Buddhism is a religion and philosophy that developed from the teachings of the Buddha Gautama (or Gautama), who lived as early as the 6th century BC.
Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played a central role in the
spiritual, cultural, and social life of the Eastern world and during the 20th century has spread to the West. This article
surveys Buddhism from its origins to its elaboration in various schools, sects, and regional developments.
Ancient Buddhist scripture and doctrine developed primarily in two closely related literary languages of ancient India,
Pali and Sanskrit. In this article, Pali and Sanskrit words that have gained some currency in English are treated as English
words and are rendered in the form in which they appear in English-language dictionaries. Exceptions occur in special circumstances--as,
for example, in the case of the Sanskrit term dharma (Pali: dhamma), which has meanings that are not usually associated with
the English "dharma." Pali forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary sacred language was Pali
(including discussions of the teaching of the Buddha, which are reconstructed on the basis of Pali texts). Sanskrit forms
are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary focus was on Sanskritic traditions.
The Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha
are aimed solely to liberate sentient beings from suffering.
Gautama Buddha taught the four noble truths: that there is suffering, that suffering has a cause, that suffering has an
end and that there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. He saw that all phenomena in life are impermanent and that
our attachment to the idea of substantial and enduring self is an illusion which is the principle cause of suffering. 'The
Four Noble Truths'.
Freedom from self liberates the heart from greed, hatred, and delusion and opens the mind to wisdom and the heart to kindness
In Buddhist teaching, the law of karma, says only this: "For every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose
existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful
or unskillful.' A skillful event is one that is not accompanied by craving, resistance or delusions; an unskillful event is
one that is accompanied by any one of those things. (Events are not skillful in themselves, but are so called only in virtue
of the mental events that occur with them.)
Therefore, the law of Karma teaches that responsibility for unskillful actions is born by the person who commits them.
Tibetan Buddhism, also called LAMAISM, distinctive form of Buddhism that evolved from the 7th century AD in Tibet. It is
based mainly on the rigorous intellectual disciplines of Madhyamika and Yogacara philosophy and utilizes the symbolic ritual
practices of Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism). Tibetan Buddhism also incorporates the monastic disciplines of early Theravada
Buddhism and the shamanistic features of the indigenous Tibetan religion, Bon.
Characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the unusually large segment of the population actively engaged in religious pursuits
(up until the Chinese communist takeover of the country in the 1950s an estimated one-quarter of the inhabitants were members
of religious orders); its system of "reincarnating lamas"; the traditional merger of the spiritual and temporal authority
in the office and person of the Dalai Lama; and the vast number of divine beings (each with its own family, consort, and pacific
and terrifying aspects), which are considered symbolic representations of the psychic life by the religiously sophisticated
and accepted as realities by the common people.
Buddhism was transmitted into Tibet mainly during the 7th to 10th centuries. Notable early teachers were the illustrious
8th-century Tantric master Padmasambhava and the more orthodox Mahayana teacher Santiraksita.
With the arrival from India in 1042 of the great teacher Atisa, a reform movement was initiated, and within a century the
major sects of Tibetan Buddhism had emerged. The Dge-lugs-pa, or One of the Virtuous System, commonly known as the Yellow
Hats, the order of the Dalai and the Panchen Lamas, has been the politically predominant Tibetan sect from the 17th century
until 1959, when the hierocratic government of the Dalai Lama was abolished by the People's Republic of China.
By the 14th century the Tibetans had succeeded in translating all available Buddhist literature in India and Tibet; many
Sanskrit texts that have since been lost in the country of their origin are known only from their Tibetan translations. The
Tibetan canon is divided into the Bka'-'gyur, or Translation of the Word, consisting of the supposedly canonical texts, and
the Bstan-'gyur, or Transmitted Word, consisting of commentaries by Indian masters.
In the second half of the 20th century Tibetan Buddhism spread to the West, particularly after the subjugation of Tibet
to Chinese Communist rule sent many refugees, including highly regarded "reincarnated lamas," or tulkus, out of their homeland.
Tibetan religious groups in the West include both communities of refugees and those consisting largely of occidentals drawn
to the Tibetan tradition.
Zen, Chinese CH'AN (from Sanskrit dhyana, "meditation"), important school of Buddhism in Japan that claims to transmit
the spirit or essence of Buddhism, which consists in experiencing the enlightenment (bodhi) achieved by Gautama the Buddha.
The school arose in the 6th century in China as Ch'an, a form of Mahayana Buddhism; though introduced centuries earlier, Zen
did not fully develop in Japan until the 12th century. In its secondary developments of mental tranquillity, fearlessness,
and spontaneity--all faculties of the enlightened mind--the school of Zen has had lasting influence on the cultural life of
Zen teaches that the Buddha-nature, or potential to achieve enlightenment, is inherent in everyone but lies dormant because
of ignorance. It is best awakened not by the study of scriptures, the practice of good deeds, rites and ceremonies, or worship
of images but by a sudden breaking through of the boundaries of common, everyday, logical thought.
Training in the methods leading to such an enlightenment (Chinese wu; Japanese Satori,) is best transmitted personally
from master to disciple. The methods recommended, however, differ among the various sects of Zen.
The Rinzai (Chinese: Lin-chi) sect, introduced to Japan from China by the priest Ensai in 1191, emphasizes sudden shock
and meditation on the paradoxical statements called koan.
The Soto (Chinese: Ts'ao-tung) sect, transmitted to Japan by Dogen on his return from China in 1227, prefers the method
of sitting in meditation (zazen).
A third sect, the Obaku (Chinese: Huang-po), was established in 1654 by the Chinese monk Yin-yŁan (Japanese: Ingen). It
employs the methods of Rinzai and also practices nembutsu, the continual invocation of Amida (the Japanese name for the Buddha
Amitabha), with the devotional formula namu Amida Butsu (Japanese: "homage to Amida Buddha").
During the 16th-century period of political unrest, Zen priests not only contributed their talents as diplomats and administrators
but also preserved the cultural life; it was under their inspiration that art, literature, the tea cult, and the no theatre,
for example, developed and prospered. Neo-Confucianism, which became the guiding principle of the Tokugawa feudal regime (1603-1867),
also was originally introduced and propagated by Japanese Zen masters.
In modern Japan, Zen sects and subsects claim some 9,600,000 adherents. Considerable interest in various aspects of Zen
thought has developed also in Western countries in the latter half of the 20th century, and a number of Zen groups have been
formed in North America and Europe.
Vajrayana (Sanskrit: Vehicle of the Diamond [or Thunderbolt]), also called TANTRIC BUDDHISM, important development within
Buddhism in India and neighbouring countries, notably Tibet. Vajrayana, in the history of Buddhism, marks the transition from
Mahayana speculative thought to the enactment of Buddhist ideas in individual life. The term vajra (Sanskrit: "diamond," or
"thunderbolt") is used to signify the absolutely real and indestructible in man, as opposed to the fictions an individual
entertains about himself and his nature; yana is the spiritual pursuit of the ultimately valuable and indestructible.
Other names for this form of Buddhism are Mantrayana (Vehicle of the Mantra), which refers to the use of the mantra to
prevent the mind from going astray into the world of its fictions and their attendant verbiage and to remain aware of reality
as such; and Guhyamantrayana, in which the word guhya ("hidden") refers not to concealment but to the intangibility of the
process of becoming aware of reality.
Philosophically speaking, Vajrayana embodies ideas of both the Yogacara discipline, which emphasizes the ultimacy of mind,
and the Madhyamika philosophy, which undermines any attempt to posit a relativistic principle as the ultimate.
Dealing with inner experiences, the Vajrayana texts use a highly symbolic language that aims at helping the followers of
its disciplines to evoke within themselves experiences considered to be the most valuable available to man. Vajrayana thus
attempts to recapture the Enlightenment experience of the Gautama Buddha.
In the Tantric view, Enlightenment arises from the realization that seemingly opposite principles are in truth one.
The passive concepts Sunyata ("voidness") and prajŮa ("wisdom"), for example, must be resolved with the active karuna ("compassion")
and upaya ("means"). This fundamental polarity and its resolution are often expressed through symbols of sexuality (see yab-yum).
The historical origin of Vajrayana is unclear, except that it coincided with the spread of the mentalistic schools of Buddhism.
It flourished from the 6th to the 11th century and exerted a lasting influence on the neighbouring countries of India. The
rich visual arts of Vajrayana reach their culmination in the sacred mandala, a representation of the universe used as an aid
The practice of mental concentration leading ultimately through a succession of stages to the final goal of spiritual freedom,
nirvana. Meditation occupies a central place in Buddhism and combines, in its highest stages, the discipline of progressively
increased introversion with the insight brought about by wisdom, or prajna.
The object of concentration (the kammatthana) may vary according to individual and situation. One Pali text lists 40 kammatthanas,
including devices (such as a colour or a light), repulsive things (such as a corpse), recollections (as of the Buddha), and
the brahmaviharas (virtues, such as friendliness).
Four stages (called in Sanskrit dhyanas; Pali jhanas) are distinguished in the shift of attention from the outward sensory
world: (1) detachment from the external world and a consciousness of joy and ease; (2) concentration, with suppression of
reasoning and investigation; (3) the passing away of joy, with the sense of ease remaining; and (4) the passing away of ease
also, bringing about a state of pure self-possession and equanimity.
The dhyanas are followed by four further spiritual exercises, the samapattis ("attainments"). They are described as: (1)
consciousness of infinity of space; (2) consciousness of the infinity of cognition; (3) concern with the unreality of things
(nihility); and (4) consciousness of unreality as the object of thought.
The stages of Buddhist meditation show many similarities with Hindu meditation (see Yoga), reflecting a common tradition
in ancient India. The Buddhists, however, describe the culminating trancelike state as transient; final Nirvana requires the
insight of wisdom. The exercises that are meant to develop wisdom involve meditation on the true nature of reality or the
conditioned and unconditioned dharmas (elements) that make up all phenomena.
Meditation, though important in all schools of Buddhism, has developed characteristic variations within different traditions.
In China and Japan the practice of dhyana (meditation) assumed sufficient importance to develop into a school of its own (Ch'an
and Zen;), in which meditation is the most essential feature of the school.
- Encyclopedia Britannica
Canon of the Physical Proportions of a Great Being
The image of Buddha, who was called The Greatest Yogin of all Times, expresses serene quiescence. The harmony of his physical
proportions is the expression of great beauty. The required measurements are laid down in the canon (or standard pattern)
of Buddhist art, which corresponds to ideal physical proportions. The span is the basic measure, i.e. the distance from the
tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb of the outspread hand. This distance corresponds to the space between the
dimple in the chin and the hair-line. Each span has twelve finger-breadths. The whole figure measures 108 finger-breadths
or 9 spans corresponding to the macro-micro-cosmic harmony measurements.
The perfect proportions of a Buddha, the graciousness of his physical form, represent one of the ten qualities or powers
of a Buddha. They are the characteristics of the physical harmony and beauty of a Great Being, and are described in Story
of the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni. There are thirty-two major and eighty minor characteristics. The lines of the eight-spoked
on the soles and palms of a Buddha are among them. The appearance and the measurements of a Buddha are perishable and a worldly
conception: they describe the ideal picture of a Heavenly Body. They are not subject to change like growth, sickness and death,
which can only affect the earthly incarnation of a Buddha.
Examining the canon of the body of a Buddha, one realises that every detail represents harmonious proportions. Everything,
the spot between the eyebrows, marking the eye of wisdom, as well as the tip of the nose, has its own special place. The nose
has its specific length, just as the ears have their own characteristically exaggerated length. The symbol of a Buddha's greatest
enlightenment is the so-called enlightenment-elevation on the top of the head, described in old texts as that which emerges
out of the head of an enlightened saint. It is the visible symbol of the spiritual generative power that strives towards heaven
and passes into the immaterial sphere.
The ideal proportions of any image of the Buddha are described in books on iconography. The canonic prototype shows the
seated Buddha with his legs crossed and the soles of his feet visible. This yoga-posture has a pre-Buddhist tradition in India,
appearing for the first time on the seals of Mohenjodaro in the third millennium BC. This yoga-posture hides the lower part
of the body. The broad shoulders are emphasised in early Buddhist sculptures of Mathura. These characteristics, and the slightly
almond eye of Buddha Sakyamuni, hint at his descent from the Licchavi clan, related to the Proto-Tibetans by kinship and blood.
Before the final domination of the Indo-Europeans, these Licchavis ruled in northern India and the Himalayan regions. Their
principalities had democratic constitutions with equal rights and no discrimination of sex or race. Buddhism and its founder
must be considered on the basis of this social structure which is confirmed in the oldest texts as well as in the modern Oxford
History of India.
Ushnisha, the Enlightenment Elevation above the fontanelle; is the flame-topped elevation on the head of the Buddha, defined
as that which emerges from the head of a Fully Enlightened One.
Urna, the mark in the centre of the forehead, called the Eye of Wisdom, also depicted as a Bundle of Rays or fine hairs
between the eyebrows.
The lower part of the body is covered by the Diamond-Seat (Vajrasana). This is the meditation pose (Dhayanasana)
of utmost concentration with the legs crossed so that the soles are visible.
The Subtle Energy-Spheres of the Body
The Enlightenment-Centre, the Top of the Head or fontanelle above the upper cerebrum, called Sphere of the Thousand-petalled
Lotus (SAHASHRARA-CAKRA) The cerebral centre of thinking and conscious-power, called Command-Centre
The cerebral centre of thinking and conscious-power, called Command-Centre (AJNA-CAKRA), the forehead between the eyebrows;
ascribed to lotus-centre.
The guttural centre or subtle Sphere of Speech (VISHUDDHA-CAKRA) at the base of the throat.
The cardiac plexus, the emotional Sphere of the Inner Voice (ANAHATA-CAKRA), called the Source of the Heart, situated in
the central region of the thorax or chest.
The solar plexus with the gastric plexus, called `the brain of the belly', Fiery-lustrous or Navel-Centre (MANIPURA- CAKRA)
in the region of the loins and connected with the lumbar plexus.
The sacral plexus, called Root-Centre (MULADHARA-CAKRA) or Secret Place, being the root of all streams of vital energy
(NADIS) in the region of the rump-bone or sacrum.
The human body is the receptacle of the power of thinking described as a bundle of energy and pervaded by the so-called
breath of life flowing in subtle streams throughout the body.
MANDALAS AND BUDDHISM
Mandalas originated in India, but were mainly used in Tibetian Buddhism. Below are some quotes from various web sites (featured
at the bottom of the page) regarding the origins of mandalas:
Tibetans became familiar with the mandala early in their introduction to Buddhist art and culture, a process begun with
the first ruler of the historical period, Songtsen Gampo (srong-btsan sgam-po, d. 649).
Mandalas existed at early Buddhist centers in central Asia, e.g. Dunhuang and Khotan, both frequented by Tibetans during
the eighth and ninth centuries.
Samye (bsam-yas), Tibet's first monastery founded ca. 779, was based on the architectural principles of a three-dimensional
mandala, reportedly following the plan of Uddandapura monastery in eastern India.
Many such texts, crucial to the identification and interpretation of the mandala, were translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit
and can be found in a portion of the Tibetan Buddhist canon known as the Tanjur (bstan-'gyur).
According to Buddhist history, the purpose, meanings, and techniques involved in the spiritual art of sand mandala painting
were taught by Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha in the sixth century B.C. in India
Dorje is a Tibetan word.
Symbolically a dorje represents the 'thunderbolt of enlightenment,' that abrupt change in human consciousness which is
recognised by all the great religions as a pivotal episode in the lives of mystics and saints.
The Bell and Dorje, or thunderbolt, are inseparable ritual objects in Tibetan Buddhism. They are always used in combination
during religious ceremonies.
The Bell held in the left hand, representing the female aspect as wisdom; the Dorje, or male held in the right hand, aspect
as method. Together, they represent union of wisdom and method, or the attainment of Enlightenment.
The transformative enlightenment experience is recounted in the various religions. In the Christian tradition, the conversion
of Saul of Tarsus is a well known example and that of Muhammed on the mountain is fundamental to Moslem belief. For Buddhists,
it is what occurred to the historical Buddha and to all those who experience kensho-satori, the dropping away of 'self'. The
Tibetans call this "the Great Death" to distinguish it from that physical one which will be the experience of us all.
Dorje is a common given-name for men in people of Tibetan culture. Hence Phu Dorje, Ang Dorje (young Dorje) and Nima Dorje
(Monday Dorje) or, more usually, Dorje.