A Bit About Buddhism

A quick overview on the history and basic principles of Buddhism.

Tree of Life Buddha by Danielle Shazelle
Tree of Life Buddha by Danielle Shazelle

One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake”, Buddha replied.*

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What does it mean to be awake? In Buddhism, awake is the term for enlightenment. So what then is enlightenment? It’s not something so easily summed up in a sentence, but regardless I will make an attempt. It is the knowing of greater reality than the one we perceive and realizing the teachings of Buddha.

Before we begin on the teachings, let’s take a look at who Buddha was.  To start, he was not  god, nor did he ever claim to be. Siddhartha Gotama was a prince and born over 2500 years ago in what is now present day Nepal. His upbringing was one of extreme luxury, and consequently also of sheltered bliss.  His father, after being told by a prophet that his son would either be a great world conqueror or a priest, chose to direct Siddhartha in a path away from religion and spirituality. This led to a life where Siddhartha had everything he wanted but  no chance to experience the real world or suffering.  Driven by curiosity, Siddhartha would often leave the palace to see how others lived. Here he saw four things which changed his life: an old man, a dead man, a diseased man, and an ascetic ( a person who denies himself the worldly pleasures of life). No longer sheltered b the suffering of others, he decided to leave his old life behind – including a wife and son- to lead the life of an ascetic and find the true meaning of life, and therefore achieve enlightenment. After several failed attempts, Buddha recalled a moment in childhood where he was able to reach a meditative state. By using this, known as jhana, he eventually discovered the “middle path” – the ability to investigate all our actions on an unbiased, upright ground so that truth can be found.

Dharma and Karma

Buddhists turn to the Three Jewels when looking for refuge or guidance: Dharma, Sangha (those who have attained enlightenment), and Buddha. Dharma is considered the truth and the teachings of Buddha. It is the natural law and the source of truth. By practicing Dharma, we protect ourselves from ignorance. By attaining peace in our mind, we increase our level of happiness. Karma, on the other hand, are the left over effects from our previous actions and lives. To sum it up, it is “what comes around goes around”. This law aims to identify why there is inequality around us or why bad things happen to good people. It is responsibility for our past and present actions.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are one of the primary teachings in Buddhism.

  1. Life is suffering. If we live, we will suffer. There will be pain, embarrassment, anger, etc… It is not bad, but a fact of life we must accept.
  2. Suffering is caused by desire. From wanting things we feel angst, and even after we achieve our wants, it does not guarantee happiness. We suffer from our expectations. We must modify our wants.
  3. We can stop our suffering, and be happy. By living in the present, not the past or perceived future, we can learn to be happy. By eliminating our useless desires, we can be happy and also help others.
  4. The 8-Fold Path that leads to the end of suffering.

The Eight Fold Path

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

“Right” signifies the perfect or ideal way of doing the Buddhist teaching. By following these steps, one can reach enlightenment and a release from suffering – the main objective of Buddhism. From these, there are 3 divisions. Wisdom is the first division and holds 1 and 2 which involves understanding the 4 Nobel Truths and committing to the Buddhist practices. The second division, Ethical Conduct, holds 3, 4, and 5 involves acting and speaking in a way which exudes wholesomeness and compassion towards others. Things such as prostitution, killing, intoxicants, and slavery are prohibited behaviors. The last division, Mental Discipline,(6,7,8) is where we are able to develop mental clarity and a true meditative state. Here our mind truly focuses. This is where our concentration levels increase, and we can apply it to our everyday lives.

Summary

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy. It outlines a way to lead life. It does not follow a god, and the statues of Buddha are not idols but reminders of the path a Buddhist should lead.  Buddhism does not ask its followers to take the word of Buddhism as is but to also discover for themselves what is truth. The above are guidelines to help one arrive to enlightenment. One should weight the karmic effect of our decisions, and aim for a path that does not harm any other living being or creature. The end goal of Buddhism is to break the cycle of suffering. From there, we can truly learn compassion and help others.

*Quote taken from:http://festivals.iloveindia.com/buddha-purnima/buddha-quote.html

**Information piled from the following sites: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm, http://www.aboutbuddha.org/english/buddha-teachings.htm/,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism, andhttp://www.geocities.com/lesliebarclay/buddhaintro1.html, http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html,http://buddhism.about.com/od/theeightfoldpath/a/eightfoldpath.htm.

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