For a believer or follower, understanding one’s own religion is a lifelong endeavor. Thus, for those of you who are new to Buddhism, we hope that the following pages pique your interest, serving as a springboard to learning more about the Buddha-dharma, the Buddhist teachings.
A Glimpse of Buddhism is divided into three sections. The first section, The Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, introduces the teachings that originate with the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, and serve as the foundation for all schools or sects of Buddhism. Because SFVHBT is a Jodo Shinshu temple, the second section, Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism), introduces the teachings of Shinran Shonin (1173-1262). The third section lists books and other resources for further study.
There are many opportunities for learning more about Buddhism. At SFVHBT, you can participate in study classes or browse through the books and other resources in the library. The minister is also here to discuss your questions. The temple newsletter and BCA’s Wheel of Dharma have religious articles in addition to news. And have you thought about Dharma School? It offers an opportunity for students of all ages to learn the teachings and then bring them to life by sharing them with others.
Keep your eyes and ears open for seminars, lectures, or workshops offered at SFVHBT or other local temples. There are also one-day conferences with speakers in both English and Japanese. The Dharma Center in Downtown Los Angeles and the Buddhist Education Center at Orange County Buddhist Church offer study courses. The Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley houses the Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) and the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS), a graduate school and seminary. CBE offers seminars for temple leaders, Dharma School teachers, and those interested in studying Buddhism, as well as a two-year correspondence course on Jodo Shinshu. IBS offers on-line courses as part of its graduate studies program.
There are 84,000 paths, and one of them is just right for you!
The Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha
The goal of Buddhism may be expressed in many ways: enlightenment or liberation, realizing Truth or awakening to ultimate reality, becoming a Buddha or attaining Buddhahood, nirvana or extinction of suffering. The path of Buddhism may be expressed through many different practices: keeping precepts, contemplation, meditation, visualization, stupa worship, chanting, bowing, prostrations, offerings, and so on.
Buddhist history began more than twenty-five centuries ago with the life of Shakyamuni Buddha (or Gautama [Gotama] Buddha). Siddhartha Gautama (c. 485-405 BCE) was the son of one of the rulers of the Shakya clan. According to the prophecy of a seer, Siddhartha would become either a great ruler of the Shakya clan or a great religious teacher. Shuddhodana, wanting his son to rule the Shakya, did all he could to insulate Siddhartha, surrounding him with all manner of material comfort. However, even as a child, Siddhartha was troubled by the sufferings of others, and as an adult, he abandoned a life of privilege, leaving a wife and son, to seek Truth.
After six years, Siddhartha abandoned the rigorous ascetic practices that nearly led to his death by starvation. He sat beneath a tree to meditate. With the passage of the three watches of a moonlit night, Siddhartha awakened to the three-fold knowledge of Truth and realized perfect enlightenment with the arrival of dawn.
Overcoming initial hesitation and doubts about sharing what he had awakened to, Shakyamuni Buddha proceeded to teach for forty-five years, until his death at eighty.
What does the Buddha teach?
The first sermon of the Buddha, the first turning of the dharma wheel, is called “The Discourse Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma.” He discusses the Four Noble Truths: the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering. The last truth is known as the Noble Eightfold Path: right view or understanding, right thought, right speech, right action or conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right meditation or concentration.
In his second sermon, the Buddha teaches of not-self: a permanent, unchanging, independent, or substantial “self” does not exist; or in other words, no thing exists independently of, nor separately from, all other things. In another discourse, he explains causality, the arising, existence, and dissolution of all things, of all phenomena. It supports the notion of interdependence and not-self, and the most prominent application of causality is the concept of dependent origination. The Buddha also teaches about karma (action)—a mental (thought), verbal (word), or physical (deed) act of volition—which, like a seed, bears fruit (karmic results). An action is “skillful” or “wholesome” if it brings about a healthy mental state. An action is “unskillful” or “unwholesome” if it causes harm to oneself, to others, or to both self and others.
As his death approaches, Shakyamuni Buddha emphasizes to his followers that they must rely on the teachings and not on the teacher. After his death, followers meet in the so-called First Council to record the words of the Buddha, preserving the teachings to benefit generations of followers to come.
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