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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 7):
Historical Development of the Schools of Buddhism
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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 7): Historical Development of the Schools of Buddhism (38 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
September 23, 2012 - Dallas, Texas

Starting in October, for October and November, I am going to give very intensive teachings of the Buddha, but also very basic teachings with a little bit of a twist. So I hope you will come for that. And so next week, I will be at a conference, so Rev. Lee Wolack from the Center for Spiritual Living, talking about abundance, which is perfect. I didn't even think of it, that we had talked about this weeks ago before I even thought about the theme of prosperity for the next 40 days, but that is what is happening. Divine timing. So I hope you will come for that to be encouraged in your own practice of prosperity.

And by the way, according to the Buddha, the greatest key to prosperity is the practice of generosity, and I wrote an e-mail a couple of days ago about that, and at the very end I gave some quotes from different Buddhist teachers on that theme, and they were quotes that Tashi gave to me by e-mail, so I'm very grateful to Tashi for that. Just a reminder, and it makes sense because breathing in is very much intimately connected with breathing out. In and out are much connected, very much connected, and receiving and giving is also very much connected. Breathing in and breathing out, receiving and giving. If you're receiving and seems stuck—in other words, there is a lack of prosperity, then just work on the other end of giving. See how prosperity and generosity are connected? It is very logical if you look at it from a spiritual law point of view, the universal spiritual law point of view. So give more. Be more generous. Open your heart more. Radiate more love and kindness if the receiving end feels stuck. That is it. So I encourage you to practice inner and outer prosperity for yourself, for the center, and for all beings.

Tonight I would like to talk about the historical development of Buddhism and to show how we can appreciate the various major schools that have developed and how they correspond to different aspects of the human need for different qualities of teaching. So there is this person named Siddhartha Gautama. We call him the Shakyamuni Buddha because it is not just one Buddha. There are many Buddhas, and we are all actually potentially all Buddhas. So this whole universe is a Buddha making machine basically, and we are all baby Buddhas in the making. But historically, 2,600 years ago a person came to the plan that and was born as a human being and grew up in a royal family, but he was very dissatisfied with looking at the conditions of humans. Is this all there is? Being born to get sick, to grow old, and to die? Is that it? And then with the possibility of doing it over and over and over again? Surely not.

So he began the journey of 6 years when he was 29 to really truly, deeply pursue to the path to awakening to the truth--and not just the truth, but the truth about what actually set us free from suffering. And every spiritual teacher has a bottom line. Some of you who are on Facebook saw my little quote about Jesus for example. Every spiritual teacher has a bottom line; every wonderful spiritual teacher worth listening to has a bottom line. The Buddha's bottom line was the transformation of suffering, transforming the causes of suffering. What was Jesus' bottom line? Well, you can meditate on that, but I do know what it was not. Jesus' bottom line was not discrimination, exclusivism, hatred, sexism, homophobia, racism, violence—all of that. That was definitely not Jesus' bottom line. If you meditate on it, what was his bottom line? Could it be something to do with love?

But more important than what the Buddha's bottom line is, Jesus' bottom line is, What is your bottom line?

Female: Chocolate!

ChiSing: Okay. Some Buddhas are comedians. I mean, really the reason there are so many different multiplicities of beings in the universe is because Buddha nature is not satisfied with just expressing in one way. The Buddha nature desires to express in an infinite rainbow variety of ways, one pure light wanting to express a refraction of infinite variety.

So Shakyamuni Buddha was a certain way. Jesus was a certain way. Other spiritual teachers are their way. Some are very quiet Buddhas. Some are very loquacious Buddhas. Some are very humorous Buddhas. Some are very serious Buddhas. Some are very musical Buddhas. Some are very not musical Buddhas. Some are comedic Buddhas. Some are other kinds of Buddhas. See, the variety of Buddhas are based on all sentient beings because there is not a separation between Buddha and being, whether you are a human being or whatever kind of being you are, intricately intimately interrelated.

So, you are Buddha in the making. So whenever you feel down on yourself, meditate on that, just reaffirm that until you feel it once again. Shakyamuni Buddha came and gave teachings after his enlightenment, which we will talk about in 2 weeks when I am back in October, right after the weekend retreat. So those who are going to retreat, I encourage you to please come to sangha right after the retreat and make it part of the retreat. Then you will maybe feel tired, but it will be worth it because it is going to be a good Sunday because I am going to have practice all weekend, so I am going to really be full of light and we are all going to be full of light.

It is actually helpful to realize that our practice is not just for ourselves but for the whole sangha. Think about it. You practiced Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Don't go home immediately. Come to the Center before you go home, because you have now generated powerful mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Why not sit for the rest of the sangha with the benefit of your light while it is still bright before the worldly ways start to kind of creep in again during the workweek? That is why I encourage people even after retreat even if you are a little tired to still come to the sangha Sunday at 5 PM so you can share that energy of practice.

Let me tell you. Remember the intimate connection between giving and receiving or prosperity and generosity? So if you practice like that to come here even though you are tired, but to do it so you can benefit the rest of the sangha, even if you don't even say anything, just sitting there and radiating is going to add to the Buddha field we are collectively creating. This is what the Pure Land means. Pure Land is a terrible English term in my opinion, because it is so literal, but the word in Sanskrit is buddha-kshetra, Buddha field, a field of enlightenment, a field of awakening, in energy that is awakening all beings. So that is a lot better translation than Pure Land.

So the Buddha had disciples and many of them, a few hundred of them, became arhats in Sanskrit or arhants in Pali--basically those who were enlightened during Buddha's time, a few hundred. Many of them were monks and nuns and also many were laypeople. After the Buddha passed into paranirvana--we don't say that the Buddha died. The Buddha passed into paranirvana. There was a development over the next few hundred years where there were several different schools of Buddhism that developed, which is natural, right? Because you have different groups of practitioners doing different things, and of course back then they did not really write much down. In fact, the way they transmitted the teachings was to orally chant the teaching, and the reason they did chanting was because chanting has a few ups and downs in the melody kind of, which helps you to remember things. I mean, think about it. Isn't it easier to remember a song in a column? Yeah. It is, because of the musical tone associated. So that is why they chanted it.

But see, the thing is that groups of monks would memorize different sets of the teachings because there are so many and they would like to make sure that they got it down pretty good, and then they would chance it for the rest of the community, but over time of course, when you are only chanting certain scriptures, you are going to be slanted toward that particular teaching, and if something else has a different emphasis, another group is going to be slanted, so that is why I believe that it is very natural different schools of Buddhism developed. Some emphasized this part of the teaching of the Buddha and others emphasized this part of the teaching. And that is just natural, but over the next few centuries, there was slowly a divide among the schools so that it was becoming more and more different among them.

There were about so-called 18 schools of Buddhism that developed, and then there was only one of those 18 survived called the Theravada tradition. Theravada is the way of the elders. They believe that they have preserved the most ancient teachings in the purest form from the time of the Buddha. Now, there was another school that also died out, but before they died out, they had influenced the development of a new school of Buddhism which wasn't any one particular school. It was sort of a conglomeration of several different movements within the Buddhist communities, and the broad umbrella term was Mahayana. Maha means great. Yana means vehicle or boat or raft. So the great ship, Mothership.

Because what they were trying to do—the Theravadans were so orthodox and trying to stick with the teachings that they knew and preserve them in an orthodox way, they really put a lot of emphasis on monkhood and nunhood—well, mostly monkhood because eventually it became a little bit more male dominant, but that is another story. It is true of every religion by the way. But anyway, they put a lot of emphasis on monastic path That really the laypeople basically just have to support the monks so that the monks could become enlightened, but it was very difficult or any laypersons to become enlightened, so they did not put a lot of emphasis on lay practice.

Now the Mahayana thought no, no. Buddhist teachings are for everyone, and even laypeople can be enlightened, not just monks and nuns. So they also emphasized that their teachings should not just remain in one conservative form but should have the freedom to innovate a little bit so that you can reach out to more and more different cultures, different people, different time periods to be more relevant, and the emphasis is not just on the enlightenment of the arhats, enlightenment of the monastic community practicing so deeply that they become arhats, but the emphasis is really on everyone being a bodhisattva, everyone wanting to be enlightened in such a way to help all beings, to serve all beings, not just self enlightenment, but enlightenment collectively. In other words, the attitude here was practicing in such a way that you refuse to have perfect happiness for yourself only, that you are not going to ever be perfectly happy just for yourself until all beings are happy with you. It is very similar to this idea that I heard from a wonderful Christian mystic who said no one in heaven can be perfectly happy until everyone is in heaven. So all the saints in heaven work very, very hard to save all beings in the universe. It is a very similar idea.

Now, I am going to talk about the Theravada tradition and the Mahayana tradition, but just in broad terms. These are broad understandings. Basically the emphasis is on the arhat here, and the emphasis here is on the bodhisattva who practices to become the kind of being who can help as many beings as possible. This emphasis here is orthodox, and the emphasis here is upaya, which means skillful means. In other words, coming up with innovative means to proclaim the Dharma, the teachings and help as many beings as possible.

One example would be like in the Theravada tradition, it is deemphasized to use music because especially if you are a monk or a nun you are not supposed to sing or listen to music. You are just supposed to kind of—I think because music can be very emotional and it can disturb your equanimous mind. Maybe. I don't know. But in my opinion, if you are that equanimous, it would not disturb you. But anyway, for the sake of their practice, they renounce many, many different things as a monk or a nun. But the Mahayana believe that it is okay to use any means including music if it is going to help beings come on to the path of enlightenment, so there are a lot of different examples of music in the Mahayana tradition helping to create a practice that draws in people, attracts them to the Dharma.

Both traditions emphasize wisdom and compassion. But perhaps the Theravadan tradition understands wisdom and compassion in slightly different ways than the Mahayana tradition, and definitely the Mahayana tradition emphasizes compassion a great deal, and perhaps the Theravadans emphasize wisdom also very much. So as this developed over the centuries--this actually isn't a short teaching, is it? There were 4 major schools of Buddhism that developed, and I like to think of it like a big iceberg. The part of the iceberg that is above the water, I called the Theravada tradition and the 3 major schools that are below the water line I would call Mahayana, and there are 3 major schools of Mahayana that developed: the Zen school, the Pure Land school, and the esoteric school, which most of us know as Tibetan Buddhism. But it is the esoteric school because it is not just in Tibet. It exists in China and Korea and Japan also.

So when I look at this, what I realize is this is rational, looking at the teachings of the Buddha from a rational point of view, and many times the Theravadans when they look at the Mahayana practitioners, they look so irrational to them because the Mahayana allowed not only the teachings of the Buddha as they were passed down the way the Theravadans understood, but also the teachings of enlightened beings can continue even through the centuries and even now because when Tibetan monks or nuns or lay practitioners meditate and going to very deep states of consciousness and visit Buddha realms, they hear the teachings of these Buddhas, and then maybe they will write it down and transmit it to their disciples on the earth. So in the Mahayana it is perfectly fine to have all of these teachings that did not exist historically 500 years after the Buddha, and yet something appeared about 500 years after the Buddha, which is around the 1st century BC or BCE, whatever you want to call it. That is when the Mahayana tradition started to blossom and in fact became the majority of Buddhism. Because they were willing to innovate and also refresh the teachings with new insights.

But instead of calling it here rational, I want to call it trans-rational. In other words, it is not only the Buddha's teachings at face value, but also the deeper mystical understandings of the Buddha's teachings in a trans-rational way, not in your rational way. So the Theravadans I would say are the by the book Buddhists, you know, go by the book, and the Pure Land tradition is more about transmitting the heart of the Buddha, the gratitude, the love, the devotion. And the esoteric school is about transmitting the Buddha's energy, and that is why they developed rituals and chants and mantras and all kinds of ceremonies. Maybe these were not ceremonies that the Buddha actually did in his time, because from what we know about the Buddha, he did not do a lot of ceremonies. But to transmit that, the Buddha's energy, they developed these ceremonies to transmit that same enlightened energy through ritual.

And then the Zen people just try to throw it all out, all this fantasy and ritual, and just go to the core heart, the true deepest spirit of the Buddha, even before the Buddha. Because remember before I took the Buddha and the cycles and the 18 schools, but there is something even prior to the Buddha, which is Buddha nature, which is universal. That is where the Buddha's enlightenment came from. So the Zen school says, "Don't just look at the Buddha. What is prior to Buddha? What is the source of Buddha? Look to that, and that expresses in different ways." That is why ended since school there may be different methods developed to help people wake up to that enlightenment within them. They are okay with coming up with different sitting practices or koans, stories, or riddles to help wake someone up.

So when I look at all 4 of them, I see that the Buddha was a beautiful, wonderful teacher, and the Buddha spoke with human words to the common masses, and the Theravadans recorded those teachings. But what else did the Buddha teach? This teaching is not just in words.

Female: He transmitted nonverbal awareness, like the sermon, if you want to call it that, where he just holds a lotus up.

ChiSing: That is right, in that story from the Zen school, whether or not that actually happened historically we do not know, but it was a story to transmit the truth that truth is not just verbally transmitted. There are other ways of transmitting truth, so the Pure Land I believe it is a way that the Buddha's love has been transmitted, through the stories of Amitabha and the Pure Land. Whether it is a literal or not is not the point, but the story contains a truth of deep love and devotion and a blueprint for our practice as bodhisattvas. Because, you see, in the Pure Land tradition, Amitabha that is not just get enlightened and sit there enjoying his own enlightenment. No. Amitabha creates a Pure Land and tries to bring as many beings into the Pure Land as possible to help support their practice so that they can become fully enlightened, and once they are fully enlightened, then he says, "I am off to all worlds to share the Dharma." In that sense, the Pure Landis not the same thing as the Western understanding of heaven because it is not a reward. It is a way station to get support for the practice to become enlightened and then you are sent out to all worlds, all dimensions, all the universes to help all beings.

And the esoteric school has been transmitting the energy of the Buddha, that radiant energy, and then the Zen of course, which is one of my favorite schools of Buddhism, is transmitting the silent spirit of the Buddha, just pure beingness of the Buddha, and it is not even the Buddha.

So, when I look at this, I think of this as mind oriented, heart oriented, energy body oriented, and spirit oriented. These, according to like Carl Jung, for example, a psychologist, these are the 4 different aspects that humans learn on these different levels: on a mental level, emotional level, energetic level, energetic/physical level, and a spiritual level. So I personally, even though I believe—I still believe you have to focus on one particular practice or maybe 2 at the most, but it is hard for us as human beings to try to do everything, because then it is just superficial and not very deep. But at the same time, I believe that we should—for instance, my main tradition is Zen, but I supplemented greatly like the Chinese tradition does. Chinese Buddhist totally blend Pure Land and Zen. For some reason, the Japanese separated them out. I guess it is cultural, because Chinese people like to do stirfry and fried rice. Japanese people like to have Bento boxes. It is cultural. But the blend of Zen and Pure Land helps to bring a balance, in my opinion. So choose your tradition. Choose your practice. Do it deeply, but also be open to the wisdom from the others.

So that is what I am doing. I am a Zen Pure Land practitioner. I also love the Theravada tradition because it is by the book, so it is more step-by-step and it is easier to understand. That is very, very nice. And then of course recently, I have been also learning from the esoteric tradition, especially through our resident Tibetan monk Tashi here, which is been wonderful. One of the things I am doing during this 40 day prosperity power practice period is I am going to practice under his guidance, and he is going to give me some practices and blessings to help empower me during these 40 days, which is great.

So there you have it, my sort of understanding of the development of Buddhism as a way of looking at the 4 different aspects within our own selves as humans, and you can find this and other religions also. So if you are from a Christian or a Jewish or whatever tradition, look in your tradition and see the different aspects as it has developed in your tradition to emphasize different aspects of our beingness.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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