Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sacred Book
Question: (unedited)
What is the Buddhist book? (like the bible in christianity)

My Comment:
We are used to regard religion as a form of revelation by a supreme being, or his prophet; his message and commandments being inscribed into some text which must be obeyed without any questioning. We have been indoctrinated to believe that a religion must possess this attribute of a supreme being and a sacred text to command us to obey. To study Buddhism, we have to discard this preconceived stereotype mentality. In other words, we have to approach our study with an open mind.

The Buddha was not a god or a prophet. He was a human being with extraordinary powers. He had cultivated his mind to the ultimate purity that gained him the power of omniscient knowledge. In common language, we call this supreme psychic power. He had the ability to know what had to be known. He knew everything under the whole universe, and more importantly, he realized the real nature of this universe and this self. His mission was to inform us the truth about the whole universe and the reality of this life, so that we could live in peace with ourselves. In short the Buddha's message was how to find truth and peace. The Buddha spent 45 years preaching and spreading the message of truth and peace. The monks would then commit his teachings into memory.

In order to understand the development of the Buddhist sacred text, a little bit of Buddhist history will help. Three months after the passing away of the Buddha, the senior monks congregated and recited all his teachings to confirm the authenticity. After another 100 years, another group of senior monks again reconfirmed all the teachings. A 3rd council meeting was held after another 100 years, and the elder monks once again confirmed the authenticity. This time they referred it as the Theravada council. Theravada means the teachings of the elders, i.e., the teachings as confirmed by the elder monks.

Then, around 80 b.c., a 4th council was convened in Sri Lanka. The teachings were confirmed as authentic having passed through the authoritative confirmation down the passage of time. After that, it was decided that all the teachings be transcribed into writing and accordingly done. The text was called Tipitaka, meaning, 3 baskets, because all the teachings were grouped together into 3 baskets or sections.

The sacred text of the Buddhists is called Tipitaka. It has 3 sections. The 1st section contains all the general discourses of the Buddha; the 2nd section refers to the code of conduct for the monks; and the 3rd section embodies the higher teachings regarding detailed analyses of matter and mind.

It is very difficult to fully understand by reading the Tipitaka. That is why most people learn Buddhism from books and from the learned monks and lay preachers. I am sorry to confuse you a little bit more. There are a number of different schools (traditions) of Buddhism, and some discourses are not found in the Tipitaka. To explain this will entail another question if you care to ask.

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