Buddhism and Spinoza 7/24


Joseph B. Yesselman


Lectures 123, 4, 5, 6, and 12 are given in Buddhism and Spinoza,

Lectures 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16,
 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 are given herein.



1. Unless otherwise noted all material herein is taken from The Teaching Company's     "Buddhism"; 12 cassetes, 2 course guide books (CG1, CG2), and 2 transcript books (TB1 &     TB2); all authored by Professor Malcolm David Eckel. © 2001 The Teaching Company Limited Partnership
     Only parts of seventeen Lectures of a total of 24 Lectures are included herein;
          the others in Buddhism and Spinoza.
    I unrestrainedly recommend your study of The Teaching Company's "Buddhism" for the           complete 24 Lectures

2. Symbols: 

3. My purpose is to show the insights of Buddhism and also where Spinoza's insights would,
    I believe, concur or differ. I use the word differ instead of disagree because disagree     implies one or the other is wrong. Whereas differ implies they are both correct and useful     for the 'world view' held. These different 'world views' are caused by differences of culture,     economic development, technological development, environmental conditions, climate,     personal disposition, etc., etc., etc. On the whole, I believe Spinoza puts into modern rational     language the insights of Buddhism and avoids the unfamiliar parables and catch-words.

4. Lectures 1-6 & 12 are given in online Buddhism and Spinoza because I believe it a review     that does not violate the Copyright of the Teaching Company.

    Lectures 7-24 are given herein (an URL just given to friends and for my own study) because I     feel it may violate the Copyright to put in generally online.


Lecture Seven
 The Buddhist Monastic Community


According to Buddhist tradition, the small group of friends who made up the audience of the Buddha's first sermon became the first of many converts who formed the early Buddhist samgha, or "community." Over the course of a long and productive teachlng career, the Buddha laid the foundation for Buddhist monasticism, including both monks and nuns, as well as a sophisticated tradition of lay devotion and support. After the Buddha's death, attention shifted from the Buddha himself to the teachings and moral principles embodied in his dharma. His followers convened a council to recite his teaching, forming the nucleus of a canon of Buddhist scripture, while disputes in the early community anticipated the sectarian divisions of later Buddhist schools.


I. A fundamental expression of Buddhist faith is the "triple refuge": I take refuge in the Buddha,    I take refuge in the dharma, and I take refuge in the samgha. In the last three lectures, we    talked about the Buddha and the dharma. It is time now to consider some of the factors that    shaped the early Buddhist community.

II. After the Buddha's death, the community confronted a problem of authority.

III. The contents of the Buddhist scriptures often are quite simple and pragmatic.

IV. The Second Buddhist Council led to the beginnings of Buddhist sectarianism.

Essential Reading:
Robinson and Johnson, The Buddhist Religion, Chapter 3


Lecture Eight
 Buddhist Art and Architecture 


Religious traditions do not communicate merely through words; they also use the language of image, space, and form. In the centuries after the death of the Buddha. Buddhists developed distinctive artistic and architectural styles to express their understanding of the Buddha's teaching and to serve as the focus of worship and veneration. The earliest images were made in a so-called "aniconic" style, representing the Buddha by his symbols or by his absence. In later centuries, under the influence of Hellenistic and indigenous Indian traditions. Buddhists used the classic Gupta style to represent the image of the Buddha. This syle served as the source and inspiration for Buddhist art throughout the rest of Asia. 


I. In the centuries immediately following the Buddha's death. the Buddha was represented (or indicated) by shrines—cetiya [Pali], caitya [Sanskrit]—containing the relics of the Buddha or related in some other wav to the events of the Buddha's life.



Lecture Nine
 Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia 


Under the reign of the Buddhist King Asoka, who reigned from about 268 to 239 B.C.E., the first Buddhist missionaries left India for Sri Lanka. From this missionary effort grew the Theravada ("Tradition of the Elders") Buddhism that now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia with the exception of Vietnam. Along with the Theravada tradition came the Buddhist concept of a "righteous king," exemplified by Asoka himself. During the history of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, a close relationship has existed between the Buddhist samgha and Buddhist political leaders. This relationship is evident Thailand, where Buddhist kings have played a key role in the reform and revitalization of the Buddhist samgha. It also plays a role in the work of Aung San Sun Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent resistance to military authority in Burma. 


I. In the last two lectures, we have considered two of the ways Buddhism changed as it expanded out of its homeland in the north of India.


Lecture Ten
 Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal 


Near the beginning of the common era, a movement appeared that called itself the Mahayana. or "Great Vehicle," in contrast to the Hinayana, or "Lesser Vehicle." The Word "Hinayana" was used to refer to previous Buddhist traditions. While Mahayana texts trace their origin to the Buddha himself, the actual origin of Mahayana remains a mystery. There is no mystery, however, about the fundamental teaching of the Mahayana. Mahayana texts promote the ideal of the bodhisattva, or "future Buddha," who does not attempt to achieve nirvana as an individual goal but vows to return again and again in the cycle of samsara to seek the welfare of others.   


I. The Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," emerged as a reform movement in the Indian Buddhist    community around the beginning of the common era.

II. Indian legends trace the origin of the Mahayana to a "Second Turning of the Wheel of the     Dharma" on the Vulture Peak in Rajagriha during the life of the Buddha.

III. The bodhisattva ideal is one of the Mahayana tradition's most important innovations.

Lecture 10 - TB1:157 

Essential Reading:
Robinson and Johnson, The Buddhist Religion, chapter 4.


Lecture Eleven
 Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas 


Along with the human beings who aspired to the bodhisatha ideal came an array of heavenly beings called "celestial" Buddhas and bodhisativas, who had accumulated the wisdom
knows G-D} and compassion to save living beings who turned to them for help. Among the many important celestial bodhisattvass is Avalokiteshvara, the "Lord Who Looks Down" with compassion. In China, Avalokiteshvara is worshipped as the compassionate deity Kuan-yin. In Tibet, Avalokiteshvara's compassion is seen in the figure of the Dalai Lama. The best known celestial Buddha is Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. According to tradition, Amitabha resides in a celestial paradise known as the Pure Land, and Amitabha has vowed to save anyone who chants his name with faith. Devotion to Amitabha has had great influence in China and is now one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan.

Lecture 11 - CG1:43

V. When he was still a bodhisattva, the Buddha Amitabha ("Infinite Light") vowed that, when     he became a Buddha, he would create a Pure Land known as Sukhavati ("Pleasurable").

Essential Reading:
Robinson and Johnson, The Buddhist Religion. chapter 5.


 Lecture Twelve 


Lecture 13
 Buddhist Philosophy 


The Mahayana tradition developed a refined and sophisticated philosophical tradition to grapple with the difficulties of Emptiness. In India the word we translate as "philosophy" (darshana) means simply "to see" {"to hear", "to understand"}. For all its complexity Buddhist philosophy is meant to be a tool to help a person see reality clearly and be free from the illusions that cause suffering and drive the cycle of death and rebirth. Indian Mahavana philosophy is divided into two major schools. The Madhyamaka School was developed in the second or third century c.e. by the philosopher Nagarjuna. The Yogachara School was founded in the fourth century by Asanga and Vasubandhu. The two schools developed very different approaches to Emptiness. For the Madhyamaka, Emptiness was ultimately unreal. For the Yogachara, it was possible to doubt the reality of all aspects of ordinary experience {Truth 2}, but it was impossible to doubt the reality of Emptiness {Truth 1} itself.  


I.  Few religious traditions argue that everything is possible precisely because everything is     unreal. This way of speaking is meant to give pause and meant to make people think in new     ways about ordinary experiences. This lecture will take the study of Emptiness a step further     by looking at two major Indian Buddhist schools that tried, in different ways, to pin down the     meaning of Emptiness.

II. What is Buddhist "philosophy"?

III. The first major school of Mahayana philosophy is known as the Madhyamaka, or "Middle      Way," School. 

IV. The second major school is known as the Yogachara, or "Yoga Practice," School. 

Essential Reading:
Robinson and Johnson, The Buddhist Religion. chapter 4, section 3.


Lecture Fourteen
 Buddhist Tantra 


The sixth century saw the emergence of a Buddhist movement known as Tantra, Vajrayana ("The Vehicle of the Thunderbolt"), or Mantrayana ("The Vehicle of Sacred Chants"). Buddhist Tantra was based on a radical extension of the doctrine of Emptiness. The Tantric tradition argued that if everything is empty, there is no practical difference between the serenity of the Buddha and destructive feelings, such as anger or passion, and there is no difference between the sexes. These conclusions produced strikingly new ways of representing and thinking about the Buddha. The Buddha was depicted as a wrathful deity and as the intimate union of male and female. The Tantric approach to Emptiness also produced strikingly new forms of ritual and meditation and unconventional images of the lifestyle of a Buddhist saint.


I. The last lecture took a journey into what we might call the high monastic culture of Buddhist     India. This was a world of fine intellectual distinctions and sophisticated debate, as you     would expect from the monasteries that for seven or eight hundred years were the bearers of     Buddhist Culture in India. In their day, these monasteries were as complex and influential as     modern universities are for us today.

ll. But there was more going on in Indian Buddhism than just the elevated intellectual activity of     the monasteries. On the fringes of Indian civilization, in the unsettled areas at the edge of the     forest and in the impure and frightening space of the cremation ground, another vision of     Buddhist practice began slowly to emerge. This vision eventually came to be known as     Tantra. Tantra brought about another profound change in Buddhist values. Our job in this     lecture is to understand the shape of Tantric Buddhism.


Lecture Fifteen
  The Theory and Practice of the Mandala 


Practitioners of Buddhist Tantra pictured the universe in the shape of a mandala or ritual circle. Mandalas were used to explore symbolic and ritual connections between the self, important Buddhist deities, and the universe as a whole. Mandalas can be represented in two dimensions, as they are in many varieties of Tantric art. They also can appear in three dimensions, ranging in size from small ritual implements to large temples. The landscape of a city or a nation can be visualized as a mandala, and movement through the mandala often serves as a guide for Buddhist pilgrimage. Mandalas help understand how Tantric practitioners use the doctrine of Emptiness to transform ordinary awareness into an awareness of the Buddha's awakening.


I. In the last lecture, we saw that the goal of Tantric practice was to achieve a union of    opposites.

lI. This system of symbolism is expressed by the visual form of a mandala.


Lecture Sixteen
  The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet 


In the seventh century, as the Tibetan tribes coalesced into an organized kingdom, they became aware of sophisticated Buddhist civilizations in China and India. The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" into Tibet began when the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo built a temple in Lhasa to house an image of the Buddha. Under his successors, Tibetan Buddhism took on the complex institutional features of Indian Buddhism. The Indian saint Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, gave Tibetan Buddhism a Tantric character, and Shantarakshita introduced Tibetans to the intellectual traditions of the Indian monasteries. With the arrival of Buddhism came the formation of a native Tibetan tradition known as Bon. Sometimes called the indigenous shamanism of Tibet, Bon is now so thoroughly infused by Buddhist influence that it seems little more than a variety of Tibetan Buddhism itself. 


I. The Tantric tradition began as a countercultural movement on the fringes of Buddhist society.    Before many centuries had passed, however, Tantra became an integral part of life in the    Indian monasteries.

II. The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet began in the seventh century.


Lecture Seventeen
  The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism 


Buddhism was eclipsed in Tibet during much of the tenth century and eventually had to be reintroduced from India. This process of reintroduction is known as the "Later Diffusion of the Dharma." Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries- the Tibetan tradition crystallized into four major schools. The Nyingma, or "Old," School traced its origin to Padmasambhava. The Sakya School played an important role in Tibetan relations with the Mongols and in the formation of a Tibetan monastic state. The Kagyu School produced Milarepa, one of Tibet's most beloved saints. And the Geluk School produced the lineage of the Dalai Lamas, a lineage that has come to dominate the religious life of Tibet.


I. The "Later Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet took place during the eleventh century.

lI. Of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, only one traces its origin back to the first     diffusion of the Dharma in the eighth century c.e. This is the Nyingma. or "Old," School.


  Lecture Eighteen
  The Dalai Lama 


When the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his peaceful resistance to Chinese domination in Tibet, he became one of the foremost spokesmen and most visible symbols of Buddhism in the contemporary world. He is the fourteenth in a line of incarnations that began in the fifteenth century. Born in Tibet and educated as the traditional "god-king" who ruled Tibet from his throne in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama has helped lead Tibetan Buddhists through a period of deep political and cultural adversity. His life and teaching are clear models for thoughtful Buddhists who are attempting to adapt Buddhist traditions to the challenges of modern life.  


I. For many, Tibetan Buddhism is personified by the figure of the Dalai Lama.

ll. The present Dalai Lama represents a line of incarnations that goes back to the fourteenth     century.


  Lecture Nineteen
  The Origins of Chinese Buddhism 


Buddhism entered China in the second century of the common era, at a time when China was suffering from political turmoil and cultural decline. The Chinese people had become disillusioned with traditional Confucian values and saw Buddhism as a new way to solve enduring religious and cultural problems. To bridge the gap between the cultures of India and China, the earliest Buddhist translators borrowed Taoist vocabulary to express Buddhist ideas. Through a long process of interaction with Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese popular religion, Buddhism took on a distinctively Chinese character, becoming more respectful of duties to the family and the ancestors, more pragmatic and this-worldly, and more consistent with traditional Chinese respect for harmony with nature. 


I.  By the time Buddhism entered Tibet, Buddhists had been in China for more than 500 years.     In this lecture, we will consider the process of transformation that took place as the first few     generations of Chinese Buddhists struggled to understand the significance of this foreign     tradition and adapt it to the distinctive needs of Chinese Culture and Chinese people.

II. When the first Buddhist monks began to appear in the Chinese capital in the middle of the    second century C.E., China was coming to the end of one of the most expansive periods in its    history. 



  Lecture Twenty
  The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism 


During the During the T'ang Dynasty (618-907), when Buddhism had been fully absorbed into Chinese civilization, a series of indigenous Chinese schools gave brilliant and distinctive expression to the values of the Mahayana tradition. The T'ien-t'ai School (named after a sacred mountain) produced an influential synthesis of Buddhist teachings based on the Lotus sutra. The Hua-yen ("Flower Garland") School pictured reality as a vast network of interrelated and interpenetrating phenomena. The Ch'an School developed the distinctive Chinese meditative tradition that came to be known in Japan as Zen. The Ching-t'u lineage developed the Chinese tradition of devotion to Amitabha Buddha. Buddhist values also had important influence on Chinese literature and the arts. 


I.  After a process that lasted a few centuries, Buddhism in China was no longer perceived as     being a foreign religion. Chinese people began to look for ideas in Buddhism {Religion} to     solve problems in their lives {bringing them peace of mind}. 


  Lecture Twenty-One
  The Origins of Chinese Buddhism 


Buddhism entered Japan in the sixth century of the common era. In the early years, during the reign of Prince Shotoku (574-622) and during the Nara Period (710-784), Buddhism was invoked to promote the welfare of the nation. The indigenous Japanese tradition known as Shinto, or "the Way of the Gods," was codified to respond to Buddhism, or "the Way of the Buddha." When the imperial capital was moved to Kyoto in the ninth century, two new Buddhist schools emerged that changed the face of Japanese Buddhism. The Shingon School, founded by Kukai (774-835), brought the colorful symbols ar rituals of Tantra to Japan. The Tendai School, founded by Saicho (767- 822), introduced the synthesis of the T'ien-t'ai School and served as it spawning ground for several important movements that shaped later Japanese history.  


I. Buddhism entered Japan as early as the year 535 from Korea, at a time wha the Japanese    were suffering from some of the same difficulties the Chinese had experienced a few    centuries earlier, during the fall of the Han Dynasty



  Lecture Twenty-Two
   Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren 

During the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), Japan suffered wide social and political unrest, in part because of the military threat of the Mongol invasion. Some Buddhist thinkers began to doubt whether it was possible to practice Buddhism successfully in such a "degenerate age (mappo). Honen (1133-12 12) and Shinran (1173-1262) argued that Japanese people should abandon any attempt to save themselves and should rely on the compassion of Amida (Amitabha) Buddha by chanting Amida's name with faith. Nichiren (1222-1282), one of the most distinctive prophetic figures in Buddhist history, denounced the degenerate practices of his time and said that Japan could be saved only if it expressed devotion to the Buddha in the form of the Lotus sutra. Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren changed the face of Buddhism in Japan and the traditions they set in motion have had enormous impact wherever Japanese Buddhism has traveled in the rest of the world. 

I.  After the gentle sophistication and refinement of life in the Heian Period, Kamakura Period    (1192-1333) brought an experience of great turbulence and danger. 

II. The Pure Land Tradition of Honen (1133-1212) and Shinran (1173-1262) responded to this     sense of crisis. 


  Lecture Twenty-Three

The Kamakura Period also saw the appearance of Zen, now one of the most popular Buddhist movements in the West. As the Japanese version of the Chinese meditative tradition known as Ch'an, Zen focuses on developing a direct, experiential awareness of Emptiness. Rejecting the idea of a "*degenerate age," the great Zen masters of the Kamakura Period, most notably Dogen (1200-1253), understood Emptiness as an experience of timelessness in each passing moment. The practice of Zen meditation has had a major influence on the martial discipline of Japanese warriors and in the practice of the arts, from flower-arranging and landscape painting to Japanese poetry. 


I. Before we move on to the last topic in our discussion of Japanese Buddhism, we should pause for a moment and consider how far we have come from the serene, solitary figure of Siddhartha Gautama to the fiery devotion of Shinran and the passionate political denunciations of Nichiren. 

II. The Zen tradition traces its roots to the Ch'an tradition in China and, through Ch'an, to the     meditative traditions of India.


  Lecture Twenty-Four
   Buddhism in America 

Since the end of the nineteenth century, Buddhism has become a respected and significant part of American culture. The American Theosophist Colonel Olcott traveled to Ceylon in the 1880s, converted to Buddhism, and helped formulate a self-confident, modern view of the Buddhist tradition. Today, Buddhism is strongly represented in Asian immigrant comrnunities and in a host of distinctively American rnovements. Buddhism has influenced the visual arts, literature, film, music, landscape architecture, and the way Americans think about their physical and mental well-being. The tradition that began on the plains of India 2,500 years ago has now been transformed in ways that would once have been unimaginable, but it still carries the sense of serenity and freedom that we associate with the Buddha himself. 


I.  As the story of Buddhism has unfolded over the course of these lectures, we have seen        that Buddhism is an extraordinarily malleable and adaptable tradition.

II. European and North American contacts with Buddhism began in the nineteenth century.

III. After the World Parliament of Religions, Asian Buddhists in North America took steps to         organize their own religious communities. These communities have continued to flourish         as the religious and ethnic makeup of American society has become more and more         diverse.

IV. As Buddhism has spread across North America. it seems that almost every variety of          Asian Buddhism has been adapted for an American audience.

V. Buddhist influence has permeated many other aspects of American culture.

VI. If Buddhism is so flexible, why is it so attractive?

Essential Reading: 

Fields, How the Swans Come to the Lake. 

Supplementary Reading:
Prebisch and Tanaka, The Faces of Buddhism in America.

Questions to Consider: 

1. What do you think has made Buddhism such an appealing tradition throughout Asia and now     makes it so appealing in the West? 

2. As Buddhism has evolved and changed, do you think the tradition has maintained its identity     or has it compromised itself out of existence?


Unless otherwise noted all material herein is taken from The Teaching Company's "Buddhism";
12 cassetes, 2 course guide books (CG1, CG2), and 2 transcript books (TB1 & TB2);
all authored by Professor Malcolm David Eckel.
© 2001 The Teaching Company Limited Partnership.


Since September 1, 2004  hits.

Buddhism and Spinoza 7/24 
Revised: November 3, 2004 


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