What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’, ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.
Is Buddhism a Religion?
To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy ‘means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
Core Teachings of Buddhism
There are immutable core teachings expounded by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, that create a collective wellspring for all forms of Buddhism. Specifically, these are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Yet these basic teachings have themselves been subject to interpretation and again have various flavors within different Buddhist cultures.
The 4 Noble Truths
The first noble truth: is that life is frustrating and painful. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when it is downright miserable. Things may be fine with us, at the moment, but, if we look around, we see other people in the most appalling condition, children starving, terrorism, hatred, wars, intolerance, people being tortured and we get a sort of queasy feeling whenever we think about the world situation in even the most casual way. We, ourselves, will some day grow old, get sick and eventually die. No matter how we try to avoid it, some day we are going to die. Even though we try to avoid thinking about it, there are constant reminders that it is true.
The second noble truth: is that suffering has a cause. We suffer because we are constantly struggling to survive. We are constantly trying to prove our existence. We may be extremely humble and self-deprecating, but even that is an attempt to define ourselves. We are defined by our humility. The harder we struggle to establish ourselves and our relationships, the more painful our experience becomes.
The third noble truth: is that the cause of suffering can be ended. Our struggle to survive, our effort to prove ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary. We, and the world, can get along quite comfortably without all our unnecessary posturing. We could just be a simple, direct and straight-forward person. We could form a simple relationship with our world, spouse and friends. We do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be.
The fourth noble truth: is the way, or path to end the cause of suffering. The central theme of this way is meditation. Meditation, here, means the practice of mindfulness/awareness. We practice being mindful of all the things that we use to torture ourselves with. We become mindful by abandoning our expectations about the way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about the way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that things are really quite simple, that we can handle ourselves, and our relationships, very well as soon as we stop being so manipulative and complex.
The Noble Eightfold Path
According to the Buddha, the Eightfold path is the means to achieve liberation from suffering. Specifically, this path includes:
(1) Right View,
(2) Right Thought,
(3) Right Speech,
(4) Right Action,
(5) Right Livelihood,
(6) Right Effort,
(7) Right Mindfulness,
(8) Right Concentration.
(1) Right View
It leads to the right understanding of the Four Noble Truths by keeping oneself free from prejudice, superstition and delusions, and to see everything in their true nature of life.
(2) Right Thought
It prescribes one to abstain from sense pleasures, turn away from the hypocrisies of this world, and to direct one’s mind towards Positive Attitudes which purify the mind.
(3) Right Speech
It means that one should refrain from falsehood, slandering, harsh words and pointless talks.
(4) Right Action
It advises one to refrain from killing, stealing and sexual immorality; these helps one to develop and conduct a self-controlled character that is pleasing to others.
(5) Right Livelihood
It entails earning a living through professions which has no evil consequences. The Buddha prescribed five professions or trades which a lay Buddhist should avoid – trade in weapons of destruction, trade in animals for slaughter, trade in slavery, trade in intoxicants, and trade in poisons.
(6) Right Effort
It encompasses the Buddha’s main stress in attaining happiness and enlightenment through one’s efforts. The pragmatic principle is four-fold; namely: (a) to discard evil that has already arisen, (b) to prevent the arising of unrisen evil, (c) to develop that good which has already arisen, (d) and to promote that good which has not already arisen.
(7) Right Mindfulness
It means to cherish good and pure thoughts. Right Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s deeds, words and thoughts. The Buddha prescribed four forms of Mindfulness: (a) mindfulness of the body, (b) mindfulness of feelings, (c) mindfulness of the mind, (d) and mindfulness of mental objects.
(8) Right Concentration
It means to train the mind gradually and concentrate on the “Oneness” of all life. The constant practice of meditation helps one to develop a calm and concentrated mind and help to prepare one for the attainment of Wisdom and Enlightenment ultimately.
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