The moment one thinks of Buddhism, what comes to our minds is a monk in maroon clothes with a a shaved head and a rosary in his hands. Undoubtedly, the image seems to have become synonymous with Buddhism, but there is much more to it. Let us look at Buddhism and try and understand this ancient religion.
To begin with the word Buddhism is derived from the word ‘Budhi’ meaning ‘to awaken’. It was around 2500 years ago that Siddhartha Gautama became awakened and began to be known as Buddha. Born in a royal family, Gautama renounced his comfortable life and took to deep meditation and by the age of just 35 he was the enlightened one – ‘The Buddha’. It was in Bodh Gaya (in modern day Bihar) under a peepal tree that this event took place. The religion was simple to follow so many followers joined the religion. As time passed Buddhism spread to Japan, China, Tibet, etc. If we look at the scene today then we will find that Buddhism has more followers in other countries than in India. Looking at the cultural, ethnic and geographical diversity it would not be wrong to say that it is a World Religion.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a practice, a path that takes one towards spiritual enlightenment as it trains a person to see the reality. Meditation is an integral part of this religious practice and is seen as a path that allows one to be more sensitive, aware and wise. The experience of people who have been following the path is an important resource for people seeking enlightenment. According to Buddhism, it is an enlightened mind that is able to see and understand the reality. A Buddha or the enlightened one is free from greed, hatred and ignorance. Enlightenment helps one understand the cause of suffering, the problem itself. The goal of Buddhism is end of suffering.
Is it a religion?
One of the earliest religion, Buddhism does not support the concept of worshipping a God, a creator and as a result it is not considered to be a religion in its strict sense. The basic principles of Buddhism are simple and practical. it recognizes that change is constant and our every act has consequences. These principles appeal to the common man making the practice more acceptable irrespective of race, caste, region, nationality and gender. it appeals to a judicious and a discerning mind.
The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, meaning freedom from the cycle of births and rebirths. Every person who is born, has to suffer and experiences death. The cycle of birth and death can continue till eternity till a person attains nirvana. Belief in nirvana also means that Buddhism believes in the principle of rebirth.
Buddhism gives immense importance to karma. Only those who do good karma have a positive energy around them. Only good karma can take a person closer to god and salvation. Karma can be carried forward from one birth to the next.
The Four Noble Truths
Four noble truths are the basis of Buddhism. The noble truths are –
1. Life means suffering;
2. The origin of all suffering that we have in life is attachment;
3. There is a possibility by which you can stop your sufferings;
4. The path to the ceasing of all the sufferings is mentioned in the Buddhism.
The Eight Fold Path
In addition to the four noble truths, it recommends the eight fold path. This forms the main aspect of the religion. A person who is able to follow the eight fold path, is stepping towards moksha and freedom from the cycle life and death. The eight fold path includes –
- Right understanding
- Right intention
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness and
- Right concentration.
Buddhism uses small stories called Jataka to teach its followers. These tales are short stories like fables. Each story has a moral. They are taken from the past lived of Gautama Buddha. The Jataka tales were originally written in Pali. However, today you can find these in many languages and can also download them online. Today Buddhism has spread across the world. It has divided into many small sects. We have tried to discuss broadly what the Buddhism is. No matter which sect of the Buddhism you follow. These teachings of the religion will continue to remain the same.
Atlas of World Faiths: Buddhism
Religions around the World: Buddhism, Katy Gerner