Three Jewels/Treasures: Buddha / Dharma / Sangha

Siddhartha Gautama (5th c. BCE):     The Buddha / Butsu (Enlightened One)

                                                         Sakyamuni / Shaka (Sage of the Sakya clan)

                                                         Tathagatha / Nyorai (Thus-come-one)

Three Branches:

            Theravada (Hinayana): Way of the Elders (Smaller Vehicle)



      • S/SE Asia

      • Pali Canon: Tripitika (below)

            Mahayana: Greater Vehicle



      •  East Asia

      • Chinese Canon: Pali Canon + new sutras, commentaries, biographies

            Vajrayana: Diamond Vehicle



      •  Tibet, North/Central Asia, Japan (1 school)

      •  Tibetan Canon (except for Shingon in Japan): Chinese Canon + Tantras (ritual texts)

Theravada Buddhist Canon (Tripitaka, “Three Baskets”):

            Sutra: discourses of the Buddha

            Vinaya: monastic codes

            Abhidharma: philosophical analysis

Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path:


    1. “Suffering”/ unsatisfactoriness (dukkha): inevitable part of existence

    2. Cause of suffering: craving, desire, thirst (tanha)

    3. Elimination of suffering: elimination of craving

    4. Means of eliminating craving: The Noble Eightfold Path:


        1. Right views

        2. Right intention                        Wisdom (prajña)

        3. Right speech

        4. Right action                            Morality (sila)

        5. Right livelihood

        6. Right effort

        7. Right mindfulness                   Concentration, meditation (samadhi)

        8. Right concentration

Three Characteristics of Existence:

            suffering (dukkha)

            impermanence (anitya / mujo)

            no-self (anatman)

Five Skandhas (components, aggregates):

         1. Form

         2. Sensation

         3. Perceptions/conceptions

         4. Predispositions (karmic), volitions, will

         5. Consciousness

Three Ills (evils):


            anger / hatred


Five Precepts (vows):

        1. Not to kill

        2. Not to steal

        3. Not to misuse sex (adultery)

        4. Not to lie

        5. Not to take intoxicants

Other key concepts:

           karma: moral causality

           samsara: cycle of rebirth

           nirvana: extinction of karma and rebirth

           bodhi / satori: enlightenment

           ignorance (avidya)

           dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada)

           arhat: enlightened person (in Theravada)

Spread of Buddhism:

5th c. BCE:     originated in North India

3rd c. BCE:     to Sri Lanka (Pali Canon first put into writing there)

1st c. BCE:      to Central Asia via Afghanistan / Mahayana developing

1st c. CE:        first recorded mention in China

5th c.:              to Korea

6th c.:              to Japan (from Korea, but then most influence from China)

7th c.:              to Tibet (from India and China)

10th – 11th c.:  mostly wiped out in India by Islamic invasions

19th-20th c.:   to Europe and America

Major Characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism

  1. New sūtras, written in Sanskrit and/or Chinese

    1. Lotus Sūtra: one of the most popular Buddhist sutras throughout East Asia

      1. upāya (“skillfull means”): the Buddha revealed his teachings in different ways to different people at different times, depending on their capabilities and the conditions of the times – hence the great variation in doctrines among the various sutras and schools

      2. universal Buddha-nature: the Buddha is eternal and omnipresent; hence all sentient beings are, or will become, Buddhas (also developed by philosophical theories, below)

      3. soteriological value of stūpa-worship (reliquaries)

    2. Prajña-paramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) sūtras: emphasizing the concept of emptiness

      1. Heart Sūtra: chanted every day in Chan / Zen monasteries. Includes the line “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

      2. Diamond Sūtra

    3. Pure Land Sūtras (3): Amitabha Buddha’s vows, basis of Pure Land Buddhism

    4. Avatāmsaka / Huayan / Kegon (“Flower Garland”) sūtra: focuses on Vairocana Buddha (see below) – basis of Huayan / Kegon Buddhism

    5. Platform Sūtra: story and teachings of Huineng, the 6th Patriarch of Chan / Zen. The only sūtra that does not claim to be the words of the Buddha. Written in Chinese.

    6. Vimalakirti Sūtra: story of the enlightened layman, Vimalakirti

    7. Lankāvatāra Sūtra: reflects Yogacāra (Consciousness-Only) philosophy

  2. New model of enlightenment: the Bodhisattva

    1. an enlightened being who vows to remain in samsāra (any level) to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment; characterized by wisdom and compassion

    2. Bodhisattva vow:

      However innumerable the sentient beings, I vow to save them all.
      However inexhaustible the passions (klesas), I vow to extinguish them all.
      However immeasurable the dharmas, I vow to master them all.
      However incomparable the truth of the Buddha, I vow to attain it.

    3. Six Bodhisattva Virtues or Perfections (paramitā)

      1. giving (dāna)

      2. morality (sīla)

      3. patience (ksānti)

      4. energy (virya)

      5. meditation (dhyāna)

      6. wisdom (prajñā)

  3. New devotional / “theistic” dimension (faith, worship, bhakti)

    1. Bodhisattvas

      1. Maitreya / Mi-le / Miroku (Buddha of next age)

      2. Manjūsri / Wenshu / Monju (Wisdom)

      3. Avalokitesvara / Guanyin / Kannon (Compassion)

      4. Ksitigarbha / Dizang / Jizō (Children in underworld)

      5. Samantabhadra / Puxian / Fugen (Universal Virtue)

    2. Buddhas

      1. Sākyamuni / Shijie / Shaka (Historical Buddha)

      2. Amitābha / Amituo / Amida (Infinite Light)

      3. Amitāyus / Wuliangshou / Muryōju (Infinite Life)

      4. (Maha-)Vairocana / Luoshana / Roshana or Dainichi (Sun, Cosmos)

      5. Baisyaja-guru / Yaoshi / Yakushi (Medicine, Healing)

  4. New philosophical developments

    1. Emptiness (sunyatā / kong / kū: all dharmas (things or elements) are “empty of own-being;” they have no independent, autonomous, existence; their very existence or being depends on other things; they are inherently conditional, not absolute. Hence emptiness = interdependence. Nagarjuna (2nd c. CE): “Emptiness is equivalent to ‘dependent origination’ (pratītya-samutpāda).”

    2. Universal Buddha-nature

      1. Three Body (trikāya) doctrine: aspects of Buddhahood

        1. Nirmāna-kāya: “Transformation body”:  historical Sakyamuni

        2. Sambhōga-kāya: “Reward body”:  spiritual being, perceptible only to other spiritual beings (including humans reborn in Pure Land) – hence their “reward”

        3. Dharma-kāya: “Truth body”:  abstract principle, ultimate truth

      2. Inherent enlightenment (benjue / hongaku): enlightenment possible in this life; all beings are manifestations of Buddha; “ordinary mind is the Way”

    3. Nirvāna = Samsāra: nirvāna and samsāra both characterized by emptiness; nirvāna is samsāra correctly understood (Nagarjuna)

    4. “Interpenetration” of all things: the ultimate truth of all things is emptiness; every individual thing fully manifests the ultimate truth of everything else. Developed in Huayan school. Indra’s Net.

  5. New possibilities of enlightenment for laypeople

    1. Through the virtue of “generosity / giving” (dāna) — the first of the 6 Bodhisattva Perfections or Virtues — lay people can gain karmic merit by donating to temples, having scriptures copied, building and maintaining stūpas (reliquaries), etc.

    2. “Transfer of merit”: karmic merit can be dedicated to others

    3. Enlightenment is possible in this life, without becoming a monk or nun

    4. Symbolized by Huineng (6th Patriarch) and Vimalakirti

  6. New Chinese schools and their Japanese counterparts:

    1. Pure Land (Jingtu / Jōdō ). Based on vow of Amitābha Buddha (in the Pure Land Sūtras) to cause anyone who called on his name (faithfully) to be reborn into a Western Paradise or Pure Land, where they would live in the company of Amitābha for a very long time, and then be reborn one final time as a human and achieve nirvāna.

      • Founded in Japan by Hōnen (1133-1212)

      • Jōdō Shinshū (True Sect of Pure Land) founded by Hōnen’s former follower, Shinran (1173-1263)

    2. Tiantai / Tendai (Heavenly Terrace, the name of the mountain in southeast China where the temple of the school’s founder, Zhiyi [6th century], was located). Based on the Lotus Sūtra and the concept of the “true suchness” (zhenru) of things: the “mean” between the fundamental emptiness of things and their “provisional existence.”

      • Brought to Japan by Saichō (Dengyō Daishi, 762-822) in 805, who founded Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei (just outside Kyoto)

    3. Huayan / Kegon (Flower Garland, the Chinese name of the Avatāmsaka Sūtra). Central concept: the mutual “interpenetration” of all things, based on their true nature, the principle of emptiness. Chief Buddha: Vairocana / Dainichi.

      • Dominant school during Nara period; Tōdaiji.

    4. Chan / Zen (from chan-na, the Chinese transliteration of dhyāna, or meditation). Focus on meditation, “sudden enlightenment,” and the recorded sayings of Tang dynasty (7th-10th c.) masters more than sutras featuring Buddhas.

      • Linji / Rinzai sect: brought to Japan by Eisai (1141-1215)

      • Caodong / Sōtō sect: brought to Japan by Dōgen (1200-1254)

Major School of Japanese Buddhism

(by period)


(Capital at Nara)

Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi, 573-621):

first Japanese patron of Buddhism

built Horyuji, first Buddhist temple in Japan

“Seventeen Article Constitution” (actually principles of government, mostly Confucian but some Buddhist)

commentary on Lotus Sutra


Kegon-shu (sect)

Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple), built by Emperor Shomu (r. 724-249), containing Daibutsu (Great Buddha) — largest bronze sculpture, of Dainichi Buddha

center of network of provincial temples


(Capital at Heian-kyo, or Kyoto)


Chinese founder: Zhiyi (538-597) of Tiantai (mountain) monastery

Brought to Japan by Saicho (767-822), or Dengyo Daishi (Great Teacher who Spreads the Teachings)

Mt. Hiei temple complex (NE suburb of Kyoto):

Enryakuji monastery on Mt. Hiei, the sole official ordination center: Honen, Shinran, Eisai, Dogen, Nichiren all first studied there.


Shingon-shu (Shingon = “True Word” ( < Ch. Zhenyan < Skt. mantra)

Brought to Japan by Kukai (774-835), or Kobo Daishi (Great Dharma-Spreading Teacher)

Mt. Koya monastic complex (3 hours by train south of Kyoto) and Toji (Eastern Temple, Kyoto)

Esoteric (mikkyo): Vajrayana rituals and meditation

mudra (hand gestures): body

mantra (changed syllables): speech

mandala (visualized and painted pictures): mind

All used as foci of meditation

hongaku: original enlightenment From the Dainichi-kyo (Dainichi Sutra):

“Enlightenment is to know your own mind as it really is…. Seek in your own mind enlightenment and all-embracing wisdom. Why? Because it is originally pure and bright.” Thus: “To attain enlightenment in this very body, in this very mind.”


“Where is the Dharmakaya? It is not far away; it is in our body. The source of wisdom? In our mind.”


Kamakura Shogunate: Military government (bakufu) based in Kamakura (south of present-day Tokyo);

Imperial government still in Kyoto

New schools of Kamakura Buddhism: Pure Land




Pure Land sects: Sutras: (Larger) Sukhavati-vyuha (Muryoju-kyo)

(Smaller) Sukhavati-vyuha (Amida-kyo)

Amitayur-dhyana (Kammuryoju-kyo)

Nembutsu: “Namu Amida Butsu” (Hail to Amida Buddha)

Three Ages of the Law (Dharma): True Law (Shobo)

Counterfeit Law (Zobo)

Decline of (Degenerate) Law (Mappo): people no longer capable of achieving enlightenment

Jodo-shu (Pure Land Sect)

Founder: Honen (1133-1212)

Nembutsu alone is sufficient to reborn into Pure Land

“Even a bad person will be received in a Buddha’s Land; how much more a good person.”

Jodo-shinshu (True Sect of Pure Land)

Founder: Shinran (1173-1263)

Emphasis on faith and gratitude for Amida’s compassion

“Even a good person will be received in Buddha’s Land; how much more a bad person.”


Nichiren-Shoshu (Orthodox Sect of Nichiren)

Founder: Nichiren Daishonin (Great Holy Sage) (1222-1292)

Lotus Sutra as object of devotion itself

Daimoku: “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” (“Hail to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law”)

Gohonzon: mandala centered on title of Lotus Sutra

Japan is where true Buddhism will prevail; other forms of Buddhism (even in Japan) are false

30-40 sub-sects today

Soka Gakkai (“Value-Creation Society”), founded 1951, split with Nichiren-Shoshu 1991