Amitabha Buddhist Societies
Amitabha centers offer courses that lead to an understanding of Pure Land Buddhism and its practice. The basic course teaches a set of moral principles and the practice of reciting the Amida Buddha’s name. Subsequent courses emphasize harmony and self-discipline. A final course centers upon the "universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Ten Great Vows."
The idea of the founding of an association of independent Buddhist societies dedicated to calling upon the name of the bodhisattva Amitabha was initially proposed by Xia Lian-Ju, an eminent Buddhist teacher in Taiwan. He was for a number of years the teacher of a monk later to be known as Master Chin Kung (1927- ). In the 1970s, Chin Kung began an aggressive effort of propagating Pure Land Buddhism through his lectures and classes. In 1977, he expanded his efforts beyond Taiwan and began traveling the world, primarily to those countries with a significant Chinese community. Picking up the idea of his teacher, he began founding Amitabha Buddhist Societies wherever he found response to his teachings.
The Pure Land Buddhist teachings offered at the centers are those found in the Infinite Life Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Visualization Sutra, the "Chapter of universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Conduct and Vows," the "Chapter on the Perfect and Complete Realization of Great Strength Bod-hisattva," and Vasubandhu Bodhisattva’s Report. Members are expected to live according to the Five Guidelines of the Three Conditions (which include respect for elders, taking refuge in the Buddha, not killing, and encouraging people on the path to enlightenment), the Six Principles of Harmony (for living with others), the Three Learnings (self-discipline, deep concentration, and wisdom), Six Paramitas (giving, self-discipline, patience, diligence, deep concentration, and wisdom), and the Ten Great Vows (which involve respecting all people, praising the virtues and kind practices of others, giving, repenting and reforming all the faults, rejoicing in the virtuous deeds of others, promoting the broad spread of the teachings, seeking the guidance of the societies’ teachers, holding the Buddha’s teachings in one’s heart, seeking accord with the wishes of the people around us, and dedicating the peace gained from practicing to all living beings).
Amitabha Buddhist Societies may be found across Taiwan, the united States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Amoghavajra (Pu-k’ung, Pu Kong)
(705-774) Vajrayana Buddhist teacher in China
Amoghavajra was an Indian Buddhist monk who translated key texts into Chinese and is considered the sixth patriarch of Chinese Esoteric Buddhism. Amoghavajra first traveled to Xi’an, the capital of China, in the eighth century c.e. with two prominent Vajrayana teachers, Subhakarasimha and Vajrabodhi (671-741), at the request of Emperor Xuan Zong (Hsuan Tsung) (r. 712-56). Vajrabo-dhi and Subhakarasimha learned both Confucianism and Daoism and created the unique form of Chinese Vajrayana by their synthesis of Indian and Chinese insights. Amoghavajra learned the art of translation from his two older companions.
In 741, following Vajrabodhi’s death, Emperor Xuan Zong expelled all foreign monks working in China. Amoghavajra used the opportunity to travel in India and Sri Lanka gathering additional texts before returning to China in 746 with some 500 volumes. Among his notable accomplishments in the next years was the completion of a task begun by his older colleagues, the translation of the key text of Vajrayana Buddhism, the Tattvasamgraha.
In 756 the emperor Su Zong (r. 756-62) ascended the throne. In 759 Amoghavajra formally received Su Zong as an adherent of Buddhism. Amoghavajra had already become well known as a miracle worker, especially noted for rainmaking and stilling of storms. He was put to the test in 765 when Tibetan forces threatened an invasion. He performed an elaborate ritual, and afterward the invasion stopped, ostensibly because the leader of the opposing forces suddenly dropped dead. Amoghavajra had called upon the bodhisat-tva Manjusri as China’s protector and now focused his attention on completing a temple on Mount Wutai dedicated to him.
Amoghavajra died in 774, a greatly honored personage. Among his most prominent successors were Hui Guo and Hui Lin. Hui Guo would later accompany the Japanese monk Kukai to Japan, where they would establish Shingon, the Japanese form of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Amulets are objects of worship and protection worn in many Buddhist cultures. A typical amulet is a triangular, flat Buddha image around 15 mm high that can be hung around a believer’s neck on a chain or placed in other locations where it will protect the individual from evil. Amulets are distinct from talismans, which are objects designed to accomplish a goal desired by the object’s possessor, though in practice amulets and talismans are more difficult to distinguish.
In the premodern world, amulets were often associated with spirit entities seen as freely populating the world. They were regarded as the home to spirits, and often as a protection from the actions of evil or mischievous spirits (demons). Amulets could thus protect someone from illness, injury, impotence, or various mental disorders deemed to be caused by demonic possession or obsession. Today, amulets are generally seen to be objects that contain or focus cosmic magical power, rather than being the abode of spirits or demons.
They are found everywhere in such Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia as Thailand and Kampuchea. Amulets in Thailand are often highly prized art pieces and so can be traded and sold.
The Analects is the collected sayings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 b.c.e.). It is difficult to overstate the importance of this topic in Chinese history. It stood at the core of traditional education for 2,000 years. Most scholars simply memorized the entire text, and their writings and conversations were liberally laced with quotes from Confucius as well as references to various characters, his disciples, and rulers from different states.
The ideas that permeate the Analects are the enduring themes of Confucianism: Dao, ren (humanity, benevolence), li (ritual, propriety), and xiao (filial piety). Confucius takes pains to explain the essence of these subjects. For instance, in explaining filial conduct, Confucius said "While [parents] are alive, serve them according to [the requirements of] proper ritual. After they are dead, perform burial rites as well as sacrificial rites [of remembrance] according to proper ritual" (Analects 2.5).
In addition to these enduring themes, Confucius left a hierarchy of ideal types that have served as moral standards for later generations. There is, first, the shi, a scholar-apprentice on the path (Dao) toward full realization. The realized shi will become a junzi, a "gentleman." The junzi is one whose actions are in harmony with proper ritual and Dao. His actions can be studied, but he himself requires no more instruction. An even higher category is the shengren, "a sage." The shengren is rare—Confucius did not consider himself to be one—and the junzi can only admire them from a distance.
The Analects consists of 499 short vignettes and quotes from the sage, who lived during the tumultuous later part of China’s Zhou dynasty (1122-256 b.c.e.). According to tradition, after the master’s death his disciples began to write down what they recalled of his words. Within 100 years there were 15 short books. Five more were added within another 100 years, and eventually 20 books were collected to form the Analects, the Lun Yu, or "Sayings of the Master."
More recent scholarship has revised the traditional account of the Analects’ background. Books 4-8 are now seen to be the oldest sections and were most likely compiled by Confucius’s disciples. Books 9-11 were probably prepared by the third generation of followers, and the remaining books were all written later.
Ananda the Buddha’s principal assistant during most of his 45-year teaching career Ananda, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha, was also the Buddha’s cousin. In the first of the Councils of Buddhism after the Buddha’s parinirvana (death), Ananda recited all the Buddha’s teachings by heart, a performance that was the first rendering of the Buddhist Sutras. He is said to have worked to achieve enlightenment before he was called on to recite, and he did so the night before the recital. During the recital he forgot some sections and was as a result asked to confess his faults before the assembly.
Ananda joined the Sangha along with three others near the time the Buddha visited the palace of his father, Suddhodana, in Kapilavatthu. Ananda figures prominently in several parts of the Buddhist canon. it was he who urged the Buddha to grant the requests of Mahaprajapati, the Buddha’s aunt and stepmother, to allow women to join the Sangha.
Ananda acted as the Buddha’s personal attendant for 25 years. However, he was not appointed personal attendant to the Buddha until after the Buddha had wandered for several years. Before that time various monks took turns to act as attendant. But the Buddha sensed he required a permanent helper and asked for volunteers. Ananda finally agreed to help, but under eight conditions. These conditions ranged from the authority to refuse certain things, such as an invitation, to not handling alms received by the Buddha.
Anatman, or "non-self," is one of the four characteristic doctrines of Buddhism, what are called the "Seals of the Law." "All dharmas are devoid of self" is an expression found throughout Buddhist literature. "Self" in the abstract sense indicates atman, a self that is not subject to change. Buddhism consistently rejects that there can be a permanent self. All phenomena in the world are subject to change.
In the Buddha’s teachings there is no true self. There is a conventional self, which we take on as a member of society. However, the sense of permanence that most people associate with the self has no foundation. According to Buddhism, nothing stable can be found in material reality, in the mind, in the experiences of life. What we inevitably find upon seeking a foundation for self is an unsatisfying sense of impermanence.
This concept is one of the greatest challenges for people beginning the study of Buddhism. It is particularly challenging for people from Western cultural backgrounds, given the Western emphasis on the individual as a core unit of society. Individualism validates a sense of the importance of self. When the Buddha denies this, many people react as though a cherished assumption were under threat. It need not be this way, however. The ego as constructed and maintained by each individual in this life is normal for the level of everyday reality. The point made by the Buddha is that there is no ultimate reality to this construct. Reality is not centered on the ego, or its substitute, the soul.
Angkor Wat is a temple complex, spreading over 500 acres, in Cambodia. The ruins at Angkor Wat have been designated a World Heritage Site.
During the Funan period of Southeast Asian history (third-sixth centuries c.e.) both Hindu and Buddhist traditions entered the Khmer region. The court tended to practice Hinduism, while the populace followed Buddhism. By the classical period, ninth-11th centuries, a new, syncretic religion that combined elements of both had taken shape. Angkor Wat is an expression of this blend of Hindu and Buddhist ideas.
The founder of the line of Angkor monarchs was Jayavarman II (c. 802-850), who promoted the cult of the Devaraja king. In this concept the king was not only a Cakravartin, a World-Renouncing Monarch, but also acted as the highest priestly figure. Under the later ruler Jayavarman VII (1181-1219) this concept was merged into the cult of the Buddharaja, a Buddhist-oriented king.
Angkor Wat was built during this period of the flowering of Khmer culture outside the capital of Yasodarapura by Suryavarman II (1113-45). In the complex, multiple rings of galleries surround the central temple; each ring represents a different level of spiritual cultivation. The first gallery is open, made of columns. The second gallery is closed. The third level of gallery is a portico. The inner temple, enclosed by walls, symbolizes Mt. Sumeru, which in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology sits at the center of the universe. The three rings can be interpreted to represent the levels of achievement strived for in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Although the buildings of Angkor Wat were originally constructed to promote a purely Hindu cult, not to commemorate Buddhism, the complex was almost certainly used for Buddhist worship as well as Hindu ceremonies. Carvings from Hindu mythology can still be seen, including dancers (apsaras) performing for the king, Suryavarman II.
A large range of Hindu and Mahayana deities were worshipped at Angkor. These included Garuda, the mythical bird from Hindu mythology, and Hevajra, a Vajrayana Buddhist deity. Laksmi, a Hindu deity, was also worshipped in a form very similar to that of the Buddhist Padma-pani. The Buddhas Maitreya and Prajnaparamita were also worshipped. Finally, Lokesvara, a form of Avalokitesvara, was associated with the figure of Jayavarman VII, the builder of the neighboring complex at Angkor Thom. After this king’s death most worship at Angkor Wat became Theravada.
Angkor Wat and neighboring sites are also related to the Javanese site Borobudur, because both sites used the terrace pyramid with a central temple representing Mt. Sumeru. In Angkor Wat’s case the three elements of the universe are the ocean, represented by the surrounding moat; Mt. Sumeru, the central temple; and the surrounding mountain ranges, the walls around the temple.
The Khmers abandoned the Angkor site in 1432, for reasons not yet clear. Knowledge of its existence was gradually lost. It was "rediscovered" by French explorers in 1850. Restoration began in 1860. Henri Mouhot wrote the first detailed description of the Angkor Wat complex.
Anitya is impermanence. In Buddhist theory all phenomena in existence are characterized by three things, known as the trilaksana, or "three marks," of conditioned phenomena. Impermanence is the first. From it follow suffering (dukkha) and nones-sentiality (anatman).
Anitya is thus the foundation of experience and life itself. Since all dharmas or elements of existence are characterized by sunyata, emptiness of permanent traits, we experience and know all phenomena as transitory. These impermanent phenomena include the idea of the soul or self. Realizing the impermanence of all experience is the first step on the Buddha’s path of cultivation (marga), which ultimately ends in the release of nirvana.
Annen (ninth century)
Esoteric Tendai Buddhist teacher
Annen, who helped integrate esoteric (Tantric) teachings into the Tendai tradition, began his study of Buddhism with Ennin (794-864), who initiated the process of developing Esoteric Buddhism. Annen later studied with Henjo (816890). In 884 he was appointed master of dharma transmission at Gangyo-ji monastery. He later constructed a new temple, Godai-in, on Mt. Hiei, where he would spend his last years.
Annen turned his attention to the reworking of the Tendai ordered system for classifying the Buddhist sutras and their teachings. In that system, the Lotus Sutra was seen as containing the highest teaching of Buddhism. In Annen’s reworking of the classification system, the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism were placed above the Lotus Sutra. Annen’s changes in the Tendai perspective freed the Esoteric teachings introduced by his first teacher to grow and develop within the Tendai context.
An Shigao (An Shih-kao)
(second century c.e.) pioneer Buddhist in China
An Shigao was a Buddhist priest from the Central Asian state of Parthia who traveled to Luoyang, China’s capital, around the year 148 c.e. He had been born as a crown prince but renounced his royal status for the life of a Buddhist monk. in China, An Shigao was responsible for the dissemination of texts related to meditation and breath, as well as many Dharma practices. He did not speak or write Chinese but worked orally with a bilingual interpreter. The interpreter would translate for a group of Chinese scholars, who then produced the written Chinese text. using this process—which would be followed by indian Buddhists in China until the seventh century—An Shigao produced 34 Chinese translations of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit originals.
According to one story, An Shigao presented the Chinese emperor with some Buddhist relics that he had found along the way. These relics had supposedly been buried by a group of monks who had been sent to China from india some four centuries earlier by King Asoka. After presenting the relics, An Shigao additionally requested that the emperor disperse them to different parts of China to assist the spread of Buddhism. The emperor built a large stupa at the site where the relics were found to house the Buddha’s finger, and some 18 other stupas in different locations in his kingdom.
The stupa housing the finger, the Finger sarira, is located in Xian, which later became the capital of China. During the Tang dynasty (618-906) it served as the emperors’ temple, but over the centuries the finger itself was lost. it was uncovered during archaeological excavation in 1987 in a secret chamber at the Famun Temple in Xian. it was subsequently deemed the most precious treasure possessed by Chinese Buddhists. over the several decades since its discovery, the finger has been allowed to travel for viewing by devotees in Thailand (1994), Taiwan (2002), Hong Kong (2004), and the Republic of Korea (2005).
In Buddhist teaching, the anusaya—literally "outflow"—is a list of seven tendencies, or practices, to which humans lean. They are sensual desire (kama), recalcitrance (dristi), skepticism (vichikitsa), arrogance (mana), craving for existence (bhava), and ignorance (avidya). Much of Buddhist practice is intended to eliminate these tendencies.
Arannavasi (Sanskrit, aranyavasi)
Arannavasi, the Pali term for the forest dwelling tradition in early Buddhist practice, has become popular in modern Theravada Buddhism as well.
Forest dwelling monks are an important impulse in Buddhist monastic thought. Forest monks were seen as embodying the Buddha’s recommendation that practitioners live apart from society. As a result, although all monks continue to live as part of a Buddhist community, the sangha, those living in forest environments have often been perceived as being different from those monks living near urban centers. in contrast to those in urban-based monasteries, monks in forest hermitages are thought to lead lives of simplicity in which they can devote more time to cultivation. Although arannavasi is today associated with Theravada Buddhism, all Buddhist cultures have seen some monks devoted more to meditative practices than to literary learning. Arannavasi monks may also have been instrumental in the early development of Mahayana.
In the premodern period forest dwelling monks in Thailand were known for their magical powers but did not strictly adhere to the Vinaya regulations specified for monks. However, Achan Sao and his student, Ajaan Mun (1870-1949), reinterpreted this tradition in the light of Dham-mayut ideas of following the ascetic practices of the Vinaya. They also added an emphasis on meditative practices as found in the master Buddhaghosa’s great work, Visuddhimagga. They moved away from an emphasis on magic. This reorientation has made the forest dwelling tradition extremely popular in Thailand.
In the modern period well-known practitioners of the Thai forest tradition include Buddhadasa (1906-93) and his follower Phra Payom Kalayano (1949- ). In contemporary practice the Thai Forest Meditation Tradition continues to attract followers throughout Theravada Buddhism.
An arhat is a fully enlightened person. In the Buddha’s words, the arhat is one for whom "finished is birth, lived is pure life, what should be done is done, nothing more is left to be done." In other words, the arhat has realized ultimate truth and attained nirvana. He (or she) is free from all impurities and no longer has a sense of self (atman) as a separate, concrete, substantial reality. While the figure of the lonely cultivator finally achieving arhatship was denigrated in Mahayana writings, the arhat has remained a powerful symbol of cultivation in all Buddhist cultures. The arhat is especially common as a figure of artistic portrayal and in temples.
Literally meaning "one worthy of respect," the term arhat was translated into Chinese in two ways. The first version was "one who has nothing more to learn" or "destroyer of bandits," the bandits meaning the illusions of thought and desire. The second translation was "no rebirth," since an arhat will not in theory be reborn into the cycle of samsara.
A common sight in Chinese Buddhist temples are the 18 luohan, arhats depicted in various situations of intense focus and meditation. Each of the 18 luohans has an individual personality, yet each represents the path of cultivation so central to Buddhism. There was a tradition of 16 arhats— generally forest dwelling—found in such Indian texts as the Nandimitravadana, dating from the seventh century c.e. In China a further two figures were added to the Indian list.
Arnold, Edwin, Sir
(1832-1904) British poet, schoolteacher, and writer on Buddhism
Edwin Arnold’s epic poem on the life of Buddha, The Light of Asia (1879), became an early avenue of access for Westerners interested in Buddhism. Though Arnold never professed to be a Buddhist, his poem was a sympathetic treatment of Buddha’s life and teachings that won praise from both Eastern and Western readers. Later in his life Arnold was active in the efforts to have Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, returned to Buddhist ownership, in which cause he joined forces with Ana-garika Dharmapala and the Maha Bodhi Society.
Arnold was born at Gravesend, Kent, and educated at Kings College, London, and University College, Oxford. After his graduation in 1854, he became the master of a school in Birmingham. His first book of poems was published in 1852 while he was still a student.
In 1857 Arnold accepted an invitation to become the principal of Deccan College in Poona, India. Once in India, he learned Sanskrit and gave much time to the observation of indian culture and religion. In 1861 he became a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper. He would stay with the newspaper when he returned to England in the mid-1860s and eventually become its editor.
In the early 1870s, he began to put together the idea of a work on the life of Buddha in the form of a book-length poem. He seemed to have worked on it in snatches for a number of years. it was originally published in 1879. Prior to his death in 1904, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.