Kalama Sutta

Kalama Sutta

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mahamangala Sutta

[Discourse of Supreme Happiness]


Bahu deva manussa ca

Mangalani acintayum

Akankha-mana sotthanam

Bruhi mangala muttamam

Asevana ca balanam

Panditanan ca sevana

Puja ca puja-niyanam

Etam mangala muttamam

Patirupa-desa vaso ca

Pubbe ca kata-punnata

Atta samma panidhi ca

Etam mangala muttamam

Bahu saccanca sippanca

Vinayo ca susikkhito

Subhasita ca ya vaca

Etam mangala muttamam

Mata pitu upatthanam

Putta darassa sangaho

Anakula ca kammanta

Etam mangala muttamam

Danam ca dhamma-cariya ca

Natakananca sangaho

Anavajjani kammani

Etam mangala muttamam

Arati virati papa

Majja-pana ca sannamo

Appa-mado ca dhammesu

Etam mangala muttamam

Garavo ca Sovacassata,

Samana nanca dassanam

Kalena dhamma sakaccha

Etam mangala muttamam

Tapo ca brahma cariyaca

Ariya sacana dassanam

Nibbana sacchi kiriyaca

Etam mangal muttamam

Putthassa loka dhammehi

Cittam yassa na kampati

Asokam virajam khemam

Etam mangala muttamam

Eta-disani katvana

Sabbattha maparajita

Sabbattha sotthim gacchanti

Tam tesam mangala-muttamamti


Many deities and humans,

yearning after good,

have pondered on Blessings.

Pray, tell me the Supreme Blessings

Not to follow or associate with the foolish,

to associate with the wise,

and honor those who are worthy of honor.

This is the Supreme Blessing

To reside in a suitable locality,

to have done meritorious actions in the past,

and to have set oneself on the right course

This is the Supreme Blessing

Vast-learning, perfect handicraft,

a highly trained discipline

and pleasant speech.

This is the Supreme Blessing

The support of mother and father,

the cherishing of spouse and children

and peaceful occupations.

This is the Supreme Blessings

Liberality, righteous conduct,

the helping of relatives

and blameless action.

This is the Supreme Blessing

To cease and abstain from evil,

forbearance with respect to intoxicants

and steadfastness in virtue.

This is the Supreme Blessing

Patience, obedience,

sight of the holy ones

and religious discussions at due season.

This is the Supreme Blessing

Self-control, pure life,

perception of the Noble Truths

and the realization of Nibbana.

This is the Supreme Blessing

He whose mind does not flutter,

by contact with worldly contingencies,

sorrowless, stainless and secure.

This is the Supreme Blessing

To them, fulfilling matters such as these,

everywhere invincible,

in every way moving happily.

These are the Supreme Blessings

Buddhist Hymns and Prayers

On Opening the Sutra
The Dharma incomparably profound and exquisite Is rarely met with, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas; We are now permitted to see it, to listen to it, to accept and hold it; May we truly understand the meaning of the Tathagata’s words!

All the evil karma ever committed by me since of old, On account of greed, anger, and folly, which have no beginning, Born of my body, mouth, and thought -- I now make full open confession of it.

The Threefold Refuge
I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha, the incomparably honoured one; I take refuge in the Dharma, honourable for its purity; I take refuge in the Sangha, honourable for its harmonious life.
I have finished taking refuge in the Buddha; I have finished taking refuge in the Dharma; I have finished taking refuge in the Sangha.

The Four Great Vows
However innumerable beings are, I vow to save them; However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them; However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to master them; However incomparable the Buddha-truth is, I vow to attain it.
The Teaching of the Seven Buddhas
Not to commit evils, But to do all that is good, And to keep one’s thought pure --

This is the teaching of all the Buddhas
The Gatha of Impermanence
All composite things are impermanent, They are subject to birth and death; Put an end to birth and death, And there is blissful tranquility.

The Skandhas

Skandhas or aggregates are the parts of the self. Sometimes they are called the aggregates of attachment, which bring about suffering. Just like a car is nothing more than the sum of its parts, so we are nothing more than the sum of our parts. There is no atman, meaning soul, self, or ego, holding the pieces together. Nevertheless, just like the car can run despite being nothing but a collection of pieces, so we can live as a person.

Traditionally, there are five skandhas:

1. The body, matter or form (rupa). Includes the body and the sense organs.

2. Feelings or sensations (vedana). Pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings, coming out of contact between sense organs and objects, plus out of the contact between mind (manas) and mental objects (ideas, images...).

3. Thoughts or perceptions (samjña). Recognition of objects -- form, sound, smell, taste, bodily impressions, mental objects.

4. Will, mental acts, or mental formations (samskara). Volition, attention, discrimination, joy, happiness, equanimity, resolve, exertion, compulsion, concentration, etc.

5. Consciousness (vijñana). Awareness prior to recognition -- seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, kinesthesia, ideation.

The last four are called naman, name, meaning the psyche. Namarupa (name-form) is therefore the buddhist term for the person, mental and physical, which is nevertheless anatman, without soul or essence.
Ayatana is the six fields of naman: sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and mind, as well as the objects of these six senses.
The Yogachara school adds alaya-vijñana, a “storehouse” consciousness, similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. What is stored there are called bijas or seeds, which are inborn and result from our karmic history. They combine with manas or ego-mind to form the illusion of ordinary existence. By stilling mind, storehouse consciousness becomes identical with tathagata, “suchness,” or the Buddha-mind.
Chitta means mind or consciousness. In Yogachara, everything is ultimately chitta. For this reason, Yogachara is also called the chitta-matra, “nothing but consciousness,” or idealistic school.


Dharmas are the ultimate elements or particles of the universe . A little like atoms, they are very small, but they exist for only a split second, in keeping with the doctrine of impermanence. And while atoms are purely material, dharmas include all phenomena, mental and physical. I like to think of them as little flashes of colored light, and I would translate the word as scintilla. Don’t get confused between these and the Dharma, meaning the teachings of the Buddha!
Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Buddhists thought there were four basic elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The dharma theory turns these elements into qualities, or even verbs: fire becomes hot becomes burning; air becomes cool becomes blowing.... Ultimately, then, all “things” are nothing more than bundles of these qualities or actions, and are “empty” inside. This led to one of the most important ideas of the Madhyamaka School of Mahayana Buddhism: Shunyata, which means emptiness.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the dharmas were considered something more like phenomena than atoms, and the Yogachara School took the change even further, and considered them something more like ideas in the universal mind.


The Ten Fetters (Samyojana) bind us to samsara.

1. Belief in a separate personality or individuality (drishti)

2. Doubt that has no desire for satisfaction (vichikitsa)

3. Uncritical attachment to rules and rituals (silabbata-paramasa)

4. Sensuous craving (kama-raga)

5. Ill will, wishing harm on others (vyapada)

6. Craving for a higher material existence (rupa-raga)

7. Craving for non-material existence (arupa-raga)

8. Conceit or egotism (mana)

9. Restlessness (udhacca)

10. Ignorance (avidya)


This is dependent origination, also known as conditioned arising, interdependent arising, conditional nexus, causal nexus.... It refers to the idea that, as long as we remain ignorant, clinging, and hateful, we will continue to create karma, and so continue to be reborn into this world full of suffering and pain. It is described using the metaphor of a wheel of life, wherein one thing inevitably leads to another.

“All psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other...” which is what entangles us in samsara. (The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion)

1. Ignorance (avidya). "A" is ignorant of the dharma. The blind man cannot see the truth

2. Impulses (samskara). "A" therefore has intentions (karma), good, bad, or neutral, and acts on them. A potter creates a new pot from clay and water.

3. Consciousness (vijñana). These create a new conscious being, "B," who enters a womb. A monkey, with no self control, jumps from one branch to another.

4. Name and form (namarupa). "B" takes form. Three or four men in a boat: The body is the vehicle that carries us through life.

5. The six bases (shadayatana). "B" comes into a world of objects ready to be experienced. House with doors and windows: The senses let in the world, like windows let light into a house.

6. Contact (sparsha). "B" has contact with that world of objects. Lovers symbolize the intimate contact between world and mind.

7. Sensation (vedana). "B" has perceptions of that world of objects. A man with an arrow in his eye: Sensations can be so strong that they blind us to the truth.

8. Craving (trishna). "B’s" perceptions give rise to desires. A man drinking: The promise of satisfaction only leads to intoxication.

9. Clinging (upadana). Desire leads "B" to cling to life, even at death. Like a monkey clinging to a fruit tree, we cling to things.

10. Becoming (bhava). And another conscious being, "C," is begun. A pregnant woman: A new life has begun.

11. Birth (jati). Thus, "C" is born. A woman gives birth.

12. Old age and death (jara-maranam). And "C’s" birth leads inevitably to his or her old age and death. An old man carries a corpse to its resting place.

And the cycle continues, one thing leading to another....


Samsara is this world, filled as it is with so much pain and sorrow. All beings in this world are subject to the law of karma. Karma means volitional act, that is, something you do, say, or think that is in fact in your control. Any such act has moral consequences, called vipaka, which means fruit. In traditional Buddhism, this consequences can occur in this life, or in a future life.

Most Buddhists believe in rebirth. For many, rebirth is no different from what the Hindus believed, i.e. reincarnation or transmigration -- moving from one's old body at death to a new body at birth or conception. A little more precisely, rebirth is nothing more than the transmission of one's karma. Buddha likened it to the flame that passes from one candle to another. So the idea of an immortal soul, a continuing personality, is definitely not part of the rebirth idea.

Rebirth and similar concepts are not a part of most westerners' cultures, so many western Buddhists, as well as some eastern Buddhists, take rebirth as a metaphor, rather than literally. Buddhism has never been a particularly literalist religion, so this is not at all taboo. In fact, Buddha often avoids discussing the reality of one metaphysical idea or another as irrelevant to the practice of the Dharma.

The image to the right is the Tibetan Wheel of Life, which represents Samsara. In the very center, there is a rooster chasing a pig chasing a snake chasing the rooster -- craving, hatred, and ignorance. Around that are people ascending the white semicircle of life, and others descending the black semicircle of death. The greatest portion of the Wheel is devoted to representations of the six realms -- the realm of the gods, the realm of the titans, the realm of humans, the realm of animals, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of demons -- each realm looked over by its own boddhisattva. The outermost circle is the 12 steps of dependent origination. The entire Wheel is held by Yama, the Lord of Death.

The Sigalovada Sutta

This Sutra is a record of the words of the Buddha to Sigalo, a young middle class man, who was on his way to worship the six directions, east, west, north, south, up, and down. His father had died and asked him to worship in this very ancient fashion in remembrance of him. The Buddha, wishing this ritual to have more meaning for the young man, advised him in detail about how to live a good life as a layman. He phrased himself, as he apparently so often did, using lists, and begins by warning him against many of the evils of the layman's life.

The four vices:
1. The destruction of life
2. Stealing
3. Sexual misconduct
4. Lying

The four things which lead to evil:
1. Desire, meaning greed, lust, clinging
2. Anger and hatred
3. Ignorance
4. Fear and anxiety

The six ways one dissipates ones wealth:
1. Drinking and drugs
2. Carousing late at night
3. Wasting away your time at shows
4. Gambling
5. Keeping bad company
6. Laziness

And he provides details regarding these last six that demonstrate the manners in which drink, etc., lead to one's downfall.

Then he provides a lesson on friendship -- how to distinguish good friends from bad friends. There are four types that are not really your friends, but will make your life miserable in the long run:
1. The leech who appropriates your possessions
2. The bull-shitter who manipulates you
3. The boot-licker who flatters you
4. The party-animal who encourages you to do the same

A good friend, on the other hand, is one who...
1. is always ready to help you
2. is steady and loyal
3. provides good advice
4. is sympathetic

The Buddha even gives some advice regarding one's finances:
1. One quarter of your earnings should be used to cover your expenses.
2. Two quarters should be re-invested in your business.
3. One quarter should be put into savings for times of need.

Finally, the Buddha discusses how one might best benefit from worshipping the six directions.
Regarding the east, a child should be good to his or her parents: support them, help them, keep their traditions, be worthy of your inheritance, and offer alms in their honor when they die.
A parent should be good to his or her children as well: keep them from getting into trouble, encourage them to be good, train them for a profession, make sure they are suitably married, and provide a good inheritance.

Regarding the south, a student should be good to his or her teachers: show respect, work hard, and be eager to learn.
A teacher should be good to his or her students: teach them well, make sure they understand, help them achieve their goals.
Regarding the west, a husband should be good to his wife: treat her well, be faithful to her, share authority with her, and give her jewelry ;-)
A wife should be good to her husband: be gracious, faithful, industrious, and frugal.
Regarding the north, a friend should be good to his or her friends: be generous, helpful, loyal, protective, and so on.

Regarding the nadir ("down"), an employer should be good to his or her employees: assign work according to their abilities, provide food and wages, take care of them when they are sick, share delicacies with them, and grant them occasional leave.

Employees should be good to their employers: Get to work early, leave late, perform their duties well, don't pilfer from the supply closet, and uphold their employer's good name.
And finally, regarding the zenith ("up"), lay people should be good to people who have devoted themselves to the spiritual life: kind deeds, kind words, kind thoughts, opening one's home to them, and supplying them with their physical needs.

And people in the spiritual life should be good to lay people: keep them from doing evil, encourage them to do good, make sure they hear the dharma, clarify what they don't understand, point out the way, and generally love them.

Keep these relationships in mind, he tells Sigalovada, and the ritual your father asked you to keep will have greater benefits than he ever dreamed of. Although some of the details may be a bit dated -- it has been some 2500 years, after all -- it can still serve quite well as a guide to moral behavior for the common man or woman of today!

Buddha concludes with a poem:
Who is wise and virtuous,
Gentle and keen-witted, Humble and amenable,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is energetic and not indolent,
In misfortune unshaken,
Flawless in manner and intelligent,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is hospitable and friendly,
Liberal and unselfish,
A guide, an instructor,
a leader,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Generosity, sweet speech,
Helpfulness to others,
Impartiality to all,
As the case demands.

These four winning ways make the world go round,
As the linchpin in a moving car.
If these in the world exist not,
Neither mother nor father will receive,
Respect and honor from their children.

The Brahma Vihara

The Brahma Vihara are the four "sublime states" to which we all should aspire. They are the great signs of the Bodhisattva, who vows to remain in samsara -- this world of pain and sorrow -- until all creation can be brought into the state of Nirvana together.

1. Maitri is caring, loving kindness displayed to all you meet.

2. Karuna is compassion or mercy, the kindness shown to those who suffer.

3. Mudita is sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.

4. Upeksa is equanimity or peacefulness, the ability to accept the ups and downs of life with equal dispassion.

The Paramita

The Perfections or Virtues -- noble qualities that we should all strive to achieve. Here are two versions:

1. Generosity (P: dana)
2. Moral discipline (P: sila)
3. Patience and tolerance (P: khanti)
4. Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (P: pañña)
5. Energy (P: viriya)
6. Renunciation (P: nekkhamma)
7. Truthfulness (P: sacca)
8. Determination (P: adhitthana)
9. Loving kindness (P: metta)
10. Equanimity (P: upekkha)

1. Generosity (dana)
2. Moral discipline (shila)
3. Patience and tolerance (kshanti)
4. Energy (virya)
5. Meditation (dhyana)
6. Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (prajña)
7. Skilled methods (upaya)
8. Vow or resolution (pranidhana)
9. The ten powers or special abilities (dashabala)
10. Knowledge (jñana)

Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta -- Lesson for Rahula at Mango Stone (paraphrased)

When Rahula, Buddha's son, was seven, he set out some water for his father to wash his feet. Buddha picked up a ladle full of the water and began to wash. He showed his son the ladle with a little bit of water left in it and said "This is how little worth is left in someone who isn't ashamed at telling a lie."Tossing away the little bit of water, he said "What little honor is left in someone who is not ashamed when telling a lie is tossed away just like that."Turning the ladle upside down, he said "What little honor there is in someone who is not ashamed is turned upside down just like that."And showing Rahula the empty ladle, he said "What little honor there is in someone who is not ashamed is empty and hollow just like that.""A royal elephant going into battle who holds back in the fight hasn't given of himself fully. But when he gives his all, there is nothing he will not do. The same thing is true of someone who is not ashamed when they tell a lie: There is no evil he will not do! So train yourself not to lie, even in jest."What do your think a mirror is for?""For reflection, sir.""Just like a mirror, you actions, whether they are physical, verbal, or mental, should be done with constant reflectiion."When you are considering doing something, reflect on it: Is this something which will cause harm to myself or others? If so, stop yourself from doing it. If not, if it leads to happy consequences, you may feel free to do it. While you are doing something, reflect on it: Is this act harming anyone? If so, stop. If not, go ahead. After you have done something, reflect on what you have done. If it resulted in harm to yourself or others, confess it to your teacher or companions, and resolve to restrain yourself in the future. If the act had happy consequences, then be joyful."The same things apply to verbal acts. Before, during, and after you say something, reflect on it. If it seems that your speech will have or does have negative consequences, then restrain yourself or, if you are too late, confess and resolve to do better in the future. If what you have to say has positive consequences, then go ahead."And the same thing applies to mental acts. Reflect on them, before, during, and after. If a thought has negative consequences, abandon it or, if it is too late, be ashamed and resolve to improve. If the thought has positive qualities, then act upon it."Before, during, and after, reflect on your behavior, and purify yourself this way."
Even unpleasant people need to be cared for when they are ill. In this sermon, Buddha tells us to care for anyone who needs our help, and goes on to describe how to be a good patient and a good nurse.

Kucchivikara-vatthu -- The Monk with Dysentery

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.Now at that time a certain monk was sick with dysentery. He lay fouled in his own urine & excrement. Then the Blessed One, on an inspection tour of the lodgings with Ven. Ananda as his attendant, went to that monk's dwelling and, on arrival, saw the monk lying fouled in his own urine & excrement. On seeing him, he went to the monk and said, "What is your sickness, monk?""I have dysentery, O Blessed One.""But do you have an attendant?""No, O Blessed One.""Then why don't the monks attend to you?""I don't do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don't attend to me."Then the Blessed One addressed Ven. Ananda: "Go fetch some water, Ananda. We will wash this monk.""As you say, lord," Ven. Ananda replied, and he fetched some water. The Blessed One sprinkled water on the monk, and Ven. Ananda washed him off. Then -- with the Blessed One taking the monk by the head, and Ven. Ananda taking him by the feet -- they lifted him up and placed him on a bed.Then the Blessed One, from this cause, because of this event, had the monks assembled and asked them: "Is there a sick monk in that dwelling over there?""Yes, O Blessed One, there is.""And what is his sickness?""He has dysentery, O Blessed One.""But does he have an attendant?""No, O Blessed One.""Then why don't the monks attend to him?""He doesn't do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don't attend to him.""Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don't tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick."If one's preceptor is present, the preceptor should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If one's teacher is present, the teacher should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If one's student is present, the student should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If one's apprentice is present, the apprentice should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If one who is a fellow student of one's preceptor is present, the fellow student of one's preceptor should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If one who is a fellow apprentice of one's teacher is present, the fellow apprentice of one's teacher should tend to one as long as life lasts, and should stay until one's recovery. If no preceptor, teacher, student, apprentice, fellow student of one's preceptor, or fellow apprentice of one's teacher is present, the sangha should tend to one. If it does not, [all the monks in that community] incur an offense of wrong-doing."A sick person endowed with five qualities is hard to tend to: he does what is not amenable to his cure; he does not know the proper amount in things amenable to his cure; he does not take his medicine; he does not tell his symptoms, as they actually are present, to the nurse desiring his welfare, saying that they are worse when they are worse, improving when they are improving, or remaining the same when they are remaining the same; and he is not the type who can endure bodily feelings that are painful, fierce, sharp, wracking, repellent, disagreeable, life-threatening. A sick person endowed with these five qualities is hard to tend to."A sick person endowed with five qualities is easy to tend to: he does what is amenable to his cure; he knows the proper amount in things amenable to his cure; he takes his medicine; he tells his symptoms, as they actually are present, to the nurse desiring his welfare, saying that they are worse when they are worse, improving when they are improving, or remaining the same when they are remaining the same; and he is the type who can endure bodily feelings that are painful, fierce, sharp, wracking, repellent, disagreeable, life-threatening. A sick person endowed with these five qualities is easy to tend to."A nurse endowed with five qualities is not fit to tend to the sick: He is not competent at mixing medicine; he does not know what is amenable or unamenable to the patient's cure, bringing to the patient things that are unamenable and taking away things that are amenable; he is motivated by material gain, not by thoughts of good will; he gets disgusted at cleaning up excrement, urine, saliva, or vomit; and he is not competent at instructing, urging, rousing, & encouraging the sick person at the proper occasions with a talk on Dhamma. A nurse endowed with these five qualities is not fit to tend to the sick."A nurse endowed with five qualities is fit to tend to the sick: He is competent at mixing medicine; he knows what is amenable or unamenable to the patient's cure, taking away things that are unamenable and bringing things that are amenable; he is motivated by thoughts of good will, not by material gain; he does not get disgusted at cleaning up excrement, urine, saliva, or vomit; and he is competent at instructing, urging, rousing, & encouraging the sick person at the proper occasions with a talk on Dhamma. A nurse endowed with these five qualities is fit to tend to the sick."

The Basics of Buddhist Meditation

Buddhism began by encouraging its practitioners to engage in smrti (sati) or mindfulness, that is, developing a full consciousness of all about you and within you -- whether seated in a special posture, or simply going about one’s life. This is the kind of meditation that Buddha himself engaged in under the bodhi tree, and is referred to in the seventh step of the eightfold path.
Soon, Buddhist monks expanded and formalized their understanding of meditation. The bases for all meditation, as it was understood even in the earliest years of Buddhism, are shamatha and vipashyana.
Shamatha is often translated as calm abiding or peacefulness. It is the development of tranquility that is a prerequisite to any further development. Vipashyana is clear seeing or special insight, and involves intuitive cognition of suffering, impermanence, and egolessness.
Only after these forms were perfected does one go on to the more heavy-duty kinds of meditation. Samadhi is concentration or one-pointed meditation. It involves intense focusing of consciousness.
Samadhi brings about the four dhyanas, meaning absorptions. Buddha refers to samadhi and the dhyanas in the eighth step of the eightfold path, and again at his death. Dhyana is rendered as Jhana in Pali, Ch’an in Chinese, Son in Korean, and Zen in Japanese, and has, in those cultures, become synonymous with meditation as a whole.

Kodhana Sutta -- An Angry Person (paraphrased)

Seven things happen to people who are angry, which end up making their enemies happy:Some people wish that their enemies become ugly. But when people are angry, even if they are well bathed, beautifully dressed, and their hair neatly cut, they become ugly themselves! This is exactly what their enemies would wish for them!Some people wish that their enemies sleep poorly. But when people are angry, even if they sleep on luxurious beds, with white sheets, fluffy pillows, and beautiful blankets, they will sleep poorly because of their anger. This, too, is exactly what their enemies would wish! Some wish that their enemies not profit in business. But when people are angry, they become confused: When they suffer a loss, they think they are making a profit; when they make a profit, they think they are suffering a loss. This leads to constant worry, which is exactly what is enemy would wish!Some wish that their enemies not have any wealth. But when people are angry, even if they start out with wealth that they have worked hard to accumulate, they will behave badly and may wind up in jail or paying fines for their misbehavior, and eventually lose their fortunes. This is exactly what his enemy would wish!Some wish that ther enemies lose their reputation. But when people are angry, whatever reputation they have, and however well earned it may be, will disappear, which is exactly what their enemies would wish!Some wish that their enemies have no friends. But when people are angry, their friends and relatives avoid them because of their temper. This is exactly what their enemies would wish!And finally, some people wish that their enemies would go to hell. But when people are angy, they commit all kinds of sins, in their behavior, their speech, and in their minds. When they die, they may find themselves in hell, which is exacly what their enemies would wish!These are the seven things which happen to angry people, which end up making their enemies happy
Lying is such an institutionalized part of modern society it is hard for many of us to imagine a world without it. Buddha has a lesson for his son in this sutra:

Soma Sutta -- Sister Soma

Translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi....(I)n the morning, the bhikkhuni [nun] Soma dressed and, taking bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for alms. When she had walked for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Blind Men's Grove for the day's abiding. Having plunged into the Blind Men's Grove, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day's abiding.Then Mara the Evil One, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in the bhikkhuni Soma, desiring to make her fall away from concentration, approached her and addressed her in verse: "That state so hard to achieve Which is to be attained by the seers, Can't be attained by a woman With her two-fingered wisdom." Then it occurred to the bhikkhuni Soma: "Now who is this that recited the verse -- a human being or a non-human being?" Then it occurred to her: "This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited the verse desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror in me, desiring to make me fall away from concentration."Then the bhikkhuni Soma, having understood, "This is Mara the Evil One," replied to him in verses: "What does womanhood matter at all When the mind is concentrated well, When knowledge flows on steadily As one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, 'I'm a woman' or 'I'm a man' Or 'I'm anything at all' -- Is fit for Mara to address." Then Mara the Evil One, realizing, "The bhikkhuni Soma knows me," sad and disappointed, disappeared right there
Anger is, of course, not conducive to enlightenment. But Buddha explains that anger actually makes us miserable here and now!

Samajivina Sutta -- Living in Tune

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.Once the Blessed One was staying among the Bhaggas in the Deer Park at Bhesakala Grove, near Crocodile Haunt. Then early in the morning the Blessed One put on his robes and, carrying his bowl and outer robe, went to the home of the householder, Nakula's father. On arrival, he sat down on a seat made ready. Then Nakula's father & Nakula's mother went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As they were sitting there, Nakula's father said to the Blessed One: "Lord, ever since Nakula's mother as a young girl was brought to me [to be my wife] when I was just a young boy, I am not conscious of being unfaithful to her even in mind, much less in body. We want to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come."And Nakula's mother said to the Blessed One: "Lord, ever since I as a young girl was brought to Nakula's father [to be his wife] when he was just a young boy, I am not conscious of being unfaithful to him even in mind, much less in body. We want to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come."[The Blessed One said:] "If both husband & wife want to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come, they should be in tune [with each other] in conviction, in tune in virtue, in tune in generosity, and in tune in discernment. Then they will see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come." Husband & wife, both of them having conviction, being responsive, being restrained, living by the Dhamma, addressing each other with loving words: they benefit in manifold ways. To them comes bliss. Their enemies are dejected when both are in tune in virtue. Having followed the Dhamma here in this world, both in tune in precepts & practices, they delight in the world of the devas, enjoying the pleasures they desire.
Although traditional Buddhism suffers from the sexism prevalent then and now in India, China, and elsewhere, it seems Buddha recognized the essential equality between men and women. After all, we have all been men and women at some time in our cycle of births and rebirths!

Mata Sutta -- The mother sutra

A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find... A being who has not been your father... your brother... your sister... your son... your daughter at one time in the past is not easy tofind.

Not everyone desires enlightenment. Sometimes, all we want is to be able to meet once again the ones we love:

Sukhita Sutta -- The happy sutra

When you see someone who is happy & well-provided in life, youshould conclude: 'We, too, have experienced just this sort of thing in the course of that long, long time.'

Duggata Sutta -- The hard-times sutra

When you see someone who has fallen on hard times,overwhelmed with hard times, you should conclude: 'We, too, have experienced just this sort of thing in the course of that long, long time.'

The Life of Siddhartha Gautama

There was a small country in what is now southern Nepal that was ruled by a clan called the Shakyas. The head of this clan, and the king of this country, was named Shuddodana Gautama, and his wife was the beautiful Mahamaya. Mahamaya was expecting her first born. She had had a strange dream in which a baby elephant had blessed her with his trunk, which was understood to be a very auspicious sign to say the least.

As was the custom of the day, when the time came near for Queen Mahamaya to have her child, she traveled to her father's kingdom for the birth. But during the long journey, her birth pains began. In the small town of Lumbini, she asked her handmaidens to assist her to a nearby grove of trees for privacy. One large tree lowered a branch to her to serve as a support for her delivery. They say the birth was nearly painless, even though the child had to be delivered from her side. After, a gentle rain fell on the mother and the child to cleanse them.

It is said that the child was born fully awake. He could speak, and told his mother he had come to free all mankind from suffering. He could stand, and he walked a short distance in each of the four directions. Lotus blossoms rose in his footsteps. They named him Siddhartha, which means "he who has attained his goals." Sadly, Mahamaya died only seven days after the birth. After that Siddhartha was raised by his mother’s kind sister, Mahaprajapati.

King Shuddodana consulted Asita, a well-known sooth-sayer, concerning the future of his son. Asita proclaimed that he would be one of two things: He could become a great king, even an emperor. Or he could become a great sage and savior of humanity. The king, eager that his son should become a king like himself, was determined to shield the child from anything that might result in him taking up the religious life. And so Siddhartha was kept in one or another of their three palaces, and was prevented from experiencing much of what ordinary folk might consider quite commonplace. He was not permitted to see the elderly, the sickly, the dead, or anyone who had dedicated themselves to spiritual practices. Only beauty and health surrounded Siddhartha.
Siddhartha grew up to be a strong and handsome young man. As a prince of the warrior caste, he trained in the arts of war. When it came time for him to marry, he won the hand of a beautiful princess of a neighboring kingdom by besting all competitors at a variety of sports. Yashodhara was her name, and they married when both were 16 years old.

As Siddhartha continued living in the luxury of his palaces, he grew increasing restless and curious about the world beyond the palace walls. He finally demanded that he be permitted to see his people and his lands. The king carefully arranged that Siddhartha should still not see the kind of suffering that he feared would lead him to a religious life, and decried that only young and healthy people should greet the prince.

As he was lead through Kapilavatthu, the capital, he chanced to see a couple of old men who had accidentally wandered near the parade route. Amazed and confused, he chased after them to find out what they were. Then he came across some people who were severely ill. And finally, he came across a funeral ceremony by the side of a river, and for the first time in his life saw death. He asked his friend and squire Chandaka the meaning of all these things, and Chandaka informed him of the simple truths that Siddhartha should have known all along: That all of us get old, sick, and eventually die.

Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had renounced all the pleasures of the flesh. The peaceful look on the monks face would stay with Siddhartha for a long time to come. Later, he would say this about that time:

When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with youth anymore.
When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with health anymore.

When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be dead some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After than, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore. (AN III.39, interpreted)
At the age of 29, Siddhartha came to realize that he could not be happy living as he had been. He had discovered suffering, and wanted more than anything to discover how one might overcome suffering. After kissing his sleeping wife and newborn son Rahula goodbye, he snuck out of the palace with his squire Chandara and his favorite horse Kanthaka. He gave away his rich clothing, cut his long hair, and gave the horse to Chandara and told him to return to the palace. He studied for a while with two famous gurus of the day, but found their practices lacking. He then began to practice the austerities and self-mortifications practiced by a group of five ascetics. For six years, he practiced. The sincerity and intensity of his practice were so astounding that, before long, the five ascetics became followers of Siddhartha. But the answers to his questions were not forthcoming. He redoubled his efforts, refusing food and water, until he was in a state of near death.

One day, a peasant girl named Sujata saw this starving monk and took pity on him. She begged him to eat some of her milk-rice. Siddhartha then realized that these extreme practices were leading him nowhere, that in fact it might be better to find some middle way between the extremes of the life of luxury and the life of self-mortification. So he ate, and drank, and bathed in the river. The five ascetics saw him and concluded that Siddhartha had given up the ascetic life and taken to the ways of the flesh, and left him.

In the town of Bodh Gaya, Siddhartha decided that he would sit under a certain fig tree as long as it would take for the answers to the problem of suffering to come. He sat there for many days, first in deep concentration to clear his mind of all distractions, then in mindfulness meditation, opening himself up to the truth. He began, they say, to recall all his previous lives, and to see everything that was going on in the entire universe. On the full moon of May, with the rising of the morning star, Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question of suffering and became the Buddha, which means “he who is awake.”
It is said that Mara, the evil one, tried to prevent this great occurrence. He first tried to frighten Siddhartha with storms and armies of demons. Siddhartha remained completely calm. Then he sent his three beautiful daughters to tempt him, again to no avail. Finally, he tried to ensnare Siddhartha in his own ego by appealing to his pride. That, too, failed. Siddhartha, having conquered all temptations, touched the ground with one hand and asked the earth to be his witness. Siddhartha, now the Buddha, remained seated under the tree -- which we call the bodhi tree -- for many days longer. It seemed to him that this knowledge he had gained was far too difficult to communicate to others. Legend has it that Brahma, king of the gods, convinced Buddha to teach, saying that some of us perhaps have only a little dirt in our eyes and could awaken if we only heard his story. Buddha agreed to teach.

At Sarnath near Benares, about one hundred miles from Bodh Gaya, he came across the five ascetics he had practiced with for so long. There, in a deer park, he preached his first sermon, which is called “setting the wheel of the teaching in motion.” He explained to them the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. They became his very first disciples and the beginnings of the Sangha or community of monks.

King Bimbisara of Magadha, having heard Buddha’s words, granted him a monastery near Rahagriha, his capital, for use during the rainy season. This and other generous donations permitted the community of converts to continue their practice throughout the years, and gave many more people an opportunity to hear the teachings of the Buddha.
Over time, he was approached by members of his family, including his wife, son, father, and aunt. His son became a monk and is particularly remembered in a sutra based on a conversation between father and son on the dangers of lying. His father became a lay follower. Because he was saddened by the departures of his son and grandson into the monastic life, he asked Buddha to make it a rule that a man must have the permission of his parents to become a monk. Buddha obliged him.

His aunt and wife asked to be permitted into the Sangha, which was originally composed only of men. The culture of the time ranked women far below men in importance, and at first it seemed that permitting women to enter the community would weaken it. But the Buddha relented, and his aunt and wife became the first Buddhist nuns.

The Buddha said that it didn’t matter what a person’s status in the world was, or what their background or wealth or nationality might be. All were capable of enlightenment, and all were welcome into the Sangha. The first ordained Buddhist monk, Upali, had been a barber, yet he was ranked higher than monks who had been kings, only because he had taken his vows earlier than they!
Buddha’s life wasn’t without disappointments. His cousin, Devadatta, was an ambitious man. As a convert and monk, he felt that he should have greater power in the Sangha. He managed to influence quite a few monks with a call to a return to extreme asceticism. Eventually, he conspired with a local king to have the Buddha killed and to take over the Buddhist community. Of course, he failed. Buddha had achieved his enlightenment at the age of 35. He would teach throughout northeast India for another 45 years. When the Buddha was 80 years old, he told his friend and cousin Ananda that he would be leaving them soon. And so it came to be that in Kushinagara, not a hundred miles from his homeland, he ate some spoiled food and became very ill. He went into a deep meditation under a grove of sala trees and died. His last words were...

Some simple instructions for living a happy life, courtesy of the Buddha

Here are three brief sutras, which I have edited even further, that show how the idea of rebirth contributes to our compassion for others, as well as giving us a little comfort for ourselves.

  • Duggata Sutta -- The hard-times sutra
  • Sukhita Sutta -- The happy sutra
  • Mata Sutta -- The mother sutra
  • Samajivina Sutta -- Living in Tune
  • Soma Sutta -- Sister Soma
  • Kodhana Sutta -- An Angry Person (paraphrased)
  • Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta -- Lesson for Rahula at Mango Stone (paraphrased)
  • Kucchivikara-vatthu -- The Monk with Dysentery

The West

It was in the latter half of the 1800's that Buddhism first came to be known in the west. The great European colonial empires brought the ancient cultures of India and China back to the attention of the intellectuals of Europe. Scholars began to learn Asian languages and translate Asian texts. Adventurers explored previously shut-off places and recorded the cultures. Religious enthusiasts enjoyed the exotic and mystical tone of the Asian traditions.
In England, for example, societies sprang up for devotees of "orientalia," such as T. W. Rhys Davids' Pali Text Society and T. Christmas Humphreys' Buddhist Society. Books were published, such as Sir Edwin Arnold's epic poem The Light of Asia (1879). And the first western monks began to make themselves know, such as Allan Bennett, perhaps the very first, who took the name Ananda Metteya. In Germany and France as well, Buddhism was the rage.
In the United States, there was a similar flurry of interest. First of all, thousands of Chinese immigrants were coming to the west coast in the late 1800's, many to provide cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries. Also, on the east coast, intellectuals were reading about Buddhism in books by Europeans. One example was Henry Thoreau, who, among other things, translated a French translation of a Buddhist Sutra into English.
A renewal of interest came during World War II, during which many Asian Buddhists -- such as the Zen author D. T. Suzuki -- came to England and the U.S., and many European Buddhists -- such as the Zen author Alan Watts -- came to the U.S. As these examples suggest, Zen Buddhism was particularly popular, especially in the U.S., where it became enmeshed in the Beatnik artistic and literary movement as "beat Zen."
One by one, European and Americans who studied in Asia returned with their knowledge and founded monasteries and societies, Asian masters came to Europe and America to found monasteries, and the Asian immigrant populations from China, Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere, quietly continued their Buddhist practices.
Today, it is believed that there are more than 300 million Buddhists in the world, including at least a quarter million in Europe, and a half million each in North and South America. I say "at least" because other estimates go as high as three million in the U.S. alone! Whatever the numbers may be, Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. And, although it has suffered considerable setbacks over the centuries, it seems to be attracting more and more people, as a religion or a philosophy of life.

Japan and Tibet

Again, we begin with the legendary: A delegation arrived from Korea with gifts for the Emperor of Japan in 538 ad., including a bronze Buddha and various Sutras. Unfortunately a plague led the Emperor to believe that the traditional gods of Japan were annoyed, so he had the gifts thrown into a canal! But the imperial court on the 600's, in their constant effort to be as sophisticated as the courts of their distinguished neighbors, the Chinese, continued to be drawn to Buddhism.
Although starting as a religion of the upper classes, in the 900's, Pure Land entered the picture as the favorite of the peasant and working classes. And in the 1200's, Ch'an, relabeled Zen, came into Japan, where it was enthusiastically adopted by, among others, the warrior class or Samurai.
Zen was introduced into Japan by two particularly talented monks who had gone to China for their educations: Eisai (1141-1215) brought Lin-chi (J: Rinzai) Ch'an, with its koans and occasionally outrageous antics; Dogen (1200-1253) brought the more sedate Ts'ao-tung (J: Soto) Ch'an. In addition, Dogen is particularly admired for his massive treatise, the Shobogenzo.
Ch'an has always had an artistic side to it. In China and elsewhere, a certain simple, elegant style of writing and drawing developed among the monks. In Japan, this became an even more influential aspect of Zen. We have, for example, the poetry, calligraphy, and paintings of various monks -- Bankei (1622-1698), Basho (1644-1694), Hakuin (1685-1768), and Ryokan (1758-1831) -- which have become internationally beloved.
One last Japanese innovation is usually attributed to a somewhat unorthodox monk named Nichiren (1222-1282). Having been trained in the Tendai or White Lotus tradition, he came to believe that the Lotus Sutra carried all that was necessary for Buddhist life. More than that, he believed that even the name of the Sutra was enough! So he encouraged his students to chant this mantra: Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, which means "homage to the Lotus Sutra." This practice alone would ensure enlightenment in this life. In fact, he insisted, all other forms of Buddhism were of little worth. Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the Buddhist powers of the day. He spent the rest of his life in relative isolation. The Nichiren School nevertheless proved to be one of the most successful forms of Buddhism on the planet!
Finally, let's turn out attention to the most mysterious site of Buddhism's history, Tibet. Its first encounter with Buddhism occurred in the 700's ad, when a Tantric master, Guru Rinpoché, came from India to battle the demons of Tibet for control. The demons submitted, but they remained forever a part of Tibetan Buddhism -- as its protectors!
During the 800's and 900's, Tibet went through a "dark age," during which Buddhism suffered something of a setback. But, in the 1000's, it returned in force. And in 1578, the Mongol overlords named the head of the Gelug School the Dalai Lama, meaning "guru as great as the ocean." The title was made retroactive to two earlier heads of the school. The fifth Dalai Lama is noted for bringing all of Tibet under his religious and political control.
The lineage continues down to the present 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, born 1935. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of his people and nation, which had been taken over by the Communist Chinese in 1951.

The Blossoming of Schools

During the Sui dynasty (581-618) and T'ang dynasty (618-907), Chinese Buddhism experienced what is referred to as the "blossoming of schools." The philosophical inspirations of the Madhyamaka and Yogachara, as well as the Pure Land and Ch'an Sutras, interacting with the already sophisticated philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism, led to a regular renaissance in religious and philosophical thought.
We find the Realistic School, based on the "all things exist" Hinayana School; the Three-Treatises School, based on Madhyamaka; the Idealist School, based on Yogachara; the Tantric School; the Flower Adornment School (Hua-Yen, J: Kegon), which attempted to consolidate the various forms; and the White Lotus School (T'ien-T'ai, J: Tendai), which focused on the Lotus Sutra. All the Chinese Schools had their representatives in neighboring countries. Korea was to develop its own powerful form of Ch'an called Son. Vietnam developed a form of Ch'an that incorporated aspects of Pure Land and Hinayana. But it was Japan that would have a field day with Chinese Buddhism, and pass the Mahayana traditions on to the US and the west generally.

Pure Land and Ch'an

Pure Land
The first example historically is Pure Land Buddhism (Ching-T'u, J: Jodo). The peasants and working people of China were used to gods and goddesses, praying for rain and health, worrying about heaven and hell, and so on. It wasn't a great leap to find in Buddhism's cosmology and theology the bases for a religious tradition that catered to these needs and habits, while still providing a sophisticated philosophical foundation.
The idea of this period of time as a fallen or inferior time -- traditional in China -- led to the idea that we are no longer able to reach enlightenment on our own power, but must rely on the intercession of higher beings. The transcendent Buddha Amitabha, and his western paradise ("pure land"), introduced in the Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, was a perfect fit.
Another school that was to be particularly strongly influenced by Chinese thought was the Meditation School -- Dhyana, Ch'an, Son, or Zen. Tradition has the Indian monk Bodhidharma coming from the west to China around 520 ad. It was Bodhidharma, it is said, who carried the Silent Transmission to become the First Patriarch of the Ch'an School in China:
From the very beginning, Buddha had had reservations about his ability to communicate his message to the people. Words simply could not carry such a sublime message. So, on one occasion, while the monks around him waited for a sermon, he said absolutely nothing. He simply held up a flower. the monks, of course, were confused, except for Kashyapa, who understood and smiled. The Buddha smiled back, and thus the Silent Transmission began.
Zen Buddhism focuses on developing the immediate awareness of Buddha-mind through meditation on emptiness. It is notorious for its dismissal of the written and spoken word and occasionally for his rough-house antics. It should be understood, however, that there is great reverence for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, even when they are ostensibly ignoring, poking fun, or even turning them upside-down.
Zen has contributed its own literature to the Buddhist melting-pot, including The Platform Sutra, written by Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, around 700 ad., The Blue Cliff Record, written about 1000 ad., and The Gateless Gate, written about 1200 ad. And we shouldn't forget the famous Ten Ox-Herding Pictures that many see as containing the very essence of Zen's message.


Legend has it that the Chinese Emperor Ming Ti had a dream which led him to send his agents down the Silk Road -- the ancient trade route between China and the west -- to discover its meaning. The agents returned with a picture of the Buddha and a copy of the Sutra in 42 Sections. This Sutra would, in 67 ad, be the first of many to be translated into Chinese.
The first Buddhist community in China is thought to be one in Loyang, established by "foreigners" around 150 ad, in the Han dynasty. Only 100 years later, there emerges a native Chinese Sangha. And during the Period of Disunity (or Era of the Warring States, 220 to 589 ad), the number of Buddhist monks and nuns increase to as many as two million! Apparently, the uncertain times and the misery of the lower classes were fertile ground for the monastic traditions of Buddhism.
Buddhism did not come to a land innocent of religion and philosophy, of course. China, in fact, had three main competing streams of thought: Confucianism, Taoism, and folk religion. Confucianisim is essentially a moral-political philosophy, involving a complex guide to human relationships. Taoism is a life-philosophy involving a return to simpler and more "natural" ways of being. And the folk religion -- or, should we say, religions -- consisted of rich mythologies, superstitions, astrology, reading of entrails, magic, folk medicine, and so on. (Please understand that I am simplifying here: Certainly Confucianism and Taoism are as sophisticated as Buddhism!)
Although these various streams sometimes competed with each other and with Buddhism, they also fed each other, enriched each other, and intertwined with each other. Over time, the Mahayana of India became the Mahayana of China and, later, of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.


The last innovation was less philosophical and far more practical: Tantra. Tantra refers to certain writings which are concerned, not with philosophical niceties, but with the basic how-to of enlightenment, and not just with enlightenment in several rebirths, but enlightenment here-and-now!
In order to accomplish this feat, dramatic methods are needed, ones which, to the uninitiated, may seem rather bizarre. Tantra was the domain of the siddhu, the adept -- someone who knows the secrets, a magician in the ways of enlightenment. Tantra involves the use of various techniques, including the well-known mandalas, mantras, and mudras. mandalas are paintings or other representations of higher awareness, usually in the form of a circular pattern of images, which may provide the focus of one-pointed meditation. Mantras are words or phrases that serve the same purpose, such as the famous "Om mani padme hum." Mudras are hand positions that symbolize certain qualities of enlightenment.
Less well known are the yidams. A yidam is the image of a god or goddess or other spiritual being, either physically represented or, more commonly, imagined clearly in the mind's eye. Again, these represent archetypal qualities of enlightenment, and one-pointed meditation on these complex images lead the adept to his or her goal.
These ideas would have enormous impact on Mahayana. They are not without critics, however: Madhyamaka is sometimes criticized as word-play, and Yogachara is criticized as reintroducing atman, eternal soul or essence, to Buddhism. Tantra has been most often criticized, especially for its emphasis on secret methods and strong devotion to a guru. Nevertheless, these innovations led to a renewed flurry of activity in the first half of the first millenium, and provided the foundation for the kinds of Buddhism we find in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere in east Asia.


The second philosophical innovation, Yogachara, is credited to two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu, who lived in India in the 300's ad. They elaborated earlier movements in the direction of the philosophy of idealism or chitta-matra. Chitta-matra means literally mind only. Asanga and Vasubandhu believed that everything that exists is mind or consciousness. What we think of as physical things are just projections of our minds, delusions or hallucinations, if you like. To get rid of these delusions, we must meditate, which for the Yogachara school means the creation of pure consciousness, devoid of all content. In that way, we leave our deluded individual minds and join with the universal mind, or Buddha-mind.


Madhyamaka means "the middle way." You may recall that Buddha himself called his way the middle way in his very first sermon. He meant, at that time, the middle way between the extremes of hedonistic pleasure and extreme asceticism. But he may also have referred to the middle way between the competing philosophies of eternalism and annihilationism -- the belief that the soul exists forever and that the soul is annihilated at death. Or between materialism and nihilism.... An Indian monk by the name of Nagarjuna took this idea and expanded on it to create the philosophy that would be known as Madhyamaka, in a book called the Mulamadhyamaka-karika, written about 150 ad.
Basically a treatise on logical argument, it concludes that nothing is absolute, everything is relative, nothing exists on its own, everything is interdependent. All systems, beginning with the idea that each thing is what it is and not something else (Aristotle's law of the excluded middle), wind up contradicting themselves. Rigorous logic, in other words, leads one away from all systems, and to the concept of shunyata.
Shunyata means emptiness. This doesn't mean that nothing exists. It means that nothing exists in and of itself, but only as a part of a universal web of being. This would become a central concept in all branches of Mahayana. Of course, it is actually a restatement of the central Buddhist concepts of anatman, anitya, and dukkha!


Mahayana began in the first century bc, as a development of the Mahasangha rebellion. Their more liberal attitudes toward monastic tradition allowed the lay community to have a greater voice in the nature of Buddhism. For better or worse, the simpler needs of the common folk were easier for the Mahayanists to meet. For example, the people were used to gods and heroes. So, the Trikaya (three bodies) doctrine came into being: Not only was Buddha a man who became enlightened, he was also represented by various god-like Buddhas in various appealing heavens, as well as by the Dharma itself, or Shunyata (emptiness), or Buddha-Mind, depending on which interpretation we look at -- sort of a Buddhist Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
More important, however, was the increased importance of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who has attained enlightenment, but who chooses to remain in this world of Samsara in order to bring others to enlightenment. He is a lot like a saint, a spiritual hero, for the people to admire and appeal to.
Along with new ideas came new scriptures. Also called Sutras, they are often attributed to Buddha himself, sometimes as special transmissions that Buddha supposedly felt were too difficult for his original listeners and therefore were hidden until the times were ripe. The most significant of these new Sutras are these:
Prajñaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom, an enormous collection of often esoteric texts, including the famous Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. The earliest known piece of printing in the world is, in fact, a copy of the Diamond Sutra, printed in China in 868 ad.
Suddharma-pundarika or White Lotus of the True Dharma, also often esoteric, includes the Avalokiteshwara Sutra, a prayer to that Bodhisattva.
Vimalakirti-nirdesha or Vimalakirti's Exposition, is the teachings of and stories about the enlightened householder Vimalakirti.
Shurangama-samadhi or Hero's Sutra, provides a guide to meditation, shunyata, and the bodhisattva. It is most popular among Zen Buddhists
Sukhavati-vyuha or Pure Land Sutra, is the most important Sutra for the Pure Land Schools of Buddhism. The Buddha tells Ananda about Amitabha and his Pure Land or heaven, and how one can be reborn there.
There are many, many others. Finally, Mahayana is founded on two new philosophical interpretations of Buddhism: Madhyamaka and Yogachara.

Sri Lanka and Theravada

Emperor Ashoka sent one of his sons, Mahinda, and one of his daughters, Sanghamitta, a monk and a nun, to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) around the year 240 bc. The king of Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa, welcomed them and was converted. One of the gifts they brought with them was a branch of the bodhi tree, which was successfully transplanted. The descendants of this branch can still be found on the island.
The fourth council was held in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave, in the first century bc. During this time as well, and for the first time, the entire set of Sutras were recorded in the Pali language on palm leaves. This became Theravada's Pali Canon, from which so much of our knowledge of Buddhism stems. It is also called the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka), or three baskets: The three sections of the canon are the Vinaya Pitaka (the monastic law), the Sutta Pitaka (words of the Buddha), and the Abhidamma Pitaka (the philosophical commentaries).
In a very real sense, Sri Lanka's monks may be credited with saving the Theravada tradition: Although it had spread once from India all over southeast Asia, it had nearly died out due to competition from Hinduism and Islam, as well as war and colonialism. Theravada monks spread their tradition from Sri Lanka to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, and from these lands to Europe and the west generally.

Emperor Ashoka Maurya

One of the most significant events in the history of Buddhism is the chance encounter of the monk Nigrodha and the emperor Ashoka Maurya. Ashoka, succeeding his father after a bloody power struggle in 268 bc, found himself deeply disturbed by the carnage he caused while suppressing a revolt in the land of the Kalingas. Meeting Nigrodha convinced Emperor Ashoka to devote himself to peace. On his orders, thousands of rock pillars were erected, bearing the words of the Buddha, in the brahmi script -- the first written evidence of Buddhism. The third council of monks was held at Pataliputra, the capital of Ashoka's empire.
There is a story that tells about a poor young boy who, having nothing to give the Buddha as a gift, collected a handful of dust and innocently presented it. The Buddha smiled and accepted it with the same graciousness he accepted the gifts of wealthy admirers. That boy, it is said, was reborn as the Emperor Ashoka.
Ashoka sent missionaries all over India and beyond. Some went as far as Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. St. Origen even mentions them as having reached Britain. The Greeks of one of the Alexandrian kingdoms of northern India adopted Buddhism, after their King Menandros (Pali: Milinda) was convinced by a monk named Nagasena -- the conversation immortalized in the Milinda Pañha. A Kushan king of north India named Kanishka was also converted, and a council was held in Kashmir in about 100 ad. Greek Buddhists there recorded the Sutras on copper sheets which, unfortunately, were never recovered.
It is interesting to note that there is a saint in Orthodox Christianity named Josaphat, an Indian king whose story is essentially that of the Buddha. Josaphat is thought to be a distortion of the word bodhisattva.

The History of Buddhism

Soon after Buddha's death or parinirvana, five hundred monks met at the first council at Rajagrha, under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited the monastic code (Vinaya) as he remembered it. Ananda, Buddha's cousin, friend, and favorite disciple -- and a man of prodigious memory! -- recited Buddha's lessons (the Sutras). The monks debated details and voted on final versions. These were then committed to memory by other monks, to be translated into the many languages of the Indian plains. It should be noted that Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over 200 years.
In the next few centuries, the original unity of Buddhism began to fragment. The most significant split occurred after the second council, held at Vaishali 100 years after the first. After debates between a more liberal group and traditionalists, the liberal group left and labeled themselves the Mahasangha -- "the great sangha." They would eventually evolve into the Mahayana tradition of northern Asia.
The traditionalists, now referred to as Sthaviravada or "way of the elders" (or, in Pali, Theravada), developed a complex set of philosophical ideas beyond those elucidated by Buddha. These were collected into the Abhidharma or "higher teachings." But they, too, encouraged disagreements, so that one splinter group after another left the fold. Ultimately, 18 schools developed, each with their own interpretations of various issues, and spread all over India and Southeast Asia. Today, only the school stemming from the Sri Lankan Theravadan survives.