Outline of Buddhism

This sweeping overview is great review for students and interested learners. A Christian reaction or response to Buddhism appears at the end of this post.

I. Overview

A. Influenced by and Reacts Against Hinduism

B. Comparative Table:



Karma, Samsara Karma, Samsara
Dharma Dharma (different)
*Atman Anatman (an-atman = no-soul/self)
Caste and enlightenment Enlightenment for all
Brahmin worship & sacrifice Opposed to it
Vedas are authoritative Rejects Vedas
Gods/goddesses worshipped Non-issue for the Buddha (but it is for followers)

B. Middle Way between Excesses

Excess                              Middle Way                     Excess

Asceticism                           Buddhism                   Worldliness

The First Sermon (partial)

            These two extremes, O monks, are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with the passions, low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless, and that conjoined with self-torture, painful, ignoble, and useless. Avoiding these two extremes the Tathagata [the Buddha] has gained the knowledge of the Middle Way, which gives sight and knowledge, and tends to calm, to insight, enlightenment, nirvana.

1. Problem: the Buddha still retained harsh asceticism.

C. Missionary Religion

1. Diminishes in India (absorbed by Hinduism; driven out by Islam)

2. Grows in Asia (north like Tibet, China, and Japan; and south, like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia).

Three Gems or Jewels of Buddhism

1 Buddha I take refuge in the Buddha
2 Dharma /

Dhamma (in Pali)

I take refuge in Dharma (reality, morality, teaching, truth)
3 Sangha I take refuge in monastic order

This Is Our Organizing Principle for a While

First Jewel: The Buddha

I. Life of Siddharta Gautama

A. a k a Siddhattha Gotama (in Pali dialect)

                        1. a k a Sakymuni = Sage of Sakyan clan

B. Dates: BCE (Before Common Era)

1. 560-480 (Textbook)

2. 624-544 (Sri Lanka & SE Asia)

3. 566/63-486/83 (W. scholars)

4. 448-368 (Japan)

C. Father and Mother

1. Raja (chieftain/warrior/king) Suddhodana and Mahamaya (Maya)

D. Born in S. Nepal, N. of Ganges R.

II. Four Sights and Great Departure

A. *Vanity of life


Possible Meaning

Old man: barely walking Youth is vain
Sick leper: extremities eaten away Health is vain
Corpse on a bier Life is vain
Monk: calm & detached A path for overcoming suffering

A. Statement on sick man:

When an untaught, ordinary man, who is subject to sickness, not safe from sickness, sees another who is sick, he is shocked, humiliated, and disgusted, for he forgets that he himself is no exception. But I too am subject to sickness, not safe from sickness, and so it cannot befit me to be shocked, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another who is sick. When I considered this, the vanity of health entirely left me.

B. Disciple of Yoga teacher (= Brahmin)

1. Accomplishes six levels of yoga trance (out of eight)

2. Masters seventh with another yogi

C. Asceticism (six years)

III. To Enlightenment

A. Meditates under Bo or *Bodhi Tree (once a k a Fig)

1. *Mara attacks (god of death)

a. Greed, boredom, desire (or thirst, desire, passion)

b. For example, fear and anger

B. Threefold Knowledge in three watches of night

1. First watch: memory of past lives

2. Second watch: insight into law of karma

a. Tanha = desire, craving

b. Evolves into Four Noble Truths

3. Third watch: understanding how to end suffering

a. Evolves into Eightfold Path

C. Before Dawn

1. Buddha means “Enlightened or Awakened One”

a. State of complete awareness, total insight into nature of reality

“I had direct knowledge. Birth is exhausted. The Holy Life has been lived out, what was to be done is done, there is no more of this to come.”

2. Tathagata = “One Thus Gone/Come” (a.k.a. “Truth-gatherer”)

D. *Nirvana (= Nibbana in Pali)

1. Negative meaning: extinguishing (as a fire)

a. Fire = three evil roots in deep unconscious: greed, hatred, delusion

2. Positive:

a. Experiencing transcendental happiness

E. *Arhat [Arahant] = “Worthy One” = “Saint” = One Who Has Achieved Enlightenment

IV. Community

A. Five former fellow monks at first

B. Thousands of followers

V. Death

A. Nirvana

B. Where did the Buddha go?

1. Not extinct—some venerate him, pray to him

C. Practicing Buddhists explain:

Freedom from [Tanha] is known . . . as nirvana . . . . There are two kinds of nirvana:

            1. That which has a residual basis

            2. That which has no residual basis

The first arose in Shakyamuni Buddha as he sat beneath the Bodhi tree . . . . In the first case a living being continued to pursue an earthly life; in the second, there was complete extinction (Parinirvana): nothing tangible remained behind.

What is nirvana? Invariably it is stressed that it cannot be grasped via sense experience or by the mind operating in terms of its usual conceptual categories. And it certainly cannot be described in words. To do so would be like trying to describe the color red to a blind person. As it lies wholly outside our normal field of experience, we can and must come to it through direct insight, and this indeed is basically what the Buddha’s way is all about. However, bearing in mind that any description must be more or less inaccurate, a few tentative pointers may be given to guide us in the right general direction. The word nirvana itself possesses connotations of blowing out or extinguishing, as a flame is blown out or extinguished once the fuel that feeds it has been exhausted. It is cool and peaceful. Dukkha [suffering] doesn’t touch it, nor the passions of greed, hatred, and ignorance. In the Buddha’s own words:

Monks, there is an unborn, unoriginated, unmade, and unconditioned. Were there not an unborn, unoriginated, unmade and unconditioned, there would be no escape from the born, originated, made, and conditioned. Since there is the unborn, unoriginated, unmade, and unconditioned, there is an escape from the born, originated, made and conditioned.

Finally, even though nirvana is usually described in negative terms—it is obviously easier to say what it is not than what it is—it is nevertheless lavishly praised in the Buddhist scriptures as amounting to supreme bliss, no less.

At once, of course, the mind starts to create speculative pictures, and stumbles into mistaken views. One classic misconception is to see nirvana as some kind of nothingness. This is to fall prey to the mistaken notion of annihilationism (complete non-existence), which is twinned with the equally mistaken notion of eternalism (that something exists forever). Nirvana lies beyond both existence and non-existence. Another misconception is to imagine nirvana as a heaven where all good Buddhists go. It is definitely not a place, nor is it “somewhere else.” Paradoxically, though, unconditioned itself, it only arises amid worldly conditions, and in the case of human beings, within the human body.

In this fathom-long body, with all its perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world.

The fourth noble truth defines this path to liberation by telling us what practical steps we have taken in order to root out [Tanha] and thereby create the fertile ground in which nirvana may arise. These steps are laid out in the teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path.

John Snelling, “Nirvana,” Radiant Mind, pp. 307-09

The Buddha discouraged speculation about the nature of nirvana and emphasized instead the need to strive for attainment . . . . A smaller number of positive epithets are also found, including “the auspicious,” “the good,” “purity,” “peace,” “truth,” and “the further shore.”

Damien Keown, “Nirvana,” ibid, p. 311

Second Jewel: Dharma

I. Dharma

A. Word Root: “That which holds firm”

B. Sanskrit related to Latin firma

C. “Dhamma” in Pali

D. Many realms, e.g., laws of nature, spiritual force of karma, rules of moral conduct or duty

This Our Organizing Principle under Dharma Jewel Section

Four Noble Truths

1 Suffering Is inevitable, e.g., birth, grief, sickness, senility, death
2 Desire, Craving

= Tanha

Is the origins of suffering
3 Cessation It is possible to end suffering by cessation of desires
4 Eightfold Path These are areas of self-improvement; not steps in ladder, but petals in flower—taken together in concord

The First Sermon

             These two extremes, O monks, are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with the passions, low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless, and that conjoined with self-torture, painful, ignoble, and useless. Avoiding these two extremes the Tathagata has gained the knowledge of the Middle Way, which gives sight and knowledge, and tends to calm, to insight, enlightenment, nirvana.

            What, O monks, is the Middle Way, which gives sight . . . ? It is the noble Eightfold Path, namely, right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This, O monks, is the Middle Way . . . .

            (1) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful. In short, the five khandas [skandas or components, see below] of grasping is painful.

            (2) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cause of pain: that craving which leads to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there, namely, the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.

            (3) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of pain: the cessation without remainder of that craving, abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attachment.

            (4) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of pain: this is the noble Eightfold Path, namely, right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration . . . .

            As long as in these noble truths my threefold knowledge and insight duly with its twelve divisions was not well purified, even so, O monks, in the world with its gods, Mara, Brahma, with ascetics, gods, and men, I had not attained the highest complete enlightenment. Thus I knew.

            But when in these noble truths my threefold knowledge and insight duly with its twelve divisions was well purified, then, O monks, in the world . . . I had attained the highest complete enlightenment. Thus I knew. Knowledge arose in me; insight arose that the release of my mind is unshakeable; this is my last existence; now there is no rebirth.

First Noble Truth

(An Elaboration)


Individual Soul/Self Does Not Exist; Self Is Impermanent, Shifting

# Components Brief Explanation
1 Body All material forms or shapes; material sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) come in contact with sense objects
2 Feelings All feelings of pleasure, pain, or neutrality arise from body; but also mental happiness, unhappiness, or indifference
3 Understanding; or Cognition / Recognition / Interpretation Faculty to discern and process sensory or mental objects, so as to classify or label them; from sensations arises perception;  higher than mere consciousness—it is  knowledge of what we are conscious of
4 Will Initiates action; directs or moulds character; Formation of karma, desire, avoidance, volition; sensations and understanding (2 &  3) evoke desire and will, pushing actions
5 Consciousness Basic awareness of sensory or mental object and its discrimination of its basic aspects or parts; central focus of personality: mind, heart, thought; Transmigrates in new rebirth

*No unchanging personal identity apart from constantly changing aggregates or components, so do not grasp for permanent self

*No permanent, underlying selfhood or soul, but interplay of components creates illusion of permanent selfhood;

* Five aggregates transmigrates

The Theory of No-Soul [or Self]

             The body, monks, is soulless. If the body, monks, were the soul, this body would not be subject to sickness, and it would be possible in the case of the body to say, “Let my body be thus, let my body not be thus.” Now, because the body is soulless, monks, therefore the body is subject to sickness, and it is not possible in the case of the body to say, “Let my body be thus, let my body not be thus.”

            Feeling is soulless . . . perception is soulless . . . the aggregates [components] are soulless . . . .

            Consciousness is soulless. For if consciousness were the soul, this consciousness would not be subject to sickness, and it would be possible in the case of consciousness to say, “Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness not be thus.”

            Now, because consciousness is soulless, therefore consciousness is subject to sickness, and it is not possible in the case of consciousness to say, “Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness not be thus.”

            What think you, monks, is the body permanent or impermanent?

            Impermanent, Lord

            But is the impermanent painful or pleasant?

            Painful, Lord.

            But is it fitting to consider what is impermanent, painful, and subject to change as “this is mine, this am I, this is my soul”?

            No indeed, Lord.

            [And so of feeling, perception, the aggregates, and consciousness]

            Therefore in truth, monks, whatever body, past, future, or present, internal, external, gross or subtle, low or eminent, near or far, is to be looked on by him who duly and rightly understands, as “all this body is not mine, not this am I, not mine is the soul. [And so of feeling, etc.]

            Thus perceiving, monks, the learned noble disciple feels loathing for the body, for feeling, for perception, for the aggregates, for consciousness. Feeling disgust, he becomes free from passion, through freedom from passion he is emancipated, and in the emancipated one arises the knowledge of his emancipation. He understands that destroyed is rebirth, the religious life has been led, done is what was to be done, there is [nothing] [for him] beyond this world.

Milinda may be Greek Menander; Nagasena is a monk about whom not much is known.

 Now Milinda the king went up to where the venerable Nagasena was, and addressed him with greetings and compliments of friendship and courtesy, and took his seat respectfully apart.

            And Milinda began by asking, “How is your Reverence known, and what, Sir, is your name?”

            “I am known as Nagasena, O king. But although parents, O king, give such a name as Nagasena . . . it is only a generally understood term, a designation in common use. For there is no permanent individuality (no soul) involved in the matter.”

            “If, most reverend Nagasena, there is no permanent individuality (no soul) involved in the matter, who is it, pray, who gives to you members of the Order your robes and food and lodging and necessaries for the sick? Who is it who enjoys such things when given? Who is it who lives a life of righteousness?

            “You tell me that your brothers in the Order are in the habit of addressing you as Nagasena. Now what is that Nagasena? Do you mean to say that the hair is Nagasena?”

            “I don’t say that, great king.”

            “Or is it nails, the teeth, the skin, the flesh, the nerves, the bones . . . or any of these that is Nagasena?”

            And to each of these he answered no.

            “Is it the outward form then that is Nagasena, or the sensations, or the ideas, or the [predispositions], or the consciousness that is Nagasena?”

            And to each of these he answered no.

            “Then is it all these skandas [components] combined that are Nagasena?”

            “No! great king.”

            “But is there anything outside the five skandas that is Nagasena?”

            And he still answered no.

            “Who then is the Nagasena we see before us?”

            “. . . if you came in a chariot, explain to me what that is. Is it the pole that is the chariot?”

            “I did not say that.”

            Is it the wheels or the framework . . . ?

            “Certainly not.”

            “Then is it all these parts that are the chariot?”

            “No, sir.”

            “Then . . . I can discover no chariot. Chariot is a mere empty sound.”

            “It is on account of its having all these things—the pole and the axle . . .—that it comes under the generally understood term, the designation in common use, of ‘chariot.’”

            “Very good! Your Majesty has rightly grasped the meaning of ‘chariot.’ And just even so it is on account of all those things you questioned me about . . . that I come under the generally understood term . . . ‘Nagasena.’ For it was said, Sire, by our sister Vajira in the presence of the Blessed One [the Buddha]:

            Just as it is by the condition precedent of the coexistence of its various parts that the word chariot is used, just so is it true that when the skandas are there we talk of ‘being.’

“Most wonderful, Nagasena, and most strange. Well done, well done, Nagasena.”

Second Noble Truth

(An Elaboration)

Dependent Origination or Conditioned Coproduction

Life Cycle # Conditions Brief Explanation
Past 1 Ignorance Of the true nature of reality-dharma; this is basic root of suffering, not sin; below root mind is pure; weak point in wheel (see 9)


Karma A k a Constructing Activities which accumulate karma; All acts arise from ignorance and the will, which initiates action
Present 3


Consciousness Life-force of birth-consciousness arises out of acts (karma) of will, which discriminates objects; e g: buying a house we notice “for sale” signs that we did not see before

(1, 3)

Mind-Body Mind-body complex arises out of consciousness; consists of feeling, cognition, will, stimulation, and attention (see five components)
5 Six Senses Five physical senses + mind arise out of mind-body + consciousness; lived knowledge of world is skewed & leads to dissatisfaction, unhappiness
6 Contact Or stimulation; we perceive things via contact with them arising from six senses, stimulating sensations


Sensations Sensations arise from contact: pain, pleasure, neutral
8 Desire Craving depends on, arises from  sensations; weak point in wheel (see 1)
9 Clinging More active attachment to things and persons than desire; it depends on, arises from desire
10 Becoming Or existence; it is process of ongoing life arise from clinging to things and persons
Future 11 Rebirth Eight factors (3-10) cause cycle of birth-(life)-death-rebirth
12 Aging & Dying Rebirth leads to aging and dying; thus samsara is repeated

*Five numbers in parentheses are five components

*All stages build up and interact with the others simultaneously.

*Ignorance and desire are key b/c w/o true knowledge humans live a life of craving

*Desire (8) arises from sensations (7) that arise from contacts (6) via six senses (5), which depend on mind-body complex (4) that emerges from life-force of consciousness (3), which comes from acts of will = karma (2) that occurred ignorantly in previous life (1).

*All living beings are in process (10) and will be reborn repeatedly, which is samsara;  (11), susceptible to aging and dying (12) until they realize Nirvana.

Adapted from: Religions Traditions of the World, ed. H. Byron Earhart, pp. 906-07 (Harper-Collins, 1993)

Third Noble Truth

(An Elaboration)

A Way Out of the Conditions

Life Cycle # Conditions Brief Explanation
Past 1 Ignorance Cessation of ignorance ceases karma
2 Karma Cessation of karma ceases life-force of consciousness
Present 3 Consciousness Cessation of consciousness (not towards non-existence, but towards non-attachment, unsupported by any object but Nirvana; release) ceases mind-body complex, mutual conditioning
4 Mind-Body Cessation of mind-body complex ceases six senses
5 Six Senses Cessation of six senses ceases sensations
6 Contact Cessation of sensations ceases contact
7 Sensations Cessation of contact ceases desire
8 Desire Cessation of desire ceases clinging for things or persons
9 Clinging Cessation of clinging ceases becoming (drive to be reborn)
10 Becoming Cessation of becoming ceases rebirth
Future 11 Rebirth Cessation of rebirth or endless samsara ceases old age and death,
12 Aging & Dying Cessation of old age and death ceases samsara, and this cessation leads to nirvana

*All stages build up and interact with the others simultaneously.

*Mind-body-consciousness interaction is key b/c of mental discipline and meditation

*Nirvana is the extinguishing, cessation of craving or desire, of suffering, and of the flame of greed, hate, delusion

*Reverse the process in Dependent Origination Chart

Fourth Noble Truth

Eightfold Path

# Right Brief Explanation
1 Views Or understanding, true wisdom about karma, rebirth; know suffering, its origins and cessation (see Four Noble Truths)
2 Intention Or right-directed thought; concerns emotions; resolve to renounce world, to do no hurt or harm; show compassion
3 Speech Abstain from lies, slander, harsh talk, tattling
4 Action Abstain from taking life, stealing, sexual misconduct
5 Livelihood Support yourself, as a disciple, in right way; abstain from work that harms: weapons; alcohol; killing animals; pimping
6 Effort Struggle to stop wrong qualities, to foster good ones; develop mind in wholesome ways: (a) avoid attachments; (b) overcome bad states; (c) meditation development; (d) maintain qualities of mind that have been developed
7 Mindfulness Attentiveness; know and keep track of what body, heart, mental states are; freedom from wants and discontents
8 Concentration (Samadhi) Free yourself from lusts and wrong qualities, disciples develop inner serenity, deep calm and inner collectedness from attention focused on meditation object

*Three dimensions:

(1) Wisdom

Views and Intent

(2) Morality (see Five Precepts below)

Speech, Conduct, Livelihood

(3) Mental Discipline (Key to other dimensions)

Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration

The Synopsis of Truth

 . . . . Lastly, what is the Noble Truth of the Path that leads to the cessation of suffering? It is just the Noble Eightfold Path, consisting of right outlook, right resolves, right speech, right acts, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right rapture of concentration.

            Right outlook is to know suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

            Right resolves are the resolve to renounce the world and to do no hurt or harm.

            Right speech is to abstain from lies and slander, from reviling, and from tattle.

            Right acts are to abstain from taking life, from stealing, and from lechery.

            Right livelihood is that by which the disciple of the Noble One [the Buddha] supports himself, to the exclusion of wrong modes of livelihood.

            Right endeavor is when an almsman [disciple of Buddha] brings his will to bear, puts forth endeavor and energy, struggles and strives with all his heart, to stop bad and wrong qualities that have already arisen from ever arising, to renounce those that have already arisen, to foster good qualities that have not yet arisen, and, finally, to establish, clarify, multiply, enlarge, develop, and perfect those good qualities that are there already.

            Right mindfulness is when realizing what the body is—what feelings are—what the heart is—and what the mental states are—an almsman dwells ardent, alert, and mindful, in freedom from the wants and discontents attendant on any of these things.

            Right rapture of concentration is when, divested of lusts and divested of wrong dispositions, an almsman develops and dwells in the first ecstasy with all its zest and satisfaction, a state bred of aloofness and not divorced from observation and reflection. By laying to rest observation and reflection, he develops and dwells in inward serenity, in the focusing of the heart, in the zest and satisfaction of the second ecstasy, which is divorced from observation and reflection and is bred of concentration—passing from there to the third and fourth ecstasies.

            This, sirs, constitutes the Noble Truth of the Path that leads to cessation of suffering . . . .

Third Jewel: Monastic Order

I. The Buddha’s Religious Mission

A. He Finds Five Former Fellow Monks in Deer Park

B. He Preaches Middle Path

            These two extremes, O monks, are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with the passions, low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless, and that conjoined with self-torture, painful, ignoble, and useless. Avoiding these two extremes the Tathagata has gained the knowledge of the Middle Way, which gives sight and knowledge, and tends to calm, to insight, enlightenment, nirvana.

C. He Forms Sanghas = Monastic Orders

1. Robes dyed with vegetable dyes, saffron

a. Red and Brown come into usage in E Asia

2. Serious followers

a. Shave head

b. Wear coarse robe

c. Possess only Begging Bowl

Vows of Buddhist Monks

“I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from”:

1 Killing living creatures
2 Taking things not given
3 Lying, and frivolous, slanderous, or harsh talk
4 Sexual misconduct
5 Comfort and adornment
6 Singing, dancing, music, shows
7 Worldly commerce, errands
8 Injuring seeds and plants (or drinking liquors that cause intoxication)
9 Eating more than one meal per day (or using high and luxurious seats)

II. Non-Monastic (Lay) Buddhists Vow the Five Precepts

A. Basic rules of moral conduct

B. Abstain from:

1. Killing

2. Stealing

3. Lying

4. Improper sexual conduct

5. Intoxicants

C. These Precepts summarize Morality Dimension in Eightfold        Path (see above)

Four Levels of Lay Buddhists

1 Beginner Enters into Stream Leading to Nirvana
Mature Person Is Established in Stream Leading to Nirvana
2 Beginner Has Rebirth Only Once
Mature Person Leaves Single Rebirth
3 Beginner Achieves No-Return to Rebirth
Mature Person Never Returns to Rebirth
4 Beginner Achieves Arhat
Mature Person Grows in Arhat
*Two sublevels: one who has just realized new level, one who has matured or is established in the level

*These levels open the door to the laity

*However, some forms of Buddhism expect laity to take ordination

*Mahayana Buddhism upgrades role of laity

Historical Development

 (We Now Leave Three-Jewel Organization)

I. Two Councils

A. First: One Year after the Buddha’s Death

1. 500 monks affirm Buddha’s teaching acc. to two of Five Followers

B. Second Council (390 BCE)

1. Hinayana (“Little Vehicle”) = Theravada (“Way of Elders”) = Conservative, Strict, Transport Few to Enlightenment

2. Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) = Liberal, Broad Path, Transport Many to Enlightenment

a. Seed now; grows fully later

II. Indian Emperor Asoka (r. 268-232 BCE)

A. “Constantine” of Buddhism (Constantine used military and law to impose and spread Christianity)

B. Sends missionaries throughout world

1. This guarantees Buddhism’s survival after absorbed by Hinduism or attacked by Islam in India

C. Third Council (247 BCE)

1. Determine authoritative list of Scriptures

2. Monastic rules fully develop

Three Major Branches

Dates, Geography, and Divisions (This table overlaps to show historical development)
Theravada =

“Way of Elders”

Hinayana =

“Little Vehicle”

390 BCE
Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
Once 18 sects, now down to 1 Mahayana =

“Great Vehicle”

3rd century BCE to 1st century CE
China (3rd cent. CE); Korea (4th cent. CE);

Japan (6th cent. CE);

Bali, Sumatra, Java, Mongolia, Tibet

Pure Land

Ch’an (China),

Zen (Japan)


Vajrayana =

“Diamond (or Thunderbolt) Vehicle”


T’ien-t’ai (China)

Tendai (Japan)

7th– 8th centuries CE

Nichiren (Japan)

Tibet and Himalayas
Yellow Hat School
Red Hat School

I. Theravada

A. “Hinayana” is pejorative (insulting)

B. Conservative

1. Closer to Buddha’s teaching

C. Basics

1. Enlightenment for oneself w/o reliance on gods

2. Monk (detached, begging) is ideal

3. Monk most likely to attain Nirvana

4. Laity supports (sometimes joins temporarily) monastery; a few can attain Nirvana

5. Many past lives of Buddha (Jataka Tales)

6. Accepts Buddha’s relics

D. Arhat v. Bodhisattva

II. Mahayana

A. Far more numerous

B. New outlook (3rd century BCE to 1st century CE)

1. Buddha is more than human—he is a godlike, compassionate divine being

2. Many incarnations of eternal Buddha to whom one may appeal

3. Cultic systems for worship of Eternal Buddha

C. Bodhisattva

1. Buddhist saint who postpones Parinirvana (full Nirvana after death) to help sufferers

2. Compassionate

III. Mahayana Sects or Subdivisions

A. Pure Land

1. Most popular

2. Land of bliss and purity

3. Cosmic Bodhisattva reigns over many Pure Lands

4. The Pure Land purifies you so you can enter final nirvana

5. Excessive embellishment on original Buddhist doctrine?

B. Ch’an (China) Zen (Japan)

1. Meditation

2. Koan

a. Mind-bending claim or riddle

3. Satori

a. Flash of insight / enlightenment

C. T’ien-t’ai (China) Tendai (Japan)

1. Emphasizes study of scripture

D. Nichiren (Japan)

1. Nichiren is reformer (like Old Testament Prophet)

IV. Tibetan

A. Northern Buddhism

B. King of Tibet accepts Buddhism

C. Basics

1. Magic and incantations

2. Bon: Native religion has magic and incantations

3. Tantric Buddhism

a. Manuals

b. Some branches encourage sexual practices

4. Tibetan Clergy: Lama (Superior One)

a. Lamas replace kings by 14th cent. CE

b. Yellow Hat: Dalai Lama leads it

5. Red Hat School: Tibetan Book of the Dead

Excerpts of Zen Buddhism

Satori may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it. Practically, it means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in confusion of a dualistically-trained mind. Or we may say that with satori our entire surroundings are viewed from quite an unexpected angle of perception. Whatever this is, the world for those who have gained satori is no more the old world as it used to be; even with all its flowing streams and burning fires, it is never the same one again. Logically stated, all its opposites and contradictions are united and harmonized into a consistent organic whole. This is a mystery and a miracle, but according to the Zen masters such is being performed every day. Satori can thus be had only through our once personally experiencing it.

 Its semblance or analogy in a more or less feeble and fragmentary way is gained when a difficult mathematical problem is solved, or when a great discovery is made, or when a sudden means of escape is realized in the midst of most desperate complication; in short, when one exclaims, “Eureka! Eureka!” But this refers only to the intellectual aspect of satori, which is therefore necessarily partial and incomplete and does not touch the very foundations of life considered an indivisible whole. Satori as the Zen experience must be concerned with the entirety of life. For what Zen proposes to do is the revolution, and the revaluation as well, of oneself as a spiritual unity. The solving of the mathematical problem ends with the solution; it does not affect one’s whole life . . . . But the opening of satori is the remaking of life itself. When it is genuine—for there are many simulacra [models] of it—its effect on one’s morals and spiritual life are revolutionary, and they are enhancing, purifying, as well as exacting. When a master was asked what constituted Buddhahood, he answered, “The bottom of the pail is broken through.” From this we can see what a complete revolution is produced by this spiritual experience. The birth of a new man is really cataclysmic.

 . . . When poetically or figuratively expressed, satori is “the opening of the mind flower,” or “the removing of the bar,” or “the brightening up of the mind-works.” (D.T. Suzuki, “Satori,” Radiant Mind, pp. 243-44)

When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku, she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom of the pail fell out of the pail and at that moment Chiyono was free!

In commemoration she wrote a poem:

             In this way and that I tried to save the old pail

            Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break

            Until at last the bottom fell out.

            No more water in the pail!

           No more moon in the water! (Paul Reps, “No Water, No Moon,” Radiant Mind, pp. 244-45)

What is a koan?

. . . . A koan is generally some statement made by an old Zen master, or some answer of his is given to a questioner.

1. A monk asked Tung-shan, “Who is the Buddha?”  “Three chin of flax.”

2. Yun-men was once asked, “When not a thought is stirring in one’s mind, is there any error there?” “As much as Mount Sumeru.”

3. Chao-chou answered, “Wu!” . . . to a monk’s question, “Is there Buddha nature in a dog?” Wu literally means “not or “none,” but when this is ordinarily given as a koan, it has no reference to its literal significance; it is “Wu” pure and simple.

 4. When Ming the monk overtook the fugitive Hui-neng, he wanted Hui-neng to give up the secrets of Zen. Hui-neng replied, “What are your original features which you have even prior to your birth?”

 5. What, asked Chao-chou, “What is the meaning of the First Patriarch’s visit to China?” “The cypress tree in the front courtyard.”

 When such problems are given to the uninitiated for solution, what is the object of the master? The idea is to unfold Zen psychology in the mind of the uninitiated, and to reproduce the state of consciousness, of which these statements are the expression. That is to say, when the koans are understood, the master’s state of mind is understood, which is satori and without which Zen is a sealed book.

. . . . .

The method that would suggest itself in the circumstances was to select some of the statements made by the old masters and to use them as pointers. A pointer would then function in two directions: (1) to check the working of the intellect, or rather to let the intellect see by itself how far it can go, and also that there is a realm into which it as such can never enter; (2) To effect the maturity of Zen consciousness which eventually breaks out into a state of satori.

 When the koan works in the first direction, there takes place what has been called “searching and contriving.” Instead of the intellect, which taken by itself, forms only a part of our being, the entire personality, mind and body, is thrown out in the solution of the koan. When this extraordinary state of spiritual tension, guided by an experienced master, is made to mature, the koan works itself out into what has been designated as the zen experience. An intuition of the truth of Zen is now attained, for the wall against which the Yogin [Yogi] has been beating hitherto to no purpose breaks down, and an entirely new vista opens before him. Without the koan the Zen consciousness loses its pointer, and there will never be a state of satori. A psychological impasse is the necessary antecedent of satori . . . .

The worst enemy of Zen experience, at least in the beginning, is the intellect, which consists and insists in discriminating subject from object. The discriminating intellect, therefore, must be cut short if Zen consciousness is to unfold itself, and the koan is constructed eminently to serve this end.

 On examination we at once notice that there is no room in the koan to insert intellectual interpretation. The knife is not sharp enough to cut the koan open and see what are its content. For a koan is not a logical proposition but the expression of a certain mental state resulting from Zen discipline. For instance, what logical connection can there be between the Buddha and the “three chin of flax”? or between the Buddha nature and the “Wu?” or between the secret message of Bodhidharma and “a cypress tree”?

. . . . .

Technically speaking, the koan given to the uninitiated is intended “to destroy the root of life,” “to make the calculating mind die,” “to root out the entire mind that has been at work since eternity,” etc. This may sound murderous, but the ultimate intent is to go beyond the limits of intellection, and these limits can be crossed over only by exhausting oneself once and for all, by using up all of the psychic powers at one’s command. Logic then turns into psychology; intellection into conation and intuition. What cannot be solved on the plane of empirical consciousness is now transferred to the deeper recesses of the mind. So, says a Zen master, “Unless at one time perspiration has streamed down your back, you cannot see the boat sailing before the wind” . . . .

The koan refuses to be solved under any easier conditions. But once solved, the koan is compared to a piece of brick used to knock at a gate; when the gate is opened, the brick is thrown away. The koan is useful as long as the mental doors are closed, but when they are opened, it may be forgotten. What one sees after the opening will be something quite unexpected, something that has never before entered even into one’s imagination. But when the koan is re-examined from this newly acquired point of view, how marvelously suggestive, how fittingly constructed, although there is nothing artificial here! (D. T. Suzuki, “Teachers/Koans,” Radiant Mind, pp. 55-61.

Buddhism in USA

1893: Chicago World Fair and World Parliament of Religions;   Buddhist Dharmapala gives a speech and impresses audience

1894:  Paul Carus publishes The Gospel of Buddha, a highly edited anthology

1898:  D.T. Suzuki, leading practitioner of Zen, works in USA at    Open Court Publishing for eleven years

1920s-1950s: Nyogen Sensaki founds Zen groups in California

1930:  Ven. Sokei-an founds Buddhist Society of America in NYC

1956:  Zen center in LA founded

1960:  Nichiren Shoshu of America begin vigorous proselytizing in LA, so now 95% are non-Asian

1961:  Shunryu Suzuki opens Soto Zen center in SF

1966:  Theravada tradition founds center in Washington, DC

1967:  Shunryu Suzuki opens Tassajara Mountain monastery

1968:  Sino-American Buddhist Association founded in SF

1970:  Jiyu Kennett (Englishwoman), after study in Japan, founds Shasta Abbey, as headquarters of Zen Mission Society

1971:  Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhist, founds a center in Boulder, Colorado

1973:  Two American monks go on 1,100 mile bowing pilgrimage for peace across USA

1977:  Sino-American Buddhist Assoc. is in “City of 10,000                                                Buddhas,” a former hospital, where are found Dharma Realm University,      primary, secondary schools, a sangha, and lay training centers

1987: American Buddhist Congress is formed, comprised of 45 organizations, for co-operation, education, propagation

3 to 5 million Buddhists (probably more) in USA, about 324 million worldwide

Christian Reaction and Reply

This section comes from a standard grace-based (and therefore biblical) point of view.

Any Christian asceticism that retreats from the world does not follow the Gospels or the Epistles of the New Testament, which were written soon after Jesus lived. He crisscrossed Israel and his apostles crisscrossed their known world.

Let’s use bullet points to keep things clear and simple.

First, here are some positive aspects of Buddhism:

  • Buddhism can help humanity tame the mind and reduce bad desires, though original Buddhism, the one practiced by the Buddha, denied all desires.
  • It advocates mental equilibrium.
  • Calming the mind is a benefit for the individual and by extension for all of society.
  • Buddhism might work for those who are already naturally super-disciplined, but most humans are not super-disciplined.
  • Buddhism can bring social peace to society.
  • Buddhism could eliminate warfare–but only if everyone around the globe followed the one precept of nonviolence

Here are criticisms of Buddhism from a Christian point of view:

  • Christians who carefully follow New Testament theology and life believe that a loving, personal God exists and is seeking all people so they can have a personal connection and relationship with Him, the only God who loves. Buddhism as originally taught is a religion of self without a personal, loving God.
  • Only God thoroughly knows and connects and has a personal relationship with the ones who follow him, and he pours his love in their hearts by his grace, not by their efforts in asceticism and self-help.
  • The Buddha worked much, much too hard to deny self; Jesus Christ came down to earth and was resurrected from the dead. (This is the original teaching of the earliest Christians.) He now lives in heaven and has sent his Spirit into the  hearts of all who seek him.
  • Therefore when Christians pick up their cross, deny themselves, and follow Christ, they do so out of the strength of the Spirit of God, not out of spiritual discipline and work, work, work, work!
  • A branch of Buddhism teaches that the infinitely compassionate Bodhisattva exists and “incarnates” himself to help Buddhists. However, this doctrine emerged hundreds of years later. The original Buddha disappeared into Nirvana (disappeared from a human point of view). So the Bodhisattva doctrine may be just a human invention.
  • The one big missing doctrine is Buddhism: the Holy Spirit, who fills our lives and leads us into a joyful life (even during trials we can have joy) and gives us revelations of God’s love.
  • Christians can have peace of mind by yielding to the Spirit and praying to a personal God.
  • About the cycle of birth-(life)-death and rebirth (samsara), Jesus taught in John 3:1-16 that a human is born twice: (1) At birth through her mother and (2) born again through the Spirit of the living, loving God. In Christ, a person is not born again in the sense of physically dying and then being reborn into a new physical life. Rather, the person faces judgment of a loving God after the physical death.
  • Only in Christ can samsara be broken as a free gift, not by human effort and exertion.
  • Nonviolence: the New Testament nowhere advocates the Church as the Church forming religious militias or armies to kill unbelievers or anyone else. What was done in the name of Christ throughout the centuries does not reflect original teaching. (But New Testament teaching acknowledges that the world system may have to use a police force or army to bring peace to a city or nation.) Nonetheless, if everyone followed the teaching of nonviolence we would have worldwide peace. Please see Can Christians join the police force and military, Were the Early Christians pacifists? The Gospels: Was Jesus a pacifist? and The Kingdom of God: Was Jesus a pacifist?
  • The biggest of all missing doctrines in Buddhism: the grace of God reaching down to humans. Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that Buddhists must work really hard to achieve what? A personal peace and untroubled mind? To reach Nirvana? That seem good, but only up to a point. Christians believe it is better to have a personal relationship with God, their loving Father, the Ultimate and Eternal Being.
  • Finally, Nirvana is too unclear. In contrast, a personal relationship with God through Christ promises a wonderful existence in heaven with him. The Pure Land sect of Buddhism emerged hundreds of years after original Buddhism. It may be just an invention. In contrast, heaven is part and parcel of New Testament theology.

It is always the right time for a Buddhist to ask Jesus to be real in his heart, to come into his heart and to receive Christ’s love and grace and new life.


Ten Big Differences between Christianity and Other Religions












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