Useful Terms Related to Buddhism
Buddha is a title, not the name of a person. It literally means “to wake” and become enlightened. There have been Buddha’s before Siddhartha Gautama, and there will be Buddha’s after. It is a term that denotes a person who has attained supreme truth and wisdom.
Literally meaning “the course of right conduct”, Dharma is the path or the way to enlightenment. Dharma is used to refer to the teachings of the Buddha and the theology that surrounds Buddhist doctrine.
Historically, this term has referred to the head monk at a Buddhist temple, however, over time the it has come to mean any monk or religious.
Most Buddhists believe that people are responsible for their actions. All acts committed by a person will impact their lives at one time or another. If a person commits a harmful act to another, a harmful act will be committed against them at some later time. Karma is the system by which this occurs. The benefits or punishments that result from each action or decision may not be immediately felt, it may take several incarnations or lifetimes. With Karma, past actions affect one’s present and future incarnation.
This is the ultimate state that each individual works towards. As each soul is reincarnated and learns the lessons of the eight fold path, they are brought closer to this state of perfection. When an individual attains this state, they give up the egotism of personal identity and merge with the entire universe. This is a final state for most, except the Bodhisattva who chooses to continue incarnating in order to teach others.
Literally meaning enlightened being a soul who through compassion and altruism postpones enlightenment in order to instruct others. The Bodhisattva delays their own entry into Nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened. A Bodhisattva acts as the key figure in Mahayana Buddhism.
Nirvana is ineffable. It cannot be described. Literally it means “blowing out,” as if referring to a lamp. In nirvana, all “individual personality or ego ceases to exist and there is nothing to be reborn.” (The Buddhist Tradition, 12) The conception of Nirvana differs in the Mahayana and Theravada sects. Mahayana doctrine centers on the bliss and oneness of the whole universe, an integration of the world of Samsara and enlightenment. The Theravada tradition focuses singularly on the bliss of enlightenment that destroys the illusion of Samsara.
Mantras are “highly compressed, power-packed formulas, usually of Sanskrit origin, which are charged with deep meaning and magical potency.” (The Buddhist Handbook, 96) They are either written, visualized, or spoken. reciting a mantra continuously “purifies the speech and ‘protests the mind’ by maintaining a constant spiritual connection; and of course it helps disperse mental chatter.” (The Buddhist Handbook, 96)
- FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:
The four noble truths act as guides to liberation by showing one the steps to follow to attain their goal of nirvana. The guidelines are the eight fold path. They are:
- All existence is suffering
- Desire causes suffering
- Cessation of desire eliminates suffering
The means to eliminate desire is the eight fold path
- EIGHT FOLD PATH:
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
The eight fold path can be divided further, into areas of wisdom, morality, and meditation.
- T’IEN-T’AI, OR THE LOTUSSCHOOL:
The T’ien-T’ai doctrine centers around the “Perfectly Harmonious Threefold Truth. This means that 1) all things or dharmas are empty because they are produced through causation and therefore have no self-nature; but that 2) they do not have temporary existence; and that 3) being both Empty and Temporary is the nature of the dharmas and is the Mean. These three–Emptiness, Temporaries, and the Mean–involve one another so that one is three and three is one, the relative thus being identified with the absolute.” (The Buddhist tradition, 156)
- HUA-YEN OR FLOWERGARLANDSCHOOL:
The Hua-yen school is similar to the T’ien-T’ai school in that it classifies the Buddhist sects into five Vehicles. 1) The small school which advocates individual salvation 2) The Elementary Great Vehicle which teaches universal salvation 3) The Final Great Vehicle which teaches that all will be saved 4) The Sudden Doctrine of the Great Vehicle which teaches that salvation is achievable through abrupt enlightenment 5) The Perfect Doctrine of the Great Vehicle which combines all of the other vehicles.
This is the world of illusion which we live. All the things that we consider physical and solid are merely illusory. When individuals are obsessed with this world we neglect our spiritual needs. Samsara relates both to this illusion and our mortal lives.
Mara is a guardian figure, an evil spirit who tries to keep morals from enlightenment. Mara’s ultimate goal is to keep individuals diluted and content in Samsara, not looking towards Nirvana.
Wisdom is not just knowledge, but the active penetration of “truths by testing them against experience” (Snelling, 47). Information and knowledge in and of itself is of no value when viewed in isolation. It also has to do with the evaluation of the motivations that guide action. Wisdom is partially spawned by notion of Right Action in the Eight-fold path.
- THE FIVE PRECEPTS (Pancha Shila ):
Refrain from taking life
Refrain from taking that which is not given
Refrain from misuse of the senses
Refrain from telling lies
Refrain from self-intoxication with drink and drugs
- MEDITATION (Samadhi):
An essential element of Buddhist practice, meditation is a vehicle that not only allows the practitioner to gain focus, but also can assist in finding the path to Dharma. The classic Buddhist meditation posture “is a cross-legged one, with one leg laid on top of the other (single Lotus) or the two legs interwoven (double Lotus). . . The important thing is that the back should be straight and unsupported, and lightly balanced on the pelvis. The head should be squarely balanced on an upright neck. The eyelids are lowered, and the mouth is lightly closed. The hands are laid one above the other in the lap, thumb-tip to thumb-tip, or lightly clasped.” (Snelling, 51) There are usually two fundamental elements of meditation:
Samatha – Calm Abiding, a singular focus
Vipashyana – insight, awareness of all that surrounding
- THREE MARKS OF EXISTENCE:
Duhkja – Unsatisfactoriness, the flawed nature of all that exists
Anitya -Impermanence, the liquid nature of reality
Anatman – No self, we think — but we are not
It is because of the flawed nature of reality that we are deeply unsatisfied. Reality is but a illusion created by our unenlightened minds. It is also a part of this reality that all is in flux, rocks become sand, people become dust. All is impermanent, even the Dharma itself. But finally is the reality that we, as individuals do not exist outside of the life energy that creates us all. There is no Buddhist notion of an individuated soul, or some entity distinct from any other living thing. We are all part of the energy, not distinct pieces.
“This should not be confused with reincarnation, which is the view that there is a soul or subtle essence imprinted with an enduring personal stamp that transmigrates from body to body down through the aeons.” (Snelling, 59) Buddhism believes in a casual connection between one life and the next, thus allowing for karmic debts and benefits. A good way of thinking about it is “Nothing is handed on, however, but the conditioning: the influences, the karmic change.” (Snelling, 59)
- THE THREE POISONS:
Moha – Ignorance
Raga – Greed, Lust, Craving
Dvesh – Hatred, Anger
- THE HINDERANCES:
Restlessness and Worry
- 32 Auspicious Signs:
These are thirty-two special physical characteristics that are present on the body of an individual who will be a fully enlightened Buddha. These signs range from the shape of the earlobes to the instep of the foot.
- GHAT CEREMONY:
A Hindu funeral ceremony that involves the cremation of the corpse and the spreading of ashes into the sacred river Ganges.
A lifestyle characterized by extremely sparse living and the renunciation of all material object. Extreme asceticism was renounced by the Buddha in one of his first sermons as unnecessary. It was the intent of the Buddha that physical objects were not to be of importance in an individuals life, but that it was unnecessary to punish the body with starvation and feats of endurance to attain enlightenment.
An Indian belief system that emphasizes extreme non-violence and asceticism.