Saturday, June 23, 2012

Debate over the Legacy and Beginnings

The Buddha did not leave a static structure of belief that we can affirm and be done with.  His teaching is an ongoing path.  Some believe that portions of the Pali Canon and the Agamas contain the actual substance of the historical teachings, while others believe that the Pali canon and the Agamas pre-date the Mahayana sutras.
(An agama is a Sanskrit and Pali for “sacred work” or “scripture.”  There are five agamas, which together compose the Sutra Pitaka.  Different recensions of each of the five agamas parallel the first five collections (nikayas) of the Sutta Pitaka of the Theravada school’s Pali canon.  The Sutra Pitaka can refer to either: the Mahayana sutras, the agamas of various extinct schools of Buddhism, or the section of the Theravada Buddhist Pali Canon as I just mentioned.)
There is disagreement amongst various schools of Buddhism over more complex aspects of what the Buddha is believed to have taught, and also over some of the disciplinary rules for monks (“Vinaya”).  The teachings of the Buddha, or Buddhadharma, can be divided into two broad categories: “Dharma” or doctrine (earlier I referred to this as universal law), and “Vinaya”, or discipline.
            The earliest Buddhist schools into which the sangha, or monastic community (also known as the Order of Bhikkus or Mendicant Monks), initially split were due to differences concerning the proper observance of vinaya and doctrinal discrepancies- perpetuated by the geographical separation of monks as well.  These were ideological splits regarding the “real” meaning of the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka, that later became embedded in works such as the Abhidhammas and commentaries.  The Sangha provides the outer framework and the favorable conditions for all those who earnestly desire to devote their life entirely to the realization of the highest goal of deliverance.  It is of timeless significance wherever religious development reaches maturity.
            The Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, are referred to as the Three Jewels, which also form the Threefold Refuge.  These are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance.  Buddha, depending on one’s interpretation, can mean the historical Buddha, or the Buddha nature; Dharma are the teachings of the Buddha; and the Sangha, as I just discussed, is the community of practicing Buddhists.  Taking refuge in the Three Jewls, and the simple act of reciting a formula, is generally considered to make someone officially a Buddhist.  The Pali chant goes as such:

Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
San gham saranam gacchami

I go for refuge to the Buddha
I go for refuge to the Dhamma
I go for refuge to the Sangha

The Mahayana version differs slightly from the Theravada:
I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing for all sentient beings to understand the great Way profoundly and make the greatest resolve
I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing for all sentient beings to delve deeply into the Sutra Pitaka causing their wisdom to be as broad as the sea
I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing all sentient beings to lead the congregation in harmony, entirely without obstruction

It is through the simple act of reciting this formula three times that one declares onself a Buddhist. (At the second and third repetition the word Dutiyampi or Tatiyampi- for the second/third time- are added before each sentence)
Buddhist scriptures are divided into three pitakas or “baskets.”  The largest and most important of these is the Sutra Pitaka or “basket of discourses,” which consists mostly of talks by the Buddha or one of his disciples.  The Dhammapada, though not considered a sutra, is included in this collection.  The other two collections are the Vinaya Pitaka or “basket of discipline,” and the Abhidharma Pitaka or “basket of metaphysics,” which touch on the philosophy propelling the Buddha’s teachings.
            Initially preserved orally, and not until 29 BCE- approximately four hundred and fifty four years after the death of Siddhartha Guatama (Shakyamuni)- was the complete extant early Buddhist cannon written down.  The oldest version of this canon to have survived is in Pali, a vernacular descendant of Sanskrit (Buddhist terms appearing in Sanskrit instead of Pali- e.g. dharma rather than dhamma, sutra rather than sutta).  So the sutras, or discourses, preserved in the Buddhist Pali canon were largely aimed at the monks and nuns of the Buddhist order.  But the Dhammapada was meant for everyone.  I leave you off with the first two verses to graze and ponder-

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.  Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.”

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.  Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.”

No comments:

Post a Comment