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1960's approximately 200,000 people in the United States claimed to be of the Buddhists sect (Nattlier). Some of these began to think of themselves as Buddhist after a personal experience such as visiting Asia, reading in depth about the religion or talking with others who had experienced the religion firsthand. However, most of them were Hawaiian residents whose parents and grandparents had immigrated from China and Japan. Today these numbers are much greater. It is estimated that somewhere between two and three million followers live in the U.S. (Nattlier). A more conservative guess represents a tenfold increase since the '60s. Some of this increase may be due to individuals coming to the United States from Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Taiwan. However, Americans of non-Asian ancestry are also becoming Buddhists. Overall, there have been two Buddhisms -- Asian immigrant Buddhism and American con-vert Buddhism -- and three lines of transmission from Asia -- Elite Buddhism which is imported to America, Evangelical Buddhism which is exported to America, and Ethnic Buddhism which arrives in America with the ongoing Asian immigrant population.
INTERVIEW ON BUDDHISM
Q. What are the foundations of the religion?
A. The origins of Buddhism come from the experience of a man Siddhata Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was awakened at the age of 36. He was born over 2,500 years ago in Lumbini, present-day Nepal, into a wealthy family. Until he was 29, he lived a life of extravagance and contentment. He began to recognize, however, that such pleasure was short-lived and would never bring him lasting peace. Whatever happiness found in life would eventually be undermined by old age, illness and eventual death. So he left life and began to wonder, looking for a way that would lead him to perfect contentment (Zurcher 19).
For the next six years, he put himself through the most grueling life, including fasting until almost dying. Although reach some higher states, he knew that this approach would not lead to total enlightenment. Thus, he returned to a different, less extreme, method that he found almost by accident while young. At 35, he sat beneath the Bodhi tree and finally achieved perfect bliss and knowledge. For the next 45 years, Buddha spent his time as a humble monk, teaching others to realize what he had discovered.
The name Buddhism comes from the word budhi, which means "to wake up." Buddhism is thus the philosophy of awakening (Zurcher 20).
Q. What are the basic tenets of Buddhism?
A. In his first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of Dharma," Buddha spoke of the human condition of suffering that he called the Four Noble Truths: 1) Buddha instructed that all realms of existence are places of suffering and dissatisfaction dukkha. 2) The cause of this suffering is craving or tanha; 3) However, there is a state of perfect bliss called Nibbana or Nirvana; 4) Nibbana could be actualized, namely the noble eightfold path that includes eight factors -- Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
By following the eightfold path, one can develop wisdom, morality and meditative concentration (Harris 42-44).
Q. Are there specific commandments to follow?
A.. In Buddhism, these are called the five precepts or basic moral guidelines: 1) Abstain from harming living beings; 2) Abstain from taking what is not given; 3) Abstain from sexual misconduct; 4) Abstain from false speech; 5) Abstain from intoxicating drugs or drink (Harris 51-53).
Q. How does a person reach Nibbana?
A. Nibbana is when both suffering and desire are extinguished forever. The noble eightfold path is designed to develop wisdom, morality and concentration that will lead to a good rebirth but not to Nibbana. Meditation allows an individual to look more deeply within him/herself and the nature of the world. There are two traditional methods of meditation, calm or samatha that calms the body and concentrates the mind, and insight or vipassana that leads to rapturous states known as jhanas. In vipassana meditation, the goal is seeing things as they really exist, or awareness. On one level, this means noting all that one does mentally and physically as the thought of jealousy or the feeling of cold air blowing in one's face. Developing this practice involves seeing that suffering, impermanence and not-self are inherent in all things, and even in one's own bodily and mental processes (Rahula 35-45).
Q. What happens when one dies?
A. During his enlightenment, Buddha saw that he, like everyone, had many earlier lives. Thus, Buddhism teaches that rebirth follows dying. This is not a soul that passes from one life to another but rather it is a continuum. People move from one life to the next, the new consciousness at rebirth not completely different or completely similar to the consciousness at death. The cycle of rebirth called samsara means that upon death a person can be born in one of six realms, depending on previous deeds. The hells, the world of the hungry ghosts, the animal kingdom, the human world, the world of the jealous gods and the heavens. Being born a human is very precious and rare because it offers the best opportunities for enlightenment (Harris 60-63).
Buddhism in the United States is frequently divided by class, culture, or ethnicity. Splinters often exist between Asians and whites, and as well as by different sects such as Chinese, Pure Land, Japanese Zen, Nichiren, Korean, Vietnamese, and Theravaada Buddhism. The first Buddhist temple was built in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese working in America. It was not until the late 1960's, when non-Chinese-Americans would begin to get involved in Chinese Buddhist temples (Urban Dharma).
For example, is the Thai Buddhist Temple Wat Buddhavas in Houston, Texas (see website). Buddhist temples are formed by a lay person in the Thai Buddhist community; neither the Thai government nor the Buddhist Thai associations conduct missionary activities in other countries. After a temple is established, the community invites one or monks to live there. The temple's principal functions are to provide Buddhists with the opportunity to associate together, find solace in Buddha teachings, and practice their beliefs. Thai Buddhists in Houston and its surrounding communities created their temple on April 5, 1982.
All the monks currently residing at Wat Buddhavas were born in Thailand. The monks are ambassadors for three years from Thailand to the Thai people residing in the United States. They have the equivalent of a Bachelor's Degree in Buddhism or achieved higher degrees in religious studies. In addition, some monks come with certain specialties such as insight meditation. Any man in the Buddhist community is welcome to join the monks in living at the temple as a monk by taking the priestly vows, donning the monk's vestments, and agreeing to live an ascetic existence during the period he stays at the temple.
The Thai community in Houston organized themselves and created Wat Buddhavas to be a refuge for their cares and worries, as a place to practice their religion and to transmit their cultural heritage to their children. Every day, the monks get up before dawn, eat breakfast and engage in morning chanting. At 11 am they are invited to eat lunch, and may not eat solid food again until the next morning, and give a sermon. At night, the monks perform the evening chanting and meditation. Every Sunday, they lead a meditation class for the community.
The community observes a number of holidays during the year. The Magha Puja Day falls on the full moon of the third lunar month, about the last week of February or early March. In the evening, Lord Buddha gave his disciples a discourse, Ovada Patimokkha, laying down the principles of His Teaching, summarized into three acts -- . not to do any evil, to do good and to purify the mind. The monks give sermons, the eight-fold precepts first taught by the Buddha, assist congregants in meditation, and have the candle procession. Visakha Puja Day, the first full moon day in May, is when Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and passed from this world. The ceremonies and activities, at Wat Buddhavas, are similar to Makha Puja day.
Asalha Puja Day and the beginning of the Buddhist Lenten season, on the first full moon of July, is the anniversary of Buddha's first sermon to the world to the first five monks who followed his precepts. The Sart Ceremony, which falls in September of each year, is for paying respect to an individual's departed ancestors. Oog Pansa marks the end of the three-month Lenten period during which monks must remain at their assigned temples and not venture out on overnight sojourns. On this day the temple holds the ancient and revered ceremony of Tak Baat Tevo, which symbolizes the fable that occurred in the seventh year after the Buddha's Enlightenment. Buddha was said to journey to visit heaven to teach his mother, then an angel, about what he had learned. After…[continue]
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