|The Life of Prince Siddhartha
The infant had barely left Maya's womb when it stood up on its own chubby newborn legs and looked around the wooded grove of its parturition with clear, cognizant eyes. Maya's attendants, who had all been so abuzz with activity the moment before, fell into an awed and reverent silence as if a great ethereal wave had passed over them. The babe then strode forward seven paces without a single misstep. When it had taken the seventh step, it planted its feet firmly on the soft soil and said in a loud and clear, but still childlike voice: "Let it be known that this rebirth is to be my last. In this lifetime, I am destined to attain nirvana."
This infant was named Siddhartha, which is Sanskrit for "He who has achieved his goal." During his childhood, his father (the king) secluded him from the sorrows and suffering of ordinary life. Only pleasant and joyous things surrounded Siddhartha during his formative years. However, when he had grown into a young man, he went outside the royal gates on a series of chariot rides. While on these excursions he was first exposed to the pains of old age when he saw a decrepit old man, disease when he saw a sick man, death when he saw a corpse and, finally, the suffering of laborers when he witnessed peasants plowing the fields. He was even grief stricken at the sight of the peasant's oxen hard at work, and at the thought of worms and insects being slaughtered under the blade of the plow.
After much meditation, and against the wishes of his father, Siddhartha decided to leave the riches and splendor of his life behind to become a mendicant. He studied under two wise men and quickly attained their levels on their respective paths to enlightenment, but found himself no closer to his goal. He then abandoned the paths and went to become an ascetic. He practiced stopping his breath and deprived himself of food periodically during five years, but again found himself no closer to enlightenment. In a flash of insight, he remembered a time in his childhood where he'd been perfectly tranquil under a shady tree and had entered into a state of dispassionate equilibrium, and then had quickly gone into his first trance. The mendicant (now known as Gautama) realized that extreme paths never lead to enlightenment. At this realization he took his first step on the Middle Way (or Middle Path), which quickly lead him to his goal. This is essentially a Way that rejects both sensual indulgence and bodily deprivation, and focuses on a "happy medium" as the best way to achieve the proper mind set for enlightenment.
On the night Gautama achieved nirvana, he sat beneath a bodhi tree and decided not to rise until he had become enlightened. Through the course of the night, Mara the Evil One tried to prevent Gautama from reaching his goal by sending demons and beautiful woman, and finally tried to intimidate Gautama himself. None of this worked, and soon Gautama had a series of revelations that led him to nirvana. He realized the Four Holy Truths, the Twelve Preconditions, and outlined the Holy Eightfold Path. He also gained six "superknowledged"; mystic powers (levitation, walking on water), the divine ear (the ability to hear heavenly voices, and all other sounds near or far), the ability to read other people's minds, the memory of his former lives, the divine eye (like the divine ear, but dealing with sight), and the extinguishing of desire and ignorance.
After reaching nirvana, the new Buddha remained on earth for a time to teach the Middle Way to others. He leader ascended to Heaven, where he joined the ranks of the other enlightened beings.
The Buddhist World View
There is a difference between Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and a buddha, which simple is one of the enlightened beings. These enlightened beings are different from humans in that they see the true nature of reality. Life in the Buddhist conception of the universe can come in one of six forms. Gods, demi gods and human beings are in the upper echelons, while animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings reside in the lower rungs of the life hierarchy. Buddhist gods are mortal. They lead lives of absolute pleasure in the Heavens, and are almost always reborn into the lower ranks, after existing for an incredibly long time. The gods' home in the Heavens is not the same place as the paradise where the buddhas reside (called the Buddha-Land). It is possible for the gods to reach enlightenment while in the Heavens. In fact, it is theoretically possible for being at any level of the hierarchy to attain nirvana.
When a person becomes enlightened (or cursed, as the Cathayans know all too well), she escapes from this hierarchy. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma. Karma dictates in which rung of the hierarchy one will be reborn. If a human has committed evil deeds in his lifetime, he will be reincarnated as an animal, a hungry ghost, or a denizen of Hell, depending on the severity of the deeds. A good Buddhist who follows the Eightfold Path, but does not reach nirvana during his lifetime, has the chance to be reborn as a demigod or even a god.
Life as a Buddhist
Followers of a Buddha can chose to become either monks or nuns, or laypersons. Monks and nuns live in monasteries and devote their lives to the attainment of enlightenment. Laypersons have the chance to attain the third level of enlightenment (there are a total of four) and are guaranteed a good rebirth as long as they follow the Five Precepts for Laypersons. They are:
1. One must never kill a living being. This includes animals of all types, those things that "have life breath," but not plants.
2. One must refrain from taking what has not been given
3. One must not engage in sexual misconduct
4. One must never use lying or flattering speech.
5. One must abstain from drinking alcohol.
The Road to Nirvana
The traveler on the road to enlightenment must follow the Holy Eightfold Path, which is also known as the Middle Way. The seeker must have the right views, the right intention and the right speech, perform the right action, follow the right livelihood, put forth the right effort, possess right mindfulness, and achieve the right concentration. The Middle Way also encompasses moderate living, which avoids extremes of luxury and self-denial.
Buddhists believe that each human's true nature is divine and eternal, but that the personality and all the other trappings of the body are transitory. The personality may last for a few cycles of rebirth, but it eventually disappears. The only way to prevent this, and to escape from this cycle, is to follow the Middle Way to enlightenment.
|Buddhism in the Middle Kingdom
Buddhism came to China in the first century A D , during the Han Dynasty, where it was called Fo-jiao. This was a time of great strife among the Kuei-jin, when many of the Eastern vampires allowed their P'o to become more dominant, and infighting among the Hundred Corpse Families increased. The Buddhist doctrine of kindness and moderation as the way to enlightenment was very appealing to some vampires, especially those who remembered more peaceful nights. Others scoffed at the missionaries and the newly converted who claimed that "life is suffering." "How can mortals possibly begin to grasp true suffering?" the cynics sneered, shuddering almost imperceptibly as images from their time in the Yomi World came unbidden to their minds' eyes.
Nevertheless. Buddhism gradually took root among mortals and Cathayans, and slowly spread to other parts of the Middle Kingdom. It became one of the dominant religions in this area, sharing the spotlight with Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto. Buddhism eventually split into two main sects, Therevada and Mahayana. The major difference between the two is that the former describes enlightement as "peace and tranquility," while the latter sees it as "the emptiness and unchanging essence of the Buddha," and the "ultimate reality." The Mahayana sect was responsible for the creation of the belief that there are bodhisattvas (beings who are nearing the state of total enlightenment) who have reached nirvana, but have not passed into the blissful Buddha-Land. These enlightened beings remain in the world out of pity for humankind and make a solemn vow to help all of humanity attain nirvana before they will themselves journey to the land of infinite peace. Indeed, many Buddhist Kuei-jin find themselves associated with the ease direction, and may even traveln the lands of the Middle Kingdom as itinerant monks.
Pure Land Buddhism concerns the Amitabha Buddah, the Buddha of Boundless Light Followers of this path believe that eons ago, a very powerful man on the threshold of enlightenment vowed that he would not enter the Buddha-Land until he was certain that anyone who called his name, with perfect faith, especially at the moment of death, would be reborn into Amitabha's paradise and taken out of the cycle of reincarnation. Amitbha's paradise is known as the Pure Land, and lies in the west. (It is also known as the Western Paradise.) Some believe that even thought who have committed evil deeds during their lives can call on Amitabha at the moment of their death, and if they have perfect faith, they can be transported to the inside of a closed lotus bud in the Pure Land. They will remain in this lotus bud until they have atoned for their sins by understanding the Buddhist doctrine and taking the road to enlightenment.
The Way of the Seven Lakes
Kuei-jin and the Eightfold Path
A mortal Buddhist who returns as one of the undead is a miserable creature indeed. Upon regaining some semblance of sanity, the new vampire is often haunted by memories of the Hell he has just escaped from. His experience in the Yomi World affirms much of what he was taught in his mortal life, but the fact that he is now back on Earth (in his old body) is very confusing, and challenges the Buddhist doctrines of rebirth and karma. New Buddhist Kuei-jin often refuse to believe that they have returned from the dead, and instead presume that they are in another area of Hell. Some of these poor souls secretly retain this belief for decades. Others discard, or seriously modify, the tenets of their mortal lives almost immediately.
The Origins of the Bodhisattva
Some Cathayan historians claim that this story
predates the mortal concept of the bodhisattva. They say that this circulated
among mortals in India around the time the Mahayana sect was created, and
that humans only fabricated the name. (Which, in turn, was adopted by the
Kuei-jin to denote the most wise and revered among them.) Others insist
that the Cathayan legend was heavily influenced by Taoist and Buddhist
beliefs and was created by Buddhist Kuei-jin during the Sui Dynasty as
a tool with which to convert other vampires to the Eightfold Path.