People who practice Buddhism all know that Shakyamuni Buddha is the founder of Buddhism and is revered by people as the Buddha. In history, he coincidentally appeared in the same era as the great teacher Confucius and was a saint who was awakened to himself and all phenomena.
When he was in the world, he personally experienced the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death, and his heart generated a strong desire to leave the world. He practiced asceticism for six years but did not attain liberation. Therefore, he gave up asceticism, adjusted his body and mind, and walked to sit under a bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. He made a great vow: “I will not rise from this seat until I have attained perfect enlightenment.” Then he entered deep meditation, observed the twelve links of dependent origination, and engaged in a continuous struggle with his own afflictions and demons day and night. Finally, on the forty-ninth day at midnight, he saw the appearance of the morning star, and suddenly realized all the truths, completing the supreme and equal enlightenment. From then on, people called him the Buddha, and his sacred name was Shakyamuni Buddha. When the Buddha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he said, “Wonderful, wonderful! All beings are endowed with the wisdom and virtues of a Tathagata, but because of their deluded thoughts, they fail to realize it.” This means that “all beings have the Buddha-nature and can all become Buddhas, but the reason why they cannot become Buddhas is because their ignorance and afflictions block the Buddha-nature.”
What is the Buddha exactly? Some people based on the theories of other religions call it “God.” The concept of “God” in the West is that God is self-existent and eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful, the creator of all things, and that God and humans are related as the Creator and the created, with humans always being the subjects of God. The concept of “God” in Eastern religions is that it is an achiever of cultivation following the “Tao,” which is the “truth” and the “pre-natal metaphysical way.” Both Eastern and Western religions share a common characteristic that God is immortal. The difference is that one is self-existent and eternal, and the other can be cultivated by humans. However, the Buddha is not a “God” in the religious sense.
There is an essential difference between Buddha and God. In Sanskrit, Buddha means “awakened one”, which refers to self-awareness, awareness of others, and awareness of all phenomena. This awareness is not the same as the prophetic foresight of Confucius or the sensory awareness of the six senses, but rather an awakening of one’s own nature that frees one from the cycle of birth and death and leads directly to the “ultimate reality” that is neither born nor destroyed. This awakening breaks through the limitations of all conditioned phenomena, transcends time and space, and perceives the true nature of oneself and all sentient beings. This true nature of the Buddha is not something that is only achieved after becoming a Buddha, but rather something inherent in all beings. All beings have it, and it does not increase or decrease in the noble or the ordinary. In other words, all beings and Buddhas are equal without distinction. This shows that Buddhism does not recognize the authority of “God”. Buddhism regards “God” as a sentient being existing in the realm of the three good paths, slightly superior to humans but not fundamentally different, and possessing inconceivable supernatural powers. However, even gods are subject to birth and death. The root cause of birth and death is karma, which belongs to the realm of illusion, and beings are always limited by their own karma and are not free.
” Buddha” is a shortened form of “awakened one” or “wise one” in its original sense. In Buddhism, it has deeper meanings:
- Samyak-sambodhi or “perfect and complete enlightenment”;
- Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi or “unsurpassable perfect and complete enlightenment”;
- Prajna-paramita-sambodhi or “enlightenment of the perfection of wisdom.”
It is also explained that all sentient beings can become Buddhas through the practice of Buddhism, because sentient beings and Buddhas are not fundamentally different in their nature. Therefore, Buddha is not a “God” in the religious sense.
万法 (wàn fǎ)
All things and phenomena that arise from causes and conditions, including the principles and rules that govern them. This includes conditioned phenomena, unconditioned phenomena, and the inexpressible.
发大愿 (fā dà yuàn)
Making a great vow, which is a solemn pledge.
禅定 (chán dìng)
Chán is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which means meditation or contemplation. Dìng means to stabilize or fixate. Together, they refer to a state of focused concentration and stillness of the mind, which is conducive to deep insight and understanding.
十二因缘 (shí èr yīn yuán)
Also known as the twelve links of dependent origination, it explains the process of samsaric existence. The twelve links are ignorance, volitional actions, consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense bases, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, and aging and death. These links describe the chain of cause and effect that perpetuates the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
无上正等正觉 (wú shàng zhèng děng zhèng jué)
The highest, equal, and perfect enlightenment, which is the wisdom that perceives all truths without discrimination.
众生 (zhòng shēng)
Also known as sentient beings, it refers to all beings with consciousness. They arise from a multitude of causes and conditions, and are subject to birth, death, and rebirth. In the ten realms of existence, except for the Buddha, all other beings are called sentient beings.
颠倒妄想 (diān dǎo wàng xiǎng)
Also known as subtle delusions, it refers to the cognitive aspect of consciousness. The mind of sentient beings is often distorted and deluded, like a rapid stream of water that appears calm on the surface but has many tiny, subtle movements underneath. This is why the cognitive aspect of consciousness is referred to as “deluded thinking”.
六根 (liù gēn)
The six sense faculties or sense organs, which are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. These faculties enable sentient beings to perceive the external world and internal mental states.
五蕴 (wǔ yùn)
Also known as the five aggregates or skandhas, they refer to the five aspects of existence that constitute a sentient being: form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness.
实相 (shí xiàng)
Also known as the true nature or ultimate reality, it refers to the ultimate truth that is beyond delusion and emptiness. It is the unchanging, constant nature of all things and phenomena.
如来自性 (rú lái zì xìng)
Refers to the Buddha-nature or the innate potential for enlightenment that all sentient beings possess. The Buddha is called Tathāgata, which means “thus come” or “thus gone”, because he attained enlightenment by realizing the true nature of all things.
神通 (shén tōng)
Refers to supernatural powers or abilities that are attained through the cultivation of meditation and wisdom. There are six types of supernatural powers, including the ability to fly, to see distant things, to hear distant sounds, to know the thoughts of others, to recall past lives, and to eradicate all defilements.