Buddhism is a prominent world religion with around 300 million adherents. It is a monotheist religion which was established by Buddha about 2500 (5 to 6 century BC) years ago.
It is also a nontheistic religion based on the preaching of Buddha and has high values, traditions, practices and beliefs. The name Buddhism originates from the word ‘Buddhi’ which means ‘to awaken’. Buddha was himself enlightened and awakened when 35. He was a holy persona and sage who formed Buddhism which was based on his teachings. He preached about ending suffering of all living beings. The goal of Buddhism is to attain ‘Nirvana’ for which an eight-fold path is prescribed.
The name of Gautama Buddha commonly referred as ‘Buddha’ or ‘Shakyamuni’, was Siddhartha or Siddhartha Gautama. He was born to King and Queen at Lumbini, in Kapilvastu, Nepal. His father was King Shuddhodan and mother, Queen Maha Maya. He had brother, Nanda and sister, Sundari. He was married to Queen Yashodhara and had a son, Rahul, both of whom he left in his quest or journey for the ultimate truth. Buddha died at Kushinagar at the age of 80.
Branches of Buddhism and following
Buddhism is branched into ‘Theravada’ and ‘Mahayana’. Theravada or ‘The School of the Elders’ has large following in Sri Lanka and countries of Southeast Asia like Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos etc. Mahayana is popular all across East Asia in countries of Singapore, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea etc. Mahayana has traditions of Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Zen, Tiantai or Tendai and Tibetan Buddhism. ‘Vajrayana’ is recognised by some as the third part or branch prevalent in Tibet, Mongolia and connected parts of regions between China and Russia. It is classified as part of Indian Siddha by some and as part of Mahayana by others.
Buddhism consists of Three Jewels and those are – Buddha, Dharma or the preaching and Sangh or the community. Buddhists are expected to be ethical, support monastics, study scriptures, practice meditation and ceremonies, attaining higher levels of mind, stop living life in the traditional sense and become monastic. The Mahayana, on the other hand, is also involved in the invocation of Bodhisattvas.
Schools of thought
Buddhists differ regarding liberation path to be practiced and the practice of various teachings but are unanimous regarding the nonexistence of a creator.
Life of Buddha
Buddha lived in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent and taught philosophy and way to liberation or salvation (Nirvana or Moksh). He was spiritually awakened and enlightened sage with divine insight and holy stature. He taught high life values and principles and asked his disciples to serve humanity.
Teachings of Buddha
The followers of the religion believe in removing ignorance through knowledge and understanding of the order of Nature. Buddhists believe that everything in the world can be achieved by knowing the Four Noble Truths. They believe that Nirvana can be achieved by practicing the Noble Eight Fold Path or the Middle Way. This way, humanity can end or escape the suffering of birth and death or the continuing cycle of suffering, death and rebirth. Scholars are not very clear about the historical facts of Buddha’s life but accept he preached and was the founder of a monastic order.
Prophecy about Buddha
Narratives about Buddha says that an astrologer, Asita, once visited the prince shortly after his birth and prophesied that he would either become a great king and rule the world or a great sage and heal humanity, depending upon what he sees in life outside his father’s palace. Hearing this, his father, King Shuddhodan, became determined to make him a King and not make him see the outside world. Thus, the young Prince Gautama was prevented from going out of the palace. He grew up in the palace with all affluence and did not know anything about human suffering.
But once, when 29, Gautama was able to move beyond his palace and what he experienced then, proved too much for him. This was to be the decisive moment in his life. He had a series of encounters (the Four Sights) in which he saw an old man unable to walk, a sick man with illness, a corpse and then, a holy man. The holy man was in bliss, satisfied and at peace with himself. Buddha did not know about old age, illness and death earlier. These were his first encounters with reality and suffering in life and they shook him. These made him quit the royal life full of luxury, abundance, and comfort and adopt the life of a monastic and filled with deep urge for the quest of spirituality and the ultimate truth.
Gautama started his spiritual journey with the famous sages, holy persons and religious teachers of his times. He learnt meditation from them, and with time, mastered the art. But he was not satisfied at this and found that this did not bring a lasting answer to suffering and continued his journey. Next, he tried the practices of Shramanas which were a different cult than the Vedic ones. He started practicing fasting, breath holding and pain tolerance in his efforts to overcome suffering. As a result, he reached the condition of starvation, even neared death and realised that he had tried too hard but still not able to bring suffering to an end. Then he started having food again in the form of milk, rice and changed the way of seeking his goal.
Then he started practicing Anapanasati meditation which was later known as the Middle Way or Skt. Madhyam-prativad or the moderate way. This middle way lay between the two extremes of self-indulgence on one hand and self-mortification on the other.
By now Buddha was determined in his quest for the ultimate and took his journey till the very end. At 35, he began meditation under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, Bihar in India. He was determined not to get up till his enlightenment was complete. After days of meditation and hardship, he finally destroyed all confusion or feeling of attachment (Maya), attained the state of Nirvana (liberated off negative ideas) and arose as an enlightened being (Skt. Samyaksambuddh) free from the cycle of birth and death. The tree under which he attained Nirvana famously exists and visited by thousands each year. It is a huge and ancient tree known as Bo and as ‘Peepal’ in Nepal and Bhutan. One part of this original Bodhi tree is available only at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka and known as Jaya Maha Bodhi.
On the completion of his objective and attainment of Nirvana, many were attracted towards him and became his disciples. Now he had band of followers and founded a monastic order. By now he was called Buddha and spent his life teaching high values, principles and morals to humanity. He taught people the right conduct and correct way to live life. He undertook travel to different parts of India and was used to be greeted by hundreds wherever he went and continued preaching the noble principles of life. This way, he spent the rest of his life showing light to others and the path to liberation, salvation or Nirvana which he had achieved. He gradually grew old and died at Kushinagar (in UP, India) at the age of 80 in 483 BC.
The five Noble Truths:
The First Noble Truth – The first truth says that life is fundamentally about suffering. This is because there is pain, disease, old age and finally, death which come to us as physical problems. There are psychological problems as well that include frustration, anger, jealousy, loneliness, embarrassment, fear and disappointment. There is nothing negative about the thinking because negativity involves being pessimistic about the future whereas these traits are facts of life and Buddhism teaches how to get rid of suffering and achieve true happiness in life.
The Second Noble Truth – This says that craving for anything is the root cause of suffering in life. Man tends to expect too much from others and wants them to meet their expectations. A person is frustrated when he does not get what he expects from others and this leads to suffering. Buddhism says that we need to curb our craving and aversion for anything in life. It is because of our desires and yearning for things in life that we cause suffering for ourselves. We must realise and understand that getting something does not end problems because there is no end to man’s desires and wishes in life. Nothing can guarantee happiness expect for contentment with what we have. Instead of continuously wanting happiness and luxuries of life, try to modify your wishes. The reason for rebirth is our continued desire for more. The attraction for more creates a powerful energy within us which causes the person to reborn. Therefore, yearning can lead to physical and psychological suffering such as rebirth.
The Third Noble Truth – The Third Noble Truth is that it is possible to end suffering and attain happiness or Nirvana by living in the present moment. It teaches that true happiness and contentment are actually possible to attain in life. For this, one should avoid dwelling in the past or living in the future. A person must control himself and stop extraordinary and useless craving which is of no use except wastage of time and energy. Man should live each day at a time and not worry about the past or the future. It is by doing this only, can we be happy and satisfied and that is Nirvana.
The Fourth Noble Truth – The Fourth Noble Truth says that the 8-fold path or the Noble 8-Fold Path is one which will cause the end of suffering.
The Noble 8-Fold Path
The Noble 8-Fold Path is about leading a moral life. Leading a moral life requires one to be moralistic in whatever one says, does or for earning livelihood. A person’s goal should be to lead a life by understanding the Four-Noble Truths. He should be totally aware and focused about his thoughts and actions on creating and developing wisdom and live a truthful and ideal life. Every man should have compassion for others and must not be merely limited to serve his own interests.
The 5 Precepts
Moral conduct is covered under The 5 Precepts. These include – not to take life of a living being or anything living, not to take anything which is not freely available or given, abstaining from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to abstain or refrain from misleading or false speech, refrain from intoxication or losing control of mind.
Karma is about actions and their effects. It is a cause-effect law which tells that one’s action is responsible for his future. All our actions have results and it depends on the person what he does or not. It explains why some are born with diseases, illnesses and discrepancies whereas some are born with great luck and fortune. The theory underlines the importance of a person in determining his future and that all persons are responsible for their present and future. We can know and test our Karm or action by two methods. One is the intention lying behind the action performed and the second is the effect that action has on oneself and others.
Buddhism teaches that there is no wisdom without compassion. It preaches the middle way in which one is neither a good hearted fool nor attains knowledge emotionlessly. Buddhism says that one should adopt the middle path to develop both the qualities and not remain in an extreme situation. It says that all the phenomenon in the world do not come under a fixed category but are incomplete and temporary. According to Buddhism philosophy, true wisdom is not of just believing anything that one is told but to experience it personally, practically and realistically for a total and complete experience. It further teaches that one should be objective and open in his approach. Buddhism teaches its followers to be courageous, intelligent, patient, and flexible in approach.
Compassion is about having the qualities of sharing, readiness to help others, comfort others, be caring and having sympathy for fellow people and concern for others. Buddhism says that we can truly understand others by using our wisdom and first knowing, understanding ourselves.
Buddhism says that Sansar is a place where there are continuous births and deaths. It says that in sansar or the world, living beings have different experiences. It says that there are six realms in which the process of birth and death takes place. In each realm, there is the physical and psychological existence of different levels or categories. Each life is characterised by a particular type of living and suffering. Buddhism says that everything arises out of ignorance or avidya and it is accompanied by dukh or suffering or anxiety. It says that liberation or salvation is possible by following the Buddhist principles of living.
In Buddhism, Karm or action is the force which keeps the world moving. It says that intelligent and skilled Karm creates positive and fruitful results whereas unskilled or akushal or unintelligent Karm brings harmful results. Buddhism says that actions produce results in minds which affect the future by taking a practical form in a person’s life. Abstaining from bad Karm or unwanted actions should be practiced and one must try to create or cultivate good, positive actions and ethical conduct for a better future and life. In Buddhist faith Karm has a wide meaning and includes one’s actions, speech, thought and even mental intent which cause a result (vipaka), effect or consequence.
Under the Theravada belief, there is no excuse for one’s actions and one has to meet the consequences of his actions. It is because of the impersonal nature of the universe’s makeup and part of Nature’s functioning. Under the Mahayan belief, the recitation of certain texts of the Mahayana sutras or even simple hearing of these texts negates the effect of unwanted Karm. Listening to these sutras eliminates the great swathes of negative Karm. These sutras include the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra. Similar is the belief of other variants of Buddhism such as the Vajrayana which also believe in the elimination of effects of bad Karm through various ways.