According to legend, it would be a prince of a small kingdom located at the foot of the Himalayas, who around his thirties would have left his family and his palace, in order to go in search of the truth, leading a wandering ascetic life for several years.
After reaching awakening, that is to say, pierced the secrets of life and the human condition, he would have traveled the lower valley of the Ganges to teach his doctrine, accompanied by a community of monks, the Sangha (Tang in Vietnamese) , until his death at the age of 80.
His teaching, the Dharma (Pháp, in Vietnamese), was first transmitted orally, then recorded in writing in a set of texts called the Pali Canon, made up of three parts or Baskets (Tipiṭaka, in Pali, Tam Tạng, in Vietnamese): the Discourses (Sutta in Pali, Kinh in Vietnamese), the Precepts (vinaya in Pali, Luât in Vietnamese) and later Commentaries (Abhidhamma in Pali, Luân in Vietnamese).
In the tradition of the Small Vehicle, we pay homage to it in these terms: Homage to the Blessed One, Completely Delivered and Perfectly Awakened ; in the tradition of the Great Vehicle: Tribute to the Master Founder, the Silent Sage of the Sakya lineage.
It is part of the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, with which the Buddhist follower takes refuge.
What are its currents?
It exists several streams in Buddhism, born out of its spread over its 25-century-long history, and across various parts of the world.
We can roughly distinguish two main branches or Vehicles:
- The first branch, Theravada or Small Vehicle (a pejorative name that is better replaced by Vehicle of the Ancients), is practiced in Southeast Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the far south of Vietnam.
- The second, the Mahayana or Great Vehicle, is subdivided into a particular sub-branch, the Vajrayana or Diamond Vehicle, practiced in Tibet, neighboring countries and Mongolia from the XNUMXth century, and into several Mahayanist schools that appeared in China between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, then spreading to Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
These are: the Pure Land School (Jingtu in Chinese) which currently dominates, followed by the Schools of Meditation (Chán, or Zen in Japan, Son in Korea and Thiên in Vietnam), while the Esoteric School (Mizong in Chinese), the Flower Garland School (Huayan in Chinese) and the Heavenly Platform School (Tiantai in Chinese) are no longer influential, except through a rather syncretic religious practice in most Mahayanist pagodas, mixing prayers, the recitation of sutras and mantras with meditation.
After having reached enlightenment, that is to say, pierced the secrets of life and the human condition, the Buddha would have traveled the lower valley of the Ganges in order to teach his doctrine, accompanied by a community of monks, the Sangha, until his death at the age of 80.
From a doctrinal point of view, the Theravada, which is based on the Pali Canon, is relatively homogeneous and closest to original Buddhism, whereas the Mahayana schools are more heterogeneous and further removed from original Buddhism, because they are based each on one or more particular sutras that appeared much later, such as the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra, belonging to the large collection Perfection of Wisdom, Lotus Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, le Sutra of the Descent to Lanka, flower garland, of the Heroic March, etc.
They also draw their ideas from Mahayanist philosophical schools, such as the Middle School (Madhyamaka in Sanskrit), with the notion of "emptiness" (sunyata), and the Only-Awareness School (Cittamatra in Sanskrit), with the notion of “awareness-receptacle” (alayavijnana) becoming synonymous with “Buddha nature” (buddhata), timeless and eternal.