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“Do not rely upon what you have heard proclaimed, or upon custom, or upon rumor, or upon scripture, or inference or established principles, or clever reasoning, or favouring a pet theory. Do not be convinced by someone else’s apparent intelligence, nor out of respect for a teacher …. When you yourself know what is wrong, foolish and unworthy, and what leads to harm and discontent, abandon it …. And when you yourself know what is right, develop it.”
A GREAT VARIETY of forms of religious practice are associated with the word ‘Buddhism’. However, they all take Siddhattha Gotama, who lived and taught in northern India some 2,500 years ago, as their source or inspiration. It was he who in historical times became known as the ‘Buddha’- that is ‘the Awakened One’, one who has attained great wisdom through their own efforts. The Buddha did not write anything down, but left a remarkable legacy in the form of a teaching (the Dhamma) that was at first orally- transmitted by the religious Order (the Sangha) that he founded and personally guided for forty-five years.
This Order has survived the centuries, preserving the wisdom of the Buddha in lifestyle as well as in words. To this day, these three elements, the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, are known and respected by all Buddhists as ‘The Three Refuges’ or ‘The Triple Gem’. They have also come to symbolise Wisdom, Truth and Virtue – qualities that we can develop in ourselves.
After the Buddha’s time, his teaching was carried from India throughout Asia, and even further. As it spread, it was affected by its encounters with local cultures, and several ‘schools’ of Buddhism eventually emerged, Broadly speaking, there are three such schools: Theravada (‘The Teaching of the Elders’), which still thrives in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand; Mahayana (‘The great vehicle’), which embraces the various traditions within China, Korea and Japan; and Vajrayana (‘The diamond vehicle’), which is associated primarily with Tibet. Teachers from all schools have made their way to the West. Some preserve their lineages as found in the country of origin, while others have adopted less traditional approaches. The approach and the quotations used below are from the Theravada.