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Lions Roar : July 2018
I’m confused. Buddhism is considered one of the world’s five great religions, but some people say it’s not a religion at all, but a philosophy, way of life, or science of mind. Which is it? The answer is really about how you define religion. On one hand, Buddhism looks a lot like every other religion, with monas- tics, temples, sacred texts, rituals, congre- gations, etc. So by the “if it quacks like a duck” sociological definition, it’s a religion. On the other hand, most people define religion as believing in some sort of God or Creator, which Buddhism does not. They consider the concept of “nontheistic reli- gion” a contradiction in terms, so they label Buddhism as a philosophy, way of life, or science of mind (and many Buddhists in the West agree). We would like to offer a third definition: religion is that which posits a nonmaterial spiritual reality (whether God or mind) and asserts we continue in some way after death. By that definition, combined with the sociological and historical realities, we come down on the side that Buddhism is a religion—and all those other things too. When meditating, where is the line between maintaining discipline and too much pain? This is one of those things that Buddhist traditions approach differently. At the hardass end of the spectrum are commu- nities where you’re supposed to meditate without moving a muscle, no matter how much pain you’re in. Then there are places where you can meditate in pretty much any comfy position you want. Both have their virtues, but it is helpful to remember the Buddha rec- ommended a middle way between asceticism and self-indulgence, between too hard and too soft. If you’re feeling some pain, it is helpful to meditate on it, because you develop the insight that pain is always changing, that it is separate from you, and that suffering is an inherent quality of life. But if the pain becomes too much to bear, or if you fear you may injure yourself, you may want to relax your posture or your approach. Either way, the important thing is to maintain your uprightness and sense of dignity and to enjoy your meditation practice. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at email@example.com BOJAYATILAKA BODHGAYA ACCORDING TO TRADITION, Bodhgaya, a small town in the northern Indian state of Bihar, is where Sid- dhartha sat under a tree 2,600 years ago and reached enlightenment. As Buddhism’s most significant pilgrimage site, the place of the Buddha’s awakening has undergone many changes over the millennia. At first it was simply marked by a two-story wooden structure and stone throne. Then, under the leadership of King Ashoka (304 BCE to 232 BCE), a commemorative temple was built. The current temple, the Mahabodhi, was con- structed in the sixth century, but has undergone vari- ous substantial restorations. The structure of the Mahabodhi Temple is that of a graceful pyramid rising from a square platform. Inside the temple, there’s a colossal gilded image of the Bud- dha touching the earth, and outside, on the temple grounds, there’s a large bodhi tree (ficus religiosa), which is said to have been propagated from the one Siddhartha sat under. The Mahabodhi Temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bodhgaya is also home to many other temples and mon- asteries that have been constructed by the people of dif- ferent Buddhist nations, including Sri Lanka, Japan, Tibet, and Thailand. Each of these temples reflects the architec- tural style and interior design of the nation that built it. Today, the ambiance of Bodhgaya is a vibrant mix of the spiritual and the touristic. Though pilgrims flock to Bodhgaya year-round, a particularly festive time to visit is for the Buddha Jayanti, often called “the Bud- dha’s birthday,” which is held on a full moon in April or May. The town celebrates with processions, discourses, symposia, and group meditation and prayers. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 31 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE