Religious Field Research

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Report on Religious Field Research
James E Kirk
Professor Joe Flowers
REL 212 - World Religions
August 24, 2011
Report on Religious Field Research
Buddhism is one of the most popular religions in the world. It can be traced back to 563 B.C.E. with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. He is more commonly known as the Buddha, meaning the “Awakened One”. Buddhism spread quickly throughout Asia and other regions of the world but it remained virtually unknown in the West until the last fifty years. The teachings and practices of Buddhism were spread through three main channels: “Western scholars; the work of philosophers, writers and artists; and the arrival of Asian immigrants who have brought various forms of Buddhism with them to Europe, North America and Australia” (BuddhaNet.net, 2008). My mother, Nguyen Thi Lien Kirk (Lien), and her two close friends, Nhu Lan Nguyen (Lan) and Cuc Pigeon (Cuc), are three examples of immigrants from Vietnam who brought the ideals of Buddhism to the United States following the Vietnam War.

Buddhism arose as a monastic movement during a time of Brahman tradition. There were many important Hindu views and beliefs that Buddhism rejected. First and foremost, it did not recognize the validity of the Vedic scriptures. In addition, it expressly questioned the overall authority of the priesthood. Further, Buddhism rejected the idea of the caste system found in Hinduism as it believed that all people should be treated equally, denying that a person’s worth could be judged by their blood.

There are many beliefs associated with Buddhism. One of the core beliefs for a Buddhist is the three marks of reality. These three beliefs that Buddhists hold are constant change, a lack of permanent identity, and the existence of suffering. Inner peace can be achieved by keeping these three beliefs in mind at all times. From the three marks of reality comes the belief in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The First Noble Truth states to live is to suffer, the second is suffering comes from desire, the third is to end suffering, end desire, and the fourth is release from suffering is possible and can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is Buddha’s teachings to attain inner peace. Each of the eight steps should be practiced simultaneously to reach liberation. The eight steps are the right understanding, the right intention, the right speech, the right action, the right work, the right effort, the right meditation, and the right contemplation. Followers of Buddhism are divided into three branches. Theravada Buddhists believe that detachment and ending desire are the means of reaching nirvana. It is the way of the elders. They believe in the ideal of the arhat. The arhat is the perfect being, someone who has attained nirvana. The Theravada teachings are based on the Tripitaka (three baskets). The first collection of teachings is called the sutra, which contain sermons and dialogues. The second teaching is called vinaya, which consist of proper procedures for the rules of monastic life. The third collection is called abhidhamma, which means the works that go beyond the elementary teachings.

Vajrayana Buddhism is the second branch of teachings, meaning “Diamond Vehicle,” or “vehicle of the lightning bolt.” These teachings believe in the acquisition of special powers through certain rituals. Some view it as a form of Mahayana Buddhism.

The third branch is Mahayana Buddhism, which is referred to as the “Big Vehicle.” The vision of Mahayana is broader than that of the Theravadas. The Mahayana teachings are more general and apply to a greater amount of people. The Mahayana teachings believe in the trikaya (three-body) doctrine. They are the Dharmakaya (cosmic Buddha nature), the Nirmanakaya (historical Buddha), and the Sambhogakaya (celestial Buddha). This is the branch most prevalent in Vietnam, and it is the branch of...
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