This is a sample of the Master of Buddhism Course. Buddhism is an interesting religion that is explored in depth in this fascinating course. To get back to the Seminary main page, go to Seminary Program.
Welcome to the fourth week of the Master of Buddhism Course. Each week, you will receive an interesting email discourse about a different area in the study of Buddhism. If you go longer than 8 days or so without a lesson, please email email@example.com right away so she can re-send you your lesson.
Okay! - let’s get started!
The Principles of Buddhism (Part 1)
The Three Jewels Buddhists seek refuge in what are often referred to as the Three Jewels, Triple Gem or Triple Jewel. These are the Buddha, the Dharma (or Dhamma), and the Sangha or community of monks and nuns who have become enlightened. While it is impossible to escape one's karma or the effects caused by previous thoughts, words and deeds, it is possible to avoid the suffering that comes from it by becoming enlightened. In this way, dharma offers a refuge. Dharma, used in the sense of the Buddha's teachings, provides a raft and is thus a temporary refuge while entering and crossing the river.
However, the real refuge is on the other side of the river. To one who is seeking to become enlightened, taking refuge constitutes a continuing commitment to pursuing enlightenment and following in the footsteps of the people who have followed the path to enlightenment before. It contains an element of confidence that enlightenment is in fact a refuge, a supreme resort.
Many Buddhists take the refuges each day, often more than once in order to remind themselves of what they are doing and to direct their resolve inwardly towards liberation. In all forms of Buddhism, refuge in the Three Jewels are taken before the Sangha for the first time, as a part of the conversion ritual. However, the personal choice for taking ones' life-path in this direction is more important than any external ritual. It is good to note that in Buddhism, the word "refuge" should often not be taken in the English sense of "hiding" or "escape"; instead, many scholars have said, it ought be thought of as a homecoming, or place of healing, much as a parent's home might be a refuge for someone.
This simple misunderstanding has led some Western scholars to conclude that Buddhism is "a religion for sticking one's head in the sand", when most Buddhists would assert quite the opposite. On the other hand, the main goal of Buddhism is to escape from the suffering of cyclic existence.
Although Buddhists concur that taking refuge should be undertaken with proper motivation (complete liberation) and an understanding of the objects of refuge, the Indian scholar Atisha identified that in practice there are many different motives found for taking refuge. His idea was to use these different motivations as a key to resolving any apparent conflicts between all the Buddha's teachings without depending upon some form of syncretism that would cause as much confusion as it attempted to alleviate.
In the 11th century, Lamp for the Path by Atisha, and in the subsequent Lamrim tradition as elaborated by the Tibetan master Tsongkhapa, the several motives for refuge are enumerated as follows, typically introduced using the concept of the "scope" (level of motivation) of a practitioner:
Worldly scope: to improve the lot of this life - but this is not a Buddhist motivation.
Low scope: to gain high rebirth and avoid the low realms.
Middle scope: to achieve Nirvana (liberation from rebirth)
High scope: to achieve Buddhahood in order to liberate others from suffering
Highest scope is also sometimes included: to achieve Buddhahood in this life.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the formal difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Briefly said, it means that one accepts the Buddha as the example of an enlightened teacher, his teachings as the guidebook on the path, and the Sangha as the supporting community who shares the same ideals.
A traditional Refuge prayer:
Until I attain Enlightenment,
I take refuge in the Three Jewels;
The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Wheel of life
In the dharmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism), the wheel of life (also called by a variety of other names) is a mandala or symbolic representation of samsara, the continuous cycle of birth, life, death. One is liberated from this endless cycle of rebirth when bodhi, enlightenment, nirvana, moksha, or samadhi is reached. There are two primary forms of the wheel of life. The more elaborate form is usually six-spoked, though it is sometimes five-spoked. The simpler form, primarily used only in Buddhism, is eight-spoked. The wheel of life is called the "wheel of dharma" and found in the eight-spoked form.
The most common name is the wheel of life, but the wheel also has a variety of other names:
wheel of dharma
wheel of existence
wheel of law
wheel of rebirth
wheel of samsara
wheel of suffering
The symbol is also known as chakra from the Sanskrit word for "wheel" (not to be confused with the Hindu use of the same word to refer to energy nodes in the body - cf. chakra). The wheel of life is specifically known as bhavachakra or dharmachakra (the wheel of dharma).
The Six-Spoked Wheel of Life
The wheel of life is represented as being held by the jaws, hands, and feet of a fearsome figure who turns the wheel. The exact identity of the figure varies. A common choice for the figure is Yama, the god of death. There is always a figure or symbol in the upper left and the upper right. The exact figure or symbol varies; common examples include the moon, a buddha, or a bodhisattva.
Outer rim. The outer rim of the wheel is divided into twelve sections and given such names as the Twelve Interdependent Causes and Effects or the Twelve Links of Causality.
Six Worlds. The six spokes divide the wheel into six sections which represent the Six Worlds (or Realms) of Existence. These Six Worlds are:
the World of Devas or Gods
the World of Asuras, Demigods, Jealous Gods, or Titans
the World of Humans
the World of Animals
the World of Hungry Ghosts
the World of Hell
The World of Devas is always at the very top of the wheel. The World of Asuras and the World of Humans are aways in the top half of the wheel, bordering the World of Devas on opposite sides, but which of the two is on the left and which is on the right varies (leading to two different arrangements of the wheel). The World of Animals and the World of Hungry Ghosts is always in the bottom half of the wheel, with the World of Animals bordering the World of Humans and the World of Hungry Ghosts bordering the World of Asuras. Between the World of Animals and the World of Hungry Ghosts, at the very bottom of the wheel, is the World of Hell. Sometimes, the wheel is represented as only having five spokes because the World of the Devas and the World of the Asuras is combined into a single world. In Buddhist representations of the wheel, within each of the Six Realms, there is always at least one buddha or bodhisattva depicted, trying to help souls find their way to nirvana.
The Hub. The rim of the hub is divided into two sides. One side is the White Path or Path of Bliss, and represents how souls may move upward to the World of Gods. The other side is the Dark Path, which represents how souls may move downward to the World of Hell. In the hub, the center of the wheel, a pig, snake, and rooster turn in a circle, each biting the tail of the next animal. The pig represents greed, desire, or attachment. The snake represents hatred and envy. The rooster represents ignorance or delusion. These are the evils which are responsible for the trapping of souls within the Six Realms.
The Eight-Spoked Wheel of Life. The simpler form of the wheel of life has eight spokes and is primarily used only in Buddhism rather than in all the dharmic religions. The eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. They are said to have sharp edges to cut through ignorance. Other notes on the symbolism of the eight-spoked wheel of life in Buddhism: its overall shape is that of a circle, representing the perfection of the dharma teaching the hub stands for discipline, which is the essential core of meditation practice the rim, which holds the spokes, refers to mindfulness or samadhi which holds everything together. The Wheel of Life, a Buddhist painting from BhutanThe more elaborate form of the wheel of life has six spokes (or sometimes five, as described in more detail below) and is used in all the dharmic religions.
The "Three jewels" are also symbolized by the triratna, composed of (from bottom to top):
A lotus flower within a circle.
A diamond rod, or vajra.
A trident, or trisula, with three branches, representing the threefold jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
The Triratna can be found on frieze sculptures at Sanchi as the symbol crowning a flag standard (2nd century BCE), as a symbol of the Buddha installed on the Buddha's throne (2nd century BCE), as the crowning decorative symbol on the later gates at the stupa in Sanchi (2nd century CE), or, very often on the Buddha footprint (starting from the 1st century CE). The Triratna is also on the 1st century BCE coins of the Kingdom of Kuninda in northern Punjab, surmounting depictions of stupas, on some the coins of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares, or the coins of some of the Kushan kings such as Vima Kadphises. The triratna can be further reinforced by being surmounted with three dharma wheels (one for each of the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha). The triratna symbol is also called nandipada, or "bull's hoof", by Hindus.
The Four Noble Truths
The Buddha taught that life was dissatisfactory because of cravings, but that this condition was curable by following the Eightfold Path. This teaching is called the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are taught in Buddhism as the fundamental insight or enlightenment of Sakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha), which led to the formulation of the Buddhist philosophy.
Dukkha: All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering.
Dukkha is a central concept in Buddhism, the word roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including sorrow, suffering, affliction, pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and aversion. The term is probably derived from dustha, "standing badly," "unsteady," "uneasy." Dukkha is the focus of the Four Noble Truths, including the first: All of life involves dukkha.
The Buddha discussed three kinds of dukkha.
Dukkha-dukkha (all pervading pain) is the obvious sufferings of physical pain, illness, old age, death, the loss of a loved one.
Viparinama-dukkha (pain of alternation) is suffering caused by change: violated expectations, the failure of happy moments to last.
Sankhara-dukkha (pain of pain) is a subtle form of suffering inherent in the nature of conditioned things, including the skandhas, the factors constituting the human mind.
Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire (tanha) rooted in ignorance.
Tanha describes the craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures. Tanha is a term for wanting to have or wanting to obtain. By some Buddhist teachings, attachment, or desire, is a certain type of false belief rooted in the mistaken idea that any given ingested substance or any given physical or social activity has the power in and of itself to induce genuine happiness or well-being. Such false beliefs normally result in the repeated enactment of the activities that they would mistakenly accredit with the ability to induce such beneficial results.
The generally accepted ancient Buddhist definition of the term "tanha" is a word that is practically interchangeable with some perceptions of the English-language term addiction, except that the Buddhist view of tanha tends to include a far broader range of human activities than medical discussions of addiction tends to include. A strict interpretation of the concept of tanha can include nearly every type of human activity. Further analysis of certain Buddhist concepts of tanha, based on some Buddhists' belief that all worldly desires tend to be addictive and are counterproductive, points toward another belief that the only escape from all forms of tanha is for the individual to somehow achieve the quenching of all desires. Some Buddhist teachers suggest ways for the individual to attain such a "quenching of all desires".
Nirodha: There is an end of suffering, which is Nirvana.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
Marga: There is a path that leads out of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path. There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming", because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.
1. What does "refuge" mean, as it applies to Buddhism? In what do Buddhists take refuge?
2. What is another name of the triratna, by Hindus?
3. Forum discussion topic (please be prepared to participate): How does the realization of dukkha(s) help one become more enlightened?
Buddhist Thought for the Week:
"Develop the mind of equilibrium.
You will always be getting praise and blame,
but do not let either affect the poise of the mind:
follow the calmness, the absence of pride." Sutta Nipata