Buddhism – An Introduction

Buddhism is a most virtuous and profound education directed by the Buddha towards all sentient beings in the universe. The education covers a boundless range of phenomena and principles that is much broader that what is currently taught in universities. In regards to time, Buddhism encompasses the past, present and future. In regards to space, it encompasses everything from our daily lives to the infinite universe. Buddhism is an education of the wisdom and understanding of life and the universe. It is not a religion but rather an education. The teachings of Confucius covers one lifetime. The teachings of the Buddha covers infinite lifetimes.

How is it that Buddhism is an education? Today, the terms teacher and student are only used in the context of a school. However, we call Buddha Shakyamuni, our original teacher. We call ourselves students as did our predecessors in ancient China. This is differs with religions in that there is a parent-child relationship between a deity, a God, and his disciples. In Buddhism, however, it is clearly stated that the Buddha is the teacher and we are his students. Bodhisattvas and we are classmates; they were the Buddha’s former students while we are his current ones.

Furthermore, a monk or nun is called a He-shang, which is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word meaning a direct mentor who provides teachings and acts as our personal guide. We share a close teacher-student relationship with this person. Temples, or Way Places, have only one He-shang. Teachers who teach on behalf of the He-shang are called Asheli. Their speech and behavior can be models for us to follow. Others who do not directly teach would be called Dharma masters or Fashi. They are like teachers who lectures we do not attend or those who do not directly teach us. All of these terms are characteristics of education and are not found in religion.

For further examples of how Buddhism is an education, we can examine Chinese way palaces where activities are held. The way place is an educational institution combining Buddhist teaching and art, similar to the combination of a modern school and a museum. Nowadays, people pursue the arts in everything. Buddhism, however, practiced artistic teaching as early as three thousand years ago.

The staff organization of the way place is a further illustration of the similarity with modern schools. The He-shang is equivalent to the principal in a school, deciding policies, making plans for courses of study and employing the teachers. Reporting to the He-shang are three associates or executives, who are in charge of everything directly related to teaching, advising and disciplining, and general services. In China, a traditional way place was regarded as a Buddhist university. From this administrative structure, we can further see that Buddhism truly is an education.

Buddhism was founded 3000 years ago by Buddha Shakyamuni. He was born in northern India and lived for 79 years; 49 of those years were spent teaching. In 67 AD, Buddhism was first introduced into China.

To fully appreciate the concepts and teachings of Buddhism, its important we have a firm understanding of the terms Buddha, Dharma, Buddhist Dharma and Buddhist teachings. Such an understanding is important for our cultivation or practice.

Buddhism is a Sanskrit (a language of ancient India) word meaning “wisdom and enlightenment.” In essence Buddhism means wisdom. In application, it means enlightenment.

There are three levels of wisdom. The first level is “General and All Knowledge Wisdom.” This is the correct understanding of the universe. It is the wisdom of knowing the general aspects of all existences, the wisdom of Theravada Sages. The second level, “Differentiation Wisdom”, is the wisdom that can correctly comprehend all the infinite phenomena of the universe, the wisdom of knowing the discriminative aspects of all existences, the wisdom of Bodhisattvas. How did the phenomena arise? From where? In what way? What were the results? The third wisdom, “Overall and Perfect Knowledge Wisdom”, is the exhaustive and perfect perception and comprehension of truth of life and of the universes without the slightest doubt or error, the wisdom of Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni, possessing all three of these kinds of wisdom, completely understood the true reality of life and universe.

The function of wisdom is enlightenment. There are three classifications of enlightenment. The first is “Self Enlightenment”, a state in which one possesses no erroneous thoughts, views, speech or behavior. The second is “Enlightenment of Self and Others” a state in which one helps other to reach enlightenment after achieving his or her own. The third stage is “Perfect Complete Enlightenment”, a state in which one reaches perfection in both enlightenment for self as well as helping others to reach enlightenment.

Possessing great wisdom and enlightenment enable us to truly know all that exists and all that is infinite. This includes matters and objects as tiny as a Quark (a tiny particle that comprises protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus) to those as great as the infinite universe. All of these are objects of our perception, or wisdom and enlightenment.

The word Dharma is used to symbolize all of these infinite phenomena. Buddhist Dharma or Principle, is the infinite wisdom and enlightenment, the perception of all things and laws in life and the universe.

The Buddha said, “Our innate perception and the objects in the universe perceived are ONE not TWO.” If we think about this statement logically, if the Buddha’s words are complete and perfect, then we can believe that this wisdom and enlightenment are ultimate and perfect. However, if perceived and perceivable are opposites, then wisdom can hardly be complete and perfect, but is rather limited.

The Buddha told us that knowable and known, perceivable and perceived are ONE not TWO. This is called the One True Dharma Realm, the most genuine, perfect and highest realm as explained in the Flower Adornment Sutra. The Western Pure Land of the Pure Land School also belongs to and is not separate from the One True Dharma Realm. This Western Pure Land, was created by Buddha Amitabha as an ideal place of cultivation as those who are born there are no longer subject to reincarnation within the six realms.