A Buddhist or a Bhauddhayā?

Revised August 18, 2016; revised April 25, 2019; April 22, 2022

1. The terms “Buddhism” and “Buddhist” were invented by the English, French, and German historians in the nineteenth century when they first came across Buddha Dhamma in India and Sri Lanka. The Pali word for a Buddhist is “Upāsaka” and the Sinhala word is Bhauddhayā.

  • The discovery of the “Asoka pillars” in India was followed by the discovery of the Pāli literature on Buddha Dhamma in Sri Lanka and other countries such as Burma and Thailand (together with translated Chinese scripts); of course, there were no practicing “Buddhists” or any Buddhist literature in India.

2. Here are two key points that should be the basis for defining the terms:

  • Up to that time, it was “Buddha Dhamma” or the “Dhamma or Teachings of the Buddha”.
  • The word Buddha comes from “bhava” + “uddha“; here, “bhava” means “existence (in the 31 realms)” and  “uddha” means “removal”. Therefore, Buddha is one who figured out how to stop the rebirth process and thus end future suffering.
  • And a person who diligently followed the Path advised by the Buddha was called a “Bhauddhayā” (=bhava + uddha+= one who strives to stop the rebirth process, i.e., to stop suffering).

3. I must note that the word “Bhauddhayā” (භෞද්ධයා ) is used only in the Sinhala language. The Pali word for a lay Buddhist is “Upāsaka.”

  • The word upāsaka probably came from “upa” + “āsava” + “khaya“, where those words mean “stay close to”, “defilements” and “eliminate” or “wear away.”
  • Thus, it means someone who stays close to the goal of eliminating defilements (lobha, dosa, moha).

4. However, many people today have been exposed just to bits and pieces of Buddha Dhamma.

  • They are just happy to follow the precepts of moral conduct, do some Samatha Bhāvanā (breath meditation) to relieve the stresses of modern life, and see where that leads them; see, “Goenka´s Vipassana“.
  • That is a perfectly good approach, at least to start off. But Buddha Dhamma is much deeper, and can lead to a state where there is absolutely no suffering, i.e., Nibbāna; see, “Nibbāna“.

5. Each person understands Buddha Dhamma differently, mainly based on the level of exposure to “correct Dhamma”.

  • Thus most people have the following misconceptions: (1) that Buddha Dhamma will help alleviate suffering from physical ailments, (2) that it provides only temporary relief (also called nirāmisa sukha) from mental stress (as in breath meditation).

6. However, the Buddha pointed out two forms of hidden suffering that humans are not aware of:

  • That incessant distress or agitation that we all feel (but most are unaware of)arises due to greed, hate, and ignorance.
  • Immoral deeds that we commit due to these greedy, hateful, or ignorant mindsets will lead to much higher forms of suffering in future rebirths (especially in animals and other lower realms).

7. Some do not believe in the rebirth process, so they cannot really “get traction” with the second type of suffering associated with the rebirth process.

  • Many have experienced the nirāmisa sukha while participating in meditation retreats or regular meditation programs at home.  Still, they do not realize that such nirāmisa sukha can be made permanent, by learning pure Dhamma and by comprehending the anicca nature of this world; see, “Starting on the Path without Belief in Rebirth” and “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?“.
  • It is only when one starts realizing the anicca nature, that one becomes a true Bhauddhayā in the sense of its meaning in #2 above.

8. A  Bhauddhayā starts to realize the futility of staying anywhere in the 31 realms, and at some point will attain the first stage of Nibbāna, i.e., become a Sōtapanna.

  • At that stage, one would have made that nirāmisa sukha permanent, i.e., if one did not do any mediation for the rest of the life, he/she will retain that nirāmisa sukha.
  • A  Sōtapanna would also be automatically released from future births in the apāyās or the four lowest realms.
  • How that happens is described in other sections of the site, especially in the section,  “Sōtapanna Stage of Nibbāna“.

9. Many people initially become Buddhists because of either a desire to learn more about the “wider world”, contemplate the “long-term existence”, i.e., the never-ending rebirth process or because they are interested in living a moral life that provides a sense of happiness.

  • But in the very strict sense, if one really wants to follow the path prescribed by the Buddha and become a “Bhauddhayā“, one needs to first understand what the rebirth process is, and why it is important to stop the rebirth process, i.e., they need to understand anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.

10. There are no rituals to become either a Buddhist or a Bhauddhayā. As one becomes convinced of the Buddha’s worldview and starts seeing that it is fruitless to HARM ONESELF OR OTHERS to gain anything “in this world”, he/she starts becoming a better Buddhist or a Bhauddhayā.

  • As one becomes a Buddhist/Bhauddhayā, his/her personality may start changing without forcefully changing it. That is because one starts seeing the world differently and reacting to outside events differently. It is all about changing perceptions about “this world”, i.e., it is all mental.
  • Because of this, one cannot become a Bhauddhayā or even a good Buddhist by just following rituals. One becomes a good Buddhist/Bhauddhayā by attempting to comprehend the message of the Buddha, and by experiencing the benefits as one progresses.

Dhammo ha ve rakkhati Dhammacari”, i.e., “Dhamma will guide and protect one who lives by Dhamma”. If one really starts becoming a Buddhist/Bhauddhayā, one will be able to see the changes in oneself as time goes by (others will start noticing after a bit longer). One’s likings and associations are the first to change.

Next, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“, ……….

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