The New Seminary Buddhism Review

1. What are the Four Passing Sights that Siddhartha saw and what did they mean to him?

According to the traditional biography, Prince Siddh?rtha Gautama was shielded from religious teaching and knowledge of human suffering by his father King ?uddhodana, who desired his son to develop expertise on secular and royal affairs. According to the prediction of the shramana (ascetic) Asita, he too would become a ascetic if he came into contact with the existential conditions of life. Siddhartha thus spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu [1], a region of the ancient Shakya kingdom, near the border of contemporary India and Nepal, in relative luxury.

On his first venture out of the palace grounds,with his charioteer Channa [3], Gautama observed four sights whilst meeting his subjects in the Sakya capital; an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. This was despite the King's best efforts to contrive the situation so that the Prince would not encounter examples of human suffering. In the first three of these situations Channa explained to a somewhat distressed Prince Siddh?rtha that these were normal experiences of the human condition. The fourth sight was of an ascetic who was devoted to finding the cause of human suffering. From this experience Prince Siddh?rtha decided to escape from the palace to take up the life of an ascetic and did so with Channa the following morning [4]. "In this spring of my life, despite the tears shed by my parents, I shaved my head, put on robes, renounced my home, and became a homeless monk" [5].

It must be mentioned that these events are only first recorded some centuries after the Gautama's life; in all probability the example is highly contrived [6]. Nevertheless it does serve as an deliberately extreme illustrative example of the inevitable failure to avoid the existential conditions of human suffering even through wealth, material possessions or attempts to be screen from these issues, despite the fact that many attempt to do so. Once one has these "sights" as conscious and intentional issues in the mind, then it becomes necessary to treat this issues with primary importance. In this context, the decision of Gautama to take up an ascetic life has less to with a renouncement of realist requirements, but rather a desire to reduce one's physical requirements to a working minimum whilst concentrating on the subject at hand.

[1] Maha Thera Na?rada, A Manual of Buddhism, Buddha Educational Foundation, 1992 pp. 9-14. The primary traditional biographies are the Buddhacarita, Lalitavistara S?tra, Mah?vastu, and the Nid?nakath?.
[2] Edward Conze, Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Books, 1959, pp39-40
[3] The white horse which pulled the chariot, Kanthaka, also receives mention. According to tradition, Kanthaka was reborn as a brahmin and went on to attend dharma talks by Gautama Buddha. c.f., Robert E. Buswell, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume 1, Macmillan Reference, 2004, p85
[4] Kevin Trainor, 2004. Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide. Oxford University Press, 2004, pp28 passim. According to some versions of the story the four sights are encountered on different days.
[5] Majjhima-nikaya, 1, 163. See Bhikkhu Ñanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans) The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, 1995
[6] Mark Siderits, Buddhism As Philosophy: An Introduction, Ashhate, 2007, p17

2. What are the six aspects present in most religious traditions according to Huston Smith?

In Huston Smith's study on world religions an attempt is made in the chapter on Buddhism to define six major aspects common to all religions, along with the suggestion that these are part of the human condition. "Six aspects of religion surface so regularly to suggest their seeds are in the human makeup" [1]. Specifically these include (i) authority, derived from individual talent and institutional and administrative bodies., (ii) ritual, as collective expression., (iii) speculation on metaphysical propositions., (iv) tradition, that conserves learning., (v) grace, the proposition that the universe is good., (vi) mystery, the attempt to understand the unfathomable (e.g., the Infinite).

As a reform of Hinduism, Buddhism developed a religion that was "almost devoid of the above-mentioned ingredients without which we would suppose that religion could not take root" [2]. Specifically, the Buddha argued (i) against both the institutional caste of religious specialists and even individual leaders ("Be a lamp unto yourselves")., (ii) that ritual was a ineffectual superstitious rigmorale, a fetter., (iii) that speculation detracted from a pragmatic utility that seeks to understand the cause and destruction of suffering., (iv) that tradition should be rejected when it is not good and teachings should be carried out in the vernacular., (v) that against grace and fatalism, intense self-effort and diligence is required and (vi) that explorations supernatural mysteries are rejected in favour of the possible.

The example of the Buddha does seem to suggest that the six aspects are not necessarily as much part of the human condition as expected. On the other hand, Huston Smith also argues that Buddhism as a religion also began to re-incorporate these characteristics. This tension suggests that when the limits of realist ontology and epistemology are tested the possibility of slipping into metaphysical solutions has great temptation.

[1] Huston Smith, The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, HarperCollins, 1958, rev. ed. 1991, p92-93
[2] ibid. p94-99

3. What are the Four Noble Truths?

The Four Noble Truths are part of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is traditionally claimed to be the first discourse of the Buddha after reaching enlightenment. The Noble Truths are defined in a logical sequence, which means that they should be first recognised, then pursued and then achieved.

1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), the suggestion that life itself is an experience of suffering. Note that the term means a variety of expressions that suggest unease, discontent, sorrow, dissatisfaction, anguish etc., as well as direct instances of pain. It includes the experience of birth, of aging, of illness and death. The five "aggregates" (skandha) that are subject to attachement (up?d?na) are suffering. The aggregates are defined as the mental factors (feeling, perception and formation), form and consciousness [1]. The attachmenets are sense-pleasure (craving for worldly possessions), wrong-view (eternalism or nihilism)., ritualism (the belief that rituals alone lead to enlightenment) and self-doctrine (identification self-less entities).

2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (dukkha samudaya), states that craving (tanh?) causes the cycle of continuity of life and death (bh?va), which includes reincarnation, which leads to further craving. Craving can include craving for sensuality (k?ma-tanh?), craving for becoming (bhava-tanh?), or craving for extermination (vibhava-tanh?) [3].

3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (dukkha nirodha), claims that the cessation of suffering can be achieved from the cessation of craving. Contrary to some popular perceptions, this does not mean an extreme rejection of indulgence in favour of mortification. Indeed, it was the very first teaching of the enlightened Siddhartha Gautama that suggested instead to take "the middle way" between indulgence and mortification [4], by engaging in a satisfactory removal of the cause of tanh? (whose original meaning is "thirst") where it an objective necessity and a relinquishing of those cravings which are non-essential.

4. The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering (dukkha nirodha gamini patipada magga) are the actions required to cease suffering and therefore remove the origin of suffering. This is expressed in the Noble Eightfold Path, that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

[1] Phillip Rawson, Sacred Tibet. Thames and Hudson, 1911 p11, passim.
[2] A.F. Caroline, Davids Rhys, Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, Kessinger Publishing, 2003 [FP: 1900], pp. 323-325
[3] See Digha Nikaya, Discourses 15 (Maha-nidana Sutta: The Great Causes Discourse) and 22 (Maha-satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference) for example; Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), John T. Bullitt (ed), "Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses", Access to Insight, 2010.
[4] Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, op cit., Samyutta Nikaya, 56:11

4. What is the preliminary step of the Eightfold Path and why is it important? List and explain the eight steps of the path.

Houston Smith arges that a preliminary step to the Eightfold Path is "right association" [1]. Smith claims that that although this was not included in the Eightfold Path, it is referred to "so often elsewhere that we may assume that he [Buddha] was presupposing it here" (p104). An argument is presented that as social animals, that training for the life of spirit is the equivalent of a type of healthy "contagion". Smith claims that once we associate with "Truthwinners" and imbibe their love and compassion "we may proceed to Path's eight steps Proper".

The Eightfold Path is a logical consequence of the Four Noble Truths. It may be conceptually considered part of three groups [2]; the (i) moral discipline (silakkhandha), consisting of right speech, right action, and right livelihood., (ii) the concentration group (samadhikkhandha), consisting of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration., and (iii) the wisdom group (paññakkhandha), made up of right knowledge and right intention.

Right Knowledge requires an understanding of the Four Noble Truths, including knowledge of the Eightfold Path and especially the need to overcome craving and wrong views arising from ignorance (avijja), which leads to wrong intention, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness and wrong concentration [3]. Right Knowledge is tempered by the Middle Way, and is designed to "clear the mind" of attachments. Part of this process is developing understanding directly through apprehension and overcoming intellectual knowledges bound by concepts and categories.

Right intention, or aspiration, is the exertion of the will to change themselves of those qualities which are wrong, as has been discerned through right knowledge. It means the wilful renunciation of the worldly cravings and commitment to the spiritual path, the expression of good will towards others, and non-violence towards other living beings [4]. Of particular emphasis is the internal discipline and persistence required to overcome the sufferings of the world.

Right speech is the best use of words, as words are the expressive and linguistic mediation of one's consciousness. This includes abstention of lying, of divisive and abusive speech and from idle chatter. The abandoning of lying means that the Buddhist is reliable and not a deceiver. The abandoning of divisive speech means promoting reconciliation and concord. The abandoning of abusive speech means speaking politely, being appealing and pleasing. The abandoning of idle chatter means speaking in accordance to the most important issues with words worth treausring. Another important element is when not to speak; "if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it." [5] There are examples of the Buddha simply rejecting discussion on metaphysical speculations in very much the same way Wittgenstein did; "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." [6].

Right action, or right conduct, means that the training to engage in moral action and avoid corruption and harm to oneself and others. This includes not taking life and being mercificul and compassionate, not stealing and not engaging in sexual and sensual misconduct; for the monk this would mean living an aloof, celibate life "refraining from the sexual act that is the villager's way" [7]. Right action also requires self-analysis of motives, examining why one carries out particular behaviour.

This Nobel Path is closely connected that of Right Livelihood, one's profession. It is difficult to engage in the Right Action if one's professional life engages in activities which are morally questionable. In particular five livelihoods are considered harmful; (a) business in weapons, (b) business in human beings, (c) business in meat (d) business in intoxicants and (e) business in poison [8]. There is also an appeal to be attentive to income and expenses in one's livelihood, to be "neither extravagant or miserly, knowing that thus his income will stand in excess of his expenses, but not his expenses in excess of his income" [9].

Right Effort is the part of the group sam?dhi, involving discipline, concentration, and meditation. As intentional creatures, conduct and livelihood arises from an expression of mental will. Thus internally the practioner generates the will to abandon that which is wrong, harmful and confusing, and expresses persistance and endeavours to give rise to the skillful and righteous [10]. Right effort can be expressed in phases, (i) preventing the unwholesome from arising, (ii) releasing the unwholesome that has arisen, (iii) bringing up the wholesome that has not yet risen, (iv) maintaining the wholesome that has risen.

Right Mindfulness, involves memory, awareness and attentiveness. It suggests a mental discipline that rejects forgetfulness and inattention and encourages focus and discipline, "ardent, aware, and mindful" [11]. This includes putting focus to the task-at-hand, "In the practice of right mindfulness the mind is trained to remain in the present, open, quiet, and alert, contemplating the present event." [12]

Finally the Noble Path of Right Contemplation or concentration refers to the practise of meditative absorption (jhana) with the the mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), the focus on visual objects (kasina), and through repetition of phrases (mantra). The purpose is to develop apprehension of phenomenon through unfiltered, direct cognition. Through such contemplation there exists the path for the removal of sense-desires, and the possibility of realisation of dhamma and enlightenment. Right Contemplation is dependent on the development of other Paths [13].

[1] Huston Smith, The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, HarperCollins, 1958, rev. ed. 1991, p104
[2] Bhikkhu Bodhi, Chapter Two in "The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering". Access to Insight, 2010.
[3] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Avijja Sutta", Access to Insight, 2005
[4] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Saccavibhanga Sutta", Access to Insight, 2005
[5] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Maha-satipatthana Sutta", Access to Insight. 2000 and "Saccavibhanga Sutta", 2005, and "Magga-vibhanga Sutta", 1996
[6] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Proposition 7, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Kegan Paul, 1922 FP [1921]
[7] Saccavibhanga Sutta, Magga-vibhanga Sutta op.cit. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Samaññaphala Sutta", Access to Insight, 1997
[8] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Vanijja Sutta", Access to Insight, 2001
[9] Narada Thera, Access to Insight, Dighajanu (Vyagghapajja) Sutta, 1997
[10] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), "Maha-satipatthana Sutta", Access to Insight, 2000, "Saccavibhanga Sutta", 1997 op. cit, "Magga-vibhanga Sutta", 2000.
[11] "Maha-satipatthana Sutta", "Saccavibhanga Sutta". op. cit.
[12] Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering, Access to Insight, 1999
[13] "Maha-cattarisaka Sutta", op cit.

5. Define: Dharma., Karma., Anatman., Shunyata., Dukkha., Sukkha

The Buddhist version of dharma has similarities and differences to the Hindu version of the word. In all “Indian religions” (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism), dharma refers to a combination of natural and moral laws. In Hinduism it refers to obligations with differences due to to caste and gender. In Buddhism there is a similar application; specifically the expectation to engage in Dhamma-vinaya; the Buddha's Path of Practice, which includes celibacy, ethical behaviour and the threefold training (higher virtue, higher mind, higher wisdom) [1]. Further, “The Dharma” as a phrase can refer to the canonical texts of the Buddha which have six qualities; (a) they are "well proclaimed", (b) they are "able to be examined", (c) they have timeless and immediate application, (d) they are testable, (e) they bring one closer to enlightenment, and (f) they are known to the wise.

Karma is likewise a common phrase in the Indian religions, incorporating the cycle of cause and effect (sams?ra). However, in Buddhism the scope is narrower, referring only to the cycle of cause and effect for those intentional acts (“by way of body, speech and intellect” [2]) from an unenlightened being (karmaphala). Karma is considered the determining factor in rebirths, and especially in the qualities and situation that one is reborn into [3].

Anatman means the “not I”, or more accurately “not soul” [4]. This does not mean those things external to the self, but also includes mental senses and especially refers to that which which prevents the self from reaching enlightenment through attached clinging. In the Buddhist perspective it not just physical sensation but also the mind which is imperfect, and not a true representation of the self.

Shunyata is commonly translated as “emptiness” or “voidness”, deriving from the noun for zero. However this should not mean nothingness, “but rather that all things lack intrinsic reality, intrinsic objectivity, intrinsic identity or intrinsic referentiality” [5]. Related to anatman, shunyata is the recognition that there is no enduring permanence due to dependence (prat?tyasamutp?da). Instead, everything is conceptual, although in the Tibetan Jonang school at least, Buddha-nature is not empty, but rather the only thing that is real and enduring [6].

Directly translated dukka refers to suffering in all its forms; unease, anxiety, disappointment as well as direct pain. “This, bhikkhus, is the Noble Truth of Dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, sickness is dukkha, death is dukkha. Presence of objects we loathed is dukkha; separation from what we love is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha” [7]. Dukkha is the basis of the Four Noble Truths and the resulting solution in the Eightfold Path.

Sukha refers to "happiness", "ease", "bliss" etc. As a general life pursuit [8], happiness can be reached by wealth achieved by righteous means (atthi-sukha), generousity (bhoga-sukha), being debt-free (ana?a-sukha), and living a morally faultless life(anavajja-sukha). Skillful actions and actions that result in praise from the wise should also be sought. For the lay people, productive efforts, protective efforts, virtuous friendship and temperance is sought. As a meditative practise, sukha is a higher level of the absorptions, after applied thought, sustained thought and happiness, but prior to equinimity. It is appropriate to the first, second and third jhana, prior to reaching the level of pure mind [9].

[1] c.f., Anguttara Nikaya Book of Threes' (Tikanipata), Monks chapter (Samanavagga)
[2] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), Nibbedhika Sutta: Penetrative, Access to Insight, 1997
[3] Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans) The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, 1995, pp1053-1065
[4] Rahula Walpola, What the Buddha Taught, Grove, 1962, pp. 51-66
[5] Robert F. Thurman, forward to Lex Huton, Mother of the Buddhas, Quest Books, 1993
[6] Jeffrey Hopkins, Mountain Doctrine: Tibet's Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix,, Snow Lion Publications, 2006, pp. 8-16
[7] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, Access to Insight, 1993
[8] Anguttara Nikaya (AN 4.32) op. cit. K?l?m? Sutta, (AN 3.65), Dighaj?nu Sutta (AN 8.54)
[9] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), Samadhanga Sutta: The Factors of Concentration, 1997

6. Describe the three major forms of Buddhism (Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana). Where are they practiced and how are they unique expressions of the same essential teachings of the Buddha?

Theravada is the oldest school of Buddhist thought, and is generally considered a more conservative version of the religion, deriving from the Vibhajjav?da (or "doctrine of analysis") group, themselves a descendent of the Sthavira (or "teaching of the Elders") group at the time of the Third Buddhist Council around 250 BC [1].

Theravada promotes the concept of Vibhajjavada, "Teaching of Analysis" and argues that insight must come from experience and reason rather than faith. Core Buddhist principles remain (Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, dukkha, tanha), however they are elaborated to include the defilements (kilesas) classified in a set of ten fetters and five hindrances, which leave humans trapped cycle of rebirth. Freedom from the defilements requires their restraint through mindfulness, then their uprooting through internal investiation using jhana. Eventually this pratcise will lead to the realisation of the Four Noble Truths, Enlightenment and Nirvana, the goal of Theravada Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism also refers to three characteristics of all phenomena; Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering), and Anatta (not-self). It is through realisation of these characteristics that one can become independent of attachments, thus leading to Nirvana. Theravada Buddhism also adheres to the summary version of the Eightfold Path into the Three Noble Disciplines, into discipline, mental training and wisom. Meditation practices fall into two broad categories: samatha (the object of concentration), and vipassan? (seeing through the veil of ignorance). Practitioners develop through four stages of enlightenmenty in sequence, the stream-enterers, the once-returners, the non-returners and the arahants [2]; there is a significant distinction between those who live the monastic life and lay persons. The Theravada school upholds the Pali Canon or Tipitaka as the most authoritative.

Within Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos, Buddhism is a majority faith and Theravada is the majority school.There are several contemporary trends within Theravada Buddhism, including a modernist reform with universalistic and environmental orientations, traditionalists who seek to revive ritualism and mythology, and restorationists who want revert to a more original Buddhism [3].

Mah?y?na refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called "Bodhisattvay?na", or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle [4]. Its origins are unclear, the earliest textual evidence of "Mah?y?na" comes from s?tras originating around the beginning of the common era as rigorous emulation of Gautama Buddha in the path of a bodhisattva seeking to become a fully enlightened buddha.[5] The earliest Mah?y?na s?tras include the Prajñ?p?ramit? series, and those texts concerning Ak?obhya Buddha, which were probably composed in the 1st century BCE. As a school Mah?y?na is loose and expansive, especially compared to the formal and scholarly Theravada.

In this version of Buddhism, high attainment is described as arhat; further distinction is sometimes drawn between those who have reached 'Nirv??a Without Remainder' compared to those who are at 'Nirv??a With Remainder'. As a result some Mah?y?na schools talk of a bodhisattva deliberately refraining from Buddhahood, on the grounds that once one reached Buddhahood, they are no longer able to show the path to others. This is critical to the Mah?y?na perspective which hold, as a priority, not reaching Nirv??a itself, but as an act of compassion, resolving to liberate others as well, the path of the bodhisattva. "The most essential part of the Mahayana is its emphasis on the Bodhisattva ideal, which replaces that of the arhat, or ranks before it." [6] This includes the use "expedient means" (upaya) to bring out the inherent "Buddha nature" (tath?gatagarbha) deep inside all beings.

The Mah?y?na traditions is prominent in China, Bhutan, Tibet, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan. It includes Zen Buddhism along with Pure Land, Tiantai, and Nichiren.

The third large orientation in Buddhism is Vajrayana, also known as Tantric Buddhism, or the diamond vehicle. Developing in the 6th to 7th century of the common era [7], it involves an emphasis on rituals (upaya) instead of abstract meditation, and the use of the Tantras as the main scriptural authority. These classifications however are quite problematic; tantra is a large number of scholarly texts, especially found in Shaivi Hinduism, thus there is a strong historical connection between this particular brand of Buddhism and the Hinduism contemporary to its origins. Indeed, it has been argued that Vajrayana itself is only classified ex post facto to describe the ritualistic approach [8].

Other approaches view Vajrayana as either a subset of Mah?y?na, where it is one of two paths of practice: the Sutrayana method for perfecting good qualities and the Vajray?na method for taking the intended outcome of Buddhahood. The Vajray?na method requires esoteric knowledge and tantric yogis [9]. An alternative explanation is that Vajrayana represents the third "turnings of the wheel of dharma", following the Theravada (Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta), the Mah?y?na (the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras et al), and finally the Vajrayana (the tantric texts) [10]

Regardless, there are key, identifiable features of Vajrayana, including the use of ritual, the specific goal of complete englightenment as a Buddha, the use of "skilful means" (upaya) as formulated in Mahayana Buddhism, the doctrine of two truths, the relative and conventional, compared to the timeless and ultimate truths, and particular trantic vows and a system of behaviour known as samaya. Finally, and quite specifically is the transmission of esoteric knowledge from teacher to student, usually used to represent initiation and to maintain lineage.

Vajrayana is common in Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Esoteric and Tendai Buddhism, Japanese Shingon and Shugend? Buddhism and Newar Buddhism in Nepal.

[1] Lance Cousins, On the Vibhajjav?dins, Buddhist Studies Review 18, 2 (2001)
[2] Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans), Lohicca Sutta, Access to Insight, 1998
[3] Connolly, Hamilton (eds), Indian Insights, Luzac, 1997, pages 187-189
[4] Damien Keown, A Dictionary of Buddhism, Reed Business Information, 2003, p.38
[5] Jan Nattier, A few good men: the Bodhisattva path according to the Inquiry of Ugra, 2003 p.193-194
[6] Ananda Coomaraswamy, Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, University Books, 1975, p.229
[7] Hirakawa Akira (Paul Groner, trans, ed), History of Indian Buddhism, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1993, p.9
[8] Matthew Kapstein, Reason's Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought, Wisdom Publications, 2001, p245
[9] Bradley K. Hawkins, "Buddhism", Routledge, 1999, p.25.
[10] Joseph Mitsuo Kitagawa, The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture, Routledge, 2002. p.80

7. What is the most striking feature of Zen? How does it reflect the influence of Chinese culture and spirituality? Describe the following terms: Zazen., Koan., Satori

Zen is a a school of Mah?y?na Buddhism emphasises direct experiential self-realisation through meditation etc, instead of theoretical study, with the Flower Sermon serving as a core text [1]. Zen is derived from the world, which is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán, itself derived from the Sanskrit word dhy?na ("meditation" or "meditative state"). Although clearly originating in China c5thC CE, and then spreading to Vietnam (Thien), Korea (Seon) and Japan (Zen), there is dispute on whether Zen arose due to interaction between Buddhism and Taoism or whether it came from the Indian Yogic practises [2]. The typical founding credit goes to the Tamil prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, although there are some who maintain that this is a constructed figure [3]. Like the rest of Mah?y?na Buddhism, Zen claims that all beings have Buddha-nature and emphasizes that Buddha-nature is nothing other than the essential nature of the mind itself. Thus in Zen one seeks to discover the Buddha-nature and become a bodhisattva within primarily through revelationary meditation and Dharmic practics as process of rediscovery ("introspection", "a backward step", "turning-about" or "turning the eye inward").

Zazen is the disciplined meditation used in Zen Buddhism which seeks to calm the body and mind and concentrate on experiential insight. In this process judgements are suspended with thoughts entering and leaving in a stream of consciousness. Whilst Zazen is usually carried out in a sitting position with various stances, in between the sitting sessions, practioners will engage in a walking meditation (kinhin). Zazen is carried out, in order of experience and revelation, through either concentration (e.g., breath focus, counting), Koan introspection, or the stream of consciousness shikantaza ("Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen."[4]) for silent illumination.

The k?an is a fundamental example of Zen Buddhist thinking. Sometimes incorrectly described as an unanswerable question it is instead a question, saying or dialogue whose meaning is not obvious through procedural reasoning. Unlike a riddle it does not require a exact answer but is rather expected to indicate illumination [5]. It is used both in discussions, meditation and as a means to test students on their insight (kensho). Examples of collections of K?ans include the Blue Cliff Record, the Book of Equanimity, and The Gateless Gate.

Satori is the Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment ("understanding") [6]. In the Zen Buddhism it refers to a sudden flash of awareness, which reveals the possibility of nirvana. It is often compared and used with kensho, which indicates a gradual development, whereas satori is a deep and sudden experiences, a moment of exceptional realisation attained through personal experience, although both are achieved through k?ans. Strictly speaking it does not happen to just an individual but rather it is a realisation that includes all, including the individual. This is because the moment of realisation includes the recognition that everything is part of the Buddha and therefor separation between the self and everything is an illusion; it is to become one with everything.

[1] Heinrich Dumoulin Zen Buddhism: A History. vol. 1: India and China, World Wisdom, 2005, p54

[2] See Henri Maspero, Taoism and Chinese Religion. University of Massachusetts. 1981, p.46 and Heinrich Dumoulin, ibid, pp. 8–9

[3] Eric Chaline, The Book of Zen: The Path to Inner Peace, Barron's Educational Series, 2003, pp. 26–27.

[4] Shobogenzo, Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma Book 1 in A General Recommendation for the Principles of Zazen, FP 1243

[5] Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Introduction to Isshu Miura and Ruth Fuller Sasaki, The Zen K?an, Harvest/HBJ, 1965, p xi
[6] Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen enlightenment, Shambhala Publications, 1979, p139-162

8. What is the most important feature of Buddhism for you, personally?

On a personal level the strength of Buddhism comes from being both a sincere spiritual path but with metaphysical agnosticism. The practical orientation initially presupposed an avoidance of tradition for its own sake, a dislike for rites and rituals and an emphasis on recognising the conditions of life with existential import with a resulting emphasis on self-development and ethical conduct, although it cannot possibly be suggested that “actually existing Buddhism” has followed these initial propositions.

In part it is the attempt to reorientate a religious tradition towards practical tasks that appeals to me (the reform of Hinduism), in part it is the stated emphasis on those practical tasks (the Four Noble Truths), and in part it is the attempt to build a system of practise out of this recognition and principle (The Eightfold Path). This leads to a combination of personal preferences within Buddhism itself; e.g., Mahayana for the practical activity, Theravada for scholarship.

Personal experiences of Buddhism has been mixed. In early 1996 my housemate and I shaved our heads and walked and hitch-hiked our way from Melbourne to Canberra to Sydney to Wollongong to arrive at the somewhat famous Nan Tien Temple in time for the Chinese New Year (it was a fire rat year, and we were both fanciers of said rodents). The grounds were of course quite outstanding, but the local environment more so. The monks were distant at best, and I grimaced when devotees prostrated themselves in prayer in front of statues of Bodhisattvas.

On the other hand in 2002 and 2009 I took the opportunity to journey to central Java where the temple of Borobudur tells its own story in design and relief panels. In addition to displaying in a very visual sense the elements of life's journey, the place has always struck me as being in friendly competition with the nearby Hindu Prambanan Chandi complex (the “oneness” of the Buddhist approach versus the “many” of the Hindu). As the temple was abandoned during a series of volcanic eruptions, a working hypothesis I have held for some time (having not – yet – done the scholarly research) is in the competition between Buddhism and Hinduism the ultimate victor was animism, as the local Javanese recognise the largest volcano in the region, the nearby Merapi, as a spiritual being [1].

Perhaps very unusually, another significant influence on the Buddhist outlook on a personal level has come from the science fiction writer, Roger Zelazny. In his award-winning novel “Lord of Light” (1967), colonists from the spaceship Star of India, create enhanced self-images (“aspects”) of themselves with bodily reincarnation. One of their member rejects the rule of the colonists over the indigenous people, believing that the technology of reincarnation should be available to all and leads a pacifist revolution. Complete with characters from Hindu and Buddhist mythology and selections of sacred texts from two religions a lasting moment was with the encounter of “Sam” (Mahasamatman) and Yama, the God of Death, who is sent to slay the troublesome Sam. Considered unbeatable in the martial arts Yama kills a great number of those who stand in the way between him and Sam. Except it is Sam who wins the conflict by sitting passively as the Death God approaches – and promptly stumbles into quicksand.

[1] See for example;