The original meaning of "Buddhism" is, in short, "the teachings of the Buddha," i.e. "the teachings of Shakyamuni." "Buddha" means one who is completely self-enlightened, enlightens others, and has the unsurpassed wisdom of perfect enlightenment and conduct. His "teachings" are the truths he realized in his Unsurpassed Proper and Equal Enlightenment, which he used to teach all living beings to return to their inherent wisdom and virtue. Many people think Buddhism is just a religion, but that is too narrow a conception. Actually Buddhism not only includes religion, but is a complete teaching containing all worldly and transcendental knowledge. Thus if a serious Buddhist cultivator cannot go beyond the scope of religion, he will never obtain the truly great and vast benefits of Buddhism.
Buddhism originated in India, and flourished in China. Its founder was Shakyamuni Buddha, so Buddhism can also be called "the teachings of Shakyamuni." Shakyamuni Buddha was born in India on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month in 543 B.C., or the twenty-sixth year of Emperor Jau of the Chou Dynasty. His father was Pure Rice King and his mother was Queen Lady Maya. He was the crown prince, named Siddhartha, and he later took Yasodhara as his wife. The prince frequently used his wisdom to observe the world, and concerned himself with the sorrows, desires, sufferings, and happiness of mankind, and with the problem of birth, sickness, old age and death. In quest of liberation, he gave up all honor and wealth and left home-life to rigorously cultivate the Path of the Buddha. On the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month in 513 B.C., he attained Buddhahood under the Bodhi Tree and became Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni is a Sanskrit name which means "humane" and "still and silent." Soon afterwards, his wife and son also left the home-life. After his enlightenment, the Buddha spoke the Dharma for forty-nine years, teaching countless living beings. He entered Nirvana in 464 B.C. at the age of seventy-nine.
Buddhism officially came to China in 67 A.D., the tenth year of Yung Ping in the late Han Dynasty. At that time Emperor Ming sent a delegation to India to invite the two Dharma Masters Gobharana and Kasyapa-Matanga to propagate Buddhism in China. Although Buddhism had already entered China unofficially during the Chou Dynasty, it had not attracted much attention. But when the two Dharma Masters transported Buddhist Sutras and images to China on a white horse, the Emperor of Han treated them as national guests and decreed that a monastery be built especially for translating the Sanskrit Sutras into Chinese and propagating the Dharma. That monastery was also the Department of Buddhist Education directly supervised by the Emperor, and was much higher than the ordinary Departments of Education and Propriety overseen by the prime minister. Located in the Han capital of Loyang, White Horse Monastery was the first Buddhist temple built in China, named after the white horse that carried the Sutras and Buddha images from India to China.
The teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and Confucius are both based on filiality and respect for teachers, and are quite similar. Some examples: 1) In Buddhism, "to support parents in filiality and serve teachers and elders with respect" is equivalent to "filiality, brotherhood, and respect for teachers" in Confucianism. 2) "To know the mind and see the nature" in Buddhism; "to illustrate the illustrious virtue" in Confucianism. 3) The Five Buddhist Precepts: no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no intoxicants; the Five Confucian Virtues: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, knowledge and faith. 4) Six Paramitas in Buddhism: giving, morality, patience, vigor, concentration and wisdom; in Confucianism: "to study the nature of things, to extend knowledge to the utmost, to make the will sincere, to rectify the mind, to cultivate oneself, to regulate the family, to govern the country, to bring peace to the world." The two are similar in theory and practice. However, in Buddhism the conception of time and space, covering the three periods and ten directions, is much wider than in Confucianism, which only considers this present life and this one world. Thus in China, from the emperors, officials and scholars down to the common people, Buddhism has been regarded seriously and propagated fervently. Not only did Buddhism bloom rapidly in China, its influence also spread to Japan, Korea, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Recently, Buddhism has also been receiving attention in Europe and America.
During the Han, Tang, Sung, Ming and the beginning of the Chin Dynasties, Buddhism flourished in China, and the country was generally prosperous and peaceful for long periods of time. More recently in Dharma-Ending Age, many varieties of Buddhism have developed and we have to recognize them clearly. Today's Buddhism can be divided into these types: The first is Orthodox Buddhism—the original, perfect, and ultimate teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. About two hundred years ago, a Religious Buddhism began evolving in the temples. It concentrated on performing ceremonies for people to repent, seek blessings, and liberate souls. Making money was the goal, and the Sutras and Dharma were not expounded. Then there is Phony Buddhism, in which heretical teachers who claim to be Buddhist perpetrate various deviant activities. Cheating themselves and others, they destroy people's wisdom. When the Buddha was in the world, he predicted, "In the Dharma-Ending Age, there will be deviant teachers speaking Dharma as many as the Ganges' sands" This reflects the current situation of Buddhism in which the proper and deviant are intermingled. As a result, the countries where Buddhism originally thrived are now on the decline.
Because of this, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, a virtuous and noble monk of this era, has made the Lion's Roar. Out of compassion, wishing to uphold the Proper Dharma, he proclaims, "Even in the Dharma-Ending Age, we can revive the Proper Dharma. If all Buddhists can renounce the deviant, uphold the proper, and advance vigorously, Orthodox Buddhism will enjoy eternal glory." In recent decades, Venerable Master Hua has set an example himself, by bringing Orthodox Buddhism from China to Europe, America, and other parts of the world. In the United States and Canada, he established the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and other monasteries where the orthodox teaching and precepts are upheld, and many left-home and lay disciples of the young generation are being trained in the important work of propagating the Buddha's wisdom into the future. He also set up an elementary school, a high school and a university which combine Buddhism, Confucianism and modern education to nurture academically and morally outstanding students. Seeking to revive morality and promote real peace in the world, he also created a Translation Institute for translating the Mahayana and Theravada Sutras into English, French, Spanish, and other languages, thus circulating Buddhism so all living beings can benefit. In the Dharma-Ending Age, the supreme merit and virtue of the Venerable Master's revival of the Proper Dharma deserve our admiration and study.
Fellow cultivators, wake up and recognize right from wrong, proper from deviant. Follow the proper teaching of our Original Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha. Learn from the wise sayings of the Virtuous Ones, actively practice them, so that the noble and vast Orthodox Buddhism will spread throughout the world. Then morality will be restored, and peace will reign in the world.