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The word Buddha means "the awakened one" or "the enlightened one." Buddhism is a major global religion with a complex history and system of beliefs originating in the
6th century BCE. It is a religion with the lower estimate
to about 350–500 million people
and higher estimates
to be between 1.2 - 1.7 billion people.
Buddhism "awakening" from 2,500 years past, came about when Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
Gautama was not a god, nor did he claim to be.
He was a man who taught a path
to enlightenment from his own experience. to enlightenment from his own experience.
Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized
("The School of the Elders")
Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle").
Theravada has a widespread following in Southeast Asia, namely Cambodia and Thailand, while Mahayana is found throughout East Asia, in China and Japan.
Buddhism, considered to be one of the fastest growing religions, remains most popular within Asia, however, both branches are now found throughout the world.
Vajrayana is recognized as a third branch and is practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia.
However, others classify it as a part of Mahayana.
To many people of these lands, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of
a philosophy or way of life.
The word philosophy "means love of wisdom", but for Buddhist it is also a religion,
a guide to supernatural perfection.
The Buddhist path may be summed up as:
1. To lead a moral life.
2. To be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions.
3. To develop wisdom and understanding.
One of the Buddhist teachings stresses that wealth
does not guarantee happiness and that wealth is impermanent.
Followeres of these teachings find many Buddhist to be considered poor.
The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand Buddhist teachings
can find true happiness.
Buddhist do not have idols. Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha,
not in worship, nor to ask for favors. A statue of the Buddha with hands
rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds belivers to strive,
to develop peace and love within themselves.
Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are:
1. Not to take the life of anything living.
2. Not to take anything not freely given.
3. To abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence.
4. To refrain from untrue speech.
5. To avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
Historians estimate that the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from 566 BCE to 480 BCE. The son of an Indian king, Gautama led an extravagant life through his early 30s, living secluded in his father's castle. Not aware of life outside the castle, Gautama wandered into the world in search of understanding.
After encountering an old man, an ill man, a corpse
and an ascetic, which he had not seen before,
Gautama was convinced that suffering lay at
the heart of all existence. He realized that wealth
and luxury did not guarantee happiness,
so he explored the different teachings, religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation
he finally found "the middle path" and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dharma, or Truth — until his death in his 80s.
|Chinese Buddhist Cave Shrines
Buddhiam's Noble Truths
and the Noble Eightfold Path
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts
in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble
and the Noble Eightfold Path.
1. The first truth is that life is suffering:
That is life includes pain, getting old, disease,
and ultimately death. There is, also, mental suffering
like loneliness, frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is true for all our lives.
This is realistic rather than pessimistic because
pessimism is expecting things to be bad. instead,
Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided
and how we can be truly happy.
2. The second truth is that suffering is caused
by craving and aversion:
We will suffer if we expect other people to conform
to our expectations, that is, if we have desires
such as wanting others to like us, if we do not get
something we want, etc. In other words, getting
what you want does not guarantee happiness.
We should, thus, modify our desires rather than
constantly struggling to get what we want.
Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness.
A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially
the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful
energy which causes the individual to be born.
So craving leads to physical suffering because it
causes us to be reborn. This is called Samsara,
that is the repeating cycle of birth, life, death
and rebirth (reincarnation) expressed
within many eastern religions.
3. The third noble truth is that suffering can be
overcome and happiness can be attained:
Thus, true happiness and contentment are possible.
What we must do is give up useless craving and
learn to live in the present (not dwelling in the past
or the imagined future) then we can become happy
and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This leads to Nirvana (Moksha in Hinduism)
or the escape from Samsara, that is the cycle
of death and rebirth. Nirvana literally means
"blown out" (as in a candle) and refers, in the
Buddhist context, to the imperturbable stillness
of mind after the fires of desire, aversion,
and delusion have been finally extinguished.
4. The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path:
This is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
The Noble Eightfold Path is a set of eight factors
divided into three main categories as follows:
1. Right view leading to superior right knowledge.
2. Right intention leading to superior right liberation
B. Ethical conduct:
3. Right speech.
4. Right action.
5. Right livelihood.
6. Right effort.
7. Right mindfulness.
8. Right concentration.
In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral
(through what we say, do and our livelihood),
focusing the mind on being fully aware of our
thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths
and by developing compassion for others.
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect,
that is our actions have consequences.
This simple law explains things like:
1. Inequality in the world.
2. Why some are born handicapped and some gifted.
3. Why some live short lives.
Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? We can do so by looking at:
1. The intention behind the action.
2. Effects of the action on oneself.
3. The effects on others.
Contrary to western thought, the Buddhist interpretation
of karma does not refer to preordained fate. Karma refers
to good or bad actions a person takes during their lifetimes. Good actions include absence of bad actions or actual
positive acts. These positive acts such as generosity, righteousness, and meditation bring about happiness
in the long run. Bad actions, such as lying, stealing or
killing bring about unhappiness. The consequences of
actions carry is determined by things like frequency of
repetitive action, determined intentional action, actions performed without regret, actions against extraordinary
persons and action toward those who have helped one in
the past. Finally, there is also neutral karma, which derives
from acts such as breathing, eating or sleeping.
karma has no benefits or costs.
The Cycle of Rebirth
Karma plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth called Samsara. There are six separate levels into which any living being can be reborn, the three fortunate realms and three unfortunate realms. Those with favorable or positive karma are reborn into one of the fortunate realms that consist of:
1. The realm of demigods.
2. The realm of gods.
3. The realm of men.
The realm of man is considered the highest because it's an opportunity to achieve enlightenment, or Nirvana. Given
On the other hand, the demigods and gods enjoy gratification unknown to men but they also suffer unceasing jealousy
the sheer number of living things, to be born human is to Buddhists a precious chance at spiritual bliss, a rarity
that one should not forsake.
and envy. The inhabitants of the three unfortunate realms
of animals, ghosts and hell suffer untold suffering.
The suffering of the realm of man is far less.
Buddhism and Hinduism have many tenants in common although the same words may have somewhat different meanings. The main tenants of Buddhism are:
1. Samsara: The cycle of rebirth that continues until achieving Nirvana.
Known as, reincarnation in the west.
2. Karma: Our actions where every action has an effect,
our actions have consequences.
3. Dharma or Truth: The Laws of Nature considered collectively
or the teaching of the Buddha
as an expounding
of the Natural Law
applied to human suffering.
4. Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path
5. Wisdom: The teaching that wisdom should be developed
with compassion using the middle path.
6. Nirvana (Moksha in Hinduism) is the state of cessation of being
and profound peace of mind after the final death,
that is the breaking of the cycle of Samsara.
The word literally means "blown out" (as in a candle).
Buddhist teachings can be understood and tested by anyone. Buddhism teaches
that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside.
The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true,
but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way,
each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility
for their own actions and understanding.
This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs
which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching
which each person learns and uses in their own way.
Buddhism is also a system which is tolerant of all other beliefs or religions.
Buddhism agrees with the moral teachings of other religions,
but Buddhism goes further by providing a long term purpose
within our existence, through wisdom and true understanding.
Real Buddhism is very tolerant and not concerned with labels like
Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist.
That is why there have never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism.
Buddhists do not preach and try to convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.
Buddhism is not wide spread in India, now, because of the conquests of
Islam of northern India and because of its adoption into Hinduism.
However, Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries
for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism
has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies.
It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding
of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists
around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.