Buddhism and Its Practices
Buddism and its practices go back thousands of years. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha – meaning the one who is awake or enlightened) more than 2,500 years ago in India. Today, Buddism has about 470 million followers and is considered one of the world’s major religions.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhist practices are a means of changing yourself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition has created a fabulous resource for all those who wish to follow a path that ultimately leads to Enlightenment or Buddhahood. One who is enlightened sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. The person who reaches this enlightenment is said to have experienced nirvana. The goal of the Buddhist spiritual life is the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.
Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god. “The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, caste, sexuality, or gender. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realize and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives.”
Over the course of time, Buddhism began to spread beyond India. The thoughts and philosophies of Buddhists became diverse, with some followers interpreting ideas differently than others. This lead to different forms of Buddism in different areas. These included:
- Theravada Buddhism: Prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma
- Mahayana Buddhism: Prevalent in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam
- Tibetan Buddhism: Prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and northern India
Who was the Buddha?
The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born into a wealthy, royal family in present-day Nepal. He was moved by the suffering in the world and gave up his wealth to endure a life of poverty.
Still not finding what he was looking for, he promoted the idea of the “Middle Way”, which means exiting between two extremes – a life without social indulgence but also without deprivation.
After six years of searching it is believed that Gautama found enlightenment while meditating under a Budhi tree. He spent the rest of his life teaching others what he had learned.
Buddha’s teachings are known as “dharma,” and he taught that wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity, and compassion were important virtues.
Gautama’s teachings were organized into a religion after his death in 483 B.C. In the 3rd century B.C., Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Indian emperor, made Buddhism the state religion of India.
What are Buddhist Beliefs?
Some key Buddhism beliefs include:
- Followers of Buddhism don’t acknowledge a supreme god or deity. They instead focus on achieving enlightenment—a state of inner peace and wisdom. When followers reach this spiritual echelon, they’re said to have experienced nirvana.
- The religion’s founder, Buddha, is considered an extraordinary man, but not a god.
- The path to enlightenment is attained by utilizing morality, meditation, and wisdom. Buddhists often meditate because they believe it helps awaken truth.
- There are many philosophies and interpretations within Buddhism, making it a tolerant and evolving religion.
- Some scholars don’t recognize Buddhism as an organized religion, but rather, a “way of life” or a “spiritual tradition.”
- Buddhism encourages its people to avoid self-indulgence but also self-denial.
- Buddha’s most important teachings, known as The Four Noble Truths, are essential to understanding the religion.
- Buddhists embrace the concepts of karma (the law of cause and effect) and reincarnation (the continuous cycle of rebirth).
- Followers of Buddhism can worship in temples or in their own homes.
- Buddhist monks, or bhikkhus, follow a strict code of conduct, which includes celibacy.
- There is no single Buddhist symbol, but a number of images have evolved that represent Buddhist beliefs, including the lotus flower, the eight-spoked dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree, and the swastika (an ancient symbol whose name means “well-being” or “good fortune” in Sanskrit).
Buddhist live by five moral principles which prohibit:
- Killing any living thing
- Taking what is not given
- Sexual misconduct
- Using drugs and alcohol
Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths, which Buddha taught, are:
- The truth of suffering (dukkha)
- The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
- The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
- The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)
These principles explain why humans hurt and how to overcome suffering.
The Eight-Fold Path
Buddha taught that the end of suffering as set forth in the Four Noble Truths could be achieved by following the Eight-Fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Path includes:
- Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
- Right thought (Samma sankappa)
- Right speech (Samma vaca)
- Right action (Samma kammanta)
- Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
- Right effort (Samma vayama)
- Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
- Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
The Buddhist Holy Book
Buddhists revere many sacred texts and scriptures. Some of the most important are:
- Tipitaka: These texts, known as the “three baskets,” are thought to be the earliest collection of Buddhist writings.
- Sutras: There are more than 2,000 sutras, which are sacred teachings embraced mainly by Mahayana Buddhists.
- The Book of the Dead: This Tibetan text describes the stages of death in detail.
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head monk in Tibetan Buddhism. Believed to be the reincarnation of a past lama, who has agreed to come back to help humanity. There have been 14 Dalia Lamas throughout history and the current Dalia Lama is Lhamo Thondup, who was born in 1935.
Buddhism Festivals and Ceremonies
- Vesak – commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.
- Each quarter of the moon – Buddhists participate in a ceremony called Uposatha. This allows them to renew their commitment to their teachings.
- The Buddhist New Year and several other yearly festivals
For more information on Buddhism check out this book.
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