Buddhism and Judaism Term Paper

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Buddhism and Judaism

Conservative and Liberal Divisions of Buddhism and Judaism

Buddhism and Judaism are two of the oldest religions still in practice today. Despite how long they have endured the test of time, they have not survived unscathed. Among other divisions found within Buddhism and Judaism, both religions went through a series of transformations, most importantly a division between more conservative and liberal sects. These divisions are still prominent in the practice of both religions even today.

Buddhism focuses on the worship of Guatama Buddha "as a divine being who came to earth out of compassion and suffering of humanity," (Noss 191). The term Buddhism loosely refers to a number of different religious practices and beliefs, but is mainly concerned with the teachings of the Guatama Buddha. The title Buddha actually translates into the "Enlightened one," (171). Buddhists legends highlight the Buddha's renunciation of his royal luxuries during his time as a prince. He was born prince Siddhartha around 563 B.C.E. His father, an Indian King, hoped his son would one day become a great ruler of all India. Prince Siddhartha rejected his royal life for a life of humility and began his six-year quest, (168).

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For six years, Guatama practiced extreme self-discipline in an attempt to somehow transcend his human, and therefore mortal existence. The beliefs which encouraged his quest included the idea that "the mind becomes clearer as the body becomes more disciplined," (Noss 168). During this show of self-discipline, Guatama went as far as to inflict pain unto his mortal body. After this extreme self-discipline and show of endurance, Guatama began a new life attempting to strengthen his body as a way to therefore strengthen his intellect. Through this self-discipline, Guatama Buddha tasted Nirvana. Buddhist legend tells of Mara, the god of Death and Desire, came to Guatama during his quest. Mara tried to distract Guatama from his quest to find Nirvana. Despite tempting the future Buddha, Mara ultimately failed.

Term Paper on Buddhism and Judaism Assignment

After he attained enlightenment through his show of devotion, Buddha began teaching the knowledge he gained. He proposed a doctrine which offered a life of compromise; avoiding a life of entire pleasures, yet also enjoyment of the life one was given. He believed that individuals should spend their lives understanding one's feelings and controlling one's desires through the strength of one's will. He also preached the idea of rebirth and dharma, or "the truth concerning the nature and causes of observable facts," (Noss 179). Buddha also emphasized "the dissolution of the desires," (179), or the refranement from mortal excesses. He also preached that individuals should separate oneself from one's attachments. Familial and intimate attachments between people can only bring suffering. Buddhist doctrine also preached that attachments to individual notions of the self and the ego also hinder men from attaining Nirvana, "There is no permanent, partless substantial 'self' or soul," (Powers 21). Buddha died forty-five years after he began preaching, at the age of eighty.

Buddha's teachings spread across the region for centuries through oral tradition. Later, these oral traditions were recorded in the Pali Cannon, in the Pali dialect after Buddhism rejected Sanskrit. Later, more works were added to the original cannon which included the Vinaya Pitaka, or the Monistic Rules, the Sutta Pitaka, or Discourses, and last to be composed, the Abhidhama Pitaka, or Supplement to the Doctrines (Noss 188). The Sutta Pitaka highlights the voice of Buddha himself. It includes subsections of about fifteen works concerning the life of Guatama Buddha and his immediate predecessors.

The Second Council at Vaisali was a turning point in the organization of Buddhist religion. After a fight broke out concerning how the Doctrine and the discipline should be interpreted. Out of this squabble, a group who wanted the texts interpreted more liberally emerged, calling themselves the Mahasanghika, or "the Members of the Great Sangha," (Noss 189). This group incorporated most of the regular lay people who had previously made slight changes to the Doctrine in order to successfully apply it to their own lives. Buddhism had also gone through variations as it was adopted by individual families all over the region. The group who called for a more orthodox application of the Doctrine called themselves the Sthaviravadins, or the "Adherents of the Teachings of the Elders," (189). In the following three hundred years after the separation many more divisions occurred. Smaller variations include Vajrahana, in Tibet and Mongolia, Tantric Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism. Tantric Buddhism believes that one gains real experiences through certain actions that bring one close to reality.

In response to the fracturing of the Buddhist religion a King named Asoka aimed to reunite the ancient religion. In Mangaha in 273 B.C.E. Asoka came to rule. After years of warfare, he ordered his people to live peacefully and in the Buddhist way. He issued both "The Fourteen Rock Edicts," and later "The Seen Pillar Inscriptions" which indicated how his people were to live. In these demands, was no mention of the Four Noble Truths, meditation, or reaching Nirvana; which later cast doubt on Asoka's full conversion to Buddhism. Asoka was most concerned with uniting his people in peace; and that any transition into paradise could be carried on later. His influence on Buddhist practices placed the Four Noble Truths and Nirvana in the realm of the monks, and not ordinary people.

One of the two main divisions of Buddhism is the more conservative Theravada sect, most popular in Burma and Sri Lanka. Theravada focuses on the monk as the central figure, with Nirvana as the ultimate goal. This version also believes that the monk is solely responsible for reaching Nirvana without the help from the Buddha, "The Buddha entered Nirvana and is therefore no longer exercising an active personal influence as a living self," (Noss 191). Monks live in monasteries and completely devote their lives to meditation in search of Nirvana. Thervadians idolize the image of Buddha, despite his negative views of religious idolization. They also idolize images of Buddhas predecessors from earlier ages, as described in the Pali texts. Thervadians also "affirm that the Buddha was a perfect being, omniscient and sinless, and through countless incarnations he lived meritously that he became through sheer merit a divine being," (194). This sect of Buddhism believed that the Buddha was a human who transcended his mortal existence to become a divine being. They also believed that there was one single bodhisattva, or Buddha in the making; much unlike their more liberal Mahayana counterparts.

The opposite of the Theravada tradition was the more liberal Mahayana tradition, meaning the "Great Vehicle," which flourished in India. The Mahayanists believe that Buddha could not have come from a human level, but must have been from the divine. They saw Buddha as a mythical figure, who represented a divine order which could lead to salvation, rather than solely devoted self effort. Many foreign lands, which did not take to the Theravada branch now opened up to Mahayana. Mahayanist dogma claims that one can get help on the way to salvation, much unlike their Thervadian counterparts.

Influenced by Brahmanism, Mahayanists believe more reverently than the Thervadians, that there are multiple Buddhas. Manushi Buddhas were humans who attained Nirvana through teaching others about the glory of enlightenment. Bodhisattvas in Malahayana are numerous, unlike Theravada where there was only one. These enlightened teachers answer people's prayers and help those in need. In countries like China and Japan, Bodhisattvas are "beings who have lived ever since in such a way as to acquire almost inexhaustible stores of merit," (203). Bodhisattvas could easily enter into Nirvana, but chose to instead help others reach enlightenment.

Mahayana is in itself divided between two schools of thought. Nagarjuna's Madhyamika human knowledge of the world is only relative, we know things through our understanding of them rather than from their real natures, "The truth in fact always remains out of the reach of any human formulation," (Noss 208). The real aspects of the universe, including karma and reincarnation, are too extreme for the human consciousness to grasp their concepts. Mahayanists believe that since the world order known as samsara, and Nirvana are empty in the idea that they are apprehended by human consciousness.

The other school of Mahayana is the Yogacara School, or the mind only idea, which was founded in 300 a.D. By Maitreyanatha. Vijana, or consciousness, is the foundation of all experience, (208). Everything that an individual perceives is relative to that individual; this leaves a variety of different understandings of the world. Individual minds cannot communicate with each other. The idealist school of thought proposes that the reason all humans can understand Nirvana is that it comes from a collective consciousness.

Zen Buddhism was breed out of Mahayana Buddhism, but also harkens back to Thervadian beliefs and practices. Practices were a "special oral transmission from master to disciple outside the scriptures," (215). Through bodily regulation and meditation, everyday people are able to prepare themselves to receive guidance from the words of the patriarchs. Zen is a combination… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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