Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born around 563 BCE to the ruler of a small kingdom in the Nepalese foothills. Deeply touched by the sorrows of human life and perplexed by the meaning of birth and death, the future-Buddha fled his parents’ palace at age 29 to become a recluse, seeking to understand the truth, the meaning of life. He studied meditation with many teachers and, after six years of practice, he sat under the Bodhi tree and vowed not to rise until he was enlightened. He was determined to discover the source of pain and suffering in the world.
After sitting for 49 days, one morning he had a profound breakthrough. He was able to see things as they truly were. He found the source of suffering. “The cause of suffering is greed, selfishness and stupidity. If people get rid of these negative emotions, they will be happy.” He became filled with understanding and love. He saw that nothing can be by itself alone, that everything is connected or “inter-be” with everything else. All beings are endowed with the nature of awakening. He discovered that the Middle Way is The Way, neither indulgence nor austerity.
The Buddha then walked to Deer Park in Sarnath to begin teaching—which lasted for 45 years until his death at age 80.
For 400 years during and after the Buddha’s lifetime, his teachings were transmitted only orally. Some were misunderstood, distorted and conveyed incorrectly. That is why Thich Nhat Hanh states that we often need to study several discourses and compare them in order to understand the true teachings of the Buddha. He reminds us that Buddhist teachings are meant to awaken our true self, not to add to our storehouse of knowledge.
Paths That Buddhism Has Taken
The teachings of the Buddha spread throughout much of Asia by travelling monks, nuns and teachers. Wherever it received a receptive ear, it seemed to adapt to local conditions and customs. Today there are many variations of Buddhism although the two most significant traditions are Theravada and Mahayana. Historically, they have different origins and spread through the world in different ways. Both traditions share the same core beliefs; many of the teachings are the same.
Theravada Buddhism focuses on become a fully enlightened being—to overcoming passions and ego and gaining liberation for oneself. This is done through the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path (please click here), insight and concentration.
Mahayana Buddhism focuses on compassion as the vehicle of awakening. True liberation is achieved when all beings are liberated. Emphasis is placed on the greater liberation rather than individual liberation. The Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism is part of the Mahayana tradition.
For further elaboration, please refer to: http://www.alanpeto.com/buddhism/understanding-mahayana-theravada/
In the 6th century CE, Buddhism spread over Central Asian trade routes to China. Gradually, Indian and Central Asian Buddhism began to be reshaped by its encounter with Chinese culture and particularly with Confucianism and Taoism. Eventually, this led to the creation of Zen. Although many different Zen schools have emerged over the years, in general they are all based on personal experience grounded in a practice oriented (meditation) approach.
In China, the Northern School initiated the use of the koan (an anecdote without solutions used to encourage enlightenment). Later as the Northern School declined, a Southern School evolved and experienced rapid expansion. One line of this Southern School was later introduced into Vietnam. It is through this lineage that the Plum Village Community of Engage Buddhism emerged.
For additional information, please refer to: https://www.lionsroar.com/what-is-zen-buddhism-and-how-do-you-practice-it/
Below are brief introductions to several core beliefs in our tradition.
Three Refuges / the Three Jewels / the Three Gems?
I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.
Buddha – In taking refuge in Buddha, we acknowledge the Buddha Nature of all beings. We all have the capacity to become fully enlightened, to be liberated. When we bow to the Buddha we are bowing to our collective Buddha-nature, the seed of mindfulness and enlightenment that is within each of us.
Dharma – The Dharma refers to the scriptures, the teachings, the way of understanding and love taught by the Buddha. It is through this Dharma that we embody, express and make accessible the teaching of the Buddha.
Sangha – In taking refuge in Sangha, we acknowledge the central role that our Community has in our practice. In reciting the Three Refuges we say “I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.”
Traditionally, the Sangha was a community of monks and nuns that follow the Buddha’s teachings. More commonly now, the Sangha is the whole community of the Buddha’s followers , including laypeople.
To read more about The Three Refuges please refer to: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/taking-refuge/. To listen to The Three Refuges chants please refer to: https://plumvillage.org/audio/chanting/the-three-refuge/
Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths contain the essence of the Buddha’s teachings that were first revealed as he was meditating under the Bodhi tree. The first noble truth diagnoses the problem; the second identifies the cause; the third indicates that there is a remedy or a way out. The fourth noble truth sets out the Eightfold Path which is the Buddha’s prescription to achieve a release from suffering.
The Four Noble Truths are:
- The existence of suffering (Dukkha). We all suffer to some extent. We have to acknowledge its presence.
- The origin/root of suffering (Samudaya). We need to look deeply into our suffering and see how it came to be. The cause of our suffering is our grasping, clinging, and aversion
- The possibility of restoring well-being (Niroda). The Buddha did not deny the existence of suffering, but he also did not deny the existence of joy and happiness. The Third Noble Truth is that healing and liberation are possible.
- The Noble Eightfold Path leads to well-being (Magga).
Please also refer to: https://www.mindfulnessbell.org/archive/2016/02/dharma-talk-the-four-noble-truths-2
Noble Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is embraced in the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. It charts the process that will help us move beyond our usual responses that often obscure our true nature. The Eightfold Path is meant as a guideline, to be considered, to be contemplated, and to be taken on when each step is fully understood and accepted.
The Eightfold Path is at the heart of the middle way. The middle way encourages us to avoid plunging ourself into sensual pleasures as well as adopting austerities which deprive the body of its needs. Following the middle way has the capacity to lead us to understanding, liberation and peace. The middle way or Noble Eightfold Path includes right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Importantly, the word “right” in this context means “in the right way,” “straight,” “upright.” Right Mindfulness, for example, means that there are ways of being mindful that are straight and beneficial. Right and wrong are neither moral judgments nor arbitrary standards imposed from outside. Through our own awareness we discover what is beneficial (“right”) and what is not beneficial (“wrong”).
Please also refer to: https://www.mindfulnessbell.org/archive/2016/02/dharma-talk-the-eightfold-path-2
Five Mindfulness Trainings
The Five Mindfulness Trainings are based on the five precepts that were developed during the time of the Buddha to be the foundation of practice. Thay has translated and adapted these precepts to reflect more contemporary times. They are concrete and practical expressions of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are intended to be aspirational rather than prescriptive. When we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are guided on our path of awakening.
Please refer to: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness trainings/