A statue of the Buddha, photo courtesy of: http://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/buddha.html
Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy of life that began in North East India between 6th and 4th centuries BCE. One of the main differences between Buddhism and the majority of the world's other major religions is that it does not focus on a relationship between humans and a higher being. Many Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being.
The tenants of Buddhism are based on the teaching and philosophies attributed to Siddhartha Gautama (most commonly known as the Buddha.) Gautama was born in modern day Nepal into a rich family, as a son and prince of his father King Suddhodana. It was prophesied when he was very young that he would either become a great king or an important Holy man. Gautama grew up very wealthy and very protected from the harsh realities of life that many people experienced, such as poverty and hunger. He decided at the age of 29 to go on a spiritual quest to find out the true path to happiness. It is believed that he watched his family live with such wealth, but that they were not happy. Gautama decided to follow the teachings of several different holy men to learn what they knew about suffering and truth. Through his journey of faith he tried living an extremely impoverished life by giving up possessions and food for extended periods of time. Gautama felt that this was not the way to peace, that whether he had great wealth or lived in extreme poverty, he was not able to find contentment and peace in his life.
Picture courtesy of http://srimahabodhi.org/rain-maker2.htm
"At the age of 35, he (Gautama) famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree - known as the Bodhi tree - in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days he finally destroyed the fetters of his mind, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth and arose to a fully enlightened being. Soon thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, traveling throuout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India."
-- Cited from Wikipedia article "Buddhism" on 3/30/2010.
Buddism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world today. Below are three central core beliefs of Buddhism, also called "The Three Jewels":
- Believing that Buddha existed.
- Believing in the teachings of the Buddha, called "Dharma".
- Encouraging the following and study of Buddha in "Sangha" -or- as one community made up of both monks, nuns, and ordinary people. The purpose of focusing on a community aspect of believing and worship to to become less selfish and to help others.
"The Enlightened Buddha." Photo courtesy of: http://home.swipnet.se/ratnashri/ buddhalife.htm
Buddha's teachings are often divided into three wellknown parts:
- The 3 Signs of Being:
- Dukkha - The understanding that life is not perfect and that there will always be discomfort.
- Anikka - The understanding that everything in life is always changing. Nothing is static.
- Anatta - Buddha taught that there is not a soul but that people will be reincarnated. Buddha believed that Karma -or- the person's "life force" would be the determining factor as to how the next life would be lived, good or bad.
- The Four Noble Truths:
- Dukkha - That all types of suffering (physical, emotional, psychological, sickness, death, etc..) will always be present in life.
- Samudaya - That suffering is caused by unneccesary desires, such as physical or emotional cravings and/or the need to be in complete control.
- Nirodha - That there is ultimately an end to suffering. Buddha taught that people can overcome desires which cause suffering and live a life of contentment and happiness. Once a person has found true happiness, that is considered finding "Nirvana."
- The Noble Eight-fold Path:
Buddha believed that the ultimate way to true happiness and contentment was finding a middle ground or a middle path instead of living a life of extremes. The eight-fold path consists of "right" actions and thoughts for people to practice in their daily life that Buddha believed would help them to find the middle path and to attain "Nirvana" and end suffering.
- Right view (or understanding)
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfullness
- Right Contemplation
There are as many different types of Buddhism. Many countries, especially in the east have their own Buddhist customs and traditions. Three of the major types of Buddhism consist of:
- Theraveda Buddhism: mostly practiced in Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India
- Mahayana Buddhism: found mostly in China, Japan, and Korea
- Vajrayana Buddhism: found mostly in Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, and Mongolia, and also India
Some symbols of Buddhism include:
- The eight spokes of a wheel - This represents the Eight-fold path to enlightenment, along with the cyclic symbolism of the never ending circle of life, death, and rebirth.
- The Lotus flower - A lotus flower grows in mud at the bottom of a pond. The flower rises to the top and blooms beautifully above the mud. Buddha believe that this is how people should live, that they should rise above the causes of suffering, and that they should also be reminded that flowers are beautiful and fragrant, but that as with all life, they will wilt and eventually die.
Some facts about Buddhism:
- The sacred text of Buddist followers is called the Tripitaka, and it is written in an ancient Indian language called Pali. It is believed that this is similar to the language that Buddha spoke.
- Most Buddhists do not worship any type of superior being or God. Worship is often conducted at home with meditation and/or reading from Buddhist holy books. Followers may have shrines in their homes with a statue of Buddha decorated with offerings to show their love of Buddha and his teachings.
- Images and/or statues of Buddha often have many symbols regarding different aspects of who Buddha was. For instance a round mark on Buddha's forehead is symbolic of a 3rd eye, or being able to see things that ordinary people could not. Another common sign is the Bohdi tree which represents enlightenment.
Major festivals and Holy days of Buddhism include:
- The Buddhist New Year, celebrated at different times depending which country you are in and what the traditional type of Buddhism is followed. Most common celebrations are in January, April, or March
- Vesak, or traditionally known as Buddha's birthday. This is celebrated on the first full moon day in May.
- Sangha Day. This day celebrates the Buddha's visit to Veruvana Monastery in the city of Rajagaha, when 1,250 arhats are said to have spontaneously returned from their wanderings to pay their respects to the Buddha. Celebrated on the first full moon day of March.
For more information about Buddhism and it's founder Siddhartha Gautama: please visit the following website which were also used as references for this article:
Materials at ECU Libraries