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The book by John Strong “The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations” provides readers with insight into Buddhism, its practices, theories, teachings, and rituals. The author describes and explains many key aspects and notions of this religion. The key concepts as nirvana, thunderous silence, two extremes, Middle Way, the doctrine of emptiness are the basics of this religion. The author provides the evolution of Buddhism and the main religious figures that influenced the formation of the Buddhist vision of the world. In the next sections, the key concepts described in the book are discussed.
Channa Is Taught the Middle Way
In the Mainstream sutra from The Collection of Connected Discourses, Buddha describes the “way of wisdom,” which he explains as the middle way between extremes. Only a wise person can go along a middle path, and this is the best way to understand life. The extremes are sensual indulgence and self-mortification. It was the first teaching of the Middle Way by Buddha. The later interpretation of this term was found in the Mahayana sutra.
This time, the term defined the concept of existence and non-existence. So, things can either exist on do not, “the middle way is to be found in the way “reality” is somehow existent, non-existent, and yet existent at the same time.” (Gethin 247). This teaching can be put as a basis for more late theories of “duality of human nature” and other religious teachings about “the right way in life.”
Preliminary: The Parable of the Burning House
Lotus of the True Dharma is one of the most widely read sutras. It has a deep philosophical context and contains a reach teaching. It discloses three main themes: the doctrine of Priyanka, in other words, three vehicles that bring a person to nirvana. These are the vehicles that enticed children from the burning house – the disciples’ vehicles, the pratyekabuddhas vehicle, and the bodhisattvas’ vehicle (Strong 150).
The second theme is that every person can become a buddha and attain Nirvana. And the third one is the importance to believe and be devoted to your faith. The text is reached in parables. One of them is the burning house. The house symbolizes the world, fire is suffering, and the millionaire is a wise Buddha who saves people. The goat-cart, ox-cart, and deer-cart stand for the three vehicles to Nirvana. But Buddha gives to his children only one vehicle, which is the main to all teachings.
Nagarjuna: Verses on the Noble Truths and Nirvana
Nagarjuna is considered to be the second Buddha in East Asian and Tibetian Buddhism. His verses are opened to many interpretations (Robinson 95). The main of his teachings was the teaching of emptiness. It is his vision of the reality that is empty. It is a misunderstanding, indeed. Nagarjuna does not deny reality, he denies the description of the reality. (Strong 158) His fundamental work Verses on the Middle Way is a detailed analysis and his vision of Buddhism and the connection of Buddha with the world. In this verse, there is also the interpretation of the Four Noble Truth and Nirvana.
The Four Noble Truths, according to Nagarjuna, are the following: the first truth is that all things around us are empty, and because we hold them and appreciate them, we suffer. The second truth says that the reason for our suffering is that we do not understand what is real and what is unreal. The third truth says that because emptiness and relativity of things are absolute, the suffering also has its end. And the fourth truth gives people the hope to prevent suffering. One can stop suffer if he/she follows the Middle Way. Nagarjuna claims that only the one who attains the fourth truth can attain nirvana.
Sudhana’s Vision of the Cosmos
Young man Sudhana wanted to attain enlightenment. On his way to enlightenment, he got lessons from 53 teachers who sent him from one to another until, finally, he met Buddha and saw the cosmos, “And in every single of those quadrillions of Buddha fields, he saw Tathagatas surrounded by countless assemblies of bodhisattvas. And he saw that all those quadrillions of fields had various bases, forms, arrangements…” (Strong 172). This is the story about how one can reach enlightenment and what steps should be done. At the end of his way, Sudhana understands that the main aim of Buddha is to save all people and that the greatest wisdom does not exist unless you put it into practice.
The Skillful Means of Vimalakirti
Meditation is a state of harmony with yourself. A Vimalakirti’s silence is silent meditation, a very significant silence. The Vimalakirti’s Sutra is one of the most important and significant works in the Mahayana canon. The sutra describes the silence as wisdom. There is a connection between silence and speech. The main question of the sutra is, how does the bodhisattva enter the gates of non-dualism (oneness)?
The answer was the next one, “I think that when you can neither speak nor talk of any event when you neither indicate nor know anything when you pass beyond both questions and answer, this is to enter the gate of oneness.” (Strong 187) This answer explains that silence is wisdom. But the silence is not just not to pronounce a word it means the silence that makes a point. Everything has sense, and silence can be louder than speech.
Commentary of the Passage
The birth of our Universe is the result of a Big Bang. What can be similar between the theory of the Big Bang and the doctrine of emptiness in Buddhism? Before the big bang in the Universe, there was emptiness. The smallest parts were moving in disorder, but the time has come, and those parts united, and life was born. The Buddhist doctrine of emptiness is based on the supposition that the world is an empty thing and all the objects in it.
Thus, there is no sense, and there is nothing essential in everything that surrounds us. Nothing is important, and nothing is permanent. But, can we come up to a conclusion that nothing exists? The theory of Buddhism explains that things are related to each other and can exist only in this relation. Pain exists only when you feel it music exists only when you hear it. In one understands it, he/she can attain nirvana.
The understanding of the emptiness” is the same as understanding the structure of the Universe. If you know how the thing is created, you can change it as you wish. Besides, the doctrine of emptiness and the Big bang theory has one basis: everything was created from the emptiness. Thus, the birth of the Universe can be compared with the attainment of nirvana.
Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University press, 1998.
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Strong, John S., The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. 3rd ed. New York: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007.
Robinson, Richard H., Willard L. Johnson, and Thanissaro Bhikkhu., Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction. 5th ed. New York: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004.