What is Buddhism?
To begin, let us look at the question, what is Buddhism? Many people erroneously think that Buddhism is a religion similar to Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism that worships a supreme being or supreme beings who are separate from humankind. But Buddhism is very different from such theistic religions, be they monotheistic or polytheistic. While some aspects of Buddhism, such as the existence of holy texts, sacred places, temples, an ordained Sangha, established rituals and a rigorous ethical code, may make it appear similar to a religion, it is more accurately described as a way of life that is based on teachings of the historical Buddha, who lived sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
Buddhists do not worship the Buddha in the way that Christians worship God, as a supreme being with the power to grant them salvation or send them to eternal damnation. We do not attain Buddhahood or Enlightenment through divine grace; we attain it through persevering with practices that give us insight into our minds and the nature of reality. No one can become God, but by putting the Buddha’s teaching into practice, we can all become Buddhas. Attaining Buddhahood is the ultimate do-it-yourself project.
We begin the journey towards Enlightenment by going for refuge; we are seeking shelter from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that is Samsara. We take refuge in the Three Jewels, which are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are not taking refuge in the historical Buddha as a god-like figure, but as an exemplar of great compassion and wisdom; we are also taking refuge in the Buddha within us, in our own natural potential to become enlightened. The Dharma is the teachings that tell us how to realize that potential; we take refuge in the Dharma as the path. We take refuge in the Sangha as the community that helps us as we make our spiritual journey. The taking of refuge in the Three Jewels is in no way akin to the rite of Baptism in the Christian Church: we are not “born again.” Rather, taking refuge is more like a signal that we are ready to begin the work we must do with our minds in order to realize our own Buddha Nature.
Just as they do not understand that Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life, many people in the West do not understand who or what the Buddha is. They think the Buddha was just a man, born in India around 2500 years ago, who became a great teacher. While this is true, there is more: the historical Buddha is a man who became awake to the true nature of reality and who taught others how to do the same. Buddha is actually a Sanskrit word meaning awakened or developed; the Tibetan equivalent is sang-gyey; sang means awakened and gyey means developed. Sang refers to awakening the consciousness or mind to see the true nature of reality; gyey refers to developing all the potential of our mind. Thus Buddha, sang-gyey, means the fully developed or awakened mind.
What is it to have an awakened mind? Just as when we wake from sleep to see the world around us, its sights, its sounds, its smells, so when we have awakened our minds, we see the true nature of reality. We see that nothing exists inherently; we see that everything is part of an endless web of interdependence and interconnection. We experience oneness.
Info on Book
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Wind Horse Press (January 3, 2013) On Amazon here>>
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0992055407
- ISBN-13: 978-0992055400
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
The Venerable Acharya Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, a highly realized and internationally respected teacher of Gelugpa Buddhism, was born in Tibet in the province of Kham in 1948. He is currently spiritual head for Gaden for the West, with meditation centres in Canada, U.S. and Australia.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche was recognized as the 13th incarnation of Lama Konchog Tenzin of Zuru Monastery. In 1959, during the Chinese invasion, he escaped from Tibet and continued his education for sixteen years in India under the tutelage of many of the greatest teachers of Mahayana Buddhism. In 1975, Zasep Rinpoche left India to study in Thailand where he joined the monks of a forest monastery. For eighteen months he studied and practiced with them. He then traveled to Australia and translated for Tibetan speaking Lamas for a number of years.
Since 1976 he has taught western Dharma students in Australia, Canada, and the United States and has developed Dharma centres in each of these countries. Rinpoche regularly visits these centres and offers extensive teachings, initiations and retreats which his many students enthusiastically attend. Zasep Rinpoche now resides in Nelson, BC, close to the Gaden for the West retreat centre (Gaden Tashi Choling Retreat).
In 1999, Rinpoche and his students created the Gaden for the West umbrella organization to more effectively support and nourish the study of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He supports a number of Buddhist projects in Tibet, Mongolia and India through the non-profit society Gaden Relief.