Feb. 23 2012
Buddhism is a religion that has been practiced by people from all cultures and walks of life for centuries. Some say itâ€™s more than a religion, itâ€™s an art form, a moral code to be practiced and remembered in your day to day life. A path towards the betterment of oneâ€™s life. The Buddha taught Buddhism as a conduit for thought about oneself and the world around them. He never was thought of as a god or deity, so are his teachings only to be followed by those who consider themselves religious? Or are they good lessons for everyone to learn? Let us start with Buddhisms humble and meaningful beginnings in India.
Buddhism was first taught by Siddhartha Gautama, who before becoming Buddha, was the son of a wealthy and powerful emperor who ruled over a kingdom in northern India called Kipilvastu. One day the emperor visited a fortune teller so that he could know if his son would be as strong of an heir as he. The teller told him that he could only become the heir to the throne if he did not see an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk in one spot. The emperor, wanting his strongest son to be the heir to the throne, sheltered Siddhartha from the world. However, as Siddhartha matured he began to question his life of luxury. Shortly after the birth of his first son he suddenly saw three of the four signs of his fate; the old man, the sick man, and the dead man. Siddhartha interpreted this as a sign from Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rebirth, the controller. He then donned the orange robes of a beggar, the same robes Buddhist monks wear to this day, and became the final sign. He cast aside his wealth and power for nothing more than to teach the world his beliefs. He travelled the highlands of northern India, Mongolia, and China, teaching his own interpretation of Hinduism. His was a religion without gods, or a class system among other things. Siddhartha saw the follies of the human perception of our world, that our reality could very well not be real, his concepts were so innovative and evoking for their time and even still for ours, that he gathered many followers over the years he taught and will always pique the interests of millions.
Over 3.5 million people share the Buddhist way, from northern India to all over Asia, and now the world. Buddhism in the modern day is as much the same as it is different from Buddhism in ancient times. Sects have formed in the west and Western culture has begun to leave a permanent mark on the religion with its more unorthodox, relaxed practices. Furthermore, the appeal of Buddhism is at an all time high because it has the capability of being such a relaxed religion, and people of the twenty-first century with their busy lives tend to need a more moral and sensible religion like Buddhism. One interesting quote that the Buddha said was â€œNobody must take my word for the teachings of Buddhism. They can, and should, be tested in the real world and anything that you find that is not true I will gladly remove it from my teachings.â€
However relaxed a religion Buddhism can be, it still has a few overlying rules. These rules are the written texts of the Buddhist way:Â The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, and The Middle Way. These scriptures are all more of moral guidelines than strict rules. Siddhartha created these to help guide Buddhists on the same path toward enlightenment that he himself followed. The first of the Noble Truths states that â€œAll Life is Sufferingâ€ meaning not that we are all in physical pain, but that we suffer because we are human. This brings us to the next truth â€œThe Source of Suffering is Attachment.â€ We suffer because we are attached, we are attached because we love and because we are human. The third Truth is â€œThe Cessation of Suffering is Obtainable.â€ The release from suffering is obtainable through Nirodha, meaning the unmaking of sensual craving or material attachment through meditation. The final truth, which transitions into the next text, is â€œUnderstand the Eightfold Path.â€ The ultimate way to cleanse oneself of their attachment to this reality is to understand the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is my favorite text because all of the folds areÂ The first fold is â€œUnderstand the Four Noble Truthsâ€ The second is â€œThe Right Intentionâ€ A Buddhist must know to act considerately and that all your actions have an effect on your Karma and your reincarnation. More on those later, though. The third fold being â€œThe Right Speech,â€ Meaning that a Buddhist must avoid anger, lies and gossip to the fullest of their being. The fourth fold is â€œThe Right Action.â€ All Buddhists must act considerately and never hurt living things. This means that they mustÂ eat vegetarian. Number five, â€œThe Right Livelihoodâ€ Means that one must live without more than their basic needs, and that these needs be obtained in a respectful and legal manor. The sixth fold is â€œThe Right Effort.â€ This means that one must stay focused and attuned with both their mind and their body. â€œThe Right Mindfulnessâ€ is the seventh; it speaks of making decisions with a clear mind and before making decisions, knowing the outcome.The eighth and final fold is â€œThe Right Focus.â€ Meaning that one must focus only on wholesome thoughts and ideas at all times. The Middle Way, the first text that the Buddha taught his five disciples, is a short text that states simply, â€œThe most important thing a Buddhist must strive for is finding the medium between self indulgence, and self mortification.â€ Meaning all things should be in moderation so that we can avoid becoming attached, even to the things we enjoy.
These texts, the sutras and all the other lengthy learnings a monk must commit their lives to, have a single goal: to clear your Karma and ascend to the ultimate reality, a place beyond what we can see with our eyes, or even perceive with our minds. The belief in Buddhism is that what is around us is not real, and that if we attach ourselves to this fake existence, we further ourselves from reaching this final, unveiled reality. Karma can be thought of as a sort of moral gauge. If a Buddhist does something wrong or hurtful, their Karma goes toward the bad side. If they do something beneficial and helpful to everyone, their Karma heads toward the good side. So in the end, when they die, if they have committed more wrongdoings than good deeds, their mind is reincarnated so that they may right all of their wrongs and reach the ultimate reality, â€œNirvana.â€ Reaching Nirvana means that their mind will no longer have a physical state. A person who reaches Nirvana is said to experience a unique and different thought process, unlike earthly minds, these experiences are whole and all knowing.
Buddhism is a religion of the mind, a thought process and a moral reminder. To some, Buddhism is a relaxed, casually practiced follow up to their hurried modern lives, and to some it is their life goal to succeed at obtaining a clear Karma and seeing beyond what can be seen. To my brother Harrison, a strong and stubborn atheist, Buddhism would be his first choice if he were religious. None of the other religious â€œBehemothsâ€ (Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) have such an appealing basis â€œIts definitely something I could get behindâ€ says Harrison. In Buddhism, Gods cannot be proven real or disproved as nonexistent, so it leaves it up to belief. Having no reliance on gods allows a much larger demographic to pick up Buddhism in any extreme, highly orthodox or not.
Buddhism is an ancient religion filled with so many lessons that Siddhartha taught, to not be judgmental, to live and coexist with others, to show moderation in all things that you take part in. But the most important lesson that he taught, was that anyone who wishes to learn may do so, and all the world can easily know what Buddhism has to offer.Â So with this information in hand, I hope that you may see Buddhism in a new light, as a religion for many, and a lesson well worth learning by all.
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha.
Massachusetts, Boston: Shambhala, 2000.
Chodron, Thubten. Buddhism for Beginners.
New York, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2001.
Berchloz, Samuel and Kohn, Sherab. The Buddha and his Teachings.
Massachusetts, Boston: Shambhala, 1993.
Landlaw, Jonathan and Bodian, Stephan. Buddhism for Dummies.
New Jersey: Wiley Publication, 2003.