Buddhism has a rich history of over 2,500 years when the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened at the age of 35. Buddhism, as we know it, is both a religion and a philosophy. How much do we really know about Buddhism? What is it and how is it practiced? In this article, we will find out.
The Buddhist path as a philosophy means ‘love of wisdom’. It can be summed up as the yearning to lead a good life, to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and to develop wisdom and understanding, and unlike western religions, it encourages its adherents to challenge orthodoxy, and to come to their own conclusion.
The Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama, grew up in a wealthy aristocratic family. He was the son of an Indian warrior-king and he lived a life of luxury. He knew that this was not the way that the world works, and he decided to find out for himself, what life was really like. It is said that he snuck out of his palace, and was horrified with what he saw.
He then decided to forsake his life of luxury, and to set out to learn how to end suffering. From the age of 29, he set out from his home to seek out the wisest men in order to understand the world, so that he could end the suffering. He eventually decided to settle near under a huge Bodhi tree until he reached enlightenment. "Even if my flesh and blood were to dry up, leaving only skin and bones, I will not leave this place until I find a way to end all sorrow", he said. He sat there for 49 days. After he found what he was looking for, he stood up, and thanked the tree for giving him shelter.
This was the beginning of Buddhism as we know it. Buddhism doesn't necessarily require its adherents to stick rigidly to their teachings. They are more suggestions of how previous Buddha's have reached enlightenment. These are some of the tenants of Buddhism.
First Noble Truth: Life is frustrating and painful
This does not only apply to us alone. Sometimes, it is inevitable to feel miserable or hurt. Even if things may be fine us at this exact moment, it won’t be the same for other people.
We are constantly reminded that someday life is nothing but a dream as we slowly grow old, get sick, and eventually die. These constant reminders are everywhere and sometimes, we choose to ignore it. Life always revolves around suffering, and it comes in many different forms.
Second Noble Truth: Suffering has a cause
All of us are constantly struggling to survive and trying to prove our existence, that is why we suffer. We attempt to define ourselves but we are defined by our humility. The cause of our suffering is our craving and ignorance. The reason why we suffer is because of our false belief that we are independent. The painful and difficult struggle to maintain this idea of ego is called samsara, or also called as cyclic existence. This indicates that the harder we struggle to our relationships and ourselves, our experience becomes more painful.
Third Noble Truth: The cause of suffering can be ended
This suggests either the end of our suffering here on earth, or in the afterlife, can end through achieving Nirvana. Our effort to survive, to prove ourselves and strengthen our relationships is not necessary.
Fourth Noble Truth: The path to end the suffering
We practice being mindful of all the things that we are used to torture ourselves with by abandoning our expectations about the way we think things should be and we begin to develop awareness about the way things really are. This charts the way for attaining the end of our suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path. This means that by living ethically, developing wisdom, and practicing meditation, we can take exactly the same journey that Buddha faced to be enlightened and be free from suffering.
According to the Buddha, the path to liberation from miserable states of being has eight points and is known as the eightfold path.
We need to give up our capability to complicate things and should practice simplicity. The fifth point is right livelihood
We should earn for our living. It is only right and normal. Most of us don't really enjoy our jobs. This is why we should try to build a simple relationship with it. perform it properly, and with attention to even the tiniest of details.
Right effort does not include any struggle at all. The moment we see things as they are, we can work with them, gently and without any kind of aggression.
This involves precision and clarity. We tend to be mindful of the small details of our experience, with how we talk, how we perform our jobs, our attitude toward other people, friends and family – everything.
Most of the time, we are absorbed when we are absentminded. Our minds are completely taken by any sort of entertainment and such. Right absorption indicates that we are completely absorbed in what is the present, or in things as they are. This can only happen if we have some discipline, such as doing meditation to have peace of mind.
Apart from what is accepted in contemporary society which is about preordained fate, the Buddhist interpretation of karma is different. To them, it talks about the good or bad actions that a person makes during his or her lifetime.
Good actions bring happiness and peacefulness. Bad actions bring unhappiness. These actions carry different weights and are determined by five conditions:
Lastly, neutral karma derives from actions such as eating, breathing or sleeping and it does not have any benefits or costs.
It is almost like a point system; if you do good deeds, you score goes up, and if you commit bad deeds, your points go down. This is important for another crucial concept in Buddhism, reincarnation.
Karma also plays an important role in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth. There are six separate planes into which a living being can be reborn. These are three fortunate realms, and three unfortunate realms. Those who have a positive karma are reborn into one of the fortunate realms: the realm of demigods, gods, and men. Those who have a negative karma are reborn into one of the unfortunate realms: of animals, ghosts and hell.
The realm of man offers another aspect lacking in the other five planes. Only in the realm of man can one achieve enlightenment.
(Like this topic: Also see our article on the benefits of yoga)
Nirvana may be the most important aspect in all of Buddhism. It is widely misunderstood though. It is not a heavenly abode that one ascends to when reached. The literal translation from ancient Sanskrit means "don't get blown away", funnily enough. It can be interpreted as "to be free from entangled roots" though.
In plain English, it is when a person has reached a state of being that no longer includes suffering and sorrow, but also freedom from happiness. It is a state of extreme clarity, and seeing the word as perfectly as it is.
This was just a brief intro into Buddhism, which is an incredibly rich and complex belief system. If you are curious about learning more, you should definitely do some independent research; be warned though, this rabbit hole goes deep!
I would like to leave you with a (difficult) question:
How important was the Buddha to the development of the worlds culture?