Rahula was the historical Buddha’s only child. He was born shortly before his father left on his quest for enlightenment. Indeed, Rahula’s birth appears to have been one of the factors that fueled Prince Siddhartha’s determination to become a wandering mendicant.
Buddha Leaving His Son
According to Buddhist legend, Prince Siddhartha already had been shaken deeply by the realization he could not escape sickness, old age, and death. And he was beginning to think of leaving his privileged life to seek peace of mind. When his wife Yasodhara gave birth to a son, the Prince bitterly called the boy Rahula, which means “fetter.”
Soon Prince Siddhartha left his wife and son to become the Buddha. Some modern wits have called the Buddha a “deadbeat dad.” But the infant Rahula was the grandson of King Suddhodana of the Shakya clan. He would be well cared for.
When Rahula was about nine years old, his father returned to his home city of Kapilavastu. Yasodhara took Rahula to see his father, who was now the Buddha. She told Rahula to ask his father for his inheritance so that he would become king when Suddhodana died.
So the child, as children will, attached himself to his father. He followed the Buddha, asking incessantly for his inheritance. After a time the Buddha complied by having the boy ordained as a monk. His would be the inheritance of the dharma.
Rahula Learns to Be Truthful
The Buddha showed his son no favoritism, and Rahula followed the same rules as other new monks and lived under the same conditions, which were a far cry from his life in a palace.
It is recorded that once a senior monk took his sleeping spot during a rainstorm, forcing Rahula to seek shelter in a latrine. He was awakened by his father’s voice, asking Who is there?
It is I, Rahula, the boy responded. I see, replied the Buddha, who walked away. Although the Buddha was determined to not show his son special privileges, perhaps he had heard Rahula had been turned out in the rain and had gone to check on the boy. Finding him safe, even if uncomfortable, the Buddha left him there.
Rahula was a high-spirited boy who loved pranks. Once he deliberately misdirected a layperson who had come to see the Buddha. Learning of this, the Buddha decided it was time for a fatherly, or at least teacherly, sit down with Rahula. What happened next is recorded in the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta in the Pali Tipitika.
Rahula was astonished but pleased when his father called on him. He filled a basin with water and washed his father’s feet. When he finished, the Buddha pointed to the small amount of water left in a dipper.
“Rahula, do you see this little bit of leftover water?”
“That’s how little of a monk there is in one who feels no shame at telling a lie.”
When the leftover water was tossed away, the Buddha said, “Rahula, do you see how this little bit of water is tossed away?”
“Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a lie is tossed away just like that.”
The Budha turned the water dipper upside down and said to Rahula, “Do you see how this water dipper is turned upside down?”
“Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a lie is turned upside down just like that.”
Then the Buddha turned the water dipper right side up. “Rahula, do you see how empty and hollow this water dipper is?”
“Rahula, whatever there is of a monk in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty and hollow just like that.”
The Buddha then taught Rahula how to reflect carefully on everything he thought, said, and consider consequences, and how his actions affected others and himself. Chastised, Rahula learned to purify his practice. It was said he realized enlightenment when he was only 18 years old
We know only a little about Rahula in his later life. It is said that through his efforts his mother, Yasodhara, eventually became a nun and realized enlightenment also. His friends called him Rahula the Lucky. He said that he was twice lucky, being born the son of the Buddha and also realizing enlightenment.
It is also recorded that he died relatively young, while his father was still alive. The Emperor Ashoka the Great is said to have built a stupa in Rahula’s honor, dedicated to novice monks
The different Buddhist schools of thought, still operating in the present day, developed after the death of the Buddha (l. c. 563 – c. 483 BCE) in an effort to perpetuate his teachings and honor his example. Each of the schools claimed to represent Buddha’s original vision and still do so in the modern era.
Although Buddha himself is said to have requested that, following his death, no leader was to be chosen to lead anything like a school, this was ignored and his disciples seem to have fairly quickly institutionalized Buddhist thought with rules, regulations, and a hierarchy.
At first, there may have been a unified vision of what Buddha had taught but, in time, disagreements over what constituted the “true teaching” resulted in fragmentation and the establishment of three main schools:
Theravada Buddhism claims to be the oldest school and to maintain Buddha’s original vision and teachings. Mahayana Buddhism is said to have split off from Theravada in the belief that it was too self-centered and had lost the true vision; this school also claims it holds to the Buddha’s original teaching. Actually, however, the two schools may have been established around the same time, just with different focus, and probably emerged from two earlier schools: the Sthaviravada (possible precursor to Theravada) and the Mahasanghika (also given as Mahasamghika, considered by some the earlier Mahayana). The connection between these earlier schools and the later ones, however, has been challenged. Vajrayana Buddhism developed, largely in Tibet, in response to what were perceived as too many rules in Mahayana Buddhism and emphasized living the Buddhist walk naturally without regard to ideas of what one was “supposed” to do and so it, too, claims to be the most authentic.
All three schools maintain a belief in the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path as preached by the Buddha but differ – sometimes significantly – in how they choose to follow that path. Objectively, none are considered any more legitimate than the others, nor are the many minor schools which have developed, although adherents of each believe otherwise while, at the same time, recognizing they are all part of Ekayana(“One Vehicle” or “One Path”) in that all embrace Buddha’s central vision and seek to promote harmony and compassion in the world.
ALL BUDDHIST SCHOOLS MAINTAIN A BELIEF IN THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS & EIGHTFOLD PATH AS PREACHED BY THE BUDDHA BUT DIFFER IN HOW THEY CHOOSE TO FOLLOW THAT PATH.
Although Buddhism is often perceived by non-adherents as a uniform belief system, it is as varied as any other in practice but, theoretically at least, a modern-day secular Buddhist can participate in rituals with a religious Buddhist without concern or conflict and all work toward the same essential goals.
Buddha & Buddhism
According to the foundational account of Buddha’s life, he was born Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu prince, and his father, hoping to prevent him from following a spiritual path instead of succeeding him as king, kept him from any experiences which might have made him aware of suffering and death. The king’s plan succeeded for 29 years until Siddhartha witnessed the famous Four Signs while out riding one day – an aged man, a sick man, a dead man, and a spiritual ascetic – and became aware of the reality of sickness, old age, and death.
He renounced his wealth and position and followed the example of the spiritual ascetic, eventually attaining enlightenment upon recognizing the inherent impermanence of all aspects of life and realizing how one could live without suffering. He developed the concept of the Four Noble Truths, which state that suffering in life is caused by attachment to the things of life, and the Eightfold Path, the spiritual discipline one should follow to achieve release from attachment and the pain of craving and loss. Scholar John M. Koller comments:
The Buddha’s teaching of [the Four Noble Truths] was based on his insight into interdependent arising (pratitya samutpada) as the nature of existence. Interdependent arising means that everything is constantly changing, that nothing is permanent. It also means that all existence is selfless, that nothing exists separately, by itself. And beyond the impermanence and selflessness of existence, interdependent arising means that whatever arises or ceases does so dependent upon conditions. This is why understanding the conditions that give rise to [suffering] is crucial to the process of eliminating [suffering]. (64)
Buddha illustrated these conditions through the Wheel of Becoming which has in its hub the triad of ignorance, craving, and aversion, between the hub and rim the six types of suffering existence, and on the rim the conditions which give rise to duhkha (translated as “suffering”). Ignorance of the true nature of life encourages craving for those things one believes are desirable and aversion to things one fears and rejects. Caught on this wheel, the soul is blinded to the true nature of life and so condemns itself to samsara, the endless repetition of rebirth and death.
Spread & Fragmentation
Buddha preached his vision from the time of his enlightenment until his death at 80 years of age, at which point he requested that his disciples should not choose a leader but that each should lead themselves. He also requested that his remains be placed in a stupaat a crossroads. Neither of these requests was honored as his disciples fairly quickly organized themselves as a group with a leader and divided his remains among themselves, each choosing to place them in a stupa in a location of their choice.
BUDDHIST SCHOOLS HAD TO CONTEND WITH THE WELL-ESTABLISHED BELIEF SYSTEMS &, IN AN EFFORT TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD, DEVELOPED AN ILLUSTRIOUS FOUNDATION STORY
Around 400 BCE, they held the First Council at which they established accepted Buddhist doctrine based on the Buddha’s teachings and, in 383 BCE, they held a Second Council at which, according to the standard account of the meeting, the Sthaviravada school insisted on the observance of ten proscriptions in the monastic discipline which the majority rejected.
At this point, either the Sthaviravada school left the community (known as the sangha) or the majority distanced themselves from the Sthaviravada and called themselves Mahasanghika (“Great Congregation”). All the later schools then developed from this first schism.
These schools had to contend with the more well-established belief systems of Hinduism and Jainism and, in an effort to level the playing field, developed an illustrious foundation story for their founder and attributed to him a number of miracles. Still, Buddhism remained a small sect in India, one among many, until it was championed by the Mauryan king Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE) who embraced the faith and initiated its spread. He sent missionaries to other nations such as Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Thailand, and Buddhism was accepted in these places far more quickly than in its home country.
Doctrinal differences, however, led to further divisions within the community of adherents. As the belief system became more institutionalized, these differences became more significant. Different canons of scripture developed which were held by some as true while rejected by others and different practices arose in response to the scripture. For example, the Pali canon, which emerged from Sri Lanka, maintained that Buddha was a human being who, although endowed with great spiritual power, still attained enlightenment through his own efforts and, when he died, he was set free from samsara and achieved total liberation from human affairs.
As Buddhism spread, however, the founder was deified as a transcendent being who had always existed and would always exist. Buddha’s death was still understood as his nirvana, a “blowing out” of all attachment and craving, but some adherents no longer saw this as simply an escape from samsara but an elevation to an eternally abiding state; freed from samsara, but still present in spirit. The Mahasanghika school held to this belief as well as many others (such as the claim that the Buddha had never existed physically, only as a kind of holy apparition) which stood in direct contrast to the Sthaviravada and, later, the Theravada schools. Although the central vision of the Buddha was retained by adherents, doctrinal differences like this one led to the establishment of the different schools of Buddhist thought.
Although there were actually many schisms before the establishment of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (the Mahasanghika school alone produced three different sects by c. 283 BCE), the division of these schools from the original sangha is said to have been predicted by the Buddha himself in what is known as The Three Turnings. This concept is based on that of the Dharmachakra(wheel of eight spokes, a familiar Buddhist symbol) which represents the Eightfold Path, informed by dharma which, in Buddhism, is understood as “cosmic law”. The Dharmachakra has always been in motion and always will be but, as far as human recognition of it goes, it was set in motion when Buddha gave his first sermon, would then make the first turn with the establishment of Theravada Buddhism, a second with Mahayana, and a third with Vajrayana.
Theravada Buddhism is said to be the oldest form of the belief system, but this is challenged by modern scholars. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. explain:
Despite the way in which scholars have portrayed the tradition, Theravada is neither synonymous with early Buddhism nor a more pristine form of the religion prior to the rise of the Mahayana. Such a claim suggests a state of sectarian inertia that belies the diversity over time of doctrine and practice within what comes to be called the Theravada tradition. (904)
Even so, many of those who self-identify as Theravada Buddhists do still make the claim that it is the oldest version of Buddhism and the closest to the founder’s vision. It is known as the “Teaching of the Elders” which derives from the same name held by the earlier school of Sthaviravada, and this is sometimes interpreted to mean that its founders were those closest to the Buddha but, actually, the term was commonly used in India to denote any monastic sect, and this applies directly to Theravada.
Adherents focus on the Three Trainings (trisksa):
Sila (moral conduct)
This discipline is observed as part of the Eightfold Path and is inspired by the central figure of the school, the sage Buddhaghosa (5th century CE) whose name means “Voice of the Buddha” for his ability to interpret and comment upon Buddhist doctrine. They hold the Pali canon to be the most authentic and focus on a monastic interpretation of the Buddhist path in which the individual seeks to become an arhat (saint) and has no obligation to teach others the way toward enlightenment. One may certainly do so if one chooses but, unlike Mahayana Buddhism, the goal is not to become a spiritual guide to others but to free one’s self from samsara.
Theravada Buddhism is divided between a clergy of monks and a congregation of laypeople and it is understood that the monks are more spiritually advanced than the common folk. Women are considered inferior to men and are not thought capable of attaining enlightenment until they are reincarnated as a male. The Theravada school is sometimes referred to as Hinayana (“little vehicle”) by Mahayana Buddhists, but it should be noted that this is considered an insult by Theravada Buddhists in that it suggests their school is not as important as Mahayana.
MAHAYANA IS THE MOST WIDESPREAD & POPULAR FORM OF BUDDHISM IN THE WORLD TODAY.
Mahayana Buddhists named themselves the “Great Vehicle” either because they felt they retained the true teachings and could carry the most people to enlightenment (as has been claimed) or because they developed from the early “Great Congregation” Mahasanghika school and wished to distance themselves from it, however slightly. It was founded 400 years after Buddha’s death, probably inspired by the early Mahasanghika ideology, and was streamlined and codified by the sage Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century CE), the central figure of the school. It may have initially been a minor school before interacting with Mahasanghika or, according to some scholars, developed on its own without that school’s influence but, either way, Mahayana is the most widespread and popular form of Buddhism in the world today, spreading from its initial acceptance in China, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet to points all around the world.
MAHAYANA IS THE MOST WIDESPREAD & POPULAR FORM OF BUDDHISM IN THE WORLD TODAY.
The Mahayana school believes that all human beings possess a Buddha nature and can attain transcendent awareness, becoming a Bodhisattva (“essence of enlightenment”), who can then guide others on the same path. Adherents seek to attain the state of sunyata – the realization that all things are devoid of intrinsic existence, nature, and lasting meaning – a clearing of the mind that enables one to recognize the true nature of life. Having attained this higher state, just as Buddha did, one becomes a buddha. This transcendental state is similar to how gods and spirits were viewed by the Buddha himself – as existing but incapable of rendering any service to the individual – but, as a Bodhisattva, both women and men who have awakened are able to help others to help themselves.
As with Theravada and every other school of Buddhism, the focus is on the self – self-perfection and self-redemption – and no other can do the spiritual work which one needs to do to release one’s self from suffering. Although Buddha is sometimes seen as a deified being by Mahayana Buddhists, the tenets do not encourage one to call on him for help. Following Buddha’s own vision, a belief in a creator god who is attentive to one’s prayers is discouraged because it attaches one to a power outside of one’s self and sets one up for disappointment and frustration when prayers go unanswered.
This is not to say that no Mahayana Buddhists pray directly to the Buddha; the tradition of representing Buddha in statuary and art, of praying to these objects, and considering them holy – observed in Mahayana Buddhism – was initiated by the Mahasanghika school and is among the many compelling reasons to believe the younger school emerged from the older one.
Vajrayana Buddhism (“Diamond Vehicle”) is so-called because of its association of enlightenment with an unbreakable substance. Its name is also given as “Thunderbolt Vehicle”, especially in reference to Tantric or Zen Buddhism, in that enlightenment falls like a thunderbolt after one has put in the required effort at perfecting the self. It is often considered an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism – is even referenced as a sect of that school – but actually borrows tenets from both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism while adding an innovation of its own.
In both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, one decides to follow the path, accepts the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as legitimate, and commits to a spiritual discipline which will lead to enlightenment by renouncing unprofitable habits. In Vajrayana Buddhism, it is understood that one already has a Buddha nature – everyone does, just as Mahayana believes – but, in Vajrayana, one only has to realize this in order to fully awaken. An adherent, therefore, does not have to give up bad habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking right away in order to begin one’s work on the path; one only has to commit to following the path and the desire to engage in unhealthy and damaging behaviors will steadily lose their allure. Instead of distancing one’s self from desire, one steps toward and through it, shedding one’s attachment as one proceeds in the discipline.
As with Mahayana Buddhism, the Vajrayana school focuses one on becoming a Bodhisattva who will then guide others. It was systematized by the sage Atisha (l. 982-1054 CE) in Tibet and so is sometimes referred to as Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, often referenced as the spiritual leader of all Buddhists, is technically only the spiritual head of the Vajrayana School, and his views are most directly in line with this school of thought.
There are many other Buddhist schools which have developed from these three all around the world. In the West, the most popular of these is Zen Buddhism which traveled from China to Japan and was most fully developed there before arriving in the West. As Zen Masters are fond of saying, “What you call Zen is not Zen; What you do not call Zen is not Zen” meaning that the state of being one wishes to attain cannot be defined; it can only be experienced. One arrives at this state through deep meditation and mental concentration on koans – usually translated as “riddles” – which have no answer, such as the famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” – in order to clear the mind, rid the self of attachment, and attain the state of samadhi, a state of psychological and spiritual vision similar to sunyata. Students of Zen Buddhism frequently study with a master who might slap them, shout, or suddenly hit them with a stout stick in order to awaken them from the illusion of who they think they are and what they think they are doing. These sudden attacks without warning are engaged in, like the koans, to snap an adherent out of rational, linear thinking into a higher state of awareness.
Pure Land Buddhism is another which developed from Mahayana Buddhism and its goal is rebirth in a “pure land” of a Buddha Realm which exists on a higher plane. The belief comes from a story in the text known as the Infinite Life Sutra in which the Buddha tells a story of a past buddha named Amitabha who became a Bodhisattva and to whom were revealed the Buddha Realms available to the enlightened. Amitabha’s efforts to save all sentient creatures from suffering resulted in the creation of the realm of Sukhavati, the greatest of all, in which one experiences complete bliss after leaving the body at death. Although Pure Land is its own school, some Mahayana Buddhists observe the same tenets.
An increasingly popular school in the West is Secular Buddhism which rejects all metaphysical aspects of the belief system to focus on self-improvement for its own sake. Secular Buddhism recognizes the Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path but on purely practical and psychological levels. There are no saints, no Bodhisattvas, no Buddha Realms, no concept of reincarnation to be considered. One engages in the discipline as set down by the Buddha in order to become a better version of one’s self and, when one dies, one no longer exists. There is no concept of a reward after death; one’s efforts in being the best person one can be in life is considered its own reward.
It is actually impossible to tell which, if any, of these schools is closest to the original vision of the Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, himself, wrote nothing down but instead – like many great spiritual figures throughout history whose followers then founded a religion in their name – lived his beliefs and tried to help others in their struggles. Since the earliest Buddhist texts were written centuries after the Buddha lived, and in an era when the events of a famous person’s life were regularly embellished upon, it is unknown whether his so-called “biography” is accurate nor even the dates between which he is said to have lived.
However that may be, and whoever he was, the Buddha established a belief system which attracts over 500 million adherents in the present day and has, for centuries, offered people a path toward peace of mind and inspiration to help others. The Buddhist belief in the sanctity of all life – no matter which school one attaches one’s self to – promotes care for other human beings, animals, and the earth in an effort to end suffering and offer transformative possibilities. In this respect, each school works toward goals that Buddha himself would approve of and differences in how those goals are reached are ultimately irrelevant
The theory of evolution, as presented by Charles Darwin and others, was a controversial concept in many quarters, even into the 20th century.
Concerted anti-evolutionist efforts in Tennessee succeeded when in 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives was offered a bill by John W. Butler making teaching evolution a misdemeanor. The so-called Butler Act was passed six days later almost unanimously with no amendments.
When the ACLU received news of the bill’s passage, it immediately sent out a press release offering to challenge the Butler Act.
What became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial began as a publicity stunt for the town of Dayton, Tennessee.
A local businessman met with the school superintendent and a lawyer to discuss using the ACLU offer to get newspapers to write about the town. The group asked if high school science teacher John Scopes would admit to teaching evolution for the purposes of prosecution.
Scopes wasn’t clear on whether he had precisely taught the subject, but was sure he’d used materials that included evolution. Scopes taught physics and math, and while he said he accepted evolution, he didn’t teach biology.
It was announced to newspapers the next day that Scopes had been charged with violating the Butler Act, and the town wired the ACLU to procure its services. The Tennessee press roundly criticized the town, accusing it of staging a trial for publicity.
William Jennings Bryan
A preliminary hearing on May 9, 1925, officially held Scopes for trial by the grand jury, though released him and didn’t require him to post bond.
Three-time presidential nominee William Jennings Bryanvolunteered to present for the prosecution. The politician was already well-known as an anti-evolution activist, almost single-handedly creating the national controversy over the teaching of evolution and making his name inseparable from the issue.
Author H.G. Wells was approached early on to present the case for evolution, but he turned down the offer.
Clarence Darrow – a famous attorney who had recently acted for the defense in the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder trial – found out about the Scopes trial through journalist H.L. Mencken, who suggested Darrow should defend Scopes.
Darrow declined since he was preparing to retire, but news of Bryan’s involvement caused Darrow – who was also a leading member of the ACLU – to change his mind.
Darrow and Bryan already had a history of butting heads over evolution and the concept of taking the Bible literally, sparring in the press and public debates.
Darrow’s goal in getting involved was to debunk fundamentalist Christianity and raise awareness of a narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. It was the only time in his career he offered to give free legal aid.
Bryan and Darrow set the tone by immediately attacking each other in the press. The ACLU attempted to remove Darrow from the case, fearing they would lose control, but none of these efforts worked.
William Jennings Bryan Arrives
The grand jury met on May 9, 1925. In preparation, Scopes recruited and coached students to testify against him. Three of the seven students attending were called to testify, each showing a sketchy understanding of evolution. The case was pushed forward and a trial set for July 10.
Bryan arrived in Dayton three days before the trial, stepping off a train to the spectacle of half the town greeting him. He posed for photo opportunities and gave two public speeches, stating his intention to not only defend the anti-evolution law but to use the trial to debunk evolution entirely.
Darrow, meanwhile, arrived into Dayton the day before the trial to little fanfare.
Scopes Monkey Trial Begins
The trial day started with crowds pouring into the courthouse two hours before it was scheduled to begin, filling up the room and causing onlookers to spill into the hallways. There was applause when Bryan entered the court and further when he and Darrow shook hands.
The trial began – somewhat ironically – with a lengthy prayer. The first day saw the grand jury being reconvened and repeating testimony from Scopes’ students who had appeared in that trial and jury selection.
Outside the courthouse a circus-like atmosphere reigned, with barbecues, concessions and carnival games, though that died down as the trial was adjourned for the weekend, over which Bryan and Darrow sparred through the press and tensions mounted.
Clarence Darrow’s Speech
It was to a packed courthouse on Monday that arguments began by the defense working to establish the scientific validity of evolution, while the prosecution focused on the Butler Act as an education standard for Tennessee citizens, citing precedents.
Darrow responded by laying out the case in an aggressive way, part of a strategy related to the defense planning to waive their closing argument and preventing Bryan’s own carefully prepared closing argument.
The statement Darrow made is considered an example of his best passionate public speaking. Darrow’s chief argument was that the Butler Act promoted one particular religious view and was therefore illegal. He spoke for over two hours.
Clarence Darrow’s Plan
The trial itself began on Wednesday with opening statements. Witnesses followed, establishing that Scopes had taught evolution and zoologist Maynard M. Metcalf gave expert testimony about the science of evolution, a signal that Scopes himself would not take the stand during the trial.
Subsequent days saw prosecutors argue about the validity of using expert witnesses. This provided Bryan with the opportunity for an extended speech on the subject. Defense attorney Dudley Field Malone then countered with a speech of his own and received a thunderous standing ovation.
The next day, the judge ruled that any experts on the stands could be cross-examined. That night, Darrow quietly prepared to call Bryan as an expert witness on the Bible.
William Jennings Bryan on the Stand
Calling Bryan to the stand was a shock for the court. Darrow interrogated him on interpreting the Bible literally, which undercut his earlier sweeping religious speeches. It also cornered him into admitting that he didn’t know much about science since the Bible didn’t provide any answers.
When the judge ruled Bryan’s testimony be taken from the record, Darrow suggested that to save time his client should be found guilty. This prevented Bryan from making a closing statement.
The jury took nine minutes to pronounce Scopes guilty. He was fined $100.
After the Scopes Trial
After the trial, Bryan immediately began to prepare his unused closing statement as a speech for his rallies. He never got to use that speech, since he died in his sleep in Dayton the following Sunday.
Scopes was offered a new teaching contract but chose to leave Dayton and study geology at the University of Chicago graduate school. He eventually became a petroleum engineer.
Supporters of both sides claimed victory following the trial, but the Butler Act was upheld, and the anti-evolution movement continued.
Mississippi passed a similar law months later, and in 1925 Texasbanned the theory of evolution from high school textbooks. Twenty-two other states made similar efforts but were defeated.
The controversy over the teaching of science and evolution has continued into the 21st century. In 2005, the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District battled over the constitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” in Pennsylvania schools alongside evolution.
The court ruled against intelligent design – now largely discredited as a pseudoscience – as a legitimate topic suitable for education.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t just one Buddha; it is 200 or so faces decorating the towers of the Bayon, a temple in Cambodia very near the famous Angkor Wat. The Bayon probably was constructed at the end of the 12th century.
Although the faces are often assumed to be of the Buddha, they may have been intended to represent Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Scholars believe they were all made in the likeness of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), the Khmer monarch who built the Angkor Thom temple complex that contains the Bayon temple and the many faces.
2. The Standing Buddha of Gandhara
This exquisite Buddha was found near modern-day Peshawar, Pakistan. In ancient times, much of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan was a Buddhist kingdom called Gandhara. Gandhara is remembered today for its art, particularly while being ruled by the Kushan Dynasty, from the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE. The first depictions of the Buddha in human form were made by the artists of Kushan Gandhara.
This Buddha was sculpted in the 2nd or 3rd century CE and today is in the Tokyo National Museum. The style of the sculpture is sometimes described as Greek, but the Tokyo National Museum insists it is Roman.
3. A Head of Buddha from Afghanistan
This head, believed to represent Shakyamuni Buddha, was excavated from an archaeological site in Hadda, Afghanistan, which is ten kilometers south of present-day Jalalabad. It probably was made in the 4th or 5th century CE, although the style is similar to the Graeco-Roman art of earlier times.
The head now is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Museum curators say the head is made of stucco and was once painted. It’s believed the original statue was attached to a wall and was part of a narrative panel.
4. The Fasting Buddha of Pakistan
The “Fasting Buddha” is another masterpiece from ancient Gandhara that was excavated in Sikri, Pakistan, in the 19th century. It probably dates to the 2nd century CE. The sculpture was donated to the Lahore Museum of Pakistan in 1894, where it is still displayed.
Strictly speaking, the statue should be called the “Fasting Bodhisattva” or the “Fasting Siddhartha,” since it portrays an event that took place before the Buddha’s enlightenment. On his spiritual quest, Siddhartha Gautama tried many aesthetic practices, including starving himself until he resembled a living skeleton. Eventually, he realized that mental cultivation and insight, not bodily deprivation, would lead to enlightenment.
5. The Tree Root Buddha of Ayuthaya
This quirky Buddha appears to be growing from tree roots. This stone head is near a 14th-century temple called Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, which was once the capital of Siam, and is now in Thailand. In 1767 a Burmese army attacked Ayutthaya and reduced much of it to ruins, including the temple. Burmese soldier vandalized the temple by cutting off the heads of the Buddhas.
The temple was abandoned until the 1950s when the government of Thailandbegan to restore it. This head was discovered outside the temple grounds, tree roots growing around it.
Another View of the Tree Root Buddha
The tree root Buddha sometimes called the Ayuthaya Buddha, is a popular subject of Thai postcards and travel guidebooks. It is such a popular tourist attraction it must be watched by a guard, to prevent visitors from touching it.
6. The Longmen Grottoes Vairocana
The Longmen Grottoes of Henan Province, China, are a formation of limestone rock carved into tens of thousands of statues over a period of many centuries, beginning about 493 CE. The large (17.14 meters) Vairocana Buddha that dominates the Fengxian Cave was carved in the 7th century. It is regarded to this day as one of the most beautiful representations of Chinese Buddhist art. To get an idea of the size of the figures, find the man in the blue jacket beneath them.
Face of the Longmen Grottoes Vairocana Buddha
Here is a closer look at the face of the Longmen Grottoes Vairocana Buddha. This section of the grottoes was carved during the life of the Empress Wu Zetian (625-705 CE). An inscription at the base of the Vairocana honors the Empress, and it is said that the face of the Empress served as the model for the face of Vairocana.
7. The Giant Leshan Buddha
He’s not the most beautiful Buddha, but the giant Maitreya Buddha of Leshan, China, does make an impression. He’s held the record for world’s largest seated stone Buddha for more than 13 centuries. He is 233 feet (about 71 meters) tall. His shoulders are about 92 feet (28 meters) wide. His fingers are 11 feet (3 meters) long.
The giant Buddha sits at the confluence of three rivers — the Dadu, Qingyi, and Minjiang. According to legend, a monk named Hai Tong decided to erect a Buddha to placate water spirits that were causing boat accidents. Hai Tong begged for 20 years to raise the money to carve the Buddha. Work began in 713 CE and was completed in 803 CE.
8. The Seated Buddha of Gal Vihara
Gal Vihara is a rock temple in north-central Sri Lanka that was built in the 12th century. Although it has fallen into ruin, Gal Vihara today is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims. The dominant feature is a giant granite block, from which four images of the Buddha were carved. Archaeologists say the four figures were originally covered in gold. The seated Buddha in the photograph is over 15 feet tall.
9. The Kamakura Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura
He isn’t the biggest Buddha in Japan or the oldest, but the Daibutsu — Great Buddha — of Kamakura has long been the most iconic Buddha in Japan. Japanese artists and poets have celebrated this Buddha for centuries; Rudyard Kipling also made the Kamakura Daibutsu the subject of a poem, and the American artist John La Farge painted a popular watercolor of the Daibutsu in 1887 that introduced him to the West.
The bronze statue, believed to have been made in 1252, depicts Amitabha Buddha, called Amida Butsu in Japan.
10. The Tian Tan Buddha
The tenth Buddha in our list is the only modern one. The Tian Tan Buddha of Hong Kong was completed in 1993. But he’s quickly turning into one of the most photographed Buddhas in the world. The Tian Tan Buddha is 110 feet (34 meters) tall and weighs 250 metric tons (280 short tons). It is located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. The statue is called the “Tian Tan” because its base is a replica of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
The Tian Tan Buddha’s right hand is raised to remove affliction. His left hand rests on his knee, representing happiness. It is said that on a clear day the Tian Tan Buddha can be seen as far away as Macau, which is 40 miles west of Hong Kong.
He’s no rival in size to the stone Leshan Buddha, but the Tian Tan Buddha is the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha in the world. The massive statue took ten years to cast.
O’Brien, Barbara. “Ten Famous Buddhas: Where They Came From; What They Represent.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/famous-buddhas-where-they-came-from-what-they-represent-449986.
Padmasambhava was an 8th-century master of Buddhist tantra who is credited with bringing Vajrayana to Tibet and Bhutan. He is revered today as one of the great patriarchs of Tibetan Buddhism and the founder of the Nyinmapa school as well as the builder of Tibet’s first monastery.
In Tibetan iconography, he is the embodiment of the dharmakaya. He is sometimes called “Guru Rinpoche,” or precious guru.
Padmasambhava may have been from Uddiyana, which was situated in what is now the Swat Valley of northern Pakistan. He was brought to Tibet during the reign of the Emperor Trisong Detsen, (742 to 797). He is associated with the building of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye Gompa.
The historical narrative of Padmasambhava’s life begins with another Buddhist master named Shantarakshita. Shantarakshita came from Nepal at the invitation of Emperor Trisong Detsen, who was interested in Buddhism.
Unfortunately, Tibetans worried that Shantarakshita practiced black magic and he was kept in detention for a few months. Further, no one spoke his language. Months passed before a translator was found.
Eventually, Shantarakshita gained the Emperor’s trust and was allowed to teach. Some time after that, the Emperor announced plans to build a grand monastery. But a series of natural disasters — flooded temples, castles struck by lightning — stirred Tibetans’ fears that their local gods were angry about the plans for the temple. The Emperor sent Shantarakshita back to Nepal.
Some time passed and the disasters were forgotten. The Emperor asked Shantarakshita to return. But this time Shantarakshita brought another guru with him — Padmasambhava, who was a master of rituals to tame demons.
Early accounts say Padmasambhava divined which demons were causing the problems, and one by one he called them forth by name. He threatened each demon, and Shantarakshita — through a translator — taught them about karma. When he was finished, Padmasambhava informed the Emperor that building of his monastery could begin.
However, Padmasambhava was still viewed with suspicion by many at Trisong Detsen’s court. Rumors circulated that he would use magic to seize power and depose the Emperor. Eventually, the Emperor was worried enough that he suggested Padmasambhava might leave Tibet.
Padmasambhava was angry but agreed to leave. The Emperor was still worried, so he sent archers after Padmasambhava to put an end to him. Legends say Padmasambhava used magic to freeze his assassins and so escaped.
In Tibetan Mythology
As time passed, Padmasambhava’s legend grew. The full account of Padmasambhava’s iconic and mythological role in Tibetan Buddhism would fill volumes, and there are stories and legends about him beyond counting. Here is a very abridged version of Padmasambhava’s mythic story.
Padmasambhava — whose name means “born of the lotus” — was born at the age of eight from a flowering lotus in Dhanakosha lake in Uddiyana. He was adopted by the king of Uddiyana. In adulthood, he was driven from Uddiyana by evil spirits.
Eventually, he came to Bodh Gaya, the place where the historical Buddharealized enlightenment and was ordained a monk. He studied at the great Buddhist university at Nalanda in India, and he was mentored by many significant teachers and spiritual guides.
He went to the Cima Valley and became the disciple of a great yogi named Sri Simha, and received tantric empowerments and teachings. Then he went to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, where he lived in a cave with the first of his consorts, Mandarava (also called Sukhavati). While there, the couple received texts on Vajrakilaya, an important tantric practice. Through Vajrakilaya, Padmasambhava and Mandarava realized great enlightenment.
Padmasambhava became a renowned teacher. On many occasions, he performed miracles that brought demons under control. This ability eventually took him to Tibet to cleanse the site of the Emperor’s monastery from demons. The demons — the gods of indigenous Tibetan religion — were converted to Buddhism and became dharmapalas, or protectors of the dharma.
Once the demons were pacified, the building of Tibet’s first monastery could be completed. The first monks of this monastery, Samye, were the first monks of Nyingmapa Buddhism.
Padmasambhava returned to Nepal, but seven years later he came back to Tibet. Emperor Trisong Detsen was so overjoyed to see him that he offered Padmasambhava all the wealth of Tibet. The tantric master refused these gifts. But he did accept a lady from the Emperor’s harem, the princess Yeshe Tsogyal, as his second consort, provided the princess accepted the relationship of her free will.
Together with Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava hid a number of mystic texts (terma) in Tibet and elsewhere. Terma are found when disciples are ready to understand them. One terma is the Bardo Thodol, known in English as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead.”
Yeshe Tsogyal became Padmasambhava’s dharma heir, and she transmitted the Dzogchen teachings to her disciples. Padmasambhava had three other consorts and the five women are called the Five Wisdom Dakinis.
The year after Tri-song Detsan died, Padmasambhava left Tibet for the last time. He dwells in spirit in a pure Buddha-field, Akanishta.
In Tibetan art, Padmasambhava is depicted in eight aspects:
Pema Gyalpo (Padmaraja) of Uddiyana, the Lotus Prince. He is depicted as a young prince.
Lo-den Chokse (Sthiramati) of Kashmir, the Intelligent Youth, beats a drum and holds a skull bowl.
Sakya-seng-ge (Bhikshu Sakyasimha) of Bodh Gaya, Lion of the Sakyas, is portrayed as an ordained monk.
Nyima O-zer (Suryabhasa) of Cina, the Sunray Yogi, wears only a loincloth and holds a trident pointing to the sun.
Seng-ge Dra-dok (Vadisimha) of Nalanda University, the Lion of Debate. He is usually dark blue and holds a dorje in one hand and a scorpion in the other.
Pema Jung-ne (Padmasambhava) of Zahor, the Lotus-born, wears monks’ robes and holds a skull bowl.
Pemakara of Tibet, Lotus-creator, sits on a lotus, wearing Tibetan monk’s robes and Tibetan boots. He holds a vajra in his right hand and a skull bowl in his left. He has a trident staff and a Nepalese cloth crown.
Dorje Dro-lo of Bhutan is a wrathful manifestation known as “Diamond Guts.”
O’Brien, Barbara. “Padmasambhava the Precious Guru of Tibetan Buddhism.” Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/padmasambhava-450201.
The history of Buddhism in Tibet begins with Bon. The Bon religion of Tibet was animistic and shamanistic, and elements of it live on today, to one degree or another, in Tibetan Buddhism.
Although Buddhist scriptures may have made their way into Tibet centuries earlier, the history of Buddhism in Tibet effectively begins in 641 CE. In that year, King Songtsen Gampo (d. ca. 650) unified Tibet through military conquest and took two Buddhist wives, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of China. The princesses are credited with introducing their husband to Buddhism.
Songtsen Gampo built the first Buddhist temples in Tibet, including the Jokhang in Lhasa and the Changzhug in Nedong. He also put Tibetan translators to work on the Sanskrit scriptures.
Guru Rinpoche and Nyingma
During the reign of King Trisong Detsen, which began about 755 CE, Buddhism became the official religion of the Tibetan people. The King also invited famous Buddhist teachers such as Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava to Tibet.
Padmasambhava, remembered by Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche (“Precious Master”), was an Indian master of tantra whose influence on the development of Tibetan Buddhism is incalculable. He is credited with building Samye, the first monastery in Tibet, in the late 8th century. Nyingma, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, claims Guru Rinpoche as its patriarch.
According to legend, when Guru Rinpoche arrived in Tibet he pacified the Bon demons and made them protectors of the Dharma.
In 836 King Tri Ralpachen, a supporter of Buddhism died. His half brother Langdarma became the new King of Tibet. Langdarma suppressed Buddhism and re-established Bon as the official religion of Tibet. In 842, Langdarma was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. Rule of Tibet was divided between Langdarma’s two sons. However, in the centuries that followed Tibet disintegrated into many small kingdoms.
While Tibet was plunged into chaos, there were developments in India that would be keenly important to Tibetan Buddhism. The Indian sage Tilopa (989-1069) developed a system of meditation and practice called Mahamudra. Mahamudra is, very simply, a methodology for understanding the intimate relation between mind and reality.
Tilopa transmitted the teachings of Mahamudra to his disciple, another Indian sage named Naropa (1016-1100).
Marpa and Milarepa
Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1012-1097) was a Tibetan who traveled to India and studied with Naropa. After years of study, Marpa was declared a dharma heir of Naropa. He returned to Tibet, bringing with him Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit that Marpa translated into Tibetan. Hence, is he called “Marpa the Translator.”
Marpa’s most famous student was Milarepa (1040-1123), who is remembered especially for his beautiful songs and poems.
One of Milarepa’s students, Gampopa (1079-1153), founded the Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Second Dissemination
The great Indian scholar Dipamkara Shrijnana Atisha (ca. 980-1052) came to Tibet by invitation of King Jangchubwo. At the request of the King, Atisha wrote a book for the king’s subjects called Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-ma, or “Lamp to the Path of Enlightenment.”
Although Tibet was still politically fragmented, Atisha’s arrival in Tibet in 1042 marked the beginning of what is called the “Second Dissemination” of Buddhism in Tibet. Through Atisha’s teachings and writings, Buddhism once again became the main religion of the people of Tibet.
Sakyas and Mongols
In 1073, Khon Konchok Gyelpo (1034-l 102) built Sakya Monastery in southern Tibet. His son and successor, Sakya Kunga Nyingpo, founded the Sakya sect, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1207, Mongol armies invaded and occupied Tibet. In 1244, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltsen (1182-1251), a Sakya master was invited to Mongolia by Godan Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. Through Sakya Pandita’s teachings, Godon Khan became a Buddhist. In 1249, Sakya Pandita was appointed Viceroy of Tibet by the Mongols.
In 1253, Phagba (1235-1280) succeeded Sakya Pandita at the Mongol court. Phagba became a religious teacher to Godan Khan’s famous successor, Kublai Khan. In 1260, Kublai Khan named Phagpa the Imperial Preceptor of Tibet. Tibet would be ruled by a succession of Sakya lamas until 1358 when central Tibet came under control of the Kagyu sect.
The Fourth School: Gelug
The last of the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelug school, was founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), one of Tibet’s greatest scholars. The first Gelug monastery, Ganden, was founded by Tsongkhapa in 1409.
The third head lama of the Gelug school, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) converted the Mongol leader Altan Khan to Buddhism. It is commonly believed that Altan Khan originated the title Dalai Lama, meaning “Ocean of Wisdom,” in 1578 to give to Sonam Gyatso. Others point out that since gyatso is Tibetan for “ocean,” the title “Dalai Lama” simply might have been a Mongol translation of Sonam Gyatso’s name—Lama Gyatso.
In any event, “Dalai Lama” became the title of the highest-ranking lama of the Gelug school. Since Sonam Gyatso was the third lama in that lineage, he became the 3rd Dalai Lama. The first two Dalai Lamas received the title posthumously.
It was the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), who first became ruler of all Tibet. The “Great Fifth” formed a military alliance with the Mongol leader Gushri Khan. When two other Mongol chiefs and the ruler of Kang, an ancient kingdom of central Asia, invaded Tibet, Gushri Khan routed them and declared himself king of Tibet. In 1642, Gushri Khan recognized the 5th Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet.
The succeeding Dalai Lamas and their regents remained the chief administrators of Tibet until the invasion of Tibet by China in 1950 and the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959.
O’Brien, Barbara. “How Buddhism Came to Tibet.” Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/how-buddhism-came-to-tibet-450177.
Any history of Buddhism must begin with the life of the historical Buddha, who lived and taught in Nepal and India 25 centuries ago. This article is the next part of the history — what happened to Buddhism after the Buddha’s death, about 483 BCE.
This next chapter of Buddhist history begins with the Buddha’s disciples. The Buddha had many lay followers, but most of his disciples were ordained monks and nuns. These monks and nuns did not live in monasteries. Instead, they were homeless, wandering through forests and villages, begging for food, sleeping under the trees. The only possessions monks were allowed to keep were three robes, one alms bowl, one razor, one needle, and one water strainer.
The robes had to be made from discarded cloth. It was a common practice to use spices such as turmeric and saffron to dye the cloth to make it more presentable — and possibly smell better. To this day, Buddhist monks’ robes are called “saffron robes” and are often (although not always) orange, the color of saffron.
Preserving the Teachings: The First Buddhist Council
When the Buddha died, the monk who became a leader of the sangha was named Mahakashyapa. The early Pali texts tell us that, shortly after the Buddha’s death, Mahakashyapa called a meeting of 500 monks to discuss what to do next. This meeting came to be called the First Buddhist Council.
The questions at hand were: How would the Buddha’s teachings be preserved? And by what rules would the monks live? Monks recited and reviewed the Buddha’s sermons and his rules for monks and nuns, and agreed which were authentic.
According to historian Karen Armstrong (Buddha, 2001), about 50 years after the Buddha’s death, monks in the eastern part of North India began to collect and order the texts in a more systematic way. The sermons and rules were not written down but had been preserved by memorizing and reciting them. The Buddha’s words were set in verse, and in lists, to make them easier to memorize. Then the texts were grouped into sections, and monks were assigned what part of the canon they would memorize for the future.
Sectarian Divisions: The Second Buddhist Council
By about a century after the Buddha’s death, sectarian divisions were forming in the sangha. Some early texts refer to “eighteen schools,” which did not appear to be markedly different from one another. Monks of different schools often lived and studied together.
The biggest rifts formed around questions of monastic discipline and authority. Among the distinctive factions were these two schools:
Sthaviravada: “Sthaviravada” is Sanskrit for “the Way of the Elders.” The Sthaviavada school was conservative, adhering closely to the teachings and rules of the Pali Canon. The school lives today in parts of Asia by its Pali name, Theravada.
Mahasanghika: This school probably is a forerunner of Mahayana Buddhism. Mahasanghika developed the idea of the transcendent nature of a Buddha, the ideal of the bodhisattva, and the doctrine of shunyata, or “emptiness.” This school advocated a somewhat more liberal approach to the monastic rules.
A Second Buddhist Council was called about 386 BCE in an attempt to unify the sangha, but sectarian fissures continued to form.
The Emperor Ashoka
Ashoka (ca. 304–232 BCE; sometimes spelled Asoka) was a warrior-prince of India known for his ruthlessness. According to legend, he was first exposed to Buddhist teaching when some monks cared for him after he was wounded in battle. One of his wives, Devi, was a Buddhist. However, he was still a cruel and brutal conqueror until the day he walked into a city he had just conquered and saw the devastation. “What have I done?” he cried and vowed to observe the Buddhist path for himself and for his kingdom.
Ashoka came to be the ruler of most of the Indian subcontinent. He erected pillars throughout his empire inscribed with the Buddha’s teachings. According to legend, he opened seven of the original eight stupas of the Buddha, further divided the Buddha’s relics, and erected 84,000 stupas in which to enshrine them. He was a tireless supporter of the monastic sangha and supported missions to spread the teachings beyond India, in particular into present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. Ashoka’s patronage made Buddhism one of the major religions of Asia.
The Two Third Councils
By the time of Ashoka’s reign, the rift between Sthaviravada and Mahasanghika had grown large enough that the history of Buddhism splits into two very different versions of the Third Buddhist Council.
The Mahasanghika version of the Third Council was called to determine the nature of an Arhat. An arhat (Sanskrit) or arahant (Pali) is a person who has realized enlightenment and may enter Nirvana. In the Sthaviravada school, an arhat is the ideal of Buddhist practice.
A monk named Mahadeva proposed that an arhat is still subject to temptation, ignorance, and doubt, and still benefits from teaching and practice. These propositions were adopted by the Mahasanghika school but rejected by Sthaviravada.
In the Sthaviravada version of history, the Third Buddhist Council was called by Emperor Ashoka about 244 BCE to stop the spread of heresies. After this Council completed its work the monk Mahinda, thought to be a son of Ashoka, took the body of doctrine agreed upon by the Council into Sri Lanka, where it flourished. The Theravada school that exists today grew from this Sri Lankan lineage.
One More Council
The Fourth Buddhist Council probably was a synod of the emerging Theravada school, although there are multiple versions of this history, also. According to some versions, it was at this council, held in Sri Lanka in the 1st century BCE, that the final version of the Pali Canon was put in writing for the first time. Other accounts say the Canon was written down a few years later.
The Emergence of Mahayana
It was during the 1st century BCE that Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a distinctive school. Mahayana possibly was an offspring of Mahasanghika, but there probably were other influences also. The important point is that Mahayana views didn’t happen for the first time in the 1st century, but had been evolving for a long time.
During the 1st century BCE The name Mahayana, or “great vehicle,” was established to distinguish this divergent school from Theravada/Sthaviravada school. Theravada was derided as “Hinayana,” or the “lesser vehicle.” The names point to the distinction between Theravada’s emphasis on individual enlightenment and the Mahayana ideal of the enlightenment of all beings. The name “Hinayana” is generally considered to be a pejorative.
Today, Theravada and Mahayana remain the two primary doctrinal divisions of Buddhism. Theravada for centuries has been the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. Mahayana is dominant in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, India, and Vietnam.
Buddhism at the Beginning of the Common Era
By the year 1 CE, Buddhism was a major religion in India and had been established in Sri Lanka. Buddhist communities also flourished as far west as present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Buddhism had divided into Mahayana and Theravada schools. By now some monastic sanghas were living in permanent communities or monasteries.
The Pali Canon was preserved in written form. It is possible some of the Mahayana sutras were written or being written, at the beginning of the 1st millennium, although some historians put the composition of most of the Mahayana sutras in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.
About 1 CE, Buddhism began a vital new part of its history when Buddhist monks from India took the dharma to China. However, it would yet be many centuries before Buddhism reached Tibet, Korea, and Japan.
O’Brien, Barbara. “Early Buddhist History: The First Five Centuries.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/early-buddhist-history-the-first-five-centuries-449898.
We do not know how many monks and nuns were ordained by the Buddha during his lifetime. The early accounts sometimes describe monks and nuns by the thousands, but that is possibly exaggerated.
Of these unknown numbers some outstanding individuals emerge. These are individuals who contributed to the development of Buddhism and whose names one finds in the sutras. Through their life stories we can get at least a glimpse of the first generation of men and women who chose to follow the Buddha and practice his teaching.
Ananda was the historical Buddha‘s cousin and also his attendant during the latter part of his life. Ananda is also remembered as the disciple who recited the Buddha’s sermons from memory at the First Buddhist Council, after the Buddha had died.
According to a possibly apocryphal story in the Pali Tipitika, Ananda persuaded a reluctant Buddha to accept women as his disciples.
Anathapindika was a wealthy lay disciple and benefactor of the Buddha. His generosity to the poor earned him his name, which means “feeder of the orphans or helpless.”
The Buddha and his disciples traveled for most of the year, but they stayed indoors in seclusion during the summer monsoon season. With the Buddha’s permission, Anathapindika purchased a property that would be called the Jeta Grove. He then built a meeting hall, dining hall, sleeping cells, wells, lotus ponds, and whatever else the monks might need during their solitary rains retreats. This was the first Buddhist monastery.
Today, readers of the sutras may notice that the Buddha delivered many of his discourses “in the Jeta Grove, in Anathapindika’s Monastery.”null
Devadatta was a kinsman of the Buddha who became a disciple. According to some traditions, Devadatta became consumed with jealousy of the Buddha. After receiving a particularly harsh rebuke from the Buddha, Devadatta plotted to have the Buddha assassinated.
When his plots failed, he split the sangha by persuading many younger monks to follow him instead of the Buddha. The monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were able to persuade the wayward monks to return.null
Some of the early sutras of Buddhism are about enlightened women who teach men. In Dhammadinna’s story, the man was the enlightened woman’s ex-husband. The Buddha praised Dhammadinna as “a woman of discerning wisdom.
Queen Khema was a great beauty who became a nun and one of the chief women disciples of the Buddha. In the Khema Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 44), this enlightened nun gives a dharma lesson to a king.
After the historical Buddha died, Mahakasyapa assumed a leadership position among the Buddha’s surviving monks and nuns. He convened and presided over the First Buddhist Council. For this reason, he is called the “father of the sangha.” He is also a patriarch of Chan (Zen).
Maudgalyayana was a lifelong friend of Sariputra; the two entered the order together. The Buddha’s instructions to Maudgalyayana as he struggled with his early practice have been valued by the many generations.
Pajapati is credited with being the first Buddhist nun. She is often called Mahapajapati.
Pajapati was the Buddha’s aunt who raised the young Prince Siddhartha as her own child after the death of his mother, Queen Maya. After the Buddha’s enlightenment she and many of her court ladies shaved their heads, dressed in patched mendicants’ robes, and walked many miles barefoot to find the Buddha and ask to be ordained. In a section of the Pali Tipitika that remains controversial, the Buddha refused the request until persuaded to change his mind by Ananda.
Patacara was a nun who overcame unimaginable grief to realize enlightenment and become a leading disciple. Some of her poems are preserved in a section of the Sutta-pitaka called the Therigatha, or Verses of the Elder Nuns, in the Khuddaka Nikaya.
Punnika was a slave who, by chance, heard a sermon of the Buddha. In a famous story recorded in the Pali Sutta-pitaka, she inspired a Brahmin to seek out the Buddha. In time she became a nun and realized enlightenment.
Rahula was the historical Buddha’s only child, born shortly before the Buddha left his life as a prince to seek enlightenment. It is said Rahula was ordained a monk while still a child and realized enlightenment at the age of 18.
It was said Sariputra was second only to the Buddha in his ability to teach. He is credited with mastering and codifying the Buddha’s Abhidharma teachings, which became the third “basket” of the Tripitika.
Upali was a low-caste barber who met the Buddha when he was called upon to cut the Buddha’s hair. He came to the Buddha to ask to be ordained with a group of the Buddha’s high-born kinsmen. The Buddha insisted on ordaining Upali first so that he would be their senior, and superior, in the order.
Upali became known for his faithful devotion to the Precepts and his understanding of the rules of the monastic order. He was called upon to recite the rules from memory at the First Buddhist Council, and this recitation became the basis of the Vinaya.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Historical Buddha’s Disciples.” Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/first-generation-of-buddhas-disciples-449657.
Of all the principal disciples, Ananda may have had the closest relationship to the historical Buddha. Particularly in the Buddha’s later years, Ananda was his attendant and closest companion. Ananda also is remembered as the disciple who recited the Buddha’s sermons from memory at the First Buddhist Council, after the Buddha had died.null
What do we know about Ananda? It is widely agreed that Buddha and Ananda were first cousins. Ananda’s father was a brother to King Suddhodana, many sources say. It is thought that when the Buddha returned home to Kapilavastu for the first time after his enlightenment, cousin Ananda heard him speak and became his disciple.null
Beyond that, there are several conflicting stories. According to some traditions, the future Buddha and his disciple Ananda were born on the same day and were exactly the same age. Other traditions say Ananda was still a child, maybe seven years old, when he entered the Sangha, which would have made him at least thirty years younger than the Buddha. Ananda survived the Buddha and most of the other principal disciples, which suggests that the latter version of the story is more probable.
Ananda was said to be a modest, quiet man who was completely devoted to the Buddha. He also was said to have a prodigious memory; he could recite every sermon of the Buddha-word for word after hearing it only once. Ananda is credited with persuading the Buddha to ordain women into the Sangha, according to one famous story. However, he was slower than other disciples to realize enlightenment and did so only after the Buddha had died.
The Buddha’s Attendant
When the Buddha was 55 years old, he told the sangha he needed a new attendant. The attendant’s job was a combination of servant, secretary, and confidant. He took care of “chores” such as washing and mending robes so that the Buddha could focus on teaching. He also relayed messages and sometimes acted as a gatekeeper, so that the Buddha would not be mobbed by too many visitors at once.
Many monks spoke up and nominated themselves for the job. Characteristically, Ananda remained quiet. When the Buddha asked his cousin to accept the job, however, Ananda accepted only with conditions. He asked that the Buddha never giver him food or robes or any special accommodations so that the position did not come with material gain.
Ananda also requested the privilege of discussing his doubts with the Buddha whenever he had them. And he asked that the Buddha repeat any sermons to him that he might have to miss while carrying out his duties. The Buddha agreed to these conditions, and Ananda served as attendant for the remaining 25 years of the Buddha’s life.
The Ordination of Pajapati
The story of the ordination of the first Buddhist nuns is one of the most controversial sections of the Pali Canon. This story has Ananda pleading with a reluctant Buddha to ordain his stepmother and aunt, Pajapati, and the women who had walked with her to become the Buddha’s disciples.
The Buddha eventually agreed that women can become enlightened as well as men, and could be ordained. But he also predicted that the inclusion of women would be the undoing of the sangha.
Some modern scholars have argued that if Ananda really was more than thirty years younger than the Buddha, he would still have been a child when Pajapati approached the Buddha for ordination. This suggests the story was added, or at least re-written, a long time later, by someone who didn’t approve of nuns. Still, Ananda is credited with advocating for the right of women to be ordained.
One of the most poignant texts of the Pali Sutta-pitaka is the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, which describes the last days, death, and parinirvana of the Buddha. Again and again, in this sutta we see the Buddha addressing Ananda, testing him, giving him his final teachings and comfort. And as monks gather around him to witnesses his passing into Nirvana, the Buddha spoke in praise of Ananda—”Bhikkhus [monks], the Blessed Ones, Arahants, Fully Enlightened Ones of times past also had excellent and devoted attendant bhikkhus [monks], such as I have in Ananda.”
Enlightenment and the First Buddhist Council
After the Buddha had passed, 500 enlightened monks came together to discuss how their master’s teachings might be preserved. None of the Buddha’s sermons had been written down. Ananda’s memory of the sermons was respected, but he had not yet realized enlightenment. Would he be allowed to attend?
The Buddha’s death had relieved Ananda of many duties, and he now dedicated himself to meditation. The evening before the Council was to begin, Ananda realized enlightenment. He attended the Council and was called upon to recite the Buddha’s sermons.
Over the next several months he recited, and the assembly agreed to commit the sermons to memory also and preserve the teachings through oral recitation. Ananda came to be called “The Keeper of the Dharma Store.”
It is said Ananda lived to be more than 100 years old. In the 5th century CE, a Chinese pilgrim reported finding a stupa holding Ananda’s remains, lovingly attended by nun. His life remains a model of the path of devotion and service.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Life of Ananda, Buddha’s Disciple and Attendant.” Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/life-of-ananda-449647.
When many Westerners think of “Buddha,” usually they don’t visualize the Buddha of history, meditating or teaching. This “true” Buddha is known more completely as Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha and is almost always depicted in deep meditation or contemplation. The image is very often of a very thin individual with a serious though the sublimely peaceful expression on his face.
The Laughing Buddha
Most Westerners, though, think of a fat, bald, jolly character called “The Laughing Buddha” when they think of the Buddha. Just where did this figure come from?
The Laughing Buddha emerged from Chinese folktales of the 10th century. The original stories of the Laughing Buddha centered on a Ch’an monk named Ch’i-t’zu, or Qieci, from Fenghua, in what is now the province of Zhejiang. Ch’i-t’zu was an eccentric but much-loved character who worked small wonders, such as predicting the weather. Chinese history assigned the date of 907-923 CE to Ch’t’zu’s life, which means he lived considerably later than the historical Shakyamuni, the true Buddha.
According to tradition, just before Ch’i-t’zu died, he revealed himself to be an incarnation of Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya is named in the Tripitaka as the Buddha of a future age. Ch’i-t’zu’s last words were:
Maitreya, true Maitreya Reborn innumerable times From time to time manifested among men The men of the age do not recognize him.
Pu-tai, Protector of Children
The tales of Ch’i-t’zu spread throughout China, and he came to be called Pu-tai (Budai), which means “hempen sack.” He carries a sack with him full of good things, such as sweets for children, and he is often pictured with children. Pu-tai represents happiness, generosity and wealth, and he is a protector of children as well as of the poor and the weak.
Today, a statue of Pu-tai can often be found near the entrance of Chinese Buddhist temples. The tradition of rubbing Pu-tai’s belly for good luck is a folk practice, however, not a genuine Buddhist teaching. It is indicative of Buddhism’s broad tolerance of diversity that this laughing Buddha of folklore is accepted into the official practice. For Buddhists, any quality that represents Buddha-nature is to be encouraged, and the folklore of the kind, laughing Buddha is not regarded as any kind of sacrilege, even though people unwittingly may confuse him with Shakyamuni Buddha.
An Ideal Enlightened Master
Pu-tai also is associated with the last panel of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures. These are 10 images that represent stages of enlightenment in Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. The last panel shows an enlightened master who enters towns and marketplaces to give to ordinary people the blessings of enlightenment.
Pu-tai followed the spread of Buddhism into other parts of Asia. In Japan, he became one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Shinto and is called Hotei. He also was incorporated into Chinese Taoism as a deity of abundance.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Laughing Buddha.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/the-laughing-buddha-449784.