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Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices considered by most to be a religion. Buddhism is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "The Buddha" (the Awakened One), who lived in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent and likely died around 400 BCE. Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving Nirvana. Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas, renunciation of worldly matters, meditation, physical exercises, study, and the cultivation of wisdom. Buddhism is broadly recognized as being composed of two major branches: Theravada, which has a widespread following in Southeast Asia; and Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren and Vajrayana), found throughout East Asia. While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism does not have a clearly definable common core. Significant disagreement also exists over the importance and canonicity of various scriptures. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million and 500 million. While formal conversion or membership varies between communities, basic lay adherence is often defined in terms of a traditional formula in which the practitioner takes refuge in The Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the Teaching of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the Community of Buddhists).

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A Song Dynasty painting of an outdoor banquet
Chinese society during the Song Dynasty was marked by political and legal reforms, a philosophical revival of Confucianism, and the development of cities beyond administrative purposes into centers of trade, industry, and maritime commerce. The inhabitants of rural areas were mostly farmers, although some were also hunters, fishers, or government employees working in mines or the salt marshes. Contrarily, shopkeepers, artisans, city guards, entertainers, laborers, and wealthy merchants lived in the county and provincial centers along with the Chinese gentry—a small, elite community of educated scholars and scholar-officials. The military also provided a means for advancement in Song society for those who became officers, even though soldiers were not highly-respected members of society. Although certain domestic and familial duties were expected of women in Song society, they nonetheless enjoyed a wide range of social and legal rights in an otherwise patriarchal society. Women's improved rights to property came gradually with the increasing value of dowries offered by brides' families. Daoism and Buddhism were the dominant religions of China in the Song era, the latter deeply impacting many beliefs and principles of Neo-Confucianism throughout the dynasty. The Song justice system was maintained by policing sheriffs, investigators, official coroners, and exam-drafted officials who acted as magistrates.

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Bhavacakra, the Wheel of Becoming
Credit: Philipp Roelli, uploaded by Dieter A. Bachmann

The Bhavacakra (Sanskrit, भवचक्र) or Wheel of Becoming (Tibetan srid.pa'i 'khor.lo) is a complex symbolic representation of saṃsāra in the form of a circle (mandala), used primarily in Tibetan Buddhism.

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Dae Soen Sa Nim shortly before his death (photo by Joan Halifax)
Seung Sahn Haeng Won Dae Soen-sa (Korean: 숭산행원대선사, Hanja: 崇山行願大禪師) (c. 1927—November 30, 2004), born Dok-In Lee, was a Korean Jogye Seon master and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen—the largest school of Zen present in the Western world. He was the seventy-eighth teacher in his lineage. As one of the first Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience. Known by students for his many correspondences with them through letters, his utilization of Dharma combat, and expressions such as "only don't know" or "only go straight" in teachings, he was conferred the honorific title of Dae Soen Sa Nim in June 2004 by the Jogye order for a lifetime of achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates to mean Great honored Zen master. He died in November that year at Hwa Gae Sah in Seoul, South Korea, at age 77.

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When other sects speak well of Zen, the first thing that they praise is its poverty.
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