to be kind to oneself. 3. Shunyata = emptiness (that is emptiness of any permanent individual essence). This concept was elaborated by the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna in the second-third c. CE. Everything is in constant change. Each individual person and thing is empty of any permanent individual reality or distinction. Samsara (rebirth) and nirvana (escape from rebirth) are products of our human mental construction. We must come to the realization of the emptiness or lack of distinction of all things and of all perceptions of things, even the teachings of the Buddha. Shunyata transcends all thought constructs. Only through coming to a realization of shunyata can we truly be freed from our ordinary mind and join the cosmic Buddha. Major Mahayana Schools in China and Japan1. Pure Land Schools * Jing-tu in China appeared in 6th c. CE* Jodo sect in Japan appeared in 12th c. CE - they appeal to common people- it is possible to reach a blissful haven in the very next life- the proximate goal is the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha- in the Western paradise people will meditate and seek Nirvana, as they could not on earth, because of the degenerate age- faith in Amitabha (and not ?works?) and the devout repetition of his name are all sufficient to enter this paradise- Pure land schools do not demand meditation, ceremony, scripture study or even literacy The most popular Pure land School is Jodo-Shinshu (?True Pure Land School?). The repetition of the name of Amitabha is not a necessary prerequisite for rebirth in the Pure Land. Instead it is a chant motivated by gratitude. Amitabha Buddha seeks and saves without first requiring faith and good works. Shin priests can marry and live in the world as lay persons. Jodo-Shinshu missionaries entered America with Chinese and Japanese immigrants. At the end of the 19th c. the North American American Buddhist Mission was formed. Now it is called the Buddhist Churches of America. 2. Meditative Schools: - Chan Buddhism in China (6th c. CE ? founder: a Buddhist monk from India: Bodhidharma who shocked the Chinese emperor by claiming that studying sacred Buddhist scriptures and building monasteries are worthless acts and do not provide merit for salvation.)- Zen Buddhism entered Japan in the 7th c. CE. The most active sects are Rinzai and Soto. The words Chan and Zen come from dhyana (meditation), the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path. - the goal of the meditative schools is immediate insight or enlightenment such as Gautama achieved under the Bo-tree. The goal is to actualize the Buddha in one?s heart. - salvation is a private, personal experience. One must find salvation by an inward look into one?s nature. Every individual has the nature of the Buddha. The problem is that by rationalizing too much, we view ourselves as separate from what we see (the source of which is also the Buddha). The roots of Zen can be traced to the Indian philosophical schools that stressed the doctrine of shunyata (= emptiness ? that is emptiness of any permanent individual essence).- scholarly research, reading, doing good works, performing rituals are of little merit- the method of salvation is nominally dhyana in Sanskrit or meditation, but salvation is actually obtained not by meditation BUT by insight or awakening (prajna in Sanskrit) following on meditation. Chan and Zen schools assume the possibility of sudden enlightenment.-The enlightenment experience brings an awareness of the unity of oneself with the universe. The realization that there is no duality between oneself and the world comes as an awakening (in Japanese, satori). - meditation techniques were borrowed from Chinese native religious and philosophical movement called Taoism. Their goal is to help the devotee not to think disjunctively of oneself and the world, the Buddha and I. All are the Buddha being. Learners should stop distinguishing, separating, defining, analyzing, and describing. In Taoism, one finds ideals of silence, detachment, and union with the universe. - The most fundamental Zen techniques (roshi) used by Zen masters to break the grip of the rational mind, are * seated meditation (zazen) * word puzzles (koan). What is the sound of one hand clapping? What did your face look like before your parents were born? * manual labor in the kitchen and garden - a special oral transmission from master to disciple outside of the scriptures is a condition to be met in Zen monasteries. Private sessions with a master are part of the training of the mind. The influence of Zen in Japanese culture has been significant.- it has played a major role in the formation of the code of behavior of the samurai warrior- serving of tea. Tea was used by Zen monks for staying awake during meditation. In the tea ceremony, one surrenders self to the restrained ritual. The tea ceremony teaches simplicity and self-restraint. It teaches to give oneself fully to the moment. The exercise consists in being aware only of pouring tea when pouring tea. Serving tea reveals Tathata, the?thatness of life,? its unconditioned reality. Reality can be revealed in each moment, in every day events.- ink calligraphy and painting - haiku poetry. It is a short poem (three lines). In a single breath the poet expresses an immediate experience of a single moment. It often relates to a season.- garden design- flower arrangement (ikebana, ?living flower?) Zen has become very popular in the US. Typically these Zen centers are led by Westerners who have studied under Japanese masters. 3. Rationalist schools Tian-tai in China (arose in China in the 6th c. CE) Tendai in Japan (8th-9th c. CE) - They reacted against the Meditative schools. Meditative schools were too anti-intellectualist. They were grounded in feeling states, not in reason.- The rationalist schools hope for gradual attainment through study of the scriptures, in particular the Lotus Sutra. There the Buddha reveals that he is the manifestation of a cosmic principle that pervades the whole universe and is present even in its smallest objects.- equal weight is given to meditation (dhyana) and study. Tian-tai in China tried to reconcile the Theravada and the Mahayana paths. Scriptures correspond to different preparedness of the seekers for the ultimate ecstatic vision. In Japan, the Tendai school made Buddhism a Japanese religion. The gods of the native Japanese religion (Shinto) were forms taken by the one Buddha reality. 4. Esoteric or Mystery schools * Zhen-yan in Chinese (?true word?) ? introduced in China by the 8th c. CE * Shingon in Japanese (9th c. CE introduced by a monk named Kukai who founded a monastic center at Mount Koya, near Osaka. After his death, he was named Kobo Daishi ? ?the great Master who broadly spreads the Dharma? and is a venerated cultural hero in Japan) - Their general position is strongly mystical.- Their goal is to experience union with the cosmic Buddha nature.- a person can attain Buddha-hood in this life because he/she and the eternal Buddha are essentially one. All the phenomena of the universe, including the human beings, are manifestations of the ?body, voice, and mind? of an ultimate Buddha, manifested in the form of the Great Sun (Buddha Vairocana, also known as Dainichi). Gautama Buddha was his historical earthly manifestation. The body, mind, and speech of this ultimate Buddha is differentiated into Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, gods, demons, men, animals, plants, inanimate objects, and substances.- To identify oneself with the powerful Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, one may - use wonder-working formulas, special body positions (mudras), chants (mantras) - meditate on geometrical picture charts (mandalas), usually painted on cloth, that present reality in symbolic form. They portray a Buddha or a Bodhisattva surrounded by deities in a diagram symbolically representing the universe. - be part of fire and water ceremonies. The priest builds a fire and throws wood and leaves slowly into the fire. Symbolically the fire destroys all egotistic obstacles to mystical union. - The schools are elitist. Devotees need a master to reach enlightenment through realization of the mystery of the world as seen from inside. They need to ascend a ladder of ten spiritual (intellectual and moral) degrees. 5. A Japanese National School: Nichiren (?Sun Lotus?) or the Political-Social School - this school is solely a Japanese phenomenon.- it was founded in the 13th c. CE by a young monk who called himself Nichiren- Nichiren?s goal was to restore original Buddhism and called for a return to the Lotus Sutra.The followers believe that Nichiren was the earthly manifestation of Jogyo, one of the bodhisattvas who was in the heavenly audience when the Buddha delivered the Lotus Sutra.- Nichiren blamed the Pure Land Schools for turning the people away from addressing the evils of the present world (corruption of the authorities). According to Nichiren, the devotees of the Pure Land schools hoped for redress in heaven and not on earth.- Nichiren gave particular attention to two Bodhisattvas: * the Bodhisattva of Superb Action (devotes himself to spreading the Perfect truth, even in evil times) * the Bodhisattva Ever-Abused (is persecuted because of his insistence on revering everyone because each person is potentially a Buddha)- According to Nichiren, only if the Japanese carried the truth he taught to the world, would the world find peace.- Nichiren and his followers chanted ?Namu myoho rengekyo?(?Hail to the wonderful truth of the Lotus Sutra!?). Today it is chanted by Nichiren monks and nuns by the hour. This helps the devotees to connect with the divine power of the universe. Today 30 percent of Japanese Buddhists are in the Nichiren tradition. They organize long peace walks. Thanks to donated material and labor by people, Peace Pagodas arose in US and Europe. A twentieth-century offshoot of the Nichiren?s movement is the lay organization ?Soka Gakkai,? based in Japan but having millions of members around the world. They chant the Nichiren?s phrase and are socially active (humanitarian relief, human rights, literacy, cultural and interfaith exchanges). In Japan, they run for elections at the Japanese Diet (parliament).
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