Facets of Faith for Sept. 17, 2011

Basics of Buddhism explained

Today’s main story is about Thich Dao Quang, abbot of Tam Bao Temple in Baton Rouge.

While the number of Buddhist followers has grown, Americans often don’t understand the basics of the religion.

Basics

MEMBERS WORLDWIDE: 350 million, mostly in Asia.

MEMBERS IN UNITED STATES: Estimates were 401,000 in 1990, but that had risen to 1.08 million in 2001.

SACRED TEXT: Tripitaka is the oldest, but each branch of Buddhism has others.

BASIC TENETS: The philosophical system was founded in India in the sixth century B.C. by Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). It teaches that living a proper life of right-thinking and self-denial will enable the soul to reach Nirvana, a divine state of release from misdirected desire. The basic doctrine is the “Four Noble Truths:” Suffering exists. Suffering is caused by self-centered desires. Suffering can be made to cease. Cessation comes from following the Eightfold Path, a plan for living.

SYMBOL: An eight-spoked wheel represents the eightfold path.

SERVICES: Gatherings are not formalized and vary by group. A basic service often includes incense, meditation, chanting and a sermon by a monk or other leader. Some groups emphasize meditation, while others use a service more like a Protestant service.

So what is Zen?

In his native Vietnam, abbot Quang learned Zen Buddhism, a school of Buddhism also tied to Japan, Korea, China and India. It focuses on satori or enlightenment.

Zen Buddhists believe that enlightenment comes through meditation.

The term Zen means meditation. It comes from the Chinese word for meditation (chan), which came from the Sanskrit word for meditation.

Its original practitioners emphasized quiet meditation and taught that physical labor contributes to enlightenment.

Its idea of realizing inner potential made it popular in the West in the mid-20th century. The idea of self-development resonated with new practitioners in the Americas and Europe.

For local information

Visit Tam Bao’s website, http://www.batonrougebuddha.com/home, for information about activities in Baton Rouge. The site also has descriptions of the Four Noble Truths and the Eighfold Path.

SOURCES: The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor; The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith, editor; World Book; Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religion, Wendy Doniger, editor; Religions of China, Daniel L. Overmyer; The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion; “How to Be a Perfect Stranger, Vol. 1”; http://www.religioustolerance.org/; http://www.buddhanet.net/; http://www.adherents.com/

Send ideas to Leila Pitchford-English, The Advocate, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-0588; or email lenglish@theadvocate.com.