Mar 30 2010 in Buddhism Basics by littlebuddha
In Theravada doctrine, a person may awaken from the “sleep of ignorance” by directly realizing the true nature of reality; such people are called arahants and occasionally buddhas. After numerous lifetimes of spiritual striving, they have reached the end of the cycle of rebirth, no longer reincarnating as human, animal, ghost, or other being. The commentaries to the Pali Canon classify these awakened beings into three types:
- Sammasambuddha, usually just called Buddha, who discovers the truth by himself and teaches the path to awakening to others
- Paccekabuddha, who discovers the truth by himself but lacks the skill to teach others
- Savakabuddha, who receive the truth directly or indirectly from a Sammasambuddha
Bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from craving, hate, and delusion. In attaining bodhi, the arahant has overcome these obstacles. As a further distinction, the extinction of only hatred and greed (in the sensory context) with some residue of delusion, is called anagami.
In the Mahayana, the Buddha tends not to be viewed as merely human, but as the earthly projection of a beginningless and endless, omnipresent being (see Dharmakaya) beyond the range and reach of thought. Moreover, in certain Mahayana sutras, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are viewed essentially as One: all three are seen as the eternal Buddha himself.
Celestial Buddhas are individuals who no longer exist on the material plane of existence, but who still aid in the enlightenment of all beings.
Nirvana came to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana. Bodhi became a higher attainment that eradicate delusion entirely. Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi.
The method of self-exertion or “self-power” – without reliance on an external force or being – stands in contrast to another major form of Buddhism, Pure Land, which is characterised by utmost trust in the salvific “other-power” of Amitabha Buddha. Pure Land Buddhism is a very widespread and perhaps the most faith-orientated manifestation of Buddhism and centres upon the conviction that faith in Amitabha Buddha and the chanting of homage to his name will liberate one at death into the “happy land” (安樂) or “pure land” (淨土) of Amitabha Buddha. This Buddhic realm is variously construed as a foretaste of Nirvana, or as essentially Nirvana itself. The great vow of Amitabha Buddha to rescue all beings from samsaric suffering is viewed within Pure Land Buddhism as universally efficacious, if only one has faith in the power of that vow or chants his name.
Nearly all Chinese Buddhists accept that the chances of attaining sufficient enlightenment by one’s own efforts are very slim, so that Pure Land practice is essential as an “insurance policy” even if one practises something else.
Buddhists believe the Gautama Buddha was the first to achieve enlightenment in this Buddha era and is therefore credited with the establishment of Buddhism. A Buddha era is the stretch of history during which people remember and practice the teachings of the earliest known Buddha. This Buddha era will end when all the knowledge, evidence and teachings of Gautama Buddha have vanished. This belief therefore maintains that many Buddha eras have started and ended throughout the course of human existence. The Gautama Buddha, then, is the Buddha of this era, who taught directly or indirectly to all other Buddhas in it (see types of Buddhas).
In addition, Mahayana Buddhists believe there are innumerable other Buddhas in other universes. A Theravada commentary says that Buddhas arise one at a time in this world element, and not at all in others.
The idea of the decline and gradual disappearance of the teaching has been influential in East Asian Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism holds that it has declined to the point where few, if any, are capable of following the path, so most or all must rely on the power of the Buddha Amitabha. Zen and Nichiren traditionally hold that most are incapable of following the “complicated” paths of some other schools and present what they view as a simple practice instead.