Saturday, January 08, 2011
The Buddhism course is one of the best courses I have taken at ULC. It is a perfect blend of philosophy, history, and wisdom, blended together in an unbiased overview of one of the world’s great religions.
One of the truly beautiful things about the Buddha is that he is, first and foremost, a man. He is not a divinity, he is a man. Since the rest of humanity is also just men/women, then one can aspire to what the Buddha has attained because of this commonality. This is truly revolutionary and, quite frankly, refreshing.
The Four Great Vows, a) to save all people; b) to renounce all worldly desires; c) to learn all the teachings; and d) to attain perfect enlightenment, are all great guides. In this modern technological age, renouncing all worldly desires is very, very difficult, if not impossible. This is especially so in the Western world.
The Four Noble Truths are powerful in both their simplicity and their interconnectedness: a) all life is suffering; b) the cause of suffering is desire; c) the end of desire leads to the end of suffering; and d) the way to end desire, and hence to end suffering, is to follow the Eightfold path.
The Eightfold path is the blueprint to break the cycle of suffering. It is simply stated, but within its simplicity is a very difficult process. It truly takes a remarkable individual to follow these tenets, in my opinion. While I may attempt to do so, I know that I cannot accomplish them all – at this time. The Eightfold path is: a) Right View or Right Understanding; b) Right Thought or Right Intention; c) Right Speech; d) Right Action; e) Right Livelihood; f) Right Effort; g) Right Mindfulness; and h) Right Concentration.
An aspirant looks to the Three Jewels: a) the Buddha; b) the Dharma (or the teachings of Buddha); and c) the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There is great refuge to be found in the Master, in his works, and in the community of like-minded individuals.
From a historical perspective, the differences between Theraveda and Mahayana were very interesting. In great movements, schisms are inevitable, yet the differences between the two give some insights into the religion itself.
The Six Worlds present an interesting dissection of life: Gods, anti-Gods, humans, animals, hungry-ghosts, and hell-beings. Surrounding these worlds are the twelve links of dependent arising. They are ignorance or spiritual blindness, karma, consciousness, name and form, the five senses and the faculty of thinking, contact, feelings/emotions, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, and aging, decay, and death.
The ten fetters are so very important and interesting. They are: self-belief, doubt, superstition, sensual desire, ill will, materialism, a lust for anything without form or shape, awareness of superiority and inferiority, agitation, and ignorance. The Four Stages of Enlightenment describe one’s journey on the path to Enlightenment: the Stream-Enterer, who has freed themselves from the first three fetters; the Once-Returner, who has freed themselves from the fourth and fifth of the fetters; the Non-returner who has completely freed themselves from the first five fetters and will be reborn in the heaven of the Pure Abodes, where they will gain enlightenment; and Arahant, who will not be reborn but will enter parinirvana.
The differences between Theravada and Mahayana give some excellent insight into the differences between the two major schools of Buddhism. I found the Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana to be especially powerful especially the one that proclaims “We do not believe the world is created and ruled by God”. To me, this one statement repudiates much of modern Western religion. I agree, with whole heart, the basic premise of this statement. I particularly like the Mahayana concept of the Bodhisattva, one who returns to the world in order to bring everyone to Enlightenment.
The Buddhist vow to not kill speaks directly to me. As a vegetarian, I am ultimately concerned with the well-being of animal, vegetable, and mineral entities. This is one of the highest moral requirements, as I see it. I am glad to see that Buddhism is thriving across the world. It places the requirements on the individual and does not lean upon messiahs or prophets to attain enlightenment, wisdom, or goodness. All of these things remain in the realm of the individual. Therefore, the individual sets out upon the path of enlightenment and achieves it by following the requirements set down by Buddha.
This course is a complete overview of Buddhism and gives the learner all of the tools they need to investigate, engage, and attain an understanding of Buddhism. I would highly recommend it.
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