were devastated at his departure. His favorite disciple Ananda had his body cremated by his friends in Kusinagara. Ten
neighboring rulers demanded that his relics and ashes be divided among them, but they
could not agree on how to do it. The people of Kusinagara refused. The dispute
threatened war, which seems absurd, considering the teachings of Buddha are based on
peace. The crisis soon passed, however, when the relics were divided by a wise man
named Drona. Ten great towers were then built to enshrine the Buddha’s relics and ashes
(SPB, pg. 18).
More important than his relics and ashes Buddha left behind his great virtues and
wisdom. Buddha thoroughly understood human nature and had great sympathy for man.
This is why before he died he vowed that he would do everything possible to relieve man
from their fears and sufferings. To do this he took the following ten vows:
1. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
everyone in my land is certain of entering Buddhahood and gaining
2. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until my
affirming light reaches all over the world.
3. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until my
life endures through the ages and saves innumerable numbers of people.
4. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until all
the Buddhas in the ten directions unite in praising my name.
5. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
people with sincere faith endeavor to be reborn in my land by repeating
my name in sincere faith ten times and actually do succeed in this rebirth.
6. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
people everywhere determine to attain Enlightenment, practice virtues,
sincerely wish to be born in my land; thus, I shall appear at the moment
of their death with a great company of Bodhisattvas to welcome them into
my Pure Land.
7. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
people everywhere, hearing my name, think of my land and wish to be born
there and, to that end, sincerely plant seeds of virtue, and are thus able to
accomplish all to their hearts’ desire.
8. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
all those who are born in my Pure Land are certain to attain Buddhahood,
so that they may lead many others to Enlightenment and to the practice of
9. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
people all over the world are influenced by my spirit of loving compassion
that will purify their minds and bodies and lift them above the things of the world.
10. “Though I attain Buddhahood, I shall never be complete until
people everywhere, hearing my name, learn right ideas about life and death,
and gain that perfect wisdom that will keep their minds pure and tranquil in the
midst of the world’s greed and suffering.
“Thus I make these vows; may I not attain Buddhahood until they are
fulfilled. May I become the source of unlimited Light, freeing and radiating
the treasures of my wisdom and virtue, enlightening all lands and emancipating
all suffering people,” (SPB, pg. 202-206).
By making these vows he became known as Amida Buddha, Buddha of Infinite
Light and Boundless Life, and built his own Pure Land. In this Pure Land he lives in a
world of peace, enlightening all people. All who take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, his
teachings, and Samgha, the brotherhood, are protected by Amida Buddha and excepted in
to his Pure Land. The Pure Land has been described as follows:
This Pure Land, wherein there is no suffering, is, indeed most peace-
ful and happy. Clothing, food and all beautiful things appear when those who
live there wish for them. When a gentle breeze passes through its jewel-laden
trees, the music of its holy teachings fills the air and cleanses the minds of all
who listen to it.
In this Pure Land there are many fragrant lotus blossoms, and each
blossom has many precious petals that shines with ineffable beauty. The radiance
of these lotus blossoms brightens the path of Wisdom, and those who listen to
the music of the holy teachings are led into perfect peace (SPB, pg. 208).
Before being led into this perfect peace, one must take refuge in the Dharma, the
teachings of Buddha. The Dharma consists of the basic elements of reality. In Buddhism
it is said that the truth has never come from the sky; it has always come from the human
condition (Trungpa, pg. 97). While sitting under the Bodhi tree in the moments before he
realized Enlightenment, Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble
Truths describe the experience of human life on earth as follows: The Truth of Suffering
is that life that is not free from desire and passion is always with distress. The Truth of
the Cause of Suffering is that suffering is caused by desire of material things for
gratification. The Truth of the Cessation is that if the desire can be removed the suffering
will end. The Truth of The Noble Path to Cessation is that suffering can be brought to an
end through the practice of the Eightfold Path (Champawat, pg. 163).
The Eightfold Path is a summary of the steps that must be taken and conquered in
order to be delivered from the world of suffering. The Eightfold Path is as follows: right
view- that Truth is the guide of man; right thought- to be calm at all times and not to
harm any living creatures; right speech- never to lie, never to slander anyone, and never
to use coarse or harsh language; right behavior- never to steal, never to kill, and never to
do anything one may later regret or be ashamed of; right livelihood- never to live a style
of life that is considered bad; right effort- always to strive for good and to avoid evil;
right mindfulness- to be calm and detached; right concentration- will lead to the path of
perfect peace (Champawat, pg. 164). The practice of the Eightfold Path leads to wisdom,
morality, and concentration and awakens one from the world of suffering, which is
known as samsara.
As the Eightfold Path is considered the right way of life, there are wrong ways of
thinking. These mistakes recognized by Buddha include, the belief that all human
experience is destiny, that everything is created by God and controlled by His will, and
that every thing happens by chance with out any cause or condition (SPB, pg. 74). In
Buddhism it is a mistake to believe anything is predetermined because of the law of
karma. Karma is the doctrine, adopted from Hinduism, that states that actions are
followed by and inevitable result. This belief is also referred to as the law of Cause and
The universal law of Cause and Effect states that the world of suffering is
constantly changing. This impermanence is unavoidable. There are five things that all
humans encounter and can not escape: first, to cease growing old; second, to cease being
sick; third, to cease dying; fourth, to deny extinction; and fifth, to deny exhaustion (SPB,
pg. 94). These are facts that everyone must confront in their lives. Buddha’s followers
do not suffer because they understand that these impermanences are unavoidable.
Another unavoidable form of impermanence, understood by Buddhists, is the
continuous cycle of reincarnation. Reincarnation is another doctrine adopted from
Hinduism. It is the belief that after one dies, they are reborn over and over again, until
they become Enlightened and have rid their karmic debt.
Unlike Hindus, Buddha’s followers also realize four other worldly truths. The
first of these truths is that all living beings, no matter what can rise form ignorance. The
second is that all objects of desire are impermanent, uncertain, and cause suffering. The
third is the truth that all existing things are also impermanent, uncertain, and suffering.
The fourth of the truths is that nothing can be called an “ego” and there is no such thing
as “mine” in all the world (SPB, pg. 90). This is true because the the law of Cause and
Effect states that things disappear just as fast as they appear, therefor no one can possess
The beliefs of Cause and Effect and its impermanence is taught through the
Theory of Mind-Only. The theory declares that your surroundings have no more limits
than the activities of your mind. For instance, an impure mind surrounds itself with
impure things; just as a pure mind surrounds itself with pure things. This theory is often
explained with the saying, “If the mind is impure, it will cause the feet to stumble along a
rough and difficult road; there will be many a fall and much pain. But if the mind is
pure, the path will be smooth and the journey peaceful,” (SPB, pg. 378). The theory also
declares the real state of things. The real state of things also has a lot to do with the
mind. The real state of things proclaims that the world is an illusion. In this world of
suffering, samsara, and illusion people think up distinctions and discriminate on their
own. People grasp things for their own convenience and comfort, clinging to mortal life.
All material things of the world are delusion and meaningless (SPB, pg. 93).
The goal of Buddhism is to overcome the real state of the material world. The
path used to avoid becoming entangled in any extreme is called the middle way. To
follow the middle way is the goal of all Buddhists. Walking on the path of the middle
way requires one to follow the Eightfold Path. A person must also master the ideas of
impermanence, that all things appear and disappear. It is very important for one, when
traveling in the middle way, to avoid all attachments and desires. Travelers must also
grasp the idea that Enlightenment is not a “thing,” it can’t exist without delusion and
ignorance. The final realization is that everything is in relation to everything else.
These realizations are the first step in the practice of Buddhism. The second step
is to understand the right ideas of things, or the material world. This is accomplished by
careful observation, open mindness, and understanding. The next step is mind-control,
the removal of mistaken observations and worldly passions. Then one must obey the
right ideas of the use of objects. For example food and clothing are not to be seen or
used as comforts and pleasures. Buddhists must also learn endurance for heat, cold, and
hunger. Through caution, prudence, and common sense a Buddhist must try to see and
avoid danger. It is also important to control the mind from desires arising from the five
senses. It is very difficult to explain one easy way in which to accomplish these
practices, they must be done with patience and mind control. When someone decides to
take this challenge and to step onto the path of the middle way they must take refuge in
the Buddha, Dharma, and Samgha, which is known as the three treasures.
The first two of the treasures are Buddha and Dharma, the third treasure, Samgha,
is the brotherhood. It is the unity of all things. When one takes refuge in the three
treasures he must have an unshakable faith. He must also be able to follow the five
precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie or deceive, and not to
use intoxicants (Chogyam, pg. 86). One must also avoid being egotistic or self-willed. A
Buddhist should always respect those who are worthy of respect and show good-will
towards all. Buddhists serve those who are worthy of being served and treat everyone
with uniform kindness. It is a Buddhist duty to share the three treasures with all through
acts of compassion. When helping others, if a pure mind is kept it will shine out from
them, onto their surroundings, and will be reflected back on to them (SPB, pg. 104).
Because of the simplicity of the precepts of the Samgha, Buddhism has spread
throughout the world. Due to Buddha’s tolerance and gentleness there was not a single
example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to
Buddhism (Champawat, pg. 161). Non-violence is something Buddha believed in very
deeply and preached often during his life. It was with this preaching that he won the
hearts of thousands throughout mid-India during his life. The spread throughout the
whole of India can be credited to the Maurya Kingdom (SPB, pg. 538).
Between 316 and 293 B.C. the Maurya Kingdom was ruled by a horrible man, the
people called furious Asoka, who was solely responsible for thousands upon thousands of
senseless deaths. There is a legend that says on witnessing the disastrous destruction, left
behind by his men, he was devastated and suddenly became a devoted Buddhist (SPB, pg.
538). Upon converting he ordered what is known as Asoka’s Carved Edicts, and had the
Buddhist teachings carved on stone pillars throughout the kingdom. He then sent
missionaries to neighboring countries, which included, Syria, Egypt, Kyrene,
Macedonian, and Epeiros (SPB, pg. 540).
Another important step in the history of Buddhism was the rise of Mahayana
Buddhism. Historians can only guess when, where, and how the new wave of Buddhism
began. It is believed it occurred around the first or second centuries B.C. by progressive
priests. What is referred to as the new wave, included many additions to the original
form called Hinanyana Buddhism. In the original form religion was considered a
concern of monks; Buddha was regarded as a saint and teacher; and prayer and ritual was
avoided, in response to the fall of the Vedic beliefs (Gaer, pg. 46). In the new Mahayana
form of Buddhism, religion was considered the concern of everyone; Buddha was
recognized as a Savior; and complex rituals and personal prayers emerged (Gaer, pg. 46).
Mahayana Buddhism also concerned itself more with the salvation of the masses than it
did before. Bodhisattvas, or living saints, were developed, along with the study of
psychology. Despite the additions, the basic beliefs remained the same and so did its
It was this message that traveled along the silk road along with so many other
things. Between 140 and 87 B.C. Buddhism made its way through Central Asia and
found connections that would soon carry it to China. It was the Central Asian priests
who were responsible in the earlier years for what China saw of Buddhism. Between 58
and 76 A.D. the first translations of the scriptures were made from Sanskrit to Chinese
(SPB, pg. 544).
It wasn’t until between 600 and 664 A.D. that China made the first steps to study
Buddhism, independent from the Asian priests. Hsuan-chuang was the first Chinese to
learn Sanskrit fluently enough to translate scriptures. He spent 19 years in India learning
the difficult language. When he was done with his studies he returned home with what is
known as the New Translations. Over the next few decades other priests followed his
footsteps until numerous volumes were added to the New Translation (SPB, pg. 546).
Because the teachings of Buddha came in so many different translations and out
of order, there were times of great confusion. The more the Chinese priests attempted to
combine and revise the New Translations and the Old Translations, created by the Asian
priests, the more people became confused by Buddha’s teachings. It was during this
confusion that the Tendai sect and the Zen sect appeared. It was also during this time
that the Hinayana sect more or less disappeared (SPB, pg. 548). Nonetheless Buddhism
flourished in China for centuries.
From China the New Translations were brought to Japan. In 538 A.D. a Buddhist
image and a scroll of sutras was brought to the Imperial Court of Emperor Kinmei.
Curious, the emperor had them researched, marking the beginning of a new Japan (SPB,
pg. 554). Temples began to be built as they learned more about the religion. Over time a
new culture arose. Buddhism has prospered in Japan for over 1,400 years.
Buddhism arrived in he United States during colonial times, but was practiced by
few. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s and 1960’s that people began to study the practices of
Buddhism. The nonviolent theme of the religion took on a new life during the opposition
of the Vietnam War.
At the same time as the war in Vietnam, on the other side of the world in Tibet,
there was a completely separate struggle going on. China, now a communist country,
promoted atheism and claimed the predominately Buddhist Tibet as part of its own
country, while Tibet claimed to rule itself. Buddhism was brought to Tibet sometime
around 763 A.D. by a profit by the name of Padma Sambhava (Lama Surya Das, pg. 24).
The Buddhism he brought was mostly Mahayana, but over a period of years a new form
of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism was born. For 50 years the two countries argued over
the issue, but in October 1950 China invaded. Up until then, Tibet had remained a
country at peace, symbolizing the ideal Buddhist community.
As China smothered the remote Buddhist country more and more, many of its
leaders fled the country. Although fearing the worst the Tibetan leader, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama remained at his capital in Lhasa to support his people. Then in 1959, the
young boy was invited to a play by the Chinese government and was advised to leave his
attendants and body guards at home. Hearing this a large movement of native Tibetans
revolted. They surrounded the great palace, where fighting soon broke out. The young
Dalai Lama was able to sneak out and find asylum in India. Not knowing of His Holiness
the Dalai Lama’s departure, the Chinese Army shelled his palace the next day killing
thousands of unarmed civilians (Gyatso, pg. 65). In the year to follow, close to one
hundred thousand Tibetans managed to escape to India, before China managed to close
the borders. Unfortunately, an unknown number disappeared in the Himalayan
wilderness and were never heard from again.
For those who were left behind life has been unbearable. The Chinese moved
quickly to take over the monasteries and to stamp out the practice of Buddhism, stating
that religion poisons the mind (Gyatso, pg. 68).Amnesty International has estimated
that over 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese Army (Lama Surya Das,
pg. 28). Thousands of monks, nuns, and laypeople remain in concentration camps
struggling to survive unmentionable tortures (Gyatso, pg. 108).
Since the 1960’s the Tibetans that were fortunate enough to escape have found
homes in France, Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States. In their new homes
many of them have made it their duty to continue the teachings of Buddha, as well as, to
raise the awareness of the world on the issues of Tibet.
Having developed during a time of great social transformation, Buddhism is a
sensitive religion, that confronts the importance of the individual mind, Its founder’s
mission was to raise the awareness of his people and to deliver them from suffering. For
2500 years Buddhism has united hundreds of thousands of people and inspired them
when nothing else could. Buddhism is a compassionate religion, whose goal is to
overcome the faults of human nature.