When someone refers to "Buddha", which Buddha are they referring to ?
When someone refers to "Buddha", we usually referring to Siddartha Gautama. But there are thousands of Buddha, so we don't necessarily refer to him solely. There are Amitabha Buddha, Medicine Buddha etc. Maitreya Buddha is the future Buddha. Most chinese will think of either Gautama Buddha or Amitabha Buddha, since they are more popular.
What's the difference between Buddhas and Boddhistavas?
Bodhisattvas are the disciples of the Buddha. They haven't reached the full/supreme enlightenment of the Buddha, however Bodhisattva are also enlightened beings who have delayed their entry into buddhahood, in order to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment. They represent certain qualities such as compassion, great vow, wisdom etc. They themselves also understand that if they were to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment, they themselves would also need to achieve buddhahood.
Buddha means 'the enlightened one". He is one who has already achieve supreme/full enlightenment.
There is also another enlightened being in buddhism called "Arahant". Arahant are also the disciples of the Buddha, but different from the Bodhisattva. They have merely broken away from the samsara ( cycle of life)and will not be reborn again. However, they haven't reached the full enlightenment of the Buddha.
The best analogy of depicting the relationship between arahant, bodhisattva and buddha is to compare it to the degree that you will get in the university. The whole buddhism is like a university education.
The 1st degree you will get is Bachelor degree and you become an arahant. The 2nd degree is Master degree and you become a bodhisattva and on the very top, is PhD, which is the Buddha, who are also like Professors.
Arahant is not able to teach one how to achieve buddhahood. Bodhisattva can teach something about buddhahood but not complete. Buddha is the supreme teacher able to teach anything about buddhahood.
Does "Arahant" refer to "Ashuras" (Ah-sau-lo)?
No, Arahant is not "Ashuras". Ashuras are one of the beings likened to demi-God. They are usually jealous-being constantly fighting for power against the god (devas or heavenly being). Ashuras are one of the 6 realms of existence in buddhism.
The 6 realms of existence are:
Realm of hell
Realm of hungry ghost
Realm of animals
Realm of humans
Realm of ashuras
Realm of devas (gods or heavenly being)
Arahant are not ashuras as they are enlightened beings and are disciples of the buddha.
E.g of a ashura is a powerful politician fighting for power in the parliament or some manager fighting to climp up the corporate ladder in a corporate organisation.
How come the same Buddha has so many different names. Do they change their names when they reach a different stage of enlightenment? Take the Goddess of Mercy - can you think of her other names?
Amitabha Buddha is not the same Buddha as Shayamuni Buddha (Siddartha Gautama). Matreya Buddha is another Buddha too! But Shayamuni Buddha has about 10 epithets to refer to him.
As for Goddess of Mercy, she's called Kuanyin or avalotekiteshvara. She is probably the most famous bodhisattva in chinese buddhism.
What are the two main schools of Buddhism ?
The two main branches of Buddhism are Mahayana and Theravada. Mahayana is practised in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan etc, while Theravada is practised in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia. The main differences are that Mahayana focused on enlightenment for the masses while Theravada focuses on enlightenment for personal (singles). The Bodhisattva is the role model in Mahayana buddhism while the Arahant is the role model in Theravad buddhism.
What is the difference btw taoism and buddhism - both aim to end the cycle of reincarnation right? ?
most chinese practised chinese folks religion (which is mixed with buddhism, confucianism and taoism). In fact, today's chinese buddhism is pretty mixed with taoist stuffs. For e.g. Guanyu, a taoist deity, is now a "hu fa" (a protector) in Buddhism.
Chances are that if you're burning incense paper, this is actually a taoist practice instead of a buddhist one. Also, you will hear of taoist deities such as Dua Bei Gong 大伯公, Tu Di Gong 土地公, Guang Gong 关公, Jade emperor (玉皇大帝) etc. I remember worshipping them when I was young.
If you're also worshipping your ancestors (拜祖先) such as your deceased Grandparents, you're practising confucianism. Some chinese also worshipped Confucius.
Anyway, Buddhism is not about worshipping. You don't worship Buddha like a god, but you treat him as a teacher.
What do you see the diff of Lamaism with those of Mahayana and Theravada??
Buddhism is divided into two main schools: Mahayana and Theravada
Lamaism is essentially "Tibetan buddhism", also known in buddhism as "Vajrayana Buddhism" (diamond vehicle). They are categorized in Buddhism as a subdivision of the "Mahayana" school, because their doctrine conforms more to the teaching of Mahayana buddhism. However, in actual fact, its teaching is based upon both the Theravada and general Mahayana practices. Vajrayana is sometimes also known as "tantric", but Buddhist Tantra is not the same as Hindu Tantra. Nor is it some kind of practice of magic.
One important practice of Lamaism (Vajrayana) is to employ meditation on a deity in order to transform our contaminated mind and body into the body and mind of Buddha. It is hoped that through such practice, a buddhist can quickly attain enlightenment.
Another common practice of Lamaism is to view the Dalai Lama (the Tibetan Buddhist) as the re-incarnation of past leader. The Tibetan buddhism has an elaborate technique of verifying this through meditation after death.
Jesus and Bodhisattva
The buddhist views that Bodhisattva are enlightened beings that help people to liberate or release from their suffering, and in doing so, they delayed their entryhood into buddhahood in order to make possible the salvation of all sentient-beings. The bodhisattvas had universal qualities such as perfect compassion, wisdom, vows etc.
The christians hold that Jesus is saviour of all human-beings, who has appeared to liberate them from their sins. He has perfect love for all. In some sense, Jesus is quite similar to a bodhisattva who has great compassion (some link with Jesus's love).
But there are differences and reasons why I don't see Jesus as a bodhisattva.
Bodhisattva's compassion applies to ALL sentient beings such as humans, animals, hungry ghosts, devas, god etc. AFAIK, Jesus's love only applies ONLY to human-beings. There seems to be some limitation in Jesus's role. Can Jesus's love for humans be the same as for other sentient-beings such as animals, ghost, demons? To a Bodhisattva, even a bad/evil person has the potential to be release from their suffering (hatred, craving, ignorance) and he would be helping them to liberate. Can Jesus love an evil person?
There is even one story where I read that one Bodhisattva descended into the realms of hell. The realm of hell is one of the 6 realms whereby beings are under the most cruel torture and suffering. This bodhisattva stayed there for 6 eons of years in order to help sentient beings achieve a better rebirth to a higher realm, in order to relieve them from their suffering.
In another story, a bodhisattva allows himself to be eaten by a lion because a lion was so hungry and suffering. A bodhisattva's role is to help a sentient being and is willing to sacrifice himself to make possible the salvation of all beings.