The Buddha. Key Facts

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1 BUDDHISM The Buddha Buddhism is 2,500 years old. Key Facts There are currently 376 million followers worldwide. There are over 150,000 Buddhists in Britain. Buddhism arose as a result of Siddhartha Gautama's quest for Enlightenment in around the 6th Century BC. There is no belief in a personal God. It is not centred on the relationship between humanity and God. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent - change is always possible. The two main Buddhist sects are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, but there are many more. Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. Dharma Wheel Temple Lotus flower

2 Overview Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. There are 376 million followers worldwide. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana, following the path of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who went on a quest for enlightenment around the sixth century BC. There is no belief in a personal god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. The path to enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists believe that life is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These states are called the tilakhana, or the three signs of existence. Existence is endless because individuals are reincarnated over and over again, experiencing suffering throughout many lives. It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering. The history of Buddhism is the story of one man's spiritual journey to enlightenment, and of the teachings and ways of living that developed from it. Siddhartha Gautama Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born into a royal family in present-day Nepal over 2500 years ago. He lived a life of privilege and luxury until one day he left the royal enclosure and encountered for the first time, an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. Disturbed by this he became a monk before adopting the harsh poverty of Indian asceticism. Neither path satisfied him and he decided to pursue the Middle Way - a life without luxury but also without poverty. Buddhists believe that one day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening), Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation and reflected on his experience of life until he became enlightened. By finding the path to enlightenment, Siddhartha was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth towards the path of enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or 'awakened one'. 2

3 Schools of Buddhism There are numerous different schools or sects of Buddhism. The two largest are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada and Mahayana are both rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha, and both emphasise the individual search for liberation from the cycles of samsara (birth, death, rebirth ). The methods or practices for doing that, however, can be very different. Theravada Buddhism Theravada Buddhism is one of the largest subdivisions of Buddhism. The name means the doctrine of the elders - the elders being the senior Buddhist monks. This school of Buddhism believes that it has remained closest to the original teachings of the Buddha. However, it does not over-emphasise the status of these teachings in a fundamentalist way - they are seen as tools to help people understand the truth, and not as having merit of their own. Theravada Buddhism emphasises attaining self-liberation through one s own efforts. Meditation and concentration are vital elements of the way to enlightenment. The ideal road is to dedicate oneself to full-time monastic life. The follower is expected to abstain from all kinds of evil, to accumulate all that is good and to purify their mind. When a person achieves liberation they are called a worthy person - an Arhat or Arahat. Mahayana Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism is not a single group but a collection of Buddhist traditions; Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism are all forms of Mahayana Buddhism. The name means great vehicle or journey. Mahayana talks a great deal about the bodhisattva (the enlightenment being ) as being the ideal way for a Buddhist to live. Anyone can embark on the bodhisattva path. This is a way of life, a way of selflessness; it is a deep wish for all beings no matter who they are, to be liberated from suffering. The majority of Buddhist sects do not seek to proselytise (preach and convert). All schools of Buddhism seek to aid followers on a path of enlightenment. 3

4 Buddhist worship Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. It is not considered essential to go to a temple to worship with others. At home Buddhists will often set aside a room or a part of a room as a shrine. There will be a statue of Buddha, candles, and an incense burner. Temples Buddhist temples come in many shapes. Perhaps the best known are the pagodas of China and Japan. Another typical Buddhist building is the Stupa, which is a stone structure built over what are believed to be relics of the Buddha, or over copies of the Buddha's teachings. Buddhist temples are designed to symbolise the five elements: Fire, Air, Water, Earth, symbolised by the square base; Wisdom, symbolised by the pinnacle at the top. Buddhapadipa Temple, Wimbledon All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha. Buddhist beliefs There are three beliefs central to Buddhism. These are known as the Three Jewels: 1. Belief in the Buddha. 2. Dharma - the teaching of the Buddha. 3. The Sangha - the Buddhist community made up of lay people, monks and nuns. The purpose is to help others and by doing so to cease to become selfish and to move on the way towards enlightenment. One important belief involves reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana a state of liberation and freedom from suffering. There is a belief in a concept called Karma which states that our past actions affect our present and possible future lives. At the heart of the Buddha s teaching lie The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path which lead the Buddhist towards the path of Enlightenment. 4

5 The Four Noble Truths I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That s all I teach, declared the Buddha 2500 years ago. The Four Noble Truths contain the essence of the Buddha's teachings. It was these four principles that the Buddha came to understand during his meditation under the bodhi tree. 1. Life is full of suffering. (Dukkha) 2. There is a cause for suffering. (Samudāya) 3. There is an end to suffering. (Nirodha) 4. In order to end suffering you must follow the middle way or the Eightfold Path. (Magga) The Three Poisons Concerning the question why do we suffer, Buddha s vision under the bodhi tree revealed a very simple response: The Three Poisons. That is, the vices ignorance, greed and hatred. For the Buddha the centrality of these problems is best illustrated by their location at the centre of the Wheel of Samsara, spun by the Buddhist demon of illusion, Mara. They are represented as a Rooster, Pig and Snake. As seen in the picture, the tails of each animal are grasped by the other, with greed and hatred having ignorance as their root. Ignorance is the first and worst of these and is known as the fundamental darkness. The Three Universal Truths Buddha argued that to avoid suffering we must not be ignorant but aware of three things. These are called the Three Universal Truths: Anicca: nothing stays the same in the external world; everything is impermanent and there are no eternal material or immaterial substances. Anatman: nothing stays the same in your internal world. You have no permanent material or immaterial self or soul. Atman is the Sanskrit word for soul Dukkha: If you are ignorant of these truths about impermanence, you will foolishly desire permanent things. But to believe in permanent things is to believe in an illusion. The nature of the universe and human nature is that all things pass away. If you desire, crave or attach to these things as if they were permanent you will suffer. 5

6 The three signs of existence The great tragedy of existence, from a Buddhist point of view, is that it is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These three are called the tilakhana or three signs of existence. Existence is endless because individuals are reincarnated over and over again, experiencing suffering throughout many lives. It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering. Only achieving liberation, or nirvana, can free a being from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Noble Eightfold Path The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to end suffering. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. The first two steps constitute Wisdom. 1. The Right View This is the beginning and the end of the path. Right View understands the teachings on karma and rebirth, the Three Universal Truths, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. However, this is not just an intellectual understanding. Rather it is where you actually feel those things to be true in your heart and they influence the way you see and do things at a day-to-day level; it is a direct insight and penetration into the nature of things. 2. Right Intention Before we do anything we usually think about it; first we develop the INTENTION to do something then we do it. Right Intention means doing things for the right reasons. Instead of thinking about doing things selfishly, a virtuous Buddhist thinks about doing things for others. Instead of thinking about how they can harm others, Buddhists think about how they can help others. Basically, Right Intention is stopping doing things for bad 6

7 reasons and instead doing them for good ones. It is a frame of mind which is selfless, detached and free of malice; that generosity of spirit which extends loving benevolence to all beings. The next three steps on the Eightfold Path constitute ethical conduct. 3. Right Speech Right Speech means (1) not lying, (2) not swearing, (3) not gossiping and (4) not saying things that cause other people to fall out. A Buddhist always tries to do the opposite of these things: he or she tries to tell the truth, to speak pleasantly and about meaningful subjects. Finally, he tries to speak in ways that cause harmony between people. 4. Right Action Right Action means (1) not killing or injuring any living being, (2) not stealing, and (3) not committing sexual misconduct (simply put, this means not being unfaithful to your partner). 5. Right Job/Livelihood A Buddhist must never make their living in a way that is harmful to others. This means that he or she can never work selling (1) weapons, (2) meat, (3) slaves, 4) harmful drugs or (5) poisons. A Buddhist could be a chemist because the drugs he sold would not harm people. He could not own a pub though! The last three steps on the path are those which promote mental discipline. 6. Right Effort Right Effort means making an effort to abandon negative ways of thinking such as proud, angry, or jealous thoughts and instead making an effort to develop positive ways of thinking such as humble, generous or compassionate thoughts. 7. Right Mindfulness To be mindful of something means to remember it. We all have mindfulness but it is usually mindfulness of something meaningless like the pop song we can t stop singing or the girl or boy we can t stop thinking about. Buddhists learn to be mindful of a calm and peaceful state of mind so that when something that causes a strong sense of 'self' suddenly appears to the mind, be it a thought, a feeling, a sensation, or an object, they remember or are mindful of that calm and peaceful state of mind. 7

8 8. Right Meditation Right Meditation is the ability to keep the mind totally concentrated on a calm, peaceful state without becoming distracted. It is very similar to Right Mindfulness, indeed the two work together very closely. While Right Meditation remains focused on the calm and peaceful state, Right Mindfulness notices when the mind starts to get distracted and pulls it back to the object of concentration. By keeping the mind concentrated through Right Meditation, and preventing distraction from arising by practicing Right Mindfulness, a Buddhist gradually dissolves their mind into deeper and deeper states of meditation until eventually they reach Enlightenment. Here, because they have gone beyond the sense of 'self', they achieve the End of Suffering, (the Third Noble Truth). Chiefly this is achieved through meditation. The realms Buddhism has six realms into which a soul can be reborn. From most to least pleasant, these are: Heaven, the home of the gods (devas): this is a realm of enjoyment inhabited by blissful, long-lived beings. The realm of humanity: although humans suffer, this is considered the most fortunate state because humans have the greatest chance of enlightenment. The realm of the Titans or angry gods (asuras): these are warlike beings who are at the mercy of angry impulses. The realm of the hungry ghosts (pretas): these unhappy beings are bound to the fringes of human existence, unable to leave because of particularly strong attachments. They are unable to satisfy their craving, symbolised by their depiction with huge bellies and tiny mouths. The animal realm: this is undesirable because animals are exploited by human beings, and do not have the necessary self-awareness to achieve liberation. Hell realms: people here are horribly tortured in many creative ways, but not for ever - only until their bad karma is worked off. These are not all separate realms, but are interlinked in keeping with the Buddhist philosophy that mind and reality are linked. 8

9 The Wheel of Life These realms are depicted in a diagram known as the Bhavachakra, the Wheel of Life or Wheel of Becoming. The wheel itself is a circle, symbolising the endless cycle of existence and suffering. In the middle of the Wheel are the Three Fires of greed, ignorance and hatred, represented by a rooster, a pig and a snake. These are the cause of all suffering and are shown linked together, biting each other's tails, reinforcing each other. In the next circle out, souls are shown ascending and descending according to their karma. The next ring out is composed of six segments showing the six realms: gods, humans and Titans above and hungry ghosts, animals and those tortured in hell below. The outer ring shows twelve segments called nidanas, illustrating the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination, the chain of causes of suffering. The wheel is held by Yama, the Lord of Death, who symbolises the impermanence of everything. The beings he holds are trapped in eternal suffering by their ignorance of the nature of the universe. Origin of the Universe Buddhism has no creator god to explain the origin of the universe. Instead, it teaches that everything depends on everything else: present events are caused by past events and become the cause of future events. One tale told by the Buddha in the Agganna Sutta describes the process of recreation on this grand scale. An old world-system has just been destroyed, and its inhabitants are reborn in a new system. To begin with they are spirits, floating happily above the earth, luminescent and without form, name or sex. The world in these early stages is without light or land, only water. Eventually earth appears and the spirits come to taste and enjoy it. Their greed causes their ethereal bodies to become solid and coarse and differentiate into male and female, good-looking and ugly. As they lose their luminescence the sun and moon come into being. Gradually the beings fall into further wicked habits, causing themselves - and the earth itself - to become less pleasant. In this way, the Buddha seems to be saying, desire, greed and attachment not only cause suffering for people but also cause the world to be as it is. 9

10 The Bhavachakra, the Wheel of Life or Wheel of Becoming 10

11 Glossary of terms Anatman: not-self; self or ego is not real. Anicca: change, impermanence. Arahant: worthy one, a name for the Budhha. Asceticism: the practice of extreme self-denial. Bhavachakra: the wheel of life. Buddha: awakened or enlightened one. Devas: gods. Dharma: teachings of the Buddha. Dukkha: the teaching which says life is full of suffering. Impermanence: the belief that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. Karma: a belief that our past actions affect this and future lives. Mahayana: means great vehicle or journey. A collection of Buddhist traditions. Nirvana: freedom from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Reincarnation: a belief that a person comes back to life in different forms. Samsara: cycle of life, death and rebirth. Shrine: holy/sacred place. Stupa: stone structure believed to contain relics or copies of the teachings of the Buddha. Theravada: means the doctrine of the elders. One of the largest branches of Buddhism. Tilakhana: the three signs of existence. Yama: the Lord of Death. 11

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