Avidya (ignorance) To Bhava (Buddhism)

Avidya (ignorance)

Avidya, or ignorance, is the inability to distinguish between the transitory and eternal aspects of experience. The term has a specific sense in Buddhist philosophy. It means being unaware of the Four Noble Truths, the three precious jewels (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha), and the truth of karma—in other words, the truths of Buddha’s teachings.


Said by tradition to be the first Buddhist temple in China, the Baimasi or "White Horse Temple" was ordered constructed by Emperor Ming (28-75 c.e.) of the later Han dynasty in the year 67 c.e. at Luoyang, his capital. It was called White Horse because the two Indian monks, Kasyapa Matanga and Zhu Falan, who founded the temple, had arrived with a white horse that carried an image of the Buddha and a copy of the Sutra of Forty-two Sections.

The White Horse Temple has been regarded as the originating point of Chinese Buddhism but has not always been maintained as a place of honor. Damage at different times has meant it had to be rebuilt on several occasions, most recently during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Baiyun Guan

The most important Daoist temple in Beijing, Baiyun is also the seat of Quanzhen Daoism. This means that in addition to being a functioning monastery, it holds the lineage records for any people who become Quanzhen priests.

Baiyun was founded in the 1200s, during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). It suffered greatly in the fighting at the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The temple’s fortunes improved when Wang Changyue was asked to take over as abbot around 1650. In the later part of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the dowager empress was said to visit the temple by barge and made significant donations to its enlargement.

Today Baiyun is more significant as a community temple than as a monastery. Thus it is busiest during the major holidays such as Chinese New Year. In addition to a hall housing the founders of Quanzhen Daoism (Lu Dongbin, Wang Chong-yang, and Qiu Chuji), it has another hall with the three pure ones, the major Daoist deities, and a building housing large images of the 60 signs of the Chinese zodiac. Today the temple houses a handful of monastics as well as offices of the Chinese Daoism Association.

Ba Khin, Sayagi U

(1899-1971) Burmese vipassana meditation master

U Ba Khin, founder of the International Meditation Centre, was born in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). As a young man he obtained a job as a civil servant in the British colonial government. He first encountered meditation in 1937 and responded so forcefully to the experience that he immediately sought out Saya Thetgyi, a vipassana teacher who had a center at Pyawbwegyi, outside Rangoon.

He studied with Saya Thetgyi. Then in 1941 he met Webu Sayadaw, a monk proficient in meditation, who urged U Ba Khin to begin teaching. He did not do this, however, until some 10 years later. Meanwhile he worked at his government job even after Burma gained its independence. only in the 1960s, four years before his death, did he retire and become a full-time meditation teacher.

Along the way, in 1950, he founded the Vipassana Association, to facilitate his coworkers’ learning to meditate, and two years later he opened International Meditation Centre, where he received students from across the country and many foreign lands. He accepted an increasing number of Western students as he was one of the very few vipas-sana teachers who at the time spoke English.

Among his most prominent students was S. N. Goenka, an Indian who grew up in Burma and after studying with u Ba Khin established the Vipassana International Academy in India and developed an international following.

Since his death, U Ba Khin’s work at the International Meditation Centre has been carried on by Mother Sayamagyi.

Bangladesh, Buddhism in

There were approximately 625,000 Buddhists living in Bangladesh in 1991, mostly in the south near the Myanmar border. This area, centered around the city of Chittagong, has traditionally been strongly influenced by the culture of the Ara-kan (Rakhaing) region of Myanmar. The region was accessible by land from india as far back as the Buddha’s era. Arakan was a border region that fell alternately under the sway of Bengal or Bur-man power, depending on their relative strength.

From the 13th century, with the Muslim suppression of Buddhism in India, Buddhism began a long period of assimilation and decline in Bangladesh. As in India, Buddhism was increasingly assimilated into Hindu, not Muslim, practice. Such Hindu deities as Ganesh and Siva were placed alongside images of bodhisattvas and the Buddha. Animals were sacrificed at such community events as Kalibari, a Hindu festival. And a class of Buddhist monks, called Rauli, began to marry and take on similar priestly roles, including setting up families, like those of the Brahman priestly class in Hindu society. Monks in general lost contact with the Pratimoksa, the rules of monastic conduct, and Buddhist scriptures in general.

As occurs often in the history of Theravada Buddhism, monks from neighboring regions went to the rescue of the community in Bangladesh. A monk from Burma, Saramitra Mahastabir, was invited to Bangladesh in 1856 by a leading monk from the Chittagong region, Radha Charan Mahasthabir. Saramitra returned in 1864 with a contingent of monks, determined to reform the sangha in Bangladesh. He established a headquarters in Pahartali-Mahamuni, north of Chittagong. ordinations, including the reordination of existing monks, were held at nearby Hancharghona. Today followers of this reform movement within the Bangladeshi sangha are known as the Sang-haraj Nikaya or school.

Although most existing monks agreed to follow the reformist agenda, some refused and established a countermovement, known today as the Mahasthabir Nikaya. This group, still active in the Kamalapur monastery in Dhaka, today’s capital, argued that the existing sangha was directly descended from original Buddhist practice and did not require reform.

Bunnachar Dharmadari became the second head of the Sangharaj movement in 1877. Dhar-madari was a Bengali who had been ordained in Burma and spent 18 years studying abroad. He emphasized the spread of Buddhist learning by establishing Pali tols (schools). As a result of such efforts, Pali courses are today offered in public schools and at universities in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Today the Sangharaj and the Mahasthabir continue to be the two main divisions in the Bangladesh sangha, with the Sangharaj the larger of the two. Eventually the Mahasthabir instituted reforms that aligned practice more closely with that of the Sangharaj. Both are Theravada and follow the same Vinaya code. For lay followers, the differences between the two are minor and generally not important. However, monks of the two groups refuse to cooperate with each other in many contexts. overall, however, monastic practice and learning in Bangladesh are in line with those in other South and Southeast Asian countries.


Baojuan, "precious volumes," is a generic term for a type of moral literature produced mainly in the Ming and Qing periods of Chinese history (1368-1644 and 1644-1911, respectively).

Baojuan probably developed as a written form of lectures on Buddhist themes popular during China’s medieval period (c. 280-1368). They are invariably composed of alternating sections of prose and short poetry, with the poetry forming the core of the message. They are usually dedicated to particular deities, and indeed an image of a deity often appears at the beginning of the text. Many dedication lists are added to show donors who supported the book’s printing. The first bao-juan texts were discussions of Buddhist teachings or stories. They began to appear around 1500 and were composed by monks. A second type soon appeared, closely associated with the teachings of Chinese sectarian religions. The first of these was written by Luo Qing (1442-1527), founder of one such group, the Wu Wei. And a third type focused on relating the story of the Mother Creator, a major deity popular in the Ming.

A fourth type includes longer stories meant to make a moral point. This type of baojuan was prevalent in the 19th century. By that time baojuan had become simply a literary category and did not necessarily reflect the thoughts of particular religious groups. These moral injunction-style bao-juan were sold alongside texts created through fuji (secret writing) revelation. Both types of literature preached essentially similar content: the need to lead moral lives and act in accord with proper ritual behavior. Nevertheless, many baojuan texts, influenced by sectarian religious ideologies, also urged readers to disregard distinctions of wealth and gender, since as spiritual individuals all were equal in the eyes of heaven (tian).

Baopuzi Neipian

The Baopuzi Neipian, "inner Chapters of the Master Who Embraces Spontaneous Nature," is a major work of Daoist inner alchemy. First written in 317 c.e. and revised in 330, it is attributed to the southern Chinese master Ge Hong (288-343 c.e.). The Baopuzi explains meditation as practiced in fourth-century China. The Baopuzi is in fact part of the tradition of the Huangting jing (Scripture of the Yellow Court), a third-century c.e. work that describes the human body and alchemical processes that give birth to the inner person. The Baopuzi gives additional detail about the body’s alchemical composition. There are three dantian, or "Elixir Fields" (also called Cinnabar Fields), the head, the chest, and the abdomen. These are controlled by the One (yi), a divine force inside every person.

Ge Hong, who was as much a Confucian as a Daoist, intended to show how a Confucian sage could follow the Confucian dao through the pursuit of immortality. The pu in the title means "simplicity," or, perhaps more generally, "wholeness." The text has 20 "inner" chapters detailing alchemical formulas and procedures, including lists of 282 types of talismans. The second, "outer" section consists of 50 topics that discuss more general issues.

Works such as the Baopuzi and other texts of Shangqing Daoism were important elements in the "inner alchemy" (neidan) tradition of Chinese Daoism.

Bardo (antarbhava)

The bardo is an intermediate state after an individual’s death and before his/her rebirth into another life. The term is Tibetan and is known today primarily as a concept of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the concept was first used in Indian Mahayana writing. Vasubandhu (c. fourth century C.E.), in his great work the Abhidharmakosa-basyam, explained the antarbhava as a nonmate-rial state in which individuals are immaterial and have the "divine eye," supernatural powers of observation, similarly to divine beings called gandharvas.

In India Tantra techniques were later developed to explore the dying process. in Tibet the work The Six Yogas of Naropa gives meditation techniques to prepare for the advent of this state. A later work, the Book of the Dead (bardo thodol, literally "Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State"), attributed to Padmasambhava (eighth century c.e.), was a guide to navigating the process of transition from living to bardo to another lifetime. The Book of the Dead differentiates six different bardo states: the bardos of birth, dream, meditation, the moment of death, supreme reality, and becoming. People who have not prepared for the transition through meditation can still be helped by readings of the Book of the Dead (in the presence of their corpse) within the transitional period that immediately follows their death. This text is read aloud to the dying and for those recently deceased to remind them that the experiences are mental. Naropa taught a set of six yogas designed to assist the practitioner to focus on the clear light and thus attain nirvana or liberation.

The idea of the bardo state was introduced to Westerners largely through an early English translation of the Bardo thodol by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. in an obvious reference to the popular Egyptian guide to the afterlife, it was called the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1927). Several new translations and commentaries on the Bardo thodol have more recently been released.

The Bardo thodol is one of the terma texts, that is, texts supposedly written at an earlier date and then left to be discovered and their contents revealed at a later time. Thus, it is ascribed to Padmasambhava and said to have been transcribed from his oral teachings. Since its rediscovery by one Karma Lingpa in the 14th century, it has become part of the revered literature of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

It is to be noted that the term bardo is also occasionally used to describe other intermediate states such as those one passes through in moving from waking to sleep, though the primary reference is to the postdeath state.

Beat Zen

Beat Zen was a term coined by the American Buddhist philosopher Alan Wilson Watts to describe the form of Buddhism that was popularized in America in the 1950s by several "Beat" writers and poets. The term Beat had originated with the 1950s writer Jack Kerouac, who described his generation of alienated youth who were searching for a "beatific" vision, that is, a form of spiritual transcendence.

Watts saw the Beat generation as using Zen Buddhism as a means of dropping out of participation in the post-World War II American society. The revolt does not seek change in society, merely withdrawal from it by seeking reality in subjectivity. Watts criticized the Beats for using

Zen to escape from the world (and the dominant Christianity) in which they found themselves, but failing actually to come to terms with Buddhism, its practice and teachings.

Watts called it "Beat Zen" because it was being advocated by some of the leading spokespersons of the Beat subcultures—Jack Kerouac in his Dharma Bums and the poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder—and found its audience among the people (artists, musicians, and hangers-on) who frequent the beatnik nightspots. Watts then contrasted Beat Zen with "square Zen," which made Zen a process with guidelines for practice and standards for achievement. They analyze the traditional masters and rather than follow their path to the elusive reality of enlightenment, attempt to copy them, having already decided upon the nature of satori.

To Watts, both Beat Zen and square Zen miss the point. Allen Ginsberg later became a faculty member of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Vajradhatu’s Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Bennett, Allan (Ananda Maitreya)

(18721923) early Western Buddhist convert

Allan Bennett, an early British Buddhist, was born in London and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother, a widow. He was still a child when his mother died, however, and he was adopted by S. L. McGregor Mathers (1854-1918), one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a ritual magic group. Bennett attended Hollesly College and after finishing his studies obtained a job as a chemist. By this time, Mathers had initiated him into the Golden Dawn. He had obtained the rather high grade Adeptus Minor by the time he turned 23. As an accomplished magician, he had contact with and became a teacher of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). He also worked behind the scenes on the book Liber 7777, published by Crowley, a volume detailing correspondences used in magical operations.

Bennett seems to have been introduced to Buddhism through reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia. At the time he encountered it, he was suffering from asthma, a condition that both made it difficult for him to hold a job and led to his dependence on a spectrum of drugs.

In 1900, Bennett sailed for Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where he studied Pali and yoga, then later with a Hindu teacher, Sri Parananda. While he was in Ceylon, Crowley caught up with him, and he introduced Crowley to the asanas (postures) that make up most of hatha yoga teachings.

A short time later Bennett moved on to Burma (Myanmar), where he pursued his Buddhist studies in earnest and in 1902 became the first British person ordained as a bhiksu (monk in the Theravada tradition). Upon joining the sangha (community of Buddhists), he assumed the religious name Ananda Maitreya. Again Crowley caught up with Bennett while he was in Burma and cited Bennett as the catalyst for an intense experience he had while in Southeast Asia in 1905.

In 1903, Bennett founded the International Buddhist Society (Buddhasasana Samagama) in Rangoon (Yangon). Four years later he led the first Buddhist mission to England. in preparation for the arrival of Bennett and his Burmese colleagues, several leading British Buddhists formed the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and ireland (later superseded by the presently existing Buddhist Society), under the presidency of T. W. Rhys Davids (1843-1922). During his time in England, Bennett participated in the founding of the Buddhist Review, the first Buddhist journal published in the united Kingdom. in 1908 he returned to Burma. He remained there until 1914, when on the eve of World War i he resigned his monk’s life and returned to England. it appears he was planning to move to California, where he hoped the dry climate would assist his health, but was trapped in England for the duration of the war. During this time, he continued efforts to spread Buddhism.

Among the people he met was Paul Brunton (1898-1981), a British journalist and theosophist who would later write several popular books on Eastern religion. Bennett introduced Brunton to Buddhist meditation, and Brunton assisted Bennett with the revival of the Buddhist Review, the publication of which had been suspended during the war. Also assisting him with the Buddhist Review was the playwright Clifford Bax (1886-1962).

In 1923, Bennett tried again to go on to California. He booked passage on a ship from Liverpool, but when he arrived at the dock, the ship’s captain, seeing how ill Bennett was, refused him passage. Bennett died a few days later.


Benzaiten is the Japanese version of the indian deva (goddess) Sarasvati, the goddess of fortune. Sarasvati probably began as a goddess of the ancient river Sarasvati and later became associated with a range of themes concerning flow and movement: music, poetry, dance, art, and eloquence. Perhaps because of the association with fecundity and flow, Sarasvati also became known as the protector of children. She is mentioned in the Suvarnaprabhasa-sutra (Sutra of Golden Radiance) as a protector deity and the sister of King Yama, the ruler in hell. She also appears in the Lotus Sutra.

As with many imported deities, their imported images merged with indigenous deities after they arrived in Japan. in Sarasvati’s case the indian deva, who began to appear in Japan around the sixth-eighth century c.e., merged with the indigenous Shinto goddess of rice, Inari. Benzaiten is usually pictured carrying a biwa, a Japanese stringed lute. Another form of depiction shows her with eight arms holding such objects as a musical instrument, a bow and arrow, a wheel, a sword, a key, or a jewel.

Stone image of the popular Japanese deity Ebisu, god of good fortune and protector of children, in a shrine at the Zuisen-ji Zen temple in Kamakura, Japan.

Stone image of the popular Japanese deity Ebisu, god of good fortune and protector of children, in a shrine at the Zuisen-ji Zen temple in Kamakura, Japan.

In one account (the Enoshima Engi written in 1047 c.e.) the goddess is said to have gone to the aid of local inhabitants of Koshigoe threatened by a five-headed serpent, in 552 c.e. The dragon was consuming the local children. After Benzaiten, described as the third daughter of the serpent king, Munetsuchi, descends from heaven, she marries the serpent and he ends his evil ways.

Thereafter Benzaiten is often depicted wrapped around by a white serpent that has the head of an old man—the popular god Hakuja (Ugajin). The white snake is, of course, the dragon. When the two deities are depicted together the composite is known as uga Benzaiten. Because of the association between Benzaiten and Hakuja, white snakes are considered to be lucky in Japan. Benzaiten is in general closely associated with snakes and water.

In the Kamakura period Japanese artists began to draw nude images of certain gods, including Benzaiten and Jizo. Benzaiten is one of the seven Japanese gods of good fortune; the others are Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamon, Hotei, Fukurokuju, and Jurojin. Benzaiten is the sole female figure in the group. Benzaiten shrines are found throughout Japan; her main shrine is on Enoshima in Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo. Because of Benzaiten’s clear association with prosperity, today her shrines often focus on money. In the Benzaiten shrine in Kamakura the worshipper can clean bills with sacred water and offer these to Benzaiten with the wish that she will bless all efforts to earn money. In this case the traditional deity supports the modern economic system.

Bhaisajya-guru Buddha

(Medicine-master Buddha, Yaoshifo, Yakushi Nyorai)

This Buddha is a symbol of the healing aspect of the enlightened being. Like Amitabha he resides in a Pure Land. Baisajya Buddha’s image is often found together with that of the historical Buddha and Amitabha in a triad, in which he sits to the left of Sakyamuni Buddha. He often holds a fruit, symbol of healing in his right hand. The Bhaisajya Buddha Sutra, which exists today only in Tibetan and Chinese versions, relates how Bhaisajya, then a famous teacher (guru), makes 12 vows, including guiding all beings to the Mahayana path and healing all illnesses. This figure is therefore of interest because he is worshipped as a Buddha but remembered equally for his bodhisattvalike vows which he strives to accomplish before becoming a Buddha.


Literally "being" or "becoming," in Buddhist theory bhava is the 10th link in the chain of reactions that explain the process of codependent arising (pratitya-samutpada). In this specialized sense of becoming, bhava refers to becoming while identifying with individuality. In other words, one is aware only of being as an individual entity, acting without connection to the web of other beings and dharmas (events) in the universe.

In addition bhava can refer to any one of the states of being in the three worlds (triloka) of samsara: kamabhava (being in the desire realm), rupabhava (being in the realm of desireless form), and arupabhava (being in the formless realm). Humans experiencing everyday, commonsense reality exist in the realm of desire.

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