In Praise of Buddha’s Acts

by Charles Willemen | 77,962 words

Buddhacharita (of Bodhisattva Aśvaghoṣa) is an epic poem in the Sanskrit mahakavya style on the life of Gautama Buddha by Aśvaghoṣa, composed in the 1st century CE....

Abhidharma: A collection of treatises containing detailed analyses of the psychological and spiritual content of early Buddhist teachings; one of the three divisions of the Tripiṭaka. See also Tripiṭaka.

Abhidharmakośa: The Treatise on the Storehouse of the Abhidharma by Vasubandhu (ca. 350–430); a very important text in the propagation and development of Chinese Buddhism.

abhisaṃbodhi: Full and complete enlightenment attained by the Buddha.

Ānanda: The cousin of the Buddha who served as his close disciple and personal attendant.

arhat: “One who is worthy,” a saint who has eradicated the passions and attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara); arhatship is the highest of the four stages of spiritual development in early Buddhism. See also samsara.

Aśoka (“Without Sorrow”): King of the Maurya kingdom in northern India (ca. 264–227 B.C.E.). A convert to Buddhism after a particularly bloody series of battles, Aśoka implemented a “reign of Dharma” and state support of Buddhism. According to the Sarvāstivāda tradition, during his reign the Buddhist sangha was divided by a schism that led to the development of two main schools.

asura: A supernatural being, or demigod, constantly engaged in warring against the gods; one of the six woeful destinations in samsara. See also destinations; samsara.

Avīci: The worst of the eight hot hells, located deep beneath Jambudvīpa, the continent where human beings live. In Chinese it is rendered in different ways, e.g., “without any choice,” with the implication of “interminable.” See also hell. bhikṣu: A mendicant or Buddhist monk, a fully ordained member of the sangha. bodhi: Enlightenment, the state of undefiled purity and eternal bliss.

bodhisattva: Lit., “enlightenment being.” Originally an appellation of the Buddha, before his enlightenment. Later the term was used generally for an excellent practitioner or teacher. In the Mahayana, the bodhisattva is one who has engendered the profound aspiration to achieve enlightenment (bodhicitta) on behalf of all sentient beings, through the practice of the six perfections (pāramitās) and the eventual attainment of a series of spiritual stages (bhūmis). See also Mahayana; six perfections.

brahmadeva: Brahma, the highest god according to certain Hindu beliefs; the first and lowest of the four dhyāna (trance) heavens in the realm of form. See also dhyāna; three realms.

caitya: A shrine or funerary monument. See also stupa.

dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda): The fundamental Buddhist doctrine that all phenomena (dharmas) arise in relation to causes and conditions and in turn are the causes and conditions for the arising of other phenomena. Nothing exists independently of its causes and conditions. See also dharma.

destinations: The six realms of rebirth in which sentient beings transmigrate in samsara, consisting of three upper relams of gods, asuras, and human beings; and three lower realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and hell. Both five and six destinations are mentioned in this text, and are often referred to as “woeful,” because they are part of the cycle of samsara. See also asura; hell; hungry ghost; samsara.

dharma: Phenomenon, factor, element; the elements that make up the perceived phenomenal world.

Dharma: The Buddhist teaching, truth, or law. See also Law.

dhyāna: Meditation; a state of meditative concentration and absorption, also referred to as a trance.

four great kings: Acording to Buddhist cosmology, the guardian gods of the four directions, the kings of the four great continents surrounding Mount Sumeru: 1) Dhṛta rāṣṭra in the east; 2) Virūḍhaka in the south; 3) Virūpākṣa in the west; and 4) Vaiśravaṇa in the north. See also Mount Sumeru.

four noble tuths: The fundamental doctrine of Buddhism: 1) the truth of suffering, 2) the truth of the cause of suffering, 3) the truth of the cessation of suffering, and 4) the truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering, i.e., the noble eightfold path. See also noble eightfold path.

gandharva: A type of supernatural being; a heavenly musician.

gāthā: Stanza; one of the twelve (or nine) types of Buddhist scriptures; gāthā repeat in verse form the substance of the discourses in prose found in sutras. See also sutra. hell (naraka): The lowest level of samsaric existence, where those who have committed offenses are reborn and suffer torment for many eons. There are eight hot hells and eight cold hells. See also Avīci; destinations; samsara.

hungry ghost (preta): One who is reborn into one of the lower destinations of samsaric existence, where beings suffer the torment of insatiable hunger. See also destinations; samsara.

Jainism: One of India’s traditional religions, known for its emphasis on nonviolence (ahiṃsā). The founder, Vardharmāna, known as Mahāvīra, was nearly contemporary Glossary

of Śākyamuni. After twelve years of asceticism he gained insight and was called jina, “excellent one.”

kalpa: An eon, an immensely long period of time; also a period of great cosmic change. kāṣāya: A dyed garment; the robe worn by a Buddhist monastic.

Law: Dharma, the Buddhist teaching or truth, the understanding and application of which leads ultimately to nirvana. Also appears in this text as “Law of delivernace,” “Law of tranquility.” See also Dharma; nirvana.

Mahayana: Lit., “Great Vehicle”; a movement within Buddhism that developed in India around 100 B.C.E. and which exalts as its religious ideal the bodhisattva. See also bodhi sattva.

mandāra, mahāmāndārava flowers: Flowers of the mandāra (coral) tree.

Māra: Lit., “death-agent,” the Evil One, arch-enemy of all who seek to live a holy life. He rules the sensual world.

Mount Sumeru: In Buddhist cosmology, the highest mountain rising from the center of the world (axis mundi); it has four sides, is narrower in the center, and is surrounded by eight mountain ranges. In the ocean between the seventh and eighth of these ranges are the four great continents. See also four great kings.

muni: Sage; one who has achieved tranquility.

Nirgrantha: Jain ascetic, a follower of Mahāvīra, said to be a contemporary of the Buddha. See also Jainism.

nirvana: Liberation from samsara, a state of perfect peace in which all the passions are extinguished and the highest wisdom attained. See also samsara.

noble eightfold path: The eight aspects of practice for attaining nirvana, as taught by the Buddha; the fourth of the four noble truths: 1) right view, 2) right thought, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and 8) right concentration. See also four noble truths; nirvana.

parinirvāṇa: Complete nirvana, commonly used to describe the death of the Buddha (ca. 483 B.C.E.). See also nirvana.

prātimokṣa: The code of precepts contained in the Vinaya, one of the three parts of the Tripiṭaka; the moral code for monastic life. See also Vinaya.

Śākyamuni: Lit., “Sage of the Śākyas”; the historical Buddha who lived in Central India in the fifth century B.C.E., and whose life and teachings form the basis of Buddhism. samādhi: Concentration, focusing the mind on one point.

Sāṃkhya: Lit., “Enumeration.” One of the six schools of classical Hindu philosophy. samsara: The cycle of existence, the continuous round of birth and death through which beings transmigrate; the world of suffering, contrasted with the liberation and peace of nirvana. See also nirvana.

sense faculties: The sense perceptions that correspond to the six sense organs—visual (eye), auditory (ear), olfactory (nose), gustatory (tongue), tactile (body), and mental perceptions (mind).

six perfections (pāramitās): Six qualities that are to be perfected by bodhisattvas as they progress along the path to enlightenment: 1) giving or generosity (dāna), 2) ethics or morality (śīla), 3) patience or forbearance (kṣānti), 4) energy or effort (vīrya), 5) meditation (dhyāna), and 6) wisdom (prajñā). See also bodhisattva.

soma: An intoxicating drink made from the juice of the milkweed plant. śramaṇa: A wandering ascetic, mendicant.

stream-winner (srotaāpanna): The first of the four stages of spiritual attainment in early Buddhist teachings; one who has entered the stream of the Dharma.

stupa: A monument, usually conical in form, containing relics of the Buddha or marking the site of an important event in the Buddha’s life and which serves as a site for worship and veneration. See also caitya.

sutra: A scriptural text, discourses of the Buddha. Capitalized, the term refers to one of the parts of the Tripiṭaka, the Buddhist canon. See also Tripiṭaka.

Tathāgata: An epithet of the Buddha, meaning one who has gone to (gata) and come from (āgata) suchness (tathā). In Chinese it is rendered as “Thus-come.”

three realms: The three realms of samsaric existence, consisting of the realm of desire (kāmadhātu), i.e., the world of ordinary consciousness accompanied by desires; the realm of form, or material realm (rūpadhātu), in which desires have been eliminated but the physical body remains; and the realm of no-form, or immaterial realm (ārūpyadhātu), in which the physical form no longer exists.

Tripiṭaka: Lit., “three baskets”; the three divisions of the Buddhist canon, consisting of Abhi dharma (treatises), Sutra (discourses), and Vinaya (monastic code). See also Abhi dharma; sutra; Vinaya.

unique vehicle (ekayāna): Aside from its obvious meaning, this term is also used to denote the “one vehicle,” as mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, which unites the teachings of early Buddhism and the Mahyana. The latter meaning was popular in Nanjing in the fifth century, propagated by such scholars as Huiguan.

Vinaya: Precepts and rules of conduct for monastics; one of the three divisions of the Tripiṭaka. See also Tripiṭaka.

yakṣa: A type of supernatural being; a kind of demon, fearsome in appearance.

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