I have considered myself to be a fairly religious person. I went to a Presbyterian elementary and middle school, a Christian School. At C.S. we had a religion class everyday. The difference from then and now is then we learned strictly about Christianity. I had never heard about evolution and other religions until I was in high school. I had only known that there was one God, and it was He to which we prayed. I knew that there was a heaven and a hell.
The good people went to heaven and the bad to hell. In much more depth of course, but needless to say that was very naive. I had a Humanities class my sophomore year in high school. In this class we learned about all of the religions, how they operated, and what they believed. It was then that I took a deep interest in Buddhism. I didn’t know much, but what I did know seemed so much different and it really caught my eye.
Buddhism has two parts. These parts are Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. The first part is Mahayana. It can be defined as, “’Large Raft’ Buddhism; one of the two branches of Buddhism, dominant in East Asia and Vietnam. So named because it’s people carry a large raft to carry people to enlightenment.” (Niwano, 87-88) And Theravada is defined as, “’Way of the Elders’; surviving school of one of the two branches of Buddhism, found in Southeast Asia. Claims to bet he most ancient expression of Buddhist teaching. Called ‘Hinayana’ by Mahayana Buddhist teachers.” (Niwano, 87-88)
The Theravada Buddhism has dated back to as late as sixth century B.C.E., and it’s was founded in one of the countries that it flourishes in today, Southeast Asia. There one founder of this school of Buddhism that is Siddhartha Gautama. He has shown people what is known as the “middle way.” This path is a path of liberation from the cycle of rebirth. All Buddhists honor this man. No matter what type of Buddhism they believe the focus is on him. The believers may not know what the significance of his life is, but they do know that he is of great importance.
Siddhartha was born in about 563 B.C.E. He was a warrior in India. Siddhartha was raised in luxury to protect him from the bad parts of life. His father did this in hopes to raise religious questions in his mind. Guatama felt empty inside, so he decided to venture out into an unknown area. This is where he saw the “four passing sights.” “The first was a sorrowful, old man. The second was a man racked by illness. The third was a man being carried on a funeral pyre.” This was the first time that he had seen that life is not just pleasure and joy. But it does include bad things, such as misery, despair, and death. He then came to realize that this too would happen to him. He became almost depressed until one day he saw the fourth sight. “His fourth sight was a mink calmly walking alone in a yellow robe.”(Encyc. Brit.) He was now determined to find out a better way to live. He wanted to finds a way to get out of the inevitable suffering. This was the beginning of a six-year quest. Through this quest, he established an order of nuns and monks.He was enlightened, said to have “woken up”. His title was now Buddha. His middle way of thinking and living was a path between self-denial and self-indulgence. (Gombrish,23)
The major, sacred texts of Buddhism are known as “Pali Canon.” There are thirty-one separate texts. These all came from five hundred years after Buddha died. Like many religious books, this book started as stories told by mouth, before they were written down. The scripture was broken down into baskets. The first basket included guidelines for being a monk. The second contained basic teachings of Buddha. The third focuses on an analysis of the nature of existence. (Gombrish, 23)
On the contrary, Mahayana Buddhism says that any person possesses the ability to become a Buddha. Also, it says that we are not in our own quest for freedom. Help is available from past Buddhas and other compassionate beings. “In this branch of Buddhism there are three forms of Buddha, the earthly body, Siddhartha, another heavenly body, Amithaba, and those who inhabit the fully spirited realm.” (Gombrish, 52)
There are two major schools that show the teachings of Mahayana. These are Pure Land and Zen. The Pure Land is the devotional school and Zen is the meditational school.
The Pure Land is based on the story about the heavenly Buddha, Amitabha. HE lives in the “celestial region” or area known as the “Pure Land”. The text describes a place that is rich, fertile and heavenly. It is inhabited only by gods and men, not by ghosts or demons. Admission into such a place is rebirth and once there you are considered to be in a state of nirvana.
Zen is the place that teaches skepticism about ordinary language and mocks attempts to explain truth rationally. This tradition has brought this insight and beliefs to China. One of the main ideas of Zen id that we all are and can be Buddha, but it is a matter of us convincing ourselves that we are not. We do this by becoming attached to the pleasures of this world and the diversity of objects we think that we see. But we also fool ourselves by thinking that we need to escape the world that we know. Zen says that we have to rely on ourselves to know what is true in this world. “The truth lies within, for only there can we awaken to reality that there is no distinction between ourselves and the rest of reality.” (Burtt,12)
Zen uses strict meditation. You are proposed a question, and sit there and ponder. This is to try to eliminate analytical thinking. It is sometimes said that Zen does not use any philosophy or scripture, but this is just to the Buddha himself. It is an inner-self meditation. It confounds rational thought. The difference with Zen and many other religions is that once one is “enlightened” he would not withdraw from the world, but he would go on with the same daily routine.
As in every religion there is a story of creation. In Buddhist beliefs this story is called the “Shinto.” There are many things that the Buddhist culture holds sacred. The atheistic religion does not believe that there is a central role for a personal god or gods. They focus on personal deities who have a small role in the final transformation. Buddhism claims that gods have no role to play in human liberation, any more than any other person or spirit. Each person must find his or her own destiny and final path to spiritual redemption. “Buddhism, like Jainism, is atheistic in a functional rather than a theoretical sense. ‘Theoretical atheism’ denies that gods exist. ‘Functional atheism’ is not concerned about the question of the existence of gods; it only knows whether they exist or not, they are irrelevant to human destiny.” (Carter,253)
As many other religions Buddhists practice many holidays and religious ceremonies. They are very in depth, but this is a very serious part of their everyday life. There are few religious festivals in Buddhism that are observed by all buddhists at the same time. This is due partially to the nature of Buddhism’s historical development and partially to the impact of the regions and countries Buddhism entered. On the one hand, because of the differences in the structure of belief among Theravada Mahayana and Vajrayana and among the different schools of Mahayana, there is no one event or person who is understood in the same manner, and thus worshipped in the same manner. So although all forms of Buddhism celebrate the Buddha’s life, they do so at different times. Of course, all monasteries have a day celebrating their founding. On the other hand, different countries have celebrations commemorating when Buddhism entered their country. Or, they may celebrate the reign of a particular dynasty. Or, when Buddhism entered the country, it may have taken over a festival from the indigenous religion. So, with all these different reasons for establishing a religious holiday, it becomes clear why so few holidays are celebrated throughout Buddhism. The following discussion will mention just a few holidays, organized by the three divisions of Buddhism. (Prebish, 98)
The main festivals of Theravada Buddhism are Buddha Day and observances linked to the rain retreat of the monsoon season. Buddha Day is often called “Visakha Puja” because it occurs on the full-moon day of the month of “Visakha” (April-May). It celebrates the Buddha’s birth, his attainment of enlightenment, and his death, which Theravadans believe miraculously occured on the same day. The lay people gather at a monastery to hear the telling of the story of the Buddha’s life, wash the sacred Buddha images, observe the Five Precepts, and the reliquary.(Carter, 91)
With regard to the rainy season retreat, which the monks observe from July to October, Theravada has a small celebration at the beginning of the rains when the monks traditionally enter retreat. This is called “Magha Puja” because it occurs on the full-moon of the month of “Magha.” It consists primarily of listening to a sermon by a monk minister. In countries where it is customary for young men to enter the “sangha” as their rite of passage into adulthood, it usually happens on this day. “The Rain Retreat usually ends with the Kathina ceremony, where the laity give the monks robes and other needed items, and the monks read certain sutras for the benefit of the deceased.” (Niwano, 205-209)
In Thailand, a Theravadan country, Chakri Day in April commemorates the founding of the current dynasty. Many acts of worship are woven into the day’s observances; indeed, the famous Emerald Buddha statue of Bangkok plays a key role in the ceremonies, receiving homage from the Emperor.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the important action of Buddha’s Day is the washing of the Buddha’s images. Celebrated in China, Korea and Japan on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, the main focus of this celebration from the sangha’s perspective is the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment.
“Mahayana Buddhism, especially in China, celebrates the life of the bodhisattva Kuan Yin: her birthday is the in the second month, her enlightenment the sixth month, and her entry into nirvana of the ninth month.” (Niwano, 210) All of these days are the nineteenth. This is a special number.
The Buddhist religion has many new and different things, to me. It is a whole new experience. Their beliefs are something that I personally would never practice, but I know that these are the beliefs that these people have grown up with. I know that they would most likely go to a Baptist church and think that the singing and dancing that we do is completely sinful. After all, dancing is practically as sinful as murder to them. It is on their list of sins. I respect this religion, as I do all religions.
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