This is the first article in the Buddhist mosaic. Students may pick any topic mentioned in this or subsequent articles to write and expound upon, upon which it will be reviewed and then placed within the mosaic. All authors will be recognized.
What is Buddhism?
by Kyle H.
Buddhism is not monolithic and has no common doctrine. It is impossible to define what Buddhism is, rather, one can only touch upon the principle aspects of a tradition that began roughly 528 BCE with the Four Noble Truths, the first sermon of Siddhartha Guatama [Gotama], the Buddha (the awakened one). Although Buddhism has no common creed, Buddhism's three jewels, Buddha, Dharma (the teaching), and Sangha (the community), articulated in the triple vow, are recognized by all Buddhist schools.
Through self-awareness/mindfulness, meditation, and the middle path, Gotama ended the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara), acquired enlightenment, and discovered nirvana. Karma, pratitya-samutapada (co-dependent origination), The Six Realms of Reincarnation, and The Twelve-Fold Chain of Causation describe the realm of samsara while nirvana is ineffable.
Buddhism develops a worldview that negates the self, Anatman (no-self). Rather than having a permanent soul, the individual is merely the transitory aggregate of five skandhas.
During the rainy season after Gotama's death in 483 BCE, the first council of Rajagrha orally agreed upon the Tipitaka (Three Baskets), the earliest recorded Buddhist scriptures. Buddhism's principle schism occurred at the second council of Vaisali and the third council of Pataliputra, 100 and 150 years respectively after interpretations of the vinaya (monastic precepts). The largest surviving sect of Shtaviras, which traveled south into India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and Laos, is Theravada. The Mahasamghikas later became known as Mahayana, which first moved northeast into China, and then into Vietnam and through Korea into Japan, and from Japan into Australia, Eurpose, and the USA. Vajrayana, an esoteric offshoot of Mahayana buddhism that resulted from the intermingling of Tantric Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism, spread to Tibet, Mongolia, and Japan. Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Padma Sambhava in the eighth century, is the largest esoteric Buddhist school found in the USA.
Theravada Buddhists recognize solely the Tripitaka while Mahayana Buddhism acknowledges thousands of sutras (lessons) including: the Prajnaparamita Sutra which establishes the concept of sunyata (emptiness); the Lotus Sutra which introduces the pedagogical tool of upaya (skillful means); the Nirvana Sutra which develops the idea of Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature); and the Vimalikirti Sutra which emphasizes the importance and involvement of lay followers. The Vajrayana rely primarily on the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Mahavairochana Sutra, and other Tantric literature.
Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama are the twentieth century's most active proponents of modern Buddhism's most prominent movement, Engaged Buddhism.