“Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religions for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology, it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.” (Albert Einstein) Known as one of the world’s great religions, it is professed by over 3500,000,000 people, most of whom live in the Far East. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddharta Gautama, who is more commonly known as Buddha, the “Enlightened One”. It was developed during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE around 535 BCE, which was the date Siddharta Gautama reached enlightenment and became the Buddha. The Buddhist doctrine of tolerance, pacifism, and the spiritual equality of all men has been a great civilizing influence in the far East. It has adapted itself to the impact of the West, and its insights have in turn influenced many Western thinkers. Buddhism is based on a rational analysis of man’s condition, and it attempts to show the way to salvation.
The beliefs of Buddhist are called dharma. The monks and nuns or sometimes the whole Buddhist community is called the sangha. The primary goal of a Buddhist is to reach nirvana, the state of perfect bliss and happiness reached by those who have achieved enlightenment. Enlightenment is like the waking from a dream and seeing things as they really are and the truth behind everything. The Buddha himself knew from his own experiences that happiness does not come from great luxury nor from great hardship. This is incorporated into the four noble truths, which are the most important part of Buddha’s teachings. Their life is full of unhappiness, unhappiness is caused by greed, there is a way to end unhappiness, and the way to end unhappiness is the Middle Path. The Middle Path is also called the noble Eightfold Path because the eight spokes of the dharma-wheel represents the eight steps of the path. These steps are not separate, but they work together. They are right understanding (of the Buddhist teachings), right attitude (thinking kind thoughts), right speech (not telling lies or using angry words), right action (not harming any person or animal), right work (which does not make others suffer), right effort (thinking before you act), right mindfulness (being alert and aware), and right meditation (for a calm, focused, mind). Buddhists try to live a selfish life, in order to escape from the cycle of death and rebirth in reaching nirvana. To exemplify this, they use the story of a house burning with three fires of hatred, greed, and ignorance which make the people unhappy. Chanting, meditating, and being kind to others all help to reduce the fires. When all three fires are extinguished, and unhappiness ends, there is nirvana.
The Wheel of Life, which serves an important symbol for Buddhists, represents the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth which is always turning like a wheel. In the center of the circle, there are three animals which stand for hatred, greed, and confusion. These stand in the way of a person’s enlightenment. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha himself, the dharma, or the Buddha’s teaching, and the sangha, or Buddhist community. For Buddhists, lotus flowers are symbols of goodness and purity because lotuses grow in water, but their flowers rise above the mud to bloom on the surface of the water. In comparison, people can rise above the trials and tribulations of life and achieve enlightenment. Buddhists live by a set of guidelines, which are like things to avoid, in which they call the Five Precepts or Promises. These are not to harm of kill any living thing (because of this, some Buddhists choose to be vegetarians), not to steal or take anything that is not freely given, to control sexual desire, to refrain from telling lies, and not to drink or take drugs.
The Buddhist religion is polytheistic. Buddhists do not believe in an all powerful God who created the world and watches over it. Neither is Buddha worshiped as a god, but as a human being who gained enlightenment. The Mahayana Buddhists also worship bodhisattvas, which are perfect, god-life figures who have gained enlightenment and so could now enter nirvana. Instead, they choose to be reborn and to stay in the world to help other people overcome their problems and gain enlightenment. In Buddhist temples and shrines, images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas remind people that they too can gain enlightenment, and they help them to think about the Buddha’s teachings.
Many of the most sacred and special places of Buddhism are those connected with events in the Buddha’s life. This includes Lumbini in Nepal, where the Buddha was born. Also, three places in India which are Bodh Gaya, where he achieved enlightenment, Sarnath, where he taught for the first time, and Kushinagara, where he died. Buddhist worship on any day and whenever they wish, but especially on full moon days and some festivals. Meditation is also important for Buddhists. They believe that training their minds will help them understand and ‘rise above’ ordinary thoughts and bring them closer to enlightenment. A place Buddhist worship is at their own home on their own. They build a shrine in a room or part of a room. When they visit the temple, Buddhists show their love and respect for Buddha by bowing in front of his image, reciting the Three Jewels, and making offerings. Many Buddhists visit temples and monasteries to chant, make offerings, and listen to talks given by the monks. They worship in front of a shrine containing an image of Buddha surrounded by incense, candles, and flowers.
Until the first century BCE, Buddha’s teachings were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Then, about 320 years after his death, they were finally written down in the ancient language of Pali. These writings were called Pali Canon, which was also known as the Tripitaka, and became sacred texts of the Theravada Buddhists. The Tripitaka, or Three Baskets, is believed to be the most accurate record of what the Buddha actually taught. The first basket, or section, contains rules for monks and nuns to follow. The second contains the dharma, or teachings of Buddha. The third basket contains writings that explain his teaching. Mahayana Buddhists have their own set of scriptures, and many are called sutras. These use parables and stories to explain difficult parts of Buddha’s teaching and to reveal his life.
There are some important leaders of Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama, the original Buddha, developed the teachings. Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism to live the life with ideals of compassion and non-violence after remorse for his bloody battles. He built pillars in places sacred to Buddhism. The Dalai Lamas could be considered leaders because they were the heads of the government, and the religious leaders of the Buddhist people. They travel the world, campaigning for peace and freedom for his country, Tibet.
Buddhism is based on the four noble truths and how to achieve nirvana enlightenment. They have a set of guidelines known as the Five precepts, which is with according to what Buddha has said, “Not to do any evil, to cultivate the good, to purify one’s mind.” Buddha taught people not to follow what he said blindly, but rather people must think and test things out for themselves. Before you can help other people, you need to have a better understanding of yourself.