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There are four noble truths upon which all Buddhist teaching is based. It is said that if you do not understand these truths it is impossible for you to practice Buddhism. Buddhism, like most other religions has the potential to serve the community and produce good well-natured people. To be a successful Buddhist you must understand the interdependent nature of reality. All of Buddhist Philosophy rests on this one basic truth. In addition to this, you must also practice non-violence, this is at the very least refraining from harming others, but more specifically it means that you should do your best to help other people. When you decide to become Buddhist, you decide to take refuge in the three jewels. From this you develop Bodhichitta (compassion), or a “good heart”. The three Jewels of Buddhism are Buddha, the Dharma and his teachings, and the Sanngha. To develop ones Bodhichitta it is necessary to aim all, or most, of ones activities to helping others. You must develop a good foundation in this or you will not be able to achieve higher levels in Bodhichitta. It is important to realize that the practice of taking refuge in the Three Jewels is not just a ceremony, this confusion is because of the Refuge Ceremony that is often associated. The most important thing is reflection, and believing in the teachings of Buddha. Most Buddhists think of Buddha as not just a man. They believe in buddhahood which is based on spiritual levels. Buddhahood is a spiritual state of being. This is why Buddhist scriptures speak of many Buddhas i.e. Buddhas of past present and future. This means that a Buddha can come into being. The question is only, how is that accomplished? To become a Buddha that would mean you would have to become fully enlightened. Many people question whether this is level of enlightenment is even possible to attain. One thing that may be close are the Sangha. The Sangha are people who follow the Dharma and its teachings. These people have reached an incredible level of enlightenment. They have rejected a great deal of negative thinking and afflictive emotions. Even they, however have not removed all of this, to do so would be to enter Buddhahood. In the four noble truths, the order in which they are written or introduced, is not necessarily in order of importance or even the order in which they may appear in life. The truths work different for each individual Buddhist. Happiness for example is different for everyone. Happiness has two meanings in Buddhism. One of course is the traditional sense of happiness. The other is the total absence of suffering, this may not result in extreme elation but it is considered the highest form of happiness because there is complete freedom from suffering. This is Cessation. This can never be produced or created by anything however, from the Buddhist perspective. The deepest Buddhist hopes are to be free from suffering. To explain simply the Four Basic Truths as simply as possible;
1. To be free of suffering, and to be fully understood
2. To have control of the things which cause suffering
3. the supreme truth and final liberation of nirvana which is achieved as the cause of suffering is eliminated. The mind experiences complete freedom and liberation
4. the truth of the eightfold ariya path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Buddhism was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He was born in 563 in Lumbini which is in modern-day Nepal. At the age of 29, he left his wife, children and political involvements in order to seek truth; this was an accepted practice at the time for some men to leave their family and lead the life of an ascetic. He studied Brahmanism, but ultimately rejected it. In 535 BC, he reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He is also referred to as the Sakyamuni, (sage of the Sakya clan). He promoted The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. He had many disciples and accumulated a large public following by the time of his death in his early 80’s in 483 BC.
Two and a half centuries later, a council of Buddhist monks collected his teachings and the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the Tripitaka. This included a very large collection of commentaries and traditions; most are called Sutras.
In Buddhism there is an Eighfold path. This consists of the following;
1. right understanding
2. right thinking
3. right speech
4. right conduct
5. right livelihood
6. right effort
7. right mindfulness
8. right concentration
Buddhism is usually though of as being one religion, however it is divided into many. Buddhism is basically the belief in Buddha and his teachings, this is accompanied by local customs and rituals. This produces very few contradictions as Buddhism is a Philosophical system, which allows additions to be easily added. After the death of Buddha the religion split. The split created three major different kinds of Buddhism with many different sects. These kinds of Buddhism are both geographically and philosophically different. One of the three major types is Southern Buddhism, it has 100 million followers, mainly in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam. It started in Sri Lanka when Buddhist missionaries arrived from India. They promoted the Vibhajjavada school. By the 15th century, this form of the religion reached almost its present size. Another of the three is Eastern Buddhism which is the major religion in China, Japan, Korea and a lot of Vietnam. Buddhism’s Mahayana tradition entered China during the Han dynasty. It found its first acceptance there with the workers. Later, it gradually was brought into the ruling class. Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century. It almost disappeared during the 1960’s in China during the Cultural Revolution. The final main form of Buddhism is Northern Buddhism it has about 10 million people in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia and Tibet. It entered Tibet in 640 CE. Problems with the native Tibetan religion of Bon caused it to go underground until its was able to begin again in the 11th century. The heads of the Gelu school of Buddhist teaching became the Dalai Lama, and ruled Tibet. It has been, until recently, it was dismissed as a poor form of Buddhism.
1. The Dalai Lama, A Simple Path . London: Thorsons, 2000
2. Suzuki, D.T., An Introduction To Zen Buddhism Grove Press: 1964
3. Makings, Harold, Buddhism University Of Chicago Press: 1967
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