Master of Buddhism Course

This is a blog for the course comments from the Master of Buddhism course through the Universal Life Church Seminary.
The course can be found at Buddhism Course.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Buddhism Course

Tricia Stirling, author of the Master of Buddhism course, knows what she is talking about.  Over several decades I have read more than fifty books on Buddhism, now gathering dust on my bookshelf, but decided to take the course to see if there was something I had missed.  The course provided a comprehensive overview for me, and positive reinforcement for that which I had already learned.  Taking the course was a "reawakening."  Mindfulness about the teaching of Buddha, the Enlightened One, has been enhanced, and meditation improved.  Overall, this course gave me a deeper appreciation for Buddhism.
It also gave me an even deeper appreciation for Siddhartha Gautama and his heroic search for truth.  Indeed, his story is the story of a hero's journey as described by Joseph Campbell in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."  The young Hindu prince set forth on a journey on behalf of not only himself, but all the beings in the world.  The purpose of the journey was to learn answers to life's deep questions:  "why do we suffer?"  "Is there a way to alleviate suffering?"  He became enlightened when he learned answers to these questions, and others, and in essence, a cure.
I looked forward to each lesson every week.  The lessons were just the right length both to study and think about for the next few days.  Although the subject of Buddhism is vast, Tricia included the right amount of basic Buddhism history and practices in each lesson.  In the end, after twenty weeks, I found it to be a solid and comprehensive overview of Buddhism.  Anyone interest in just that should take this course.
It is truly impossible to give a full report of "what I learned" or what I "relearned" from this course, for to do so would take many pages.  There were some lessons that from the printed pages and spoke to me personally.  They relate to what's going on in my thughts at this time and in fact, should be of interest and concern to everyone on planet Earth.
The first concern is about death.  A few years ago when I realized that I knew more people in their graves than I knew who were still alive and walking around on planet Earth, it occurred to me that I needed to understand more about his subject.  It also occurred to me that I needed to understand the impermanence of our lives in physical bodies, and the seriousness of the need to ponder and contemplate just what we need to accomplish.  And what happens when we die?
When we cross that final threshold at the end of our physical life, where we go is still a bit mysterious.  That very mysteriousness speaks to the need to lead our lives in search of that illusive truth.  Life on this precious planet is precious, for we are given the opportunity to go on our own hero's journey.  As Shantideva wrote, "If you do not extract the meaning of your precious existence now, when can you ever hope to encounter it again."
Rebirth is another subject that has haunted me since I first heard of the concept.  The very concept also speaks very clearly to appreciate this life, albeit impermanent.  It is an opportunity to seek truth, and find our pathway out of samsara to enlightenment.  One fine day, may we all "get it."
Another subject of interest, handled very well in the course, is meditation.  Sometimes I meditate well, and sometimes I don't.  I appreciated Stirling's handling of this subject, particularly "Common Problems during Meditation."  I have experienced them all, again and again.  Pan, sleepiness, distraction and the chatter in my mind that won't shut up.  Meditation has improved, thankfully, during the taking of this course, as well as mindfulness.
In the final analysis, I would give this course an A+ and many kudos to the writer, Tricia Stirling.  Thank you, Tricia.
Nancy Anderson

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The origin, traditional Buddhism began in the 6th century BC with the
historical personage born Siddhartha Gautama, but better known by a variety of titles including Shakyammi, Tathagata, or most commonly Buddha, the enlightened one. The legend of the Buddha’s life has acquired plenty of variations and embellishments over the years, but the basic facts are accepted as traditional, including the dates of his birth and death (563-489 BC by Western reckoning, 624-544 according to Sri Lankan tradition). The story of Buddha’s birth is encrusted with myth and fable as that of any God-figure in human history. For instance, he is said to have issued from his mother’s womb stating that his cycle of rebirths was about to end.

Again, some Buddhists devoutly accept the fables as we in the west accept Christmas narratives, while others choose to focus on the truths beneath the myths.

We do know with some certainty that the Buddha was born to a royal family in northern India, in the foothills of what is now Nepal. Siddhartha Gautama led a sheltered existence in the court of his father, Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakya clan, who shielded him from any knowledge of human suffering or religions of the time. Soon after his birth a soothsayer named Asita predicted that he would become either the emperor of all India or if the "Four Passing Sights" should come to pass he would renounced the world and would become the greatest spiritual leader the world has ever known. Shuddhodana, Gautama, a member of the warrior-ruler caste, preferred the royal vocation and provided his son with three palaces located so that his son would not experience the dramatic seasonal changes. He place at his son disposal anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 dancing girls to keep his mind firmly rooted in the "real" world. He also gave orders that his son should never see the sick, the aged, dead bodies, and nor should a monk be allowed near his son. But, as so often happens when manipulative fathers groom their
sons to take over the family business, Siddhartha rebelled. At 16 he married a beautiful young princess named Yasodhara, by whom he fathered a son, Rahula. Over the ensuing years Gautama, was shielded from the facts of the real world. But legend states the gods intervened with what is now called the "Four Passing Sights." In essence, the many variants of this story run
something like this. Gautama is either riding or being driven along the roads of his fathered lands when on successive days he first catches site of an ancient man frail with age, representing the miserable close of every man’s life. The next day he encounters a man covered with repulsive sores and shaking with illness, so he may know how physical illness and misery may attend man all the days of his life. On the third day he sees the body of a dead man, which teaches him the dreadful fact of death and his limited time in this world. These three sights robbed him of all peace of mind. (It is a fact, and perhaps the legend is based upon it, that in one of the oldest passages in the Buddhist writings he is reported as saying: "I also am
subject to decay and am not free from the power of old age, sickness and death. Is it right that I should feel horror, repulsion and disgust when I see another in such plight? And when I reflected thus to my disciples, all the joy of life which there is in life died within me.")

The prince remained distraught throughout the remainder of that day pondering these revelations. On the fourth day he beheld a calm ascetic walking toward him as he traveled the road, from this person, who had gained true peace of soul, he learned how freedom from the miseries of old age, disease, and death may be won. His father sensing his son’s troubled thoughts over the past few days decided to hold a great feast in Gautama honor, something to sway his son back to the path chosen for him at birth, but Gautama surveying the scene of debauchery was revolted by its apparent meaninglessness. After the feast when he was awake, alone, and sober he decided it was time to renounce his present life and to seek his own way in the world. So later that night, he bid his wife and son goodbye and set out on a six year quest, searching for an end to life suffering, its true meaning. At the beginning Gautama was anxious not to reject the prevalent Brahmin philosophy until he had tested it for himself. So, for awhile, he traveled India and experimented with the yoga meditation traditions. 

For years he practice the asceticism of the
yogis of the time, nearly staving to death in the process of finding a
permanent release from suffering. Finally he came to the conclusion that
asceticism in and of itself was not the answer. No matter how much he
fasted, he eventually had to replenish his body so that he could continue
traveling and learning. Furthermore, he surmised that the only logical
conclusion of denying the physical body is death. During his last, life
threatening fast, he realized that enlightenment could be reached only
through the vessel of the body, and there was a limit to how much
deprivation his body could safely endure. So he abandoned the extreme
asceticism he had been practicing in favor of what came to be called the
Middle Way a path between devotion to pleasures of the senses and the
complete denial of them. Accepting food and drink offered him; he ate, to
regain his strength. He then went and sat under a nearby Bodhi tree refusing
to move until he became enlightened. In the early morning hours as he sat
under the tree, he realized the nature and cause of suffering and the way of
release from these causes that constituted his enlightenment. He came to
understand that one could be freed from suffering in this life by moderating
its real causes: passionate craving, hatred, and ignorance. According to
legend, after sitting in meditation for seven days, Gautama looked up at the
heavens and said, "How wonderful, How wonderful.

All things are enlightened exactly as they are!" He then continued to meditate for a total of 49 days, for it was at this time all Buddhist down through the ages believed, Gautama, first experienced Nirvana: the goal of Buddhism; it means freedom
from karma; extinction of all craving; the realization of the true nature of
the mind. This is the closest thing in Buddhism to the western world’s idea
of salvation, the ultimate goal of all religious faiths. The word itself is
a Sanskirt word meaning "blown out," like a candle, representing the
extinguishing of all craving. It is believed that during this time he was
tempted by Mara, the evil one, to keep this insight to himself and continue
to realize this bliss, to shed his body and forego a return to the real
world. The Buddha: the Enlightening One, as Gautama later became known,
chose to wander the land begging for food and shelter and teaching the
Middle Way to the men and women of his time. When Buddha preached his first
sermon, following his enlightenment, the sermon is usually titled "Setting
in Motion the Wheel of Dharma," he put forth the Four Noble Truths that he
experienced in the course of his enlightenment. 
1) All existence involves
suffering (duhkha). 
2) The cause of suffering is craving (trishna). 
Release from suffering (nirvana) comes through eradicating passionate
craving for material or sensual satisfaction. 
4) The way to achieve that release is the Eightfold Path. These eight ways of right being encompass mindfulness, and concentration. 

For the next 45 years, Buddha preached this path to all that would listen, and at the age of 80, the Buddha died. He left no writings. All Buddhist scriptures are based on accounts of his life and teaching passed down orally by his disciples from generation to generation. Traditionally, the accounts were committed to writing in Sanskrit and in Pali, a Sanskrit derived Indian dialect within 100 years of the Buddha’s death, but modern scholars places the dates closer to the 2nd
and 1st century BC. The written records of his sermons and dialogues are known as sutras. Unlike other major religions of the world the concept of a divine being, as in, Hinduism’s Atman-Brahman, Judaism’s Yahwey, and Islam’s Allah, Buddhism does not proclaim any worship of any god. Buddhist believes that the divine being, per say, is not something you believe in, or worship, or can describe but instead something you experience. Buddhism’s concepts of
deliverance rest’s solely within the individual experience. Because of this emphasis on experience, the terminology of Buddhism is often elusive. More attention is given to how to attain the experience than a specific description of its character. Indeed Buddhism teaches that no verbal description of the rapture is possible. That is, Buddhism insists that experience is indescribable. This, I believe, can be explained by Buddha’s revelation under the Bodhi tree when he exclaimed, "All things are enlightened exactly as they are!" with no other explanation necessary in his initial experience.

With this we can deduce that Buddha believed that all he has searched for was within him and all things all along. To expand upon this let say that if all things are already enlighten as Buddha exclaimed, then we can assume the search for enlightenment should begin and end within ones self. Taking this further we should be able to see that Buddha believed his deliverance from human suffering rested within his own means and that no divine intervention was essential to achieve true awaking. One other thing, we the western world misperceived the life’s true nature, we think of it as relative. The Buddhist believes that when we truly understand the world then
and only then will we experience nirvana. Also remember, when Buddha chose the Middle Way, he sheded all pre-concepts of the Hinduism teachings in proscribing a path to moksha, the attainment of the Atman-Brahman relationship, and the release from Maya, or the illusion world of the Hindu faith. He theorized that a release from suffering (duhkha) or from the cravings, hatred, and ignorance of ones life were the keys to nirvana, the awaking, the only thing needed to find ones true self or salvation for want of a word. Rituals and Practices Buddhism is not a single monolithic religion.

Many of its adherents have combined the teachings of the Buddha with local religious rituals, beliefs and customs. Little conflict occurs, because Buddhism at its core is a philosophical system to which such additions can be easily grafted. After the Buddha's death, splits occurred. There are now three main systems of thought. First, there is Southern Buddhism or Therevada Buddhism, is mainly found in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam. Second, Eastern Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism's is the predominant religion in China, Japan, Korea and much of Vietnam. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals, and five anniversaries from the lives of Buddha and of the Bodhissattva Kuan-yin. 

They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting, Worship and Pilgrimage. Third there is Northern Buddhism which has perhaps 10 million follows in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia and Tibet. The heads of the Gelu School of Buddhist teaching became the Dalai Lama, and ruled Tibet. They developed the practice of searching out a young child at the time of death of an important teacher.  The child is believed to be the successor to the deceased teacher. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals and anniversaries of five important events in the life of the Buddha.

Common rituals and practices between the three denominations are as follows: Dana - thoughtful, ceremonial giving.

Sila - accepting Buddhist teaching and following it in practice of refraining from killing, stealing, wrong behavior, use of drugs, and on special days, three additional precepts may be added, restricting adornment, entertainment, and comfort. Karma - the balance of accumulated sin and
merit, which will determine ones future in the present life, and the nature of the next life to come. The Cosmos - consists of billions of worlds grouped into clusters; clusters are grouped into galaxies, which are they grouped into super-galaxies. The universe also has many levels: our
underworlds and 21 heavenly realms. Paritta - ritual chanting Worship - of relics of a Buddha, of items made by a Buddha, or of symbolic relics.

Festivals - days of the full moon, and three other days during the lunar cycle are celebrated. There is a New Year's festival, and celebrations tied to the agricultural year. Pilgrimages - particularly to Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka and India.

In Buddhism, I have not found a new religion. I have found a method to help me find the answers that have eluded me my whole life. I still have a long, long way to go. I can say however, that the practice has made me more aware of the nature of mind and, I think, an easier person to live with. May all beings be free of suffering and their minds free of affliction!

Rev. Eric Jennings


The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.

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As a long time member of ULC, Rev. Long created the seminary site to help train our ministers. We also have a huge selection of Universal Life Church  minister supplies. Since being ordained with the Universal Life Church for so many years and it's Seminary since the beginning, I've watch the huge change and growth that has continued to happen.

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Monday, April 4, 2011


Buddhism at the ULC Seminary
Kenneth J. Swanson

It has been seven months since I sat down to write this. To me, it would be easier to answer the Zen Koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I know that clapping involves two hands, so there is no logical answer to this question. I feel that this course has not been about what “was” stated, but “how” it was stated in order to make me think into the nature of reality. In my humble way, I will try to explain Buddhism from my perspective.

Buddhism began about 2500 years ago in Northeast India. It is based on the teachings of an Indian noblemen Siddhartha Gautama, born 563 BCE in Kapilavastu, India, who became the Buddha, and enlightened, after many years of fasting and hardship in the village of Bodh Gaya. He realized that because people suffered because they wanted more than they had.

Buddhists do not worship Buddha as a god, but honor him as a great teacher. They follow his teaching as a guide to living and understanding the world. Today, there are approximately 360,000,000 Buddhists in the world.

Buddha traveled and taught for about 45 years after his enlightenment. Nothing he said was written down during his lifetime. But he entrusted individuals with memorizing each discourse. He died at the age of 80 in Kushinagara, India. According to legend, before his death he stated “do not accept any of my words on faith, believing them just because I said them. Be like an analyst buying gold who cuts, burns, and critically examines his product for authenticity. Only accept what has passed the test by proving useful and beneficial in your life.” This statement gives Buddhists the power to accept or reject anything said by the Buddha or his disciples.

Like Christianity or Islam, Buddhism is a misisionary religion. Within 300 years after Buddha’s death, it spread beyond India and reached Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Monks and travelers carried it to other parts of Asia. It reached Japan and Tibet in the Seventh Century.

According to Buddhism, liberation is attained through understanding and practice of the Four Noble Truths:

* There is suffering in life
* Suffering is caused by desire for pleasure, existence, and prosperity
* Suffering and rebirth cease when one ceases such desires leading to enlightenment (or Nirvana), a blessed state in which peace, harmony, and joy are attained.
* The way, or path, to Nirvana is the Eightfold Path, which is:
o Right understanding’
o Right thought
o Right speech
o Right conduct
o Right occupation
o Right meditation
o Right mindfulness
o Right effort

The Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way because it emphasizes avoiding such extremes as following sensuous pleasures on one hand and self-punishment on the other. A Buddhist must at all times observe the high moral principles in the Eightfold Path which emphasizes non-violence and the brotherhood of all.

The best-known Buddhist scriptures are the Tripitake (“Three Baskets”). First written down in Ceylon by the Sixth Buddhist Council held at Rangoon, Burma in 1954-56. The three Pitakas are about four times as long as the Bible.

There are two major groups in Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana. The name Theravada means “the way of the elders.” It is an austere religion that requires solitude, meditation, and self-mastery through which each follower hopes to achieve Nirvana. Because of these requirements, the possibility of liberation is limited to monks and nuns who spend most of their time in meditation and teaching. It is sometimes called “Hinayana Buddhism,” or “Small Vehicle.”

The Mahayana means “Large Vehicle.” It is less austere than Theravada, and it emphasizes liberation for everyone. Many Mahayana Buddhists believe in liberation through good faith and good works. Their object in life is not only to obtain Nirvana, but to help others to that goal. The Mahayanas have developed a system of Buddhas. The most important Buddha is Amitaba (or Amida), to whom appeals for deliverance can be made. Some Mahayana Buddhist also believe in a boddisatvas called Kwan Yin (in China) and Kwannon (in Japan), or Jizo, in Japan.

Many hundreds of texts make up the sacred texts of Buddhism. Different Buddhist groups follow their own sets of scriptures. Some texts are said to be accounts of the Buddha’s teachings, and others are works of great Buddhist monks and teachers. The sacred texts of the Theravada Buddhists are collected together in the Tripitaka or Pali Canon. The sacred texts of the Mahayana Buddhists are called Sutras.

To me, Buddhism is a way of seeing things as they present to me. I have a favorite Zen saying: “When you see horns over the hedge, you know there is an ox on the other side.” We spend so much time in our lives questioning what things mean—interpreting and analyzing; and sometimes you need to just accept what is there in front of you at that moment, and deal with that, fully, living in the moment.

Kenneth J. Swanson, Rev.


The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.

The Universal Life Church offers handfasting ceremonies, funeral ceremonies and free minister training.

As a long time member of ULC, Rev. Long created the seminary site to help train our ministers. We also have a huge selection of Universal Life Church  minister supplies. Since being ordained with the Universal Life Church for so many years and it's Seminary since the beginning, I've watch the huge change and growth that has continued to happen.

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