Buddhist Terms, Part 3 - Based on the Treasury of Knowledge by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. by Manfred Seegers


The Three Baskets: Vinaya - Sutra - Abhidharma
The three great collections or "Baskets" of Buddhist teachings are the Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma. They have been compiled by the Buddha's three main disciples at the first buddhist council, one year following Buddha's death. During that council, Upali (tib. Njewakor) recited the Vinaya teachings, Ananda (tib. Küngao) recited the Sutra teachings, and Kashyapa (tib. Ösung) the Abhidharma teachings. At subsequent councils these collections were worked over several times and codified. After being translated into Tibetan, each text was introduced by a homage which made it easy to recognize which of the Three Baskets this texts belonged to.

The Vinaya scriptures teach mainly about conduct and are primarily for monks and nuns. They contain many rules of conduct. For instance, it explains why monks and nuns must act in a certain way, wear robes without sleeves, etc. Nobody else but the Buddha knows exactly the reasons why these rules are necessary. Not even the Bodhisattvas know every detail of it. Therefore, only the Buddha is praised at the beginning of a Vinaya text.

The main topic of the Sutra scriptures is the application of the meditation practice. The Bodhisattvas apply these teachings and the fruition, if one applies them, is the state of a buddha. Therefore, at the beginning of a Sutra text, homage is paid to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The Abhidharma scriptures are concerned with all knowledge which can be known. Everything that exists is described in detail i.e. the different forms of beings and what they look like, the different forms of objects, and how the universe arises and dissolves again. It is a comprehensive description of all objects of knowledge. The one who knows best everything which can be known is the Noble Manjushri. Therefore, Manjushri is praised at the beginning of the Abhidharma texts.

Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma respectively counteract attachment, aversion, and ignorance.
The Four Seals
The central teaching of the Hinayana, the Smaller Vehicle, which Buddha taught at the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma, is The Four Seals of Buddha's Speech, which distinguishes the Buddhist viewpoint from all non-Buddhist viewpoints:

   1. All composite phenomena are momentary and impermanent.
   2. All contaminated phenomena have the nature of the three kinds of suffering.
   3. All defiled and pure phenomena (all phenomena of samsara and nirvana) are empty and without self.
   4. Only nirvana is liberation and peace.

Having well reflected upon and understood them, one will know them to be definite and certain.

Samsara and Nirvana
The terms 'nirvana' and 'samsara' are often misunderstood. Samsara, the cycle of existence, means the completely defiled state of the mind. Nirvana, the liberation from the cycle of existence, means the completely purified state of the mind or literally, having escaped from deep misery.

The definition for nirvana is: only nirvana is lasting liberation, which is true happiness and genuine peace - peace without being moved by the waves of disturbing emotions.

Samsara, according to Gampopa has the following three characteristics:

    * Its nature is emptiness
    * Its appearance is illusion
    * Its characteristic is suffering

Nirvana as well has three characteristics:

    * Its nature is emptiness
    * Its appearance is freedom from illusion, therefore
    * Its characteristic is liberation from all suffering

But there are different kinds of nirvana which have to be distinguished carefully in the texts:

    * The "suchness" of all phenomena, or the "purity" by nature is called the natural nirvana
    * Cessation due to ceasing of the seeds of suffering as a result of having practiced the worldly path is called the imputed nirvana of cessation. On the four levels of concentration (samadhis)of formlessness, the karmic imprints - the seeds - are used up which leads to a false nirvana.
    * Cessation which is attained on the path of seeing of the smaller vehicle is called the nirvana of an arhat
    * The nirvana of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which does not fall into the extremes of existence and peace due to the power of discriminating wisdom and compassion, is called the non-abiding nirvana

The last two - the nirvana of the Arhats and the non-abiding nirvana - the state of a Buddha, are the most important ones and have to be distinguished carefully from each other.

The Four Noble Truths

   1. The Truth of Suffering is comparable to a sickness which should be understood as such.
   2. The Truth of the Origin of Suffering is like the cause of the sickness which should be given up.
   3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering arises from the happiness which is free from suffering and should be attained.
   4. The Truth of the Path is like a medicine which should be relied upon.

The definition of the Truth of Suffering is the continuity of the aggregates (Skr. skandhas), which come about due to karma and obscuring states of mind from former lifetimes.
The Skandhas can only exist because of continuity, of memory, etc. Without karma and afflictions we would not have Skandhas. Therefore the definition of the Origin of Suffering is: Karma and obscuring states of mind function as a cause for the Skandhas.
The definition of the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is: The abandonment which comes about by the destruction of the Origin of Suffering, through giving up all objects which have to be abandoned on the path, which is the remedy.
The definition of the Truth of the Path is: The wisdom of the Noble Ones, who have the capacity to attain the cessation of suffering by giving up the origin of suffering. One also could say: By giving up the origin one attains cessation of suffering.

Taking Refuge

The term "refuge" (Tib. kjab dro) literally means "protection against the suffering of the cycle of existence." The terms Buddha, Dharma and Sangha - the Three Jewels - as well as Lama, Yidam and Protector - the Three Roots - have already been explained in Buddhism Today Vol.1. In Tibetan Buddhism, we especially take refuge in the Lama who helps us on our way by giving us blessing, inspiration and protection.

Here the actual refuge prayer:
Master (Lama Karmapa), all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, please listen to me. From now on until enlightenment I take refuge in the Buddha, who is the example of my own nature. I take refuge in the Dharma, which is the path to liberation, to the perfection of that nature and I take refuge in the Sangha, the friends and helpers along the way. I especially take refuge in the Lama who unites blessing, methods and protection. All buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times and ten directions, please recognize me as someone who seeks refuge in the Lama and the Three Jewels for the benefit of all beings.

Although we say that we take refuge for the benefit of all sentient beings, in the beginning we can only help them on the relative level. Later on, after having attained realization, we can help them on the absolute level as well.

We have to purify our obscurations and in doing so we will attain the great liberation which lies already within us. It is this realization itself, which possesses the power to help others. Hence, our inner commitment to reach full enlightenment for the benefit of others should be felt deeply. As a symbol of this strong commitment we offer some of our hair, because the head is the most important part of our body and the hair is taken from the crown of the head. To offer some of our hair has the symbolic meaning of offering the actions, words and thoughts, our body, speech and mind, to the path of liberation. Also, we receive a new name, a Dharma-name, which strengthens our connection with this path.

BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.3, 1997. Copyright ©1997 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA