• 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.
• 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.
• How Can Buddhism Help Me?
Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.
• Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?
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.
• Who Was the Buddha?
Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised 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 Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.
• Was the Buddha a God?
He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.
• Do Buddhists Worship Idols?
Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
• Why are so Many Buddhist Countries Poor?
One of the Buddhist teachings is that wealth does not guarantee happiness and also wealth is impermanent. The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand Buddhist teachings can find true happiness.
• Are There Different Types of Buddhism?
There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching — the Dhamma or truth.
• Are Other Religions Wrong?
Buddhism is also a belief 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. That is why Buddhists do not preach and try to convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.
• Is Buddhism Scientific?
Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith.
• What did the Buddha Teach?
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
• What is the First Noble Truth?
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
• What is the Second Noble Truth?
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. 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.
• What is the Third Noble Truth?
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (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 is Nirvana.
• What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
• What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?
In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focussing 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.
• What are the 5 Precepts?
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
• What is Karma?
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. 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? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.
• What is Wisdom?
Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a goodhearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do no constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.
• What is Compassion?
Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through wisdom.
• How do I Become a Buddhist?
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.
The Basics of Buddhism
Between 563 BCE and 483 BCE there lived in the southern regions of modern day Nepal, a man named Siddhartha Gautama who had been born a prince of the Sakya clan but who, at the age of thirty-five, after meditating an…d attaining a state called “Enlightenment,” began teaching a completely new doctrine in India. That doctrine has since come to be known as Buddhism. At the end of his life, the “Buddha,” as his followers have ever since referred to him, said that he had spent the previous forty-five years teaching only two things: suffering, and its cessation. Indeed, his emphasis upon the suffering inherent in samsara (literally, the realm of “continual going”) has caused many over the centuries to view the tradition as pessimistic. In reality, the Buddha preached a doctrine which demands an in depth analysis of suffering and its causes as a means of bringing about suffering’s end and, therefore, of ushering in a new and lasting peace, tranquility and insightfulness.
The most succinct formulation of the Buddha’s doctrine was provided in the very first sermon that he delivered. That “First Sermon” set forth the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, namely:
1. There is suffering (duhkha).
2. There is a cause of suffering (duhkha-samudaya).
3. There is the cessation of suffering (duhkha-nirodha); and
4. There is a path leading to the cessation of suffering (duhkha-nirodha-marga).
According to the first Noble Truth, suffering is defined as follows: “Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain grief and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; dissociation from the pleasant is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering.” However, there is the further injunction to understand what is meant by the term duhkha in all its connotations. With regard to this, Buddhist texts further delineate “three types/levels of duhkha,” namely: suffering ‘plain and simple,’ that encompasses every kind of physical and mental pain, distress or uneasiness; the ‘suffering produced by change,’ especially that suffering brought on by the sudden shift of a happy state changing into an unhappy one; and the suffering which is ‘inherent in samsara,’ that is that type which occurs because of the very nature of all existents within samsara, namely their being ultimately impermanent, painful, and empty of independent existence.
The Second Noble Truth declares that the most palpable cause of our suffering is desire and thirst of various sorts, all of which are doomed to be unsatisfactory since they falsely ascribe permanence to what is, in reality, impermanent. However, the root cause of both desire and hatred is the ignorance which posits a false idea about the self’s permanence. Thinking, mistakenly, that the self, soul, or ego exists permanently causes us to desire certain things while it generates aversion towards others. Only by extinguishing this false and illusory idea about the nature of our selves, as well as about the nature of things, can a lasting liberation from suffering be achieved. A state of such liberation is called, in the Third Noble Truth, Nirvana. The notion of Nirvana has been grossly misunderstood over the centuries as being a state akin to complete extinction or annihilation. According to Buddhism, however, Nirvana is not viewed as an extinction of the self; rather, it is only the extinction of the false idea about the self. A more contemporary expression for this might be, “Nothing is lost except what’s false.” Buddhism never denies the existence of a “relative, impermanent and dependent self.” It denies only the erroneous view that the self exists as an inherently and independently existent entity.
The Fourth Noble Truth tells us that there is a Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. Once we have determined that samsara is unsatisfactory, we should enter upon the path and, traversing it, through undertaking various methods of meditation and practice, attain the enlightenment of the Buddha. The multifacetness of Buddhist traditions throughout Asia and over its 2600 year history derives from the great variety of meditative techniques and methods offered under the rubric of the “Path.”
As early as the days of the great Indian King Asoka (269-232 BCE), Buddhist traditions began to migrate out of India and to spread into the regions of South and Southeast Asia. Hinayana, or less derogatorily, Theravadin Buddhism spread south to Sri Lanka, and north and east to Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. By the fourth to the eighth centuries CE, Mahayana Buddhism had reached as far as Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
According to recent world census data, there are about 305 million Buddhists worldwide, most of them living in Asia. However, one finds nearly 1 million (some recent sources make this number 4-5 million) Western-born Buddhists also, who live and practice in Europe and the United States.
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