Буддийская доктрина и терминология

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Buddhist doctrine and terminology

Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?

The Buddha referred to his teachings simply as Dhamma-vinaya - "the doctrine and discipline" - but for centuries people have tried to categorize the teachings in various ways, trying to fit them into the prevailing molds of cultural, philosophical, and religious thought. Buddhism is an ethical system - a way of life - that leads to a very specific goal and that possesses some aspects of both religion and philosophy:

It is a philosophy.

Like most philosophies, Buddhism attempts to frame the complexities of human existence in a way that reassures us that there is, in fact, some underlying order to the Universe. In the Four Noble Truths the Buddha crisply summarizes our predicament: there is suffering, it has a cause, it has an end, and there is a way to reach the end. The teachings on kamma provide a thorough and logically self-consistent description of the nature of cause-and-effect. And even the Buddhist view of cosmology, which some may at first find farfetched, is a logical extension of the law of kamma. According to the Dhamma, a deep and unshakable logic pervades the world.

It is not a philosophy.

Unlike most philosophical systems, which rely on speculation and the power of reason to arrive at logical truths, Buddhism relies on the direct observation of one's personal experience and on honing certain skills in order to gain true understanding and wisdom. Idle speculation has no place in Buddhist practice. Although studying in the classroom, reading books, and engaging in spirited debate can play a vital part in developing a cognitive understanding of basic Buddhist concepts, the heart of Buddhism can never be realized this way. The Dhamma is not an abstract system of thought designed to delight the intellect; it is a roadmap to be used, one whose essential purpose is to lead the practitioner to the ultimate goal, nibbana.

It is a religion.

At the heart of each of the world's great religions lies a transcendent ideal around which its doctrinal principles orbit. In Buddhism this truth is nibbana, the hallmark of the cessation of suffering and stress, a truth of utter transcendence that stands in singular distinction from anything we might encounter in our ordinary sensory experience. Nibbana is the sine qua non of Buddhism, the guiding star and ultimate goal towards which all the Buddha's teachings point. Because it aims at such a lofty transcendent ideal, we might fairly call Buddhism a religion.

It is not a religion.

In stark contrast to the world's other major religions, however, Buddhism invokes no divinity, no supreme Creator or supreme Self, no Holy Spirit or omniscient loving God to whom we might appeal for salvation.{2}1{3} Instead, Buddhism calls for us to hoist ourselves up by our own bootstraps: to develop the discernment we need to distinguish between those qualities within us that are unwholesome and those that are truly noble and good, and to learn how to nourish the good ones and expunge the bad. This is the path to Buddhism's highest perfection, nibbana. Not even the Buddha can take you to that goal; you alone must do the work necessary to complete the journey:

"Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge."

- DN 16

Despite its non-theistic nature, however, Buddhist practice does call for a certain kind of faith. It is not blind faith, an uncritical acceptance of the Buddha's word as transmitted through scripture. Instead it is saddha, a confidence born of taking refuge in the Triple Gem; it is a willingness to trust that the Dhamma, when practiced diligently, will lead to the rewards promised by the Buddha. Saddha is a provisional acceptance of the teachings, that is ever subject to critical evaluation during the course of one's practice, and which must be balanced by one's growing powers of discernment. For many Buddhists, this faith is expressed and reinforced through traditional devotional practices, such as bowing before a Buddha statue and reciting passages from the early Pali texts. Despite a superficial resemblance to the rites of many theistic religions, however, these activities are neither prayers nor pleas for salvation directed towards a transcendent Other. They are instead useful and inspiring gestures of humility and respect for the profound nobility and worth of the Triple Gem.


1. According to Buddhist cosmology, every living being dwells in one of thirty-one distinct "planes," of which our familiar human plane is but one. Some of these realms are home to beings (the devas) with unusual powers and extraordinarily subtle and refined physical bodies - or even no body at all. Their god-like status is, however, short-lived; like all living beings, they are mortal and ultimately subject to death and rebirth in other planes according to the purity and skillfulness of their actions (kamma). One of these devas, the Great Brahma, is so clouded by his own delusion that he believes himself to be the all-powerful, all-seeing creator of the universe (see DN 11).

Is Vipassana the same as Theravada?


The Pali word vipassana - often translated as "insight" - has a variety of meanings. First, it refers to the flash of liberating intuitive understanding that marks the culmination of Buddhist meditation practice.{4}1{5} In the Pali discourses vipassana also refers to the mind's ability to witness clearly as events unfold in the present moment. In this sense it is a skill that a meditator develops using a broad arsenal of meditative tools and techniques. With practice, this skill can bring the meditator to the threshold of liberating insight.[2] In its third meaning, one that has become especially popular in the West in recent years, "Vipassana" (usually with a capital "V") refers to a system of meditation - vipassana bhavana, or "Insight Meditation" - that is based on an interpretation of the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), the Buddha's concise "how-to" guide to the development of mindfulness (sati).{8}3{9}

Followers of the popular Vipassana movement often cite the Satipatthana Sutta as the essence of the Buddha's teachings; some even claim that the instructions it contains are the only ones necessary for achieving liberating insight. Theravada Buddhism, by contrast, embraces the thousands of discourses of the Pali canon, each highlighting a different aspect of the Buddha's teachings. In Theravada each discourse supports, depends upon, reflects, and informs all the others; even a discourse as important as the Satipatthana Sutta is seen as but a single thread in the Buddha's complex tapestry of teachings.

Although many students do find all they want in Vipassana, some have a nagging sense that something fundamental is missing. This reaction is hardly surprising, as the Satipatthana discourse itself was delivered to a group of relatively advanced students who were already quite experienced and well established in the path of Dhamma practice.

Happily, all those missing pieces can be found in the Pali canon. In the Canon we find the Buddha's teachings on generosity and virtue, the twin pillars upon which all spiritual practice is built. His teachings on the recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha serve to strengthen the development of saddha (faith, confidence), which provides a potent fuel to sustain Dhamma practice long after we return home from that meditation retreat. In the Canon we also find his teachings on the drawbacks of sensuality and the value of renunciation; on developing all the factors in the Eightfold Path, including those that are seldom explored during organized Vipassana retreats: right speech, right livelihood, right effort, and right concentration (meaning jhana). And there is much, much more.

In Theravada, the path to liberating insight does not boil down to a single meditation technique or to being continuously mindful. The path to Awakening is full of surprising twists and turns but, thankfully, the Buddha left for us an assortment of tools to use and skills to learn to help us safely make the journey.

See also: "What is Theravada Buddhism?"


3. The modern Vipassana movement grew out of the tradition of Satipatthana Vipassana, a meditation system based on the Satipatthana Sutta and developed by Burmese monks in the early 20th century. By the 1950's the Burmese teachers Sayagyi U Ba Khin (a layman; 1899-1971) and Mahasi Sayadaw (a monk; 1904-1982) had independently codified and institutionalized these teachings, making them widely accessible across South Asia and, eventually, the West. The Satipatthana Vipassana approach to meditation continues to enjoy widespread popularity among laypeople in the West.

If we're all reborn when we die, how does Buddhism explain the world's increasing population?

According to Buddhist cosmology, when a living being{10}1{11} passes away he or she is reborn into one of thirty-one distinct "planes" or "realms" of existence, of which the human realm is just one. An increase in the human population simply implies that creatures from other planes are being reborn into the human realm at a rate faster than humans are dying. Likewise, a decline in the human population would imply that humans, upon death, are taking rebirth in other planes (or exiting samsara altogether) at a rate faster than other creatures are taking rebirth as humans. These sorts of population shifts have been occurring for countless eons and in themselves hold little cosmic significance.


1. Except an arahant, a fully-enlightened being. Arahants have escaped the round of rebirths once and for all and, upon death, are not reborn.

If there's no self, then who gets enlightened? If there's no self, then what gets reborn? If there's no self, then why...?

Nowhere in the Pali canon does Buddha categorically declare, without qualification, "There is no self." Any question that begins along the lines of, "If there's no self..." is thus inherently misleading, dooming the questioner to a hopeless tangle of confusion - "a thicket of [wrong] views" [MN 2]. Such questions are best put aside altogether in favor of more fruitful lines of questioning.

I hear the word "sangha" used a lot these days in Buddhist circles. What does it really mean?

The Pali word "sangha" literally means "group" or "congregation," but when it is used in the suttas, the word usually refers to one of two very specific kinds of groups: either the community of Buddhist monastics (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis), or the community of people who have attained at least the first stage of Awakening. In recent decades, a new usage of the word has emerged in the West, one that seems to have no basis in classical Theravada Buddhist teachings: the usage of the word "sangha" to describe a meditation group or any sort of spiritual community.{16}1{17} It sounds innocent enough, but this particular usage can - and often does - lead to profound confusion concerning one of the most fundamental underpinnings of the Buddha's teachings, the going for refuge in the Triple Gem.

The act of going for refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha{18}2{19} marks a major turning point in one's spiritual development, the real start of the journey down the Buddhist path. It helps foster a healthy attitude towards Buddhist practice by encouraging the development of right view, and serves as a constant reminder both of the goal of practice and of the means to achieve that goal. It is therefore crucial to be clear and precise about the meaning of the refuges, lest we end up heading down a road quite different from the one the Buddha had in mind.

In taking refuge in the Sangha, we set our inner sights on the ideal community of Noble Ones (ariya-sangha) - those monks, nuns, laywomen, and laymen who, throughout history, have by their own diligent efforts successfully carried out the Buddha's instructions and gained at least a glimpse of the supreme happiness of nibbana. If this is the direction in which we also wish to go, then it is to these individuals that we should turn for refuge:

The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples who have practiced well...
who have practiced straight-forwardly...
who have practiced methodically...
who have practiced masterfully - in other words, the four types [of noble disciples] when taken as pairs, the eight when taken as individual types - they are the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.

- AN 11.12

But going for refuge doesn't stop there. We are also asked to turn to the monastic community (bhikkhu-sangha) for refuge, for it is thanks to the unbroken lineage of this 2,600-year-old institution that we are fortunate enough today to be able to hear the teachings. Moreover, the living example of the monastic community serves to remind us of the immense value of generosity, of living a morally upright life, of renunciation - in short, it reminds us that it is indeed possible to live a life fully in tune with every aspect of the Buddha's teachings. In reality, of course, not every monk or nun necessarily lives up to the Buddha's high standards of conduct. For this reason it is to the institution of the Sangha that we turn to refuge, not to the individual members themselves. This is the Sangha to which lay people have turned since the time of the Buddha:

I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life.

- DN 2, MN 72, SN 51.15, AN 4.184, etc.]

So it is these exceptional groups of people - the ariya-sangha and the bhikkhu-sangha - that define the Third Gem and Refuge; it is to these groups that we are asked to turn for refuge, not to some vaguely defined community of like-minded Dhamma friends and fellow meditators. In which group would you rather put your trust?

In an effort to resolve this confusion, some writers have proposed various alternatives to the word "sangha" to describe gatherings and communities of Dhamma companions.{22}4{23} But this still leaves me wondering why we must invoke the Pali language here at all. Does a meditation group really need a special name? Why not simply call it a "meditation group" and leave it at that?

"Sangha" is an important term with a rich and precise meaning. It stands for something truly extraordinary and brilliant that can constantly remind us of the highest and most excellent possibilities the Path has to offer. Let's use it well.


2. Here I follow the convention of capitalizing "Sangha" when referring to the third object of refuge.

4. Two such proposals are parisa (the "fourfold assembly": monks (bhikkhus), nuns (bhikkhunis), male lay followers (upasakas), and female lay followers (upasikas), regardless of spiritual attainment; see Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997)) and gana (chapter; quorum; gang).

What's the difference between a Buddha and an arahant?

The attainment of arahantship and Buddha-hood are identical: the attainment of the Deathless (Nibbana) and the complete and irreversible eradication of the defilements, the underlying cause of suffering. It is the Buddha who (re-)discovers the Dhamma on his own; it is the arahant who puts his teachings into practice and follows in his footsteps.

Here is the Buddha's answer to this very question:

[The Buddha:] "So what difference, what distinction, what distinguishing factor is there between one rightly self-awakened and a monk discernment-released?"

[A group of monks:] "For us, lord, the teachings have the Blessed One as their root, their guide, & their arbitrator. It would be good if the Blessed One himself would explicate the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from the Blessed One, the monks will remember it."
"In that case, monks, listen &amp; pay close attention. I will speak."
"As you say, lord," the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, "The Tathagata - the worthy one, the rightly self-awakened one - is the one who gives rise to the path (previously) unarisen, who engenders the path (previously) unengendered, who points out the path (previously) not pointed out. He knows the path, is expert in the path, is adept at the path. And his disciples now keep following the path and afterwards become endowed with the path. "This is the difference, this the distinction, this the distinguishing between one rightly self-awakened and a monk discernment-released."

- SN 22.58

Who is Maitreya (Metteyya)? Have there been other Buddhas? What's a "Private Buddha" (paccekabuddha)?

According to Theravada tradition, many Buddhas have come and gone over countless eons. Every once in a great while, after a long period of spiritual darkness blankets the world, an individual is eventually born who, through his own efforts, rediscovers the long-forgotten path to Awakening and liberates himself once and for all from the long round of rebirth, thereby becoming an arahant ("worthy one," one who has fully realized Awakening). If such a being lacks the requisite development of the paramis (perfections of character), he is unable to articulate his discovery to others and is known as a "Silent" or "Private" Buddha (paccekabuddha). If, however, his paramis are fully developed, he is able to deliver his message (sasana) to the world and is called, simply, a Buddha.

Some of a Buddha's followers may themselves become arahants, but they are not Buddhas, because they required a Buddha to show them the way to Awakening. (All Buddhas and paccekabuddhas are arahants, but not all arahants are Buddhas or paccekabuddhas) No matter how far and wide the sasana spreads, sooner or later it succumbs to the inexorable law of anicca (impermanence), and fades from memory. The world descends again into darkness, and the eons-long cycle repeats.

The most recent Buddha was born Siddhattha Gotama in India in the sixth century BCE. He is the one we usually mean when we refer to "The Buddha."{24}1{25}

The next Buddha due to appear is said to be Maitreya (Skt; Pali: Metteyya), a bodhisatta currently residing in the Tusita heavens. Legend has it that at some time in the far distant future, once the teachings of the current Buddha have long been forgotten, he will be reborn as a human being, rediscover the Four Noble Truths, and teach the Noble Eightfold Path once again. Although he plays an important role in some Mahayana Buddhist traditions, whose followers appeal to him for favorable rebirth and salvation,{26}2{27} he plays an insignificant role in Theravada. I believe he's mentioned only once in the entire Tipitaka, in the Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta (DN 26; The Lion's Roar on the Turning of the Wheel):

[The Buddha:] And in that time of the people with an eighty-thousand-year life-span, there will arise in the world a Blessed Lord, an arahant fully enlightened Buddha named Metteyya, endowed with wisdom and conduct, a Well-farer, Knower of the worlds, incomparable Trainer of men to be tamed, Teacher of gods and humans, enlightened and blessed, just as I am now.

That jolly fellow with the large belly who appears in Chinese and Japanese art - and who serves as a fashionable ornament in countless lawns and gardens - represents Maitreya from a previous lifetime.


1. DN 14 and DN 32 mention six previous Buddhas: Vipassi, Sikhi, Vessabhu, Kakusandha, Konagamana, and Kassapa. MN 116 includes a long list of past paccekabuddhas.

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Редакция перевода от 03.03.2017 16:43