Buddhism (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Originating with the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, born in present-day Nepal in the sixth century B.C.E., varieties of Buddhism have developed and spread across the globe for the past 2,500 years. Though Buddhism by no means presents a uniform face in all cultures and time periods, Buddhist traditions do reveal certain common experiential contours, doctrinal themes, and ritual practices. Speaking experientially, Buddhism emphasizes disciplined introspection through a combination of meditative, recitative, and gestural sequences. Doctrinally, Buddhist teachings call attention to four primary themes: suffering, liberation, emptiness, and interdependence. And in terms of ritual practice, Buddhists engage in a combination of devotional offerings, initiatory rites, and other ceremonies to mark important spiritual and life-cycle transitions.
Buddhist history reflects three primary "vehicles" of Buddhist thought and practice: Nika¯ya (Individual Tradition, of which Therava¯da Buddhism represents one strand); Maha¯ya¯na (Great Vehicle); and Vajraya¯na (Diamond Vehicle, also known as Tantric Buddhism). However, from a contemporary perspective, it remains difficult to know the extent to which these traditions operated autonomously from one another. It seems likely that a great degree of overlap existed between Buddhist traditions, as, for example, when a practitioner espousing Maha¯ya¯na precepts also may have engaged in Tantric practices. Adherents of all three traditions exist throughout the world, though one traditionally associates Nika¯ya (primarily Therava¯da) Buddhism with Southeast Asia; Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism with historical India, China, and parts of Southeast Asia; and Vajraya¯na Buddhism with historical India, Tibet, Japan, and, since the late nineteenth century, the West.
Buddhism concerns itself with science in, for example, its Tantric Vehicle. Tantric Buddhist texts occupy themselves with questions of cosmology, astronomy, embryology, and physiology, and they concisely weave religion and science together into a seamless fabric. An eleventh-century Sanskrit Buddhist Tantric text, the ri¯laghu Ka¯lacakratantra (or ri¯ Ka¯lacakra [Auspicious short Ka¯lacakra Tantra] ), constitutes a primary example of a religious text oriented toward meditative practice that also serves as the repository for highly developed scientific observations of the time. Divided into five chapters, the ri¯ Ka¯lacakra and its corresponding twelve-thousand-verse Vimalaprabha¯ti¯ka¯ commentary contain five chapters in both Sanskrit and Tibetan redactions: (1) cosmology, the realm-space section; (2) physiology, the inner-self section; (3) initiation, the empowerment section; (4) generation stage, the practice section; and (5) completion stage, the gnosis section.
More specifically, the first chapter of the ri¯ Ka¯lacakra, sometimes referred to as Outer Ka¯lacakra, presents a cosmological alternative to traditional Buddhist cosmology as articulated in the fourth century in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakoa (Treasury of manifest knowledge) and its Auto-commentary, the Abhidharmakoabha¯sya. The second chapter, sometimes referred to as Inner Ka¯lacakra, outlines the physiology of the "subtle body" (Sanskrit, uksmadeha), including its structure and function. This chapter also addresses the time cycle of breaths taken by a person during a day. According to this system, the vital-wind processes, which Tantric practitioners seek to control, situate the temporal divisions of the universe in the body. The third to fifth chapters of the ri¯ Ka¯lacakra, sometimes referred to as Alternative Ka¯lacakra, include an explanation of the qualifications necessary for both guru and disciple and also describe the activities that precede empowerment, which include examining the initiation site, accumulating ritual materials, taking control of the site, creating a protective circle, and constructing the Ka¯lacakra mandala. This third chapter also describes disciples' progress through the mandala, the guru's conferral of empowerment, and the concluding rituals that follow the empowerment ceremony. The fourth and fifth chapters of the ri¯ Ka¯lacakra focus on the practice of Ka¯lacakra's six-limbed yoga. These practices include both generation stage and completion stage yogas.
See also BUDDHISM, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION; BUDDHISM, HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Dwivedi, Vrajavallabh, and Bahulkar, S. S., eds. Vimalaprabha'ti¯a¯ of Kalki ri¯ Pundari¯ka on ri¯ Laghuka¯lacakratantrara¯ja by ri¯ Mañjuri¯yaas, Vol. 2. Sarnath, Varanasi, India: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1994.
Sopa, Geshe Lhundub. "The Kalachakra Tantra Initiation." In The Wheel of Time: The Kalachakra in Context, by Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Roger Jackson, and John Newman. Madison, Wis.: Deer Park Books, 1985.
Zahler, Leah. "Meditation and Cosmology: The Physical Basis of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions According to dGe-lugs Tibetan Presentations." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 13, no.1 (1990): 538.