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Buddhism Basics

Buddhism Basics

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Published by Alan Bruce
Buddhism in a nutshell.
Buddhism in a nutshell.

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Published by: Alan Bruce on Mar 21, 2008
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07/09/2010

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Central to Buddhism is the Buddha’s realisation of four truths namely that (1) life issuffering, (2) suffering is caused by craving, (3) suffering can have an end, and (4)there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. The first truth may seempessimistic, a common criticism of Buddhism, but the Sanskrit word dukkha can betranslated as ‘dissatisfaction’, which is perhaps easier to accept. It refers to the factthat life is often difficult. The human body is prone to illness and ultimately death andwhile life has many pleasures, none are permanent. Even in a happy, healthy life, aperson can sometimes feel disappointed in his relationships, work or hobbies. The reason a person suffers, according to Buddhism, is because they crave ‘good’and reject ‘bad’ experiences too strongly. The greatest human desire is to exist andwhen something threatens a person's survival they naturally feels anxious. On amuch smaller scale a person's everyday expectations of pleasure, if disappointed,can cause mild suffering too. That’s not to say that all desire is wrong. Buddhism uses two terms to describecraving: tanha refers to desire that has become perverted, excessive or misdirected,while chanda describes having positive goals for oneself and wishing happiness forothers. The Buddha suggested that once a person accepts the fact of suffering they can setin motion a process to end it. To end suffering is to attain the state of nirvana, thecessation of greed, hatred and delusion. He set out a path which, if followed, can leadfrom suffering and rebirth to nirvana. The Eightfold Path This is also known as the ‘middle way’ because it takes a moderate course avoidingboth indulgence and austerity. The eight elements of the path fall into threecategories: wisdom, morality and meditation, and are designed to cultivateintellectual, moral and mental virtues respectively.In cultivating wisdom, according to Buddhism, one must have (1) RightUnderstanding and (2) Right Resolve, which mean accepting Buddhist teachings andmaking a serious commitment to them. To develop morality one must cultivate three habits. (3) Right Speech means notlying and always speaking thoughtfully. (4) Right Action means physically acting in aresponsible way by not stealing, killing or over-indulging in sensual pleasures. (5)Right Livelihood means making a living in a way that does not negatively affectothers.Meditation is a central part of Buddhist practice and requires more attention than canbe given here. In short, it is controlling one’s mind to induce altered states of consciousness from general calmness to deeper states of reflection that may result inspiritual insight. (6) Right Effort means attempting to gain control of one’s thoughtsand (7) Right Mindfulness is cultivating awareness. Both are practiced not only inperiods of formal meditation but in everyday life, too. Finally (8) Right Meditation isthe practice of certain techniques, usually in a formal situation, which are designed toinduce deeper levels of consciousness.While Buddhism rejects the idea of a soul, the craving that causes our suffering inthis life also propels us on to new lives. An addiction to pleasure creates amomentum whose energy is so great it does not cease at death but continues itssearch for fulfilment into the next life. While to some this is a comforting notion,

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