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HANDOUT 1: Buddhism Fact Sheet

Founded/Created: 531 BCE (more than 2,500 years ago).

Adherents: 360 million, primarily in the East but growing worldwide.

Ranking: Sixth.

Prophets: Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha ("the Awakened One"), for whom the faith is named. The Buddha, while revered, is not considered divine.

Texts:

  • The Dhammapada, direct teachings of the Buddha.
  • Tripitaka, or Pali Canon, teachings of the Buddha that were handed down orally and not recorded until 1st century BCE.
  • The Sutras, collections of brief explanatory scriptures intended to be used for teaching or for committing to memory. There are dozens of sutras.
  • Tibetan Book of the Dead, an ancient text with instructions for the dying and their caretakers.

Holidays: Many local celebrations exist in different countries. Some of the more common are:

  • Buddha Day, the celebration of Buddha's birthday, commonly celebrated during the first full moon in May
  • Bodhi Day, an acknowledgement of the day the Buddha sat down under the bodhi tree to achieve enlightenment, celebrated on December 8
  • Nirvana Day, celebrating the day the Buddha reached nirvana, usually celebrated on February 15

Many Buddhists celebrate all three holidays together as Wesak, in May.

Symbols:

  • Wheel of Dharma – eight-spoked for the Eightfold Path. Also called the Wheel of Enlightenment, the Wheel of Truth, and the Wheel of Law.
  • Bodhi Tree (also called Bo Tree) – the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment. "Bodhi" translates as "enlightenment."
  • Lion – the symbol for the Buddha, associated with royalty, strength, and power. Sometimes the Buddha's teachings are called the "Lion's Roar."
  • Stupa – an architectural form representing all the elements and often used to store important relics or documents.
  • Lotus – the open flower represents enlightenment or fulfillment, and the bud or partially open flower represents the Dharma, being on the path to enlightenment. The fact that the lotus grows out of mud symbolizes the possibility of purity, beauty, and clearness of purpose arising from the most humble of origins.

Terms and Fundamental Precepts:

  • The Three Jewels – refers to the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community)
  • The Buddha – the "Awakened One" or "Enlightened One"
  • Delusion – the state of not seeing things with utter clarity, as they are, and of being confused or driven by desires, aversions, or responses to the senses
  • Dharma – literally "truth" or "law," the path to enlightenment
  • Impermanence – that everything in the universe is in a constant state of change; the only constant is change itself; "This too shall pass"
  • Mahayan – one of the two most popular schools of Buddhist thought; it focuses on compassion and giving service to others
  • Nirvana – the state of freedom from limitations of the physical body and sense desire
  • Sangha – the community of nuns and monks who are transmitters of the Dharma to lay Buddhists, in the tradition of the Buddha
  • Theravada – one of the two most popular schools of Buddhist thought; it focuses on solitary reflection for spiritual enlightenment

Shared with Unitarian Universalism:

  • No requirement for belief in God or a divine being
  • The idea that personal effort is necessary for spiritual advancement
  • A belief in personal responsibility for spiritual journey
  • (With many UUs) Valuing empirical evidence over intuitive understanding
  • Many songs and readings—for example, in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: UUA Publications, 1993), Readings 505, 596–598, and 679, and Hymns 181, 183, and 184, are from Buddhist sources

Other connections between Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism:

  • Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, a UU activist for abolition, suffrage, education, Native American rights, and world peace, and founder of the kindergarten movement in America, published the first English translation of a Buddhist text in the transcendental journal The Dial.
  • Many Buddhists are also UUs, and vice versa. The Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship is an organization of Buddhist UUs.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, October 21, 2013.

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