Despite his final words of comfort, his followers were devastated at his departure. His favorite disciple Ananda had his body cremated by his friends in Kusinagara. Ten neighboring rulers demanded that his relics and ashes be divided among them, but they could not agree on how to do it. The people of Kusinagara refused. The dispute threatened war, which seems absurd, considering the teachings of Buddha are based on peace.
The crisis soon passed, however, when the relics were divided by a wise man named Drona. Ten great towers were then built to enshrine the Buddha’s relics and ashes (SPB, pg. 18). More important than his relics and ashes Buddha left behind his great virtues and wisdom. Buddha thoroughly understood human nature and had great sympathy for man. This is why before he died he vowed that he would do everything possible to relieve man from their fears and sufferings.
By making these vows he became known as Amida Buddha, Buddha of Infinite Light and Boundless Life, and built his own Pure Land. In this Pure Land he lives in a world of peace, enlightening all people. All who take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, his teachings, and Samgha, the brotherhood, are protected by Amida Buddha and excepted in to his Pure Land. The Pure Land has been described as follows: This Pure Land, wherein there is no suffering, is, indeed most peace- ful and happy. Clothing, food and all beautiful things appear when those who live there wish for them.
When a gentle breeze passes through its jewel-laden rees, the music of its holy teachings fills the air and cleanses the minds of all who listen to it. In this Pure Land there are many fragrant lotus blossoms, and each blossom has many precious petals that shines with ineffable beauty. The radiance of these lotus blossoms brightens the path of Wisdom, and those who listen to the music of the holy teachings are led into perfect peace (SPB, pg. 208). Before being led into this perfect peace, one must take refuge in the Dharma, the teachings of Buddha.
The Dharma consists of the basic elements of reality. In Buddhism t is said that the truth has never come from the sky; it has always come from the human condition (Trungpa, pg. 97). While sitting under the Bodhi tree in the moments before he realized Enlightenment, Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths describe the experience of human life on earth as follows: The Truth of Suffering is that life that is not free from desire and passion is always with distress.
The Truth of the Cause of Suffering is that suffering is caused by desire of material things for gratification. The Truth of the Cessation is that if the desire can be removed the suffering ill end. The Truth of The Noble Path to Cessation is that suffering can be brought to an end through the practice of the Eightfold Path (Champawat, pg. 163). The Eightfold Path is a summary of the steps that must be taken and conquered in order to be delivered from the world of suffering.
The Eightfold Path is as follows: right view- that Truth is the guide of man; right thought- to be calm at all times and not to harm any living creatures; right speech- never to lie, never to slander anyone, and never to use coarse or harsh language; right behavior- never to steal, never to kill, and never to o anything one may later regret or be ashamed of; right livelihood- never to live a style of life that is considered bad; right effort- always to strive for good and to avoid evil; right mindfulness- to be calm and detached; right concentration- will lead to the path of perfect peace (Champawat, pg. 64).
The practice of the Eightfold Path leads to wisdom, morality, and concentration and awakens one from the world of suffering, which is known as samsara. As the Eightfold Path is considered the right way of life, there are wrong ways of thinking. These mistakes recognized by Buddha include, the belief that all human xperience is destiny, that everything is created by God and controlled by His will, and that every thing happens by chance with out any cause or condition (SPB, pg. 74). In Buddhism it is a mistake to believe anything is predetermined because of the law of karma.
Karma is the doctrine, adopted from Hinduism, that states that actions are followed by and inevitable result. This belief is also referred to as the law of Cause and Effect. The universal law of Cause and Effect states that the world of suffering is constantly changing. This impermanence is unavoidable. There are five things that all umans encounter and can not escape: first, to cease growing old; second, to cease being sick; third, to cease dying; fourth, to deny extinction; and fifth, to deny exhaustion (SPB, pg. 94). These are facts that everyone must confront in their lives.
Buddha’s followers do not suffer because they understand that these impermanences are unavoidable. Another unavoidable form of impermanence, understood by Buddhists, is the continuous cycle of reincarnation. Reincarnation is another doctrine adopted from Hinduism. It is the belief that after one dies, they are reborn over and over again, until hey become Enlightened and have rid their karmic debt. Unlike Hindus, Buddha’s followers also realize four other worldly truths. The first of these truths is that all living beings, no matter what can rise form ignorance.
The second is that all objects of desire are impermanent, uncertain, and cause suffering. The third is the truth that all existing things are also impermanent, uncertain, and suffering. The fourth of the truths is that nothing can be called an “ego” and there is no such thing as “mine” in all the world (SPB, pg. 90). This is true because the the law of Cause and Effect states that things disappear just as fast as they appear, therefor no one can possess anything. The beliefs of Cause and Effect and its impermanence is taught through the Theory of Mind-Only.
The theory declares that your surroundings have no more limits than the activities of your mind. For instance, an impure mind surrounds itself with impure things; just as a pure mind surrounds itself with pure things. This theory is often explained with the saying, “If the mind is impure, it will cause the feet to stumble along a rough and difficult road; there will be many a fall and much pain. But if the mind is pure, the path will be smooth and the journey peaceful,” (SPB, pg. 378). The theory also declares the real state of things. The real state of things also has a lot to do with the mind.
The real state of things proclaims that the world is an illusion. In this world of suffering, samsara, and illusion people think up distinctions and discriminate on their own. People grasp things for their own convenience and comfort, clinging to mortal life. All material things of the world are delusion and meaningless (SPB, pg. 93). The goal of Buddhism is to overcome the real state of the material world. The path used to avoid becoming entangled in any extreme is called the middle way. To follow the middle way is the goal of all Buddhists. Walking on the path of the middle way requires one to follow the Eightfold Path.
A person must also master the ideas of impermanence, that all things appear and disappear. It is very important for one, when traveling in the middle way, to avoid all attachments and desires. Travelers must also grasp the idea that Enlightenment is not a “thing,” it can’t exist without delusion and ignorance. The final realization is that everything is in relation to everything else. These realizations are the first step in the practice of Buddhism. The second step is to understand the right ideas of things, or the material world. This is accomplished by careful observation, open mindness, and understanding.
The next step is mind-control, the removal of mistaken observations and worldly passions. Then one must obey the right ideas of the use of objects. For example food and clothing are not to be seen or used as comforts and pleasures. Buddhists must also learn endurance for heat, cold, and hunger. Through caution, prudence, and common sense a Buddhist must try to see and avoid danger. It is also important to control the mind from desires arising from the five senses. It is very difficult to explain one easy way in which to accomplish these practices, they must be done with patience and mind control.
When someone decides to take this challenge and to step onto the path of the middle way they must take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Samgha, which is known as the three treasures. The first two of the treasures are Buddha and Dharma, the third treasure, Samgha, is the brotherhood. It is the unity of all things. When one takes refuge in the three treasures he must have an unshakable faith. He must also be able to follow the five precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie or deceive, and not to use intoxicants (Chogyam, pg. 86).
One must also avoid being egotistic or self-willed. A Buddhist should always respect those who are worthy of respect and show good-will towards all. Buddhists serve those who are worthy of being served and treat everyone with uniform kindness. It is a Buddhist duty to share the three treasures with all through acts of compassion. When helping others, if a pure mind is kept it will shine out from them, onto their surroundings, and will be reflected back on to them (SPB, pg. 04). Because of the simplicity of the precepts of the Samgha, Buddhism has spread throughout the world.
Due to Buddha’s tolerance and gentleness there was not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism (Champawat, pg. 161). Non-violence is something Buddha believed in very deeply and preached often during his life. It was with this preaching that he won the hearts of thousands throughout mid-India during his life. The spread throughout the whole of India can be credited to the Maurya Kingdom (SPB, pg. 538). Between 316 and 293 B. C. he Maurya Kingdom was ruled by a horrible man, the people called furious Asoka, who was solely responsible for thousands upon thousands of senseless deaths.
There is a legend that says on witnessing the disastrous destruction, left behind by his men, he was devastated and suddenly became a devoted Buddhist (SPB, pg. 538). Upon converting he ordered what is known as Asoka’s Carved Edicts, and had the Buddhist teachings carved on stone pillars throughout the kingdom. He then sent missionaries to neighboring countries, which included, Syria, Egypt, Kyrene, Macedonian, and Epeiros (SPB, pg. 40). Another important step in the history of Buddhism was the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. Historians can only guess when, where, and how the new wave of Buddhism began.
It is believed it occurred around the first or second centuries B. C. by progressive priests. What is referred to as the new wave, included many additions to the original form called Hinanyana Buddhism. In the original form religion was considered a concern of monks; Buddha was regarded as a saint and teacher; and prayer and ritual was avoided, in response to the fall of the Vedic beliefs (Gaer, pg. 46). In the new Mahayana orm of Buddhism, religion was considered the concern of everyone; Buddha was recognized as a Savior; and complex rituals and personal prayers emerged (Gaer, pg. 46).
Mahayana Buddhism also concerned itself more with the salvation of the masses than it did before. Bodhisattvas, or living saints, were developed, along with the study of psychology. Despite the additions, the basic beliefs remained the same and so did its overall message. It was this message that traveled along the silk road along with so many other things. Between 140 and 87 B. C. Buddhism made its way through Central Asia and ound connections that would soon carry it to China. It was the Central Asian priests who were responsible in the earlier years for what China saw of Buddhism.
Between 58 and 76 A. D. the first translations of the scriptures were made from Sanskrit to Chinese (SPB, pg. 544). It wasn’t until between 600 and 664 A. D. that China made the first steps to study Buddhism, independent from the Asian priests. Hsuan-chuang was the first Chinese to learn Sanskrit fluently enough to translate scriptures. He spent 19 years in India learning the difficult language. When he was done with his studies he returned home with what is nown as the New Translations. Over the next few decades other priests followed his footsteps until numerous volumes were added to the New Translation (SPB, pg. 46).
Because the teachings of Buddha came in so many different translations and out of order, there were times of great confusion. The more the Chinese priests attempted to combine and revise the New Translations and the Old Translations, created by the Asian priests, the more people became confused by Buddha’s teachings. It was during this confusion that the Tendai sect and the Zen sect appeared. It was also during this time hat the Hinayana sect more or less disappeared (SPB, pg. 548). Nonetheless Buddhism flourished in China for centuries.
From China the New Translations were brought to Japan. In 538 A. D. a Buddhist image and a scroll of sutras was brought to the Imperial Court of Emperor Kinmei. Curious, the emperor had them researched, marking the beginning of a new Japan (SPB, pg. 554). Temples began to be built as they learned more about the religion. Over time a new culture arose. Buddhism has prospered in Japan for over 1,400 years. Buddhism arrived in he United States during colonial times, but was practiced by ew. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s and 1960’s that people began to study the practices of Buddhism.
The nonviolent theme of the religion took on a new life during the opposition of the Vietnam War. At the same time as the war in Vietnam, on the other side of the world in Tibet, there was a completely separate struggle going on. China, now a communist country, promoted atheism and claimed the predominately Buddhist Tibet as part of its own country, while Tibet claimed to rule itself. Buddhism was brought to Tibet sometime around 763 A. D. by a profit by the name of Padma Sambhava (Lama Surya Das, pg. 24). The Buddhism he brought was mostly Mahayana, but over a period of years a new form of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism was born.
For 50 years the two countries argued over the issue, but in October 1950 China invaded. Up until then, Tibet had remained a country at peace, symbolizing the ideal Buddhist community. As China smothered the remote Buddhist country more and more, many of its leaders fled the country. Although fearing the worst the Tibetan leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama remained at his capital in Lhasa to support his people. Then in 1959, the young boy was invited to a play by the Chinese government and was advised to leave his ttendants and body guards at home. Hearing this a large movement of native Tibetans revolted.
They surrounded the great palace, where fighting soon broke out. The young Dalai Lama was able to sneak out and find asylum in India. Not knowing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s departure, the Chinese Army shelled his palace the next day killing thousands of unarmed civilians (Gyatso, pg. 65). In the year to follow, close to one hundred thousand Tibetans managed to escape to India, before China managed to close the borders. Unfortunately, an unknown number disappeared in the Himalayan wilderness and were never heard from again. For those who were left behind life has been unbearable.
The Chinese moved quickly to take over the monasteries and to stamp out the practice of Buddhism, stating that religion poisons the mind (Gyatso, pg. 68). Amnesty International has estimated that over 1. 2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese Army (Lama Surya Das, pg. 28). Thousands of monks, nuns, and laypeople remain in concentration camps struggling to survive unmentionable tortures (Gyatso, pg. 108). Since the 1960’s the Tibetans that were fortunate enough to escape have found homes in France, Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States.
In their new homes many of them have made it their duty to continue the teachings of Buddha, as well as, to raise the awareness of the world on the issues of Tibet. Having developed during a time of great social transformation, Buddhism is a sensitive religion, that confronts the importance of the individual mind, Its founder’s mission was to raise the awareness of his people and to deliver them from suffering. For 2500 years Buddhism has united hundreds of thousands of people and inspired them when nothing else could. Buddhism is a compassionate religion, whose goal is to overcome the faults of human nature.