Buddhaghosa To Buddhist Fast Days


(fifth century c.e.) Buddhist philosopher

Originally from the Indian subcontinent near Bodhgaya, Buddhaghosa moved to the Mahavihara monastery in Sri Lanka. There he wrote commentaries on the Tripitaka, the Buddhist scriptures. In some versions he moved to Sri Lanka in order to translate the great Sinhalese commentaries on the Pali canon from Singhalese into Pali. These are today collectively known as the Atthakathas, "talks about the contents." His first work, Visud-dhimagga (Way of purity), is an overarching summary of Theravada doctrines. The book, a classic of meditation practice, has spawned a steady flow of commentaries over the centuries. He also wrote the Atthasalini and Sammohavinodani as commentaries on parts of the Abhidhamma (Sanskrit, Abhidharma) section of the Tripitaka, and several more on the sutta (sutra) portion of the Tripitaka.

Buddha nature

(fo xing buddhagotra)

The concept of Buddha nature expresses the assumption that all beings, human or otherwise, possess a pure or original nature, which is the same as that possessed by Buddhas or other worldly beings. Because of this, all beings have the potential to achieve Buddhahood. Hinayana or Theravada teachings do not recognize this original nature of purity. Instead, in Theravada teachings the individual strives to understand the conditions associated with human life—for instance, the influence of the senses and materiality—and achieve a state in which those conditions are overcome. The idea of Buddha nature became important as Mahayana thought developed in northern India. Mahayana thought introduced the idea that one need only become aware of one’s pure nature or tathata.

Transferred to Chinese Mahayanists, various theorists of the Yogacara and Madhyamkia schools offered different interpretations while agreeing upon the universal presence of the Buddha nature or pure consciousness. Chingying Huiyuan (523-592) considered Buddha nature to be true consciousness, the fruit of Buddhahood (the dharmakaya), and that which is recognized or comprehended by Buddha’s consciousness. Buddha nature is thus present in all objects, sentient and nonsentient.

Zhi Zang, a later thinker (549-623) associated with the founding of the Madhyamika school, takes Buddha nature as synonymous with tathata, dharmadhatu (all that exists), ekayana (unity), and wisdom. In line with Madhyamika teachings of the Middle Way, Buddha nature is caused by the Middle Way between truth and nontruth.

In the Tian Tai master Zhi Yi’s system of five periods, the teachings on Buddha nature are revealed by the Buddha in the third period, when he taught basic Mahayana doctrine. The greatest summation of Buddha nature thought is found in the Buddhagotra-sastra (Treatise on Buddha nature), attributed to Vasubhandu (fourth-fifth centuries C.E.).

Buddharakkhita, Bhikkhu

(1922- ) Theravada monk and founder of numerous centers

Buddharakkhita was born in Manipur, India, and studied engineering. He was ordained in 1949 and studied in Sri Lanka and Burma, under Mahasi Sayadaw. He founded the Mahabodhi Society in Bangalore, India, and numerous other centers, including the Institute of Buddhology and Pali Studies in Mysore, the Artificial Limb Centre in Bangalore, and the International Meditation Centre in Bangalore.

Buddha Sasana Nuggaha

This Burmese organization was founded in November 1947 for the purpose of promoting knowledge of Buddhist scriptures and the Dharma or truth of Buddhism. Sir U Thwin was the first president. He donated a five-acre property for the meditation center. u Thwin proposed that Mahasi Sayadaw be in charge of the meditation center. Mahasi moved to the center, called the Sasana Yeiktha, in 1949. Since Sayadaw’s death in 1982 the organization has continued to flourish and has sent many missions to the West. It continues as one of the most active Theravada revivalist organizations.

Buddhas of the past

In traditional texts, six buddhas are said to have preceded Sakyamuni’s appearance in the world: Vipasyin, Sikhin, Visvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, and Kasyapa. Stories of their lives and careers—and of the seventh, Sakyamuni—are found in the Maha-apadana-suttanta (Sutra of the Story of the Great Ones), part of the Digha-nikaya in the Pali canon.

Later Abhidharma texts added even more predecessors to the Buddha. The Buddhavamsa (Lineage of the Buddhas), in the Khuddaka-nikaya, lists 25 buddhas of the past. The Mahavastu (The Great Account), a work of the Mahasang-hika school, lists 4 billion buddhas, each having one of a list of 17 names, and another list of 128 separate buddhas. The Mula-Sarvastivadin school listed buddhas of the past as worshipped by Sakyamuni while he was a bodhisattva—that is, still in preparation for becoming the Buddha. In the first period (the asamkhyeya kalpa) he worshipped 75,000 separate buddhas. In the second he worshipped 76,000, and in the third he worshipped 77,000. In the final 100 kalpas (ages of the universe) before his appearance he worshipped only the six who immediately preceded him.


Buddhavacana refers to "the word of the Buddha" and "that which is well spoken." This concept indicates the establishment of a clear oral tradition, and later a written tradition, revolving around the Buddha’s teachings and the sangha, soon after the parinirvana of the Buddha, in India. The teachings that were meaningful and important for doctrine became known as the buddhavacana. There were four acceptable sources of authority, the caturmahapadesa, "four great appeals to authority," for claims concerning the Buddha’s teachings: words spoken directly by the Buddha; interpretations from the community of elders, the sangha; interpretations from groups of monks who specialized in certain types of doctrinal learning; and interpretations of a single specialist monk. In order to be considered as doctrinally valid statements, any opinion from one of the four sources had to pass three additional tests of validity: does the statement appear in the Sutras (1) or the Vinaya (2), and (3) does the statement conform to reality (dharmata)? These procedures were probably a means of allowing words not spoken by the Buddha to be deemed as doctrinally valid. Buddhavacana, then, is Buddhist truth, broadly defined. Buddhavacana became an important label of approval for commentary and statements from various sources. A statement labeled buddhavacana was equal to a statement made by the Buddha. Naturally buddhavacana included the Sutras, which in all versions and schools were defined as the words of the Buddha. But with the concept of bud-dhavacana nonsutra works could also be considered authoritative. This was convenient for new teachings attempting to gain acceptance. one early example was Vasubhandhu’s commentary (bhasya) on the Madhyantavibhaga of Maitreya, an early Mahayana work. In Vasubhandu’s commentary the words of Maitreya are considered buddhavacana because they were from Maitreya, an individual of near-Buddha qualities.

Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (Taiwan)

After the Chinese Revolution, the leadership of the defeated Chinese Nationalist regime and many of their supporters retired to the island of Taiwan. In what was seen as a continuing situation of war with the new People’s Republic of China, martial law was declared and a rather authoritarian rule ensued. Religion was somewhat suppressed and, where allowed to exist, heavily regulated. The government encouraged the founding of the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (BAORC), which was subsequently given the authority to supervise all Buddhist activities in Taiwan.

Among the many tasks adopted by the association was the reestablishment of the trappings of Chinese Buddhism (primarily in its Pure Land form) in Taiwan. That a number of qualified Buddhist clergy immigrated in the massive migration of Chinese to the island in the early 1950s allowed a Buddhist order to be recreated, and in 1953, the first ceremonies for the ordination of Buddhist priests were held.

The BAORC had a virtual monopoly on Taiwanese Buddhism through the 1980s, as until 1987, it was illegal for any other Buddhist institution to be established outside BAORC’s authority. However, in the 1960s, at first under BAORC’s umbrella and, since 1987, increasingly independently of it, a spectrum of new organizations have appeared and now claim the allegiance of the majority of the the Taiwanese Buddhist community, the most prominent of them Foguangshan, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association, Dharma Drum Mountain, the Amitabha Buddhist Societies, and the True Buddha School. In addition, the Chan (Zen) tradition in Taiwan has been developed by Master Weichueh (Wei Jue), who founded Chung Tai Chan Monastery and Chung Tai Buddhist Institute.

The BAORC remains the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan, operating as both the nationally established religion and an ecumenical group drawing support from a number of very different Buddhist associations. The BAORC is headquartered in Taipei.

In 2001, the BAORC sponsored the International Conference on Religious Cooperation, a gathering of leaders from some 17 religious traditions from 29 countries. The Ching Hsin, president of the BAROC, chaired the gathering.

Buddhist Churches of America

The Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) is an incorporated religious organization affiliated with the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji. The Honpa Hong-wanji was a sect founded on the teachings of Shin-ran (1173-1262), a Japanese cleric active during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The BCA is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

The Buddhist Churches of America celebrated its centennial in 1999. During the preceding century the teachings of Shinran and his American institutional incarnation had to respond and adapt to the American experience. This adventure began with the arrival of the Reverend Sonoda Shuye and the Reverend Nishijima Kakuryo in San Francisco on September 1, 1899; this date marks the official beginnings of the BCA. Their arrival was prompted by a plea in 1896 to the Honpa Hongwanji sect headquarters in Kyoto to dispatch priests to minister to the growing Japanese immigrant community.

U.S. government census figures noted that the number of Japanese immigrants had grown 10fold from 2,039 in 1890 to 24,327 in 1900. Since most of the early immigrants were Jodo Shinshu devotees, they naturally appealed to the Honpa Hongwanji for a spiritual presence in new homes. In addition to serving constituents, the Hong-wanji viewed its foray into the united States as an opportunity to propagate Shinran’s teaching to the English-speaking community.

Uchida Koyu, who arrived in 1905 with his wife, Seto, laid the institutional foundation of the Buddhist Mission of North America, the forerunner of the BCA. During their 18 years, the Reverend and Mrs. uchida witnessed the establishment of 13 temples and a number of fellowships in the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Temples were also built in Salt Lake City and Denver. Recognizing the growing number of temples and administrative complexity, uchida was officially appointed socho, bishop, in 1918.

The sixth socho, Masuyama Kenju, arrived in 1930 and quickly surmised that the Buddhist mission would require ministers who could communicate fluently in English. Shortly thereafter he established the Buddhist Society of America to appeal to English speakers, as well as second-generation Japanese Americans. He enlisted the assistance of European-Americans and encouraged the American-born and -educated Tsunoda Noboru and Kumata Masaru, the first Japanese Americans to do so, to undertake ministerial training in Kyoto. The bishop created the Young Buddhist Association, moved to sponsor Boy Scouts groups, encouraged Dharma School expansions, and promoted English publications.

In 1935 Bishop Masuyama visited Thailand, where he received a portion of the corporeal relics of Sakyamuni Buddha from King Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII. These remains of the Buddha were unearthed in the late 19th century in northern India and are now enshrined at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Bishop Masuyama left to his successor 48 temples and fellowships that extended from Vancouver, Canada, to the north and New York City to the east.

The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent internment of the Japanese community along the Pacific coast marked an important milestone in the American Pure Land experience. President Roosevelt’s 1942 Executive order 1099, the Civilian Exclusion orders, legalized the removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from their homes, farms, and businesses. u.S. authorities closed all of the Buddhist temples and arrested most of their clerics and lay leaders, who were sent to various internment camps throughout the united States. Bishop Ryotai Mat-sukage was sent to the Topaz Relocation Center in utah and with him went the headquarters of the Buddhist Mission. Government officials allowed Buddhist groups to carry on their religious activities in the camps. In 1944 a general meeting of ministers and lay leaders from the various camps and from other noninterned communities gathered at Topaz to adopt the articles of incorporation that officially changed the name from Buddhist Mission of North America to Buddhist Churches of America.

Ironically, the internment provided new opportunities. The united States allowed the Japanese to relocate from the strategic Pacific coast states into the interior. Many found their way to such cities as Chicago; Detroit; St. Louis; New York; Philadelphia; and Seabrook, New Jersey, where they established Buddhist fellowships, many of which eventually evolved into full-fledged temples. The arrest and internment of the largely Japanese-speaking leadership thrust the younger American-born English-speaking clerics into leadership positions. After the war, great efforts were made to change temple-related activities from Japanese to English and to nurture a new generation of leaders and devotees. English is now the primary language used in religious services, and meetings are conducted and transcribed in English. In 1954 the BCA established the Buddhist Study Center in Berkeley, California, to provide instruction in English for ministerial aspirants. The center was renamed the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) in 1966.

Between 1959, when Shinsho Hanayama ascended to the bishop’s office, and 1980, when Kenryu Tsuji vacated the bishop’s post, the BCA transformed itself into a modern American institution. In addition to initiating a number of innovative educational materials and programs, the BCA created a scholarship fund to assist ministerial aspirants, a ministerial Disability Income and Accidental Death Benefits Program, a financial foundation, and other institutional reforms.

In 1969 Kenryu Tsuji became the first Japanese American to assume the post of bishop. Under his watch the Hongwanji accredited the ministerial program at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. Ministerial training was now possible in English. Ordination, however, is still done in Kyoto.

As it did for other mainline U.S. religious denominations from the mid-1970s the BCA’s vitality began a slow decline, due in part to declining membership, financial difficulties, an aging clergy, and uninspiring leadership. In an attempt to reverse this decline the BCA initiated the Campaign for Buddhism in America in 1982 with the goal of raising $15 million. The campaign was only able to raise approximately $10 million. Once again in 2003 the BCA embarked on a capital campaign to raise $31 million for Buddhist education and ministerial benefits and to secure a permanent facility for its seminary, the IBS in Berkeley.

Since its mid-1970 peak the BCA has had to trim back its administrative staff. The departments of Buddhist Education and Sunday (Dharma) school that produced many innovative programs and publications have been eliminated. The IBS sold its Berkeley facility in 1997 and moved to Mountain View, California. Its substantial collection of Buddhist books are in storage. unable to sustain the BCA Archives that was begun with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the BCA transferred its archives to the Japanese National Museum in Los Angeles, California, in 1998.

From its headquarters in San Francisco, the BCA oversees 61 temples and five fellowships with approximately 17,000 dues-paying members throughout the contiguous United States, and an annual budget of approximately $1 million.

Administratively, the BCA consists of eight geographical districts, six of which are concentrated on the Pacific coast. This far-flung scattering of temples is governed by a board of directors composed of the bishop, the board president, the Ministerial Association chairperson, district-elected board members, board-members-at-large, and representatives from BCA-affiliated organizations, including the Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations, the Western Adult Buddhist League, Federation of Dharma School Teacher’s League, California Young Adult Buddhist League, and Western Young Buddhist League.

The Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) and the BCA have been instrumental in a number of historical events. In 1915 the BMNA hosted the World Buddhist Conference in San Francisco. This first international conference of Buddhists in the united States was held in conjunction with the International Exposition. In 1935 Bishop Masuyama traveled to Thailand to receive a portion of the holy relics of Sakya-muni Buddha. Through the efforts of Young Buddhist Associations in Hawaii and the continental United States, BCA lobbied the U.S. Department of Defense to recognize Buddhist as a legitimate religious designation. The Department of Defense now allows the Buddhist (Dharma) Wheel on grave markers.

The American Shin Buddhists within the state of Hawaii have a separate jurisdiction and administration. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii traces its beginnings to 1899. As do those in Hawaii, Shin Buddhists in Canada have a separate organization, headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia. Pure Land Buddhists arrived there in 1905.

Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association (Tzu Chi)

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association is the largest religious organization in the Republic of China (Taiwan). It was founded in 1966 by Dharma Master Cheng Yen (1937- ) as a charitable organization whose primary goals were to assist the poor and educate the wealthy. It originated in Hualien, one of Taiwan’s poorer counties. Those affiliated with the association were motivated to perform charitable work through both the Buddhist concept of compassion for all sentient beings and the belief that such activity earns the doer spiritual merit.

Cheng Yen, a native Taiwanese woman, was jolted onto a spiritual search by the unexpected death of her father in 1960. Her search led her to Buddhism, and in 1961 she decided to become a Buddhist nun. Two years later she placed herself under the spiritual care of the Venerable Master Yin Shun (1906-2005), whose thought closely aligned with that of Chinese master Tai Hsu (1890-1947), who emphasized the importance of lay people and their charitable works. Cheng Yen was formally ordained into the religious life. She established herself in a hut behind Pu Ming Temple, in Hualien, where the first women who wished to share her nun’s life assembled. In the evenings Cheng Yen offered them teachings on the sutras.

The catalyst for founding the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association occurred in 1966. one day while visiting the hospital, Cheng Yen was moved by a pool of blood from a woman too poor to afford treatment for a miscarriage. A short time afterward, she engaged in a dialogue with some Roman Catholic nuns, who pointed out that while Buddhism promoted love for its followers, it had failed to engage in those actions that would embody such teachings, such as building hospitals, schools, and temples in areas dominated by the poor. Cheng Yen accepted the truth of the observation. Thus, in 1966, with the assistance of the few nuns who had joined her, she founded the association.

At the time of its founding, all of Buddhism in Taiwan was under the control of the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China, an organization with close ties to the government, which discouraged the establishment of new competing Buddhist organizations. Thus the Tzu Chi Association was established as a charitable association rather than a temple-forming organization that would compete head to head with other Buddhist temples.

Beginning as a very small group, the association found an immediate appeal among the Taiwanese public, who were overwhelmingly Buddhist by tradition, and by the beginning of the 21st century there were more than 4 million members. At the same time, while it continues to be structured as a charitable organization, it has become a new Buddhist association with Cheng Yen as its primary teacher. Various centers of the association function as centers for the distribution of charitable services and temples where people worship.

Cheng Yen, though a somewhat humble and modest woman, has emerged as a beloved charismatic religious leader. Her followers compare her to Mother Theresa and with her teachings she inspires people to acts of mercy and self-sacrifice. Her life has drawn admiration from both Buddhists and non-Buddhists throughout Taiwan.

The Tzu Chi Association is somewhat unique in Buddhist circles because of the status and role it assigns to women. It was begun by a small group of Buddhists nuns who were not allowed to ordain men, and almost without conscious intent, women began to assume the leadership posts throughout the association.

Already in the 1970s, the organization began to spread beyond Taiwan as members migrated to other countries, especially the united States. Members in Los Angeles would help create a new thrust in the organization when they organized assistance of victims of a cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1991. By the beginning of the 21st century, the association had spread to almost every land of the Chinese diaspora, and it is increasingly well known for its charitable activities.

Buddhist Fast Days


In ancient India, two days per month were set aside as days of reflection. on those days lay practitioners as well as monks were to review their conduct, their actions as well as speech, and vow to improve. Such an act of reflection was uposadha, faults broadly conceived. In ancient India such meetings were held every 14 or 15 days and gave all believers an opportunity to confess their faults.

The practice was continued under Buddhism. The uposathagara ceremony served several purposes. Besides allowing the individual to reflect on his or her own behavior, it reinforced the unity of the community; it was in fact a group ceremony that reinforced the relationship between individual and community. The main element of the ritual was the recitation of the Pratimoksa, the monastic rules, by a chosen monk. The uposath-agara was in fact a statutory act required in the Pratimoksa—the entire body of ordained monks were required to be present. As the Buddha mentioned in the Vinaya, attendance at uposathagara was a sign of respect for the community.

In later times the uposadha signified fasting on six days of the month: the first, eighth, 14th, 15th, 23 rd, and 30 th. On these occasions the households would adhere to the eight fasting precepts of the monk, instead of to the five main precepts lay practitioners agree to follow. The eight precepts taken by the lay believer on uposadha days are as follows: one must abstain from killing; refrain from taking anything from another without permission; distance oneself from action not sacred or upright; refrain from damaging talk; abstain from all alcohol; not sleep in a bed higher than one foot six inches; refrain from decorating the body with perfume or jewelry, or dancing and singing; and abstain from eating at inappropriate times, in other words, after noon.

In China, the practice of refraining from taking meals after noon became known as holding a "fast." The food consumed by the sangha during the day, including the midday meal, later was referred to in Chinese by the preexisting term zhai, a religious ceremonial meal. Zhai eventually became a term for vegetarian food in general.

In fact, the original, core meaning of zhai in its Buddhist context is "cleansing." One cleanses one’s actions, speech, and intentions through rituals of contrition and confession. The contemporary association between the term zhai and vegetarianism, began later.

In Chinese Buddhist practice today, zhai days are meant as days of reflection and purification. In addition the practitioner, whether residing at home as a lay follower or in the sangha, is expected to perform acts of positive moral value. These are enumerated specifically as releasing cows (or any other beings) uposadha.

The Agama Sutra, one of the earliest of all Buddhist sutras, lists three fundamental ways of observing uposadha. The first is by releasing animals without actually registering the significance of the act: one performs the action but in the heart retains the association with the eating of the animal. The second is the non-Buddhist form of uposadha in which the intent is stated to help sentient beings, but the action does not correspond to the intention. The third form of uposadha is the proper Buddhist approach: one gives up all association with the offered object and models one’s action on the arhats (individuals advanced in cultivation practice) of the past. All action is taken for the sake of all sentient beings.

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