In Theravada Buddhism, Buddha refers to one who has become enlightened through his own efforts and insight, without a teacher to point out the Dharma. A samyak sambuddha teaches the dhamma to others after his awakening. A pratyeka-buddha also reaches Nirvana through his own efforts, but does not teach the dhamma to others. An Arhat needs to follow the teaching of a Buddha to attain Nirvana, but can also preach the dhamma after attaining Nirvana In one instance the term buddha is also used in Theravada to refer to all who attain Nirvana, using the term Sāvakabuddha to designate an Arhat, someone who depends on the teachings of a Buddha to attain Nirvana.
There is a broad spectrum of opinion on the universality and method of attainment of Buddhahood, depending on the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings that a school of Buddhism emphasizes. The level to which this manifestation requires (ascetic practices) varies from none at all to an absolute requirement, dependent on doctrine. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the Bodhisattva ideal instead of the Arhat.
The Tathagatagarba and Buddha-nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhist consider Buddhahood to be a universal and innate property of absolute wisdom. This wisdom is revealed in a person's current lifetime through Buddhist practice, without any specific relinquishment of pleasures or "earthly desires".
Buddhists do not consider Siddhartha Gautama to have been the only Buddha. The Pali Canon refers to many previous ones (see List of the 28 Buddhas), while the Mahayana tradition additionally has many Buddhas of celestial, rather than historical, origin (see Amitabha or Vairocana as examples, for lists of many thousands Buddha names see Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō numbers 439–448). A common Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist belief is that the next Buddha will be one named Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).
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