Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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Buddhism Essay

Buddhism is one the most popular and interesting religions. It can be traced back to 563 B.C.E. with the birth of Siddhartha Guatama, who is more commonly known as the Buddha, or the Awakened One. The story of Siddhartha Guatama and how he came to be known as the Buddha is very interesting. The religion of Buddhism is one of the oldest and most significant, which is why I chose to visit the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple in the Valley of the Temples on the windward side of the Ko’olau mountain range.

When I first arrived at the Buddhist Temple in the Valley of the Temples, the first thing I took notice of was the graveyard. The tombstones were very elegant. Most of the tombstones were black in color and had gold inscriptions. The black color is representing death while the gold color signifies purity.

The first experience I had at the temple was ringing the bell. The bell alone was amazing. It is a replica of the original temple bell. It is a five foot, three ton brass Peace Bell. When rung its sound is very low in pitch, and can be heard from a good distance away. The sound sends a message of peace, calamity, and spiritual cleansing. Ringing the bell to announce your arrival is said to bring good fortune, and cleanses the mind of evil and temptation.

From the bell, I then toured the main building which is called Phoenix Hall. The structure was designed after the mystical bird with its wings held up by pillars of stone. The Japanese believed that the temple reflects the promise of the mystical bird, and the recreation of spiritual hope and renewal. Inside of the Phoenix Hall was a nine foot two inch tall statue of Amida (the Buddha of the Western Paradise). The statue is the largest wooden Buddha carved in over nine hundred years and is covered in gold and lacquer. Directly in front of the giant Buddha is a small shrine where visitors can light a stick of incense.

After touring Phoenix Hall, I took notice of the detailed landscaping. In front of the main structure is a very large rock garden. The gardens are said to retain the serenity and grace of a Japanese garden and have an added touch of joy and the Hawaiian “spirit of aloha.” The gardens are believed to be the largest outside of Japan. Around the detailed Japanese gardens is a two acre pond. The pond contains several thousand carp. In Japan they are known as koi. The koi are a symbol of order and perseverance in the Buddhist culture. Visitors of the temple are encouraged to feed the koi. The temple also has many peacocks that wander in and around the temple. The temple advises not to interact with the peacocks, because they are wild and untamed.

Located behind and to the left of Phoenix Hall is the meditation house. The house is known to be a place of serenity, private thoughts, and inner peace. To the right of Phoenix Hall is the Tea House. In the Tea House you can purchase souvenirs of the temple.

The Byodo-in temple was completed and dedicated in 1968 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese Immigrants to arrive in Hawaii. It was constructed without the use of nails. It is a scale replica of a temple constructed over 900 years ago in Uji Japan, which was the villa of Japanese aristocrat. The structure was part of a larger compound with many more buildings. Years later, after social and political upheaval, the villa was abandoned. It was preserved as a masterpiece of 11th century architecture and is revered today as on of Japan’s national treasures. The Byodo-in Temple was planned with the input and assistance of the Hawaiian Buddhist community.

Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest religions. It was conceived in India by the birth of Siddhartha Guatama. Siddhartha Guatama was born the son of a prince. The story tells that his mother, Maya, had a dream of a white elephant entering her side. This is believed to be the conception of the Buddha. He was born from his mother’s side, who died one week after delivery. This led him to be raised by his aunt. There was said to be special marks on his body which told the two possible directions his life would end up. One direction was following his father’s footsteps in becoming a “world ruler,” or he would become a “world teacher.” He was raised to become his father’s successor. He married at an early age and had one son. At the age of 29, Siddhartha saw what is now known as the four passing sights. He saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a sannyasin (wandering holy man). This led to the Great Going Forth, which was Siddhartha Guatama escaping from his home and denouncing everything he owned. He traveled around searching for answers from his many teachers. During this time he decided to purify himself by living on very little food, water, and sleep. After collapsing from malnutrition, he decided to adopt a path of moderation. One day he sat under a Bodhi tree where he meditated for a length of time. At the end of his meditation, he reached a state of enlightenment. This caused his name to change to Buddha –the enlightened one.

In the Buddhist religion there are many beliefs. One that is expressed is the three marks of reality. These three beliefs are constant change, a lack of permanent identity, and the existence of suffering. These views are believed to help reach inner peace. From the three marks of reality, comes the belief in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The First Noble Truth is to live is to suffer, the second is suffering comes from desire, the next is to end suffering, end desire, and the last is release from suffering is possible and can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is Buddha’s teachings to attain inner peace. Each of the eight steps should be practiced simultaneously to reach liberation. The eight steps are the right understanding, the right intention, the right speech, the right action, the right work, the right effort, the right meditation, and the right contemplation.

Similar to many religions, Buddhism branched out into three teachings. The Theravada Buddhists believed in reaching nirvana by detachment and ending desire. Theravada Buddhism is the way of the elders. The Theravadas are a monastic community who believe in the ideal of the arhat, the perfect being, someone who has attained nirvana. The Theravada teachings are based on the Tripitaka, which means three baskets. The first collection of teachings is called the sutra, which contain sermons and dialogues. The second teaching is called vinaya, they consist of proper procedures for the rules of monastic life. The third collection is called abhidhamma which means the works that go beyond the elementary teachings.

The second school of thought is Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana is referred to as the “Big Vehicle.” The vision of Mahayana is broader than that of the Theravadas. The Mahayana teachings are more general and apply to a greater amount of people. The Mahayana teachings believe in the trikaya (three-body) doctrine. They are the Dharmakaya (cosmic Buddha nature), the Nirmanakaya (historical Buddha), and the Sambhogakaya (celestial Buddha).

Vajrayana Buddhism is the third branch of teachings. Its meaning is translated as the “Diamond Vehicle,” or “vehicle of the lightning bolt.” Vajrayana teachings believe in the acquisition of special powers through certain rituals. Because of its unique beliefs it is known as the third branch, however some view it as a form of Mahayana.

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