Excellent that you’re visiting a Buddhist temple! It’s good for getting a perspective of Buddhism as it is actually practiced.
Great question. The answer is yes, they are different Buddhas. Buddhism in Vietnam is heavily heavily influenced by Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, which most often incorporates both Pure Land and Ch’an elements to it. The statues most likely looked something like this, right?
In East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, this is a very standard shrine. This is a popular Buddhist “trinity”. Usually, the Buddha in the center with the dhyana mudra is Sakyamuni Buddha, the most recent Buddha in our world system. The one holding the pagoda to the right is usually the Medicine Buddha, who vowed to use his merit to alleviate not only mental but also physical ailments. He’s very a very popular buddha prayed to for health. And the buddha to the left is usually Amitabha Buddha, a celestial buddha who established the Western Pure Land. If you recite his name with sincerity in your mind, then you can be reborn into his Pure Land where one can practice the dharma most easily and attain liberation.
However, the three Buddha statues also represent a very beautiful and important concept in the Mahayana schools—The Trikaya, or three bodies of the Buddha.
In the Mahayana tradition, the Sakyamuni Buddha (along with all other Buddhas) is believed to have had at least 3 bodies:
1) nirmanakaya, or physical body, with which they come to earth to teach the Dharma,
2) sambhogakaya, or manifestation body, with which the buddhas continue to reveal teachings to us (sentient beings) in dreams or visions, and with which they divinely intervene to help us out on the path
3) dharmakaya, or their transcendent body, which is the manifestation of ultimate reality, and can thus not be talked about or described. This last body cannot be described or comprehended.
This is a reminder that the message of Sakyamuni Buddha is well and alive, that his compassion for us continually manifests, and that the ultimate reality is ineffable.
Hope this helped!
Trikaya Doctrine (explained with a Theravada bias, but still good explanation)
Amitabha and Pure Land Teachings
Medicine Buddha (page 236 of this, which refers to him by his Sanskrit name, Bhaisajyaguru)
The Buddha didn’t even say this!!! Ugh… people. This is a (mis?)quotation of Joseph Campbell! Stop attaching Buddhist images to things that are not Buddhist in themselves. It’s confusing, annoying, and washes out the tradition. Read a scripture! Practice! Just don’t do this.
Right on! Thanks, man. I appreciate it very much. If you have any pieces about your experiences in Asia regarding Buddhism, I’d love to feature them here! Also, let me know if you have any questions.
Lastly, you’re studying Mandaring, too?! That’s amazing man!
樂山佛 - Leshan Buddha, in China!
Thanks for your question. It is a very interesting one to talk about, but the way it was framed makes it so difficult to analyze. The problem with that question is the assumption of a Christianity and a Buddhism, when in observation it is more accurate to say that there are Christianities and Buddhisms.
As you may know, Christianity and Buddhism—along with the rest of the world religions—are extremely diverse. Even different sects within one religion sometimes contradict each other on very fundamental points.
Still, even if we were to say compare, let’s say, Methodist Protestant Christianity with Pure Land Mahayana Buddhism, there are only certain parallels. (Just a quick side note: in a way Pure Land Buddhism (esp. as practiced by the Japanese community in the United States) resembles Protestant Christianity the most in that it centers around devotion and prayer towards one celestial buddha, Amitabha Buddha. By praying to him with a sincere heart, one can attain rebirth in his Pure Land, in which it is easier to practice the dharma and become a bodhisattva.)
Certainly, we can say that the doctrines on which these two religious systems operate are miles apart from each other, and their ritual practices are, for the most part, also quite different from each other, as well.
However, in the interest of interfaith dialogue, Christianity and Buddhism, like essentially all other world religions, operate according to very similar ethical principles like compassion, forgiveness, and love. Yes, on a big picture one can draw a vin diagram and say “aha! these are the things that these two ‘religions’ have in common!”. Although those statements are well-intentioned, we must not overshadow the vast diversity that exists not only between Christianity and Buddhism, but within each religion itself.
Hmm, I don’t know of many positions in which you can make a living out of working with a Buddhist organization, although I’m sure that there are many. The Tzu-Chi organization is the biggest Buddhist organization in the Chinese-speaking world, and one of the biggest Buddhist organizations in the world. I know that they have many volunteering programs around the world, but I don’t know of any positions—though they probably do have some. I am familiar with other organizations like Fo Guang Shan and Dharma Drum Mountain. Tzu-Chi and the other ones mentioned are all from Taiwan. Maybe you can find a position somewhere translating scriptures, or something? I’m not sure. What do you have in mind to do?
I feel like I only tangentially helped you answer your question. Still, let me know if I can be of further help.
Thank you so much, I appreciate it! Well, I suppose that the best way to start is by learning about the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path—which you can read about in the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, or “Turning of the Wheel Sutra”. Buddhism is more concerned with practice than it is with doctrine, so look into applying the Eightfold Path into your life. I believe it’s a good way to start, and one that has much in common with the lifestyle prescribed by Jesus.
Since I don’t identify as a Christian-Buddhist, I am not sure how to go about it. But there is a book by the famous Thich Nhat Hanh called “Living Buddha, Living Christ”. I believe he draws parallels between the core teachings of the two. It might be useful in your studies.
I would go out on a limb, and say that both the Messiah and the Buddha would be okay with the whole “love your neighbor AND your enemy as yourself” teaching found in Matthew 5:43-48!
Practice compassion! The rest is commentary.
Yes, I’d be happy to expand. First of all, this is shown in that most lay Buddhists around the world do not practice meditation. In the Buddhist world, meditation has been traditionally seen as a practice of the monks at monasteries. Second, the Buddha’s primary prescriptions to lay people were the Five Precepts. He was concerned with the personal improvement of oneself and living peacefully and ethically with others. Third, meditation is one of the many ways that there are to practice Buddhism. Other practices include making donations to the monks, chanting, reading scriptures, praying, making offerings (e.g., offering fruit or incense before the Buddha), decorating altars, etc. All these are very valid tools in the practice of the different forms of Buddhism.
Surely, there is nothing wrong with practicing meditation. It is a beautiful way to examine one’s mind and gain merit. But many Americans automatically assume that Buddhists meditate, or are at least supposed to. Meditation is hard at first, and it’s supposed to be serious a commitment—not a fad. This was the reason why I said not to worry about meditation for the time being. However, it is one useful way out of the many to practice Buddhism.
I also said it because I wanted to emphasize compassion towards other sentient beings. As the Dalai Lama said (and I’m paraphrasing), “we do not need more Buddhists; we need more compassion”.
The rock-cut statues of Buddha at Bojjannakonda, Andhra Pradesh, India.
The Sankaram Buddhist complex is most often known for its two hills -Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda. These were used by Buddhist monks from the 2nd century AD to the 9th century AD. The hills are covered with ruins of monastery structures, stupas, and rock-cut caves. Also covering the hills are are reliefs of Buddha, which span the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana periods.
The shown hill, Bojjannakonda, has a two-storey group of rock-caves which are flanked by dwarapalakas (doorkeepers). These contain a monastery and a stupa. The individual cells where the monks mediated are still able to be seen today.
Photos taken by Jvsnkk.
Great that you have acquired an interest in Theravada Buddhism. I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time finding a community. Have you taken a look at this directory? (I assume you live in USA). You may be able to find a temple near you. Not all of the ones listed are Theravada, but it might be worth the shot.
Don’t give up on your search to find a community with which to practice!
First I would like to question why it is that you want to practice Buddhism. Be honest with yourself. Once you feel ready (and the only person that can tell if you’re qualified yet is you), then you may take your Vows of Refuge. They go like this:
I take refuge in the Buddha,
I take refuge in the Dharma (his teachings)
I take refuge in the Sangha (monastic and lay community)
There are some things you can do to start practicing, and many of them you may be already doing! The basic requirements of a lay person in Theravada lie on the Five Precepts (Pañca Sīla)*, which are:
1. Do not destroy life
2. Do not take that which is not given to you
3. Do not consume alcohol (including intoxicants)
4. Do not engage in sexual misconduct
5. Do not lie
Practicing this leads to the acquisition of karmic merit not just for a better rebirth, but to more harmony in this lifetime as well. You can think of these practices as a subcategory of the principle of Right Conduct in the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is as follows:
1. Right View -
2. Right Intention -
- Being committed to putting teachings in action.
3. Right Speech -
- Not just not lying, but abstaining from idle chatter, bragging, criticizing, etc. Speech that may harm others or yourself.
4. Right Conduct* - The Five Precepts
5. Right Livelihood -
- Earning your living in a respectable manner and not at the expense of others’ suffering (e.g., soldier, weapons/drug/poison dealer, butcher, slave trader, etc.)
6. Right Effort
- It is not enough to just abstain from doing bad things. We should actively seek to do good things for others
7. Right Concentration
- Pay attention to the world around you. I have found out it’s helped me to enjoy it more.
8. Right Meditation
- To practice meditation
Many people think meditation is essential to the practice of Buddhism, but it is not. It is not widely practiced by lay people. Don’t worry about it just yet.
For now I recommend that you question your motives for following Buddhism, observe the Five Precepts, and on top of it all practice compassion toward all other beings. That’s always the most important.
Yuttadhammo is a Theravada monk on YouTube that answers questions you may have every week. Also a very good resource to check out.
Check in with me and let me know how you feel!