Buddhism – Major Differences

 Buddhism – Major Differences

1. There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgement Day.

2. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.

3. No saviour concept in Buddhism. A Buddha is not a saviour who saves others by his personal salvation. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide who indicates the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender. A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in Him. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the impurities of others

4. A Buddha is not an incarnation of a god/God (as claimed by some Hindu followers). The relationship between a Buddha and his disciples and followers is that of a teacher and student.

5. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one’s own self. Buddhism does not call for an unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.

6. Taking refuge in The Triple Gems i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; does not mean self-surrender or total reliance on an external force or third party for help or salvation.

7. Dharma (the teachings in Buddhism) exists regardless whether there is a Buddha. Sakyamuni Buddha (as the historical Buddha) discovered and shared the teachings/ universal truths with all sentient beings. He is neither the creator of such teachings nor the prophet of an almighty God to transmit such teachings to others.

8. Especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient beings have Buddha Nature/ Essence. One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practises diligently and attains purity of mind (ie absolutely no delusions or afflictions).

9. In Buddhism, the ultimate objective of followers/practitioners is enlightenment and/or liberation from Samsara; rather than to go to a Heaven (or a deva realm in the context of Buddhist cosmology).

10. Karma and Karma Force are cornerstones in Buddhist doctrines. They are expounded very thoroughly in Buddhism. Karma refers to an important metaphysical concept concerned with action and its consequences. This law of karma explains the problem of sufferings, the mystery of the so-called fate and predestination of some religions, and above all the apparent inequality of mankind.

11. Rebirth is another key doctrine in Buddhism and it goes hand in hand with karma. There is a subtle difference between rebirth and reincarnation as expounded in Hinduism. Buddhism rejects the theory of a transmigrating permanent soul, whether created by a god or emanating from a divine essence.

12. Maitri or Metta in Pali (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) to all living beings including animals. Buddhism strictly forbids animal sacrifice for whatever reason. Vegetarianism is recommended but not compulsory.

13. The importance of Non-attachment. Buddhism goes beyond doing good and being good. One must not be attached to good deeds or the idea of doing good; otherwise it is just another form of craving.

14. In Buddhism, there is consideration for all sentient beings (versus human beings, as in other religions). Buddhists acknowledge/accept the existence of animals and beings in other realms in Samsara.

15. No holy war concept in Buddhism. Killing is breaking a key moral precept in Buddhism. One is strictly forbidden to kill another person in the name of religion, a religious leader or whatsoever religious pretext or worldly excuse.

16. Suffering is another cornerstone in Buddhism. It is the first of the Four Noble Truths. Sufferings are very well analysed and explained in Buddhism.

17. The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be equated to suffering.

18. Buddhist teachings expound no beginning and no end to one’s existence or life. There is virtually no recognition of a first cause — e.g. how does human existence first come about?

19. The Dharma provides a very detailed explanation of the doctrine of anatman {anatta in Pali} or soullessness , i.e. there is no soul entity (whether in one life of many lives).

20. The Buddha is omniscient but he is not omnipotent. He is capable of innumerable feats but there are three things he cannot do. Also, a Buddha does not claim to be a creator of lives or the Universe.

21. Prajna [Panna in Pali] or Transcendent Wisdom occupies a paramount position in Buddhist teachings. Sakyamuni Buddha expounded Prajna concepts for some 20 years of his ministry. One is taught to balance compassion with prajna i.e.emotion (faith) with rationale (right understanding / truth / logic).

22. The tradition and practice of meditation in Buddhism are relatively important and strong. While all religions teach some forms or variations of stabilising/single-pointedness meditation, only Buddhism emphazises Vipassana (Insight) meditation as a powerful tool to assist one in seeking liberation/enlightenment.

23. The doctrine of Sunyata or Emptiness is unique to Buddhism and its many aspects are well expounded in advanced Buddhist teachings. Briefly, this doctrine asserts the transcendental nature of Ultimate Reality. It declares the phenomenal world to be void of all limitations of particularization and that all concepts of dualism are abolished.

24. Conditioned Arising [Paticcasamuppada in Pali] or Dependent Origination is another key doctrine in Buddhism. This doctrine explains that all psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other; this at the same time describes what entangles sentient beings in samsara.

25. The concept of Hell(s) in Buddhism is very different from that of other religions. It is not a place for eternal damnation as viewed by ‘almighty creator’ religions. In Buddhism, it is just one of the six realms in Samsara [i.e. the worst of three undesirable realms]. Also, there are virtually unlimited number of hells in the Buddhist cosmology as there are infinite number of Buddha worlds.

26. The Buddhist cosmology (or universe) is distinctly different from that of other religions which usually recognise only this solar system (Earth) as the centre of the Universe and the only planet with living beings. The Buddhist viewpoint of a Buddha world (also known as Three Thousand-Fold World System) is that of one billion solar systems. Besides, the Mahayana Buddhist doctrines expound that there are other contemporary Buddha worlds like Amitabha’s Pure Land and Bhaisajyaguru’s world system.

27. Samsara is a fundamental concept in Buddhism and it is simply the ‘perpetual cycles of existence’ or endless rounds of rebirth among the six realms of existence. This cyclical rebirth pattern will only end when a sentient being attains Nirvana, i.e. virtual exhaustion of karma, habitual traces, defilements and delusions. All other religions preach one heaven, one earth and one hell, but this perspective is very limited compared with Buddhist samsara where heaven is just one of the six realms of existence and it has 28 levels/planes.

[ Compiled by Tan Swee Eng]

 Common Ground Between  Theravada &  Mahayana  Buddhism

  1. Sakayamuni Buddha is the original and historical founder of Buddhism.
  2. The Three Universal Seals, Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Paths and Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are the basic foundation to all schools of Buddhism including the Tibetan schools of Vajrayana.
  3. Three-fold training of Precepts, Meditation and Wisdom is universal to all schools.
  4. Organisation of the Buddhist teachings / Dharma into three classications (Sutra, Vinaya and Sastra) is practised among the Buddhist Canons of various countries.
  5. Mind over matter concept. Mind as the principal area of taming and control is fundamental to all schools.

[ Compiled by Tan Swee Eng]

 Differcens Between  Theravada  &  Mahayana  Buddhism

1 The Buddha Only the historical Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and past buddhas are accepted. Besides Sakyamuni Buddha, other contemporary buddhas like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha are also very popular.
2 Bodhisattvas Only Maitreya bodhisattva is accepted. Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and Samanthabadra are four very well known bodhisattvas besides Maitreya.
3 Objective of training Arahant or pacceka-buddha. Buddhahood (via bodhisattva path).
4 Organisation of Buddhist scriptures The Pali Canon is divided into 3 baskets (Tipitaka): Vinaya Pitaka of 5 books, Sutta Pitaka of 5 collections (many suttas) and Abhidhamma Pitaka of 7 books. The Mahayana Buddhist Canon also consists of Tripitaka of disciplines, discourses (sutras) and dharma analysis. It is usually organised in 12 divisions of topics like Cause and Conditions and Verses. It contains virtually all the Theravada Tipikata and many sutras that the latter does not have.
5 Concept of Bodhicitta Main emphasis is self liberation.
There is total reliance on one-self to eradicate all defilements.
Besides self liberation, it is important for Mahayana followers to help other sentient beings.
6 Trikaya concept Very limited emphasis on the 3 bodies of a buddha. References are mainly on nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya. Very well mentioned in Mahayana buddhism. Samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body completes the Trikaya concept.
7 Transmission route Southern transmission: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and parts of Southeast Asia. Northern transmission: Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and parts of Southeast Asia.
8 Language of dharma teaching Tipitaka is strictly in Pali. Dharma teaching in Pali supplemented by local language. Buddhist canon is translated into the local language (except for the 5 untranslatables), e.g. Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese. Original language of transmission is Sanskrit.
9 Nirvana
(Nibbana in Pali)
No distinction is made between nirvana attained by a buddha and that of an arahat or pacceka buddha. Also known as ‘liberation from Samsara,’ there are subtle distinctions in the level of attainment for the three situations.
10 Sakyamuni Buddha’s disciples Basically historical disciples, whether arahats or commoners. A lot of bodhisattvas are introduced by Sakyamuni Buddha. Most of these are not historical figures.
11 Rituals and liturgy There are some rituals but not heavily emphasized as in Mahayana schools. Owing to local cultural influences, there is much more emphais on the use of rituals; e.g. Rituals for the deceased, feeding of Petas, tantric formalities (in Vajrayana).
12 Use of Mantras and Mudras Some equivalent in the use of Parittas. Heavily practised in the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism. Other schools also have included some mantras in their daily lithurgy.
13 Dying and death aspects Very little research and knowledge on the process of dying and death. Usually, the dying persons are advised to meditate on impermanence, suffering and emptiness. The Vajrayana school is particularly meticulous in these areas. There are many inner and external signs manifested by people before they die. There is heavy stress in doing transference of merit practices in the immediate few weeks following death to assist in the deceased’s next rebirth.
14 Bardo This in-between stage after death and before rebirth is ignored in Theravada school. All Mahayana schools teach this after death aspect.
15 One meal a day practice This the norm among Theravada sanghas. This is a highly respected practice but it is left to the disposition of each individual in the various sanghas.
16 Vegetarianism This aspect is not necessary. In places like Thailand where daily morning rounds are still practised, it is very difficult to insist on the type of food to be donated Very well observed in all Mahayana schools (except the Tibetans due to the geographical circumstances). However, this aspect is not compulsory.
17 Focus of worship in the temple Simple layout with the image of Sakyamuni Buddha the focus of worship. Can be quite elaborate; with a chamber/hall for Sakyamuni Buddha and two disciples, one hall for the 3 Buddhas (including Amitabha and Medicine Buddha) and one hall for the 3 key bodhisattvas; besides the protectors, etc.
18 Schools/Sects of the tradition One surviving major school following years of attrition reducing the number from as high as 18. 8 major (Chinese) schools based on the partial doctrines (sutras, sastras or vinaya) of the teachings. The four schools inclined towards practices like Pure Land/Amitabha, Ch’an, Vajrayana and Vinaya (not for lay people) are more popular than the philosophy based schools like Tien Tai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and Madhyamika.
19 Non Buddhist influences Mainly pre-Buddhism Indian/Brahmin influences. Many terms like karma, sangha, etc were prevailing terms during Sakyamuni Buddha’s life time. References were made from the Vedas and Upanishads. In the course of integration and adoption by the people in other civilizations, there were heavy mutual influences. In China, both Confucianism and Taoism exerted some influence on Buddhism which in turn had an impact on the indigenous beliefs. This scenario was repeated in Japan and Tibet.
20 Buddha nature Absent from the teachings of Theravada tradition. Heavily stressed, particularly by schools inclined practices.

[Compiled by Tan Swee Eng]

 Dependent Origination

# Pali (Sanskrit) Usual Translation Other Reference Remarks
1 Avijja (Avidya) Ignorance Lack of wisdom, which is the root of all evils. Obscuration as to self of persons and self of phenomena.
2 Sankhara (Samskara) Karma formations Compositional action Wholesome or unwholesome thoughts, speech and bodily deeds.
3 Vinnana (Vijnana) Conciousness Normally 6 consciousnesses but is taken as 8 in the Yogacara School.
4 Nama-rupa Name & form Corporeality & mentality Mental & physical existence. 4 mental aggregates and one physical body.
5 Ayatana (Shadayatana) Six bases Six sense organs/spheres Eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mental faculty.
6 Phassa (Sparsha) Sense impression Contact A mental factor and period in which the objects, sense power/organ and conciousness come together, causing one to distinguish an object as pleasurable, painful or neutral.
7 Vedana Feeling Sensation Posited as a mental factor that experiences pleasure, pain and neutral feeling. Pleasure leads to a strong desire for more while pain generates an avoidance desire.
8 Tanha (Trishna) Craving Attachment A mental factor that increases desire but without any satisfaction.
9 Upadana Clinging Grasping A stronger degree of desire. 4 basic varieties: desired objects, views of self, bad system of ethics and conduct; and other bad views.
10 Bhava (Bjava) Process of becoming Existence A period lasting from the time of fully potentialised karma up to the beginning of next lifetime.
11 Jati Rebirth
12 Jara-marana (Jaramaranam) Ageing & Death Decay & Death


Notes:Links 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10 are the five karmic causes of rebirths.
Links 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are the five karmic results in the rounds of rebirths.This doctrine is interpreted in various ways and levels:

  • The Theravada tradition uses it to explain the arising of sufferings; that all composite existence is without substantiality. This doctrine is then used the basis for the negation of self.
  • In the Mahayana, condition arising is further interpreted to validate the unreality of existence by reason of its relativity.
  • Madhyamika School equates this doctrine with shunyata (emptiness). Condition arising is taken to show that because of their relativity, appearances have only empirical validity and are ultimately unreal.
  • In the Yogacara view, only true understanding of this doctrine can overcome the error of taking what does not exist for existent and what does exist for nonexistent.
  • The Prajnaparamita Sutras stresses that this doctrine does not refer to a temporal succession but rather to the essential interdependence of all things.

Sources of compilation:

  • The Meaning of Life; The Dalai Lama, Wisdom Publications 92
  • The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen; Shambhala Pubn 91
  • Living Dharma; Jack Kornfield, Shambhala Pubn 96
  • Buddhist Dictionary; Nyanatiloka, Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre 91

[ Compiled by Tan Swee Eng]

Loving – Kindness Meditation – Forgiveness

In our daily lives we meet all kinds of people. Some are pleasant and some are ill-disposed. There are also moments of anxiety, moments of stress, and circumstances which are perplexing. On encountering unpleasant people, and in difficult times, a recital or perusal of the Sutta will produce beneficial results. The practice of what is contained in it will induce a tranquil state of mind, give us self-confidence, and help us to overcome difficulties.

This is a Sutta (a Discourse) that was delivered by the Buddha to a set of his disciples who had gone to meditate in a forest close to the Himalayan mountain range. They complained that they were being disturbed by some spirits of the forest. The Buddha exhorted them to follow this course of conduct. They went back to the same abode, and putting the advice into practice, found that they were not disturbed anymore.

Homage to Him, the Worthy One, the Exalted One, the Fully Enlightened One.

I go to the Buddha as my refuge
I go to the Dhamma as my refuge
I go to the Sangha as my refuge

The Five Precepts

1. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from destroying the life of living beings.
2. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from taking things not given to me.
3. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants – foundations of slothfulness.

Karaniya Metta Sutta
Universal Loving Kindness

This must be done to gain the State of Peace.
One must be able, upright and straightforward;
Pleasant in Speech, mild and not proud.

Easily contented and easily supportable;
Not caught up in too many “duties” and frugal in one’s wants.
Calm in mind, discriminative and courteous;
Not closely attached to households.

Avoiding any mean deeds blameworthy by the wise.
Thinking always thus: “May all beings be happy and safe,
May they all have tranquil minds.

Whatsoever pulsates with the breath of life –
the frail or strong, without exception –
the long, the large, the medium-sized, the short, the thin or fat.

Those visible, and those invisible, those living far away or nearby;
Beings who are already born and those yet unborn.
May they all be happy!

May no-one deceive another, nor despise him in anyway anywhere.
Let no-one wish another ill, owing to anger or provocation.

Just as a mother would protect her son – her only son – with her life –
even so let him cultivate this boundless love to all living beings.

Radiating with a full heart loving thoughts of kindness towards all the world,
free from anger, malice or anxiety – above, below and in all directions.

And while standing, walking, sitting or reclining – still free from drowsiness –
let him maintain this state of mindfulness – termed the “Highest Living”

And living free from mere views, being virtuous, perfect in insight,
free from the lust of sexual desire,
never again shall he be entangled in the round of rebirth.

Hate is never overcome by hate
By love alone it is quelled.
This is a truth of ancient date.
Today still unexcelled.

Avoidance of evil,
Performance of good deeds,
Purification of one’s thoughts.
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.

May all beings be happy hearted!

“Please put the attention on the breath.

Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you’ve done wrong . Forgive yourself for all the past omissions and commissions. They are long gone. Understand that you were a different person and this one is forgiving that one that you were. Feel that forgiveness filling you and enveloping you with a sense of warmth and ease.

Think of your parents. Forgive them for anything you have ever blamed them for. Understand that they too are different now. Let this forgiveness fill them, surround them, knowing in your heart that this is your most wonderful way of togetherness.

Think of your nearest and dearest people . Forgive them for anything that you think they have done wrong or are doing wrong at this time. Fill them with your forgiveness. Let them feel that you accept them. Let that forgiveness fill them. Realizing that this is your expression of love.

Now think of your friends. Forgive them for anything you have disliked about them. Let your forgiveness reach out to them, so that they can be filled with it, embraced by it.

Think of the people you know, whoever they might be, and forgive them all for whatever it is that you have blamed them for, that you have judged them for, that you have disliked. Let your forgiveness fill their hearts, surround them, envelope them, be your expression of love for them.

Now think of any special person whom you really need to forgive. Towards whom you still have resentment, rejection, dislike. Forgive him or her fully. Remember that everyone has dukkha. Let this forgiveness come from your heart. Reach out to that person, complete and total.

Think of any one person, or any situation, or any group of people whom you are condemning, blaming, disliking. Forgive them, completely. Let your forgiveness be your expression of unconditional love. They may not do the right things. Human beings have dukkha. And your heart needs the forgiveness in order to have purity of love.

Have a look again and see whether there’s anyone or anything, any where in the world, towards whom you have blame or condemnation. And forgive the people or the person, so that there is no separation your heart.

Now put your attention back on yourself. And recognize the goodness in you. The effort you are making. Feel the warmth and ease that comes from forgiveness.”

May all beings have forgiveness in their hearts!


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