Buddhism

It has been said that “as Judaism is to Christianity, so is Hinduism is to Buddhism.” Buddhism arose out of Hinduism as a direct result of the influence of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or “Enlightened One; the religious worldview of the Buddhist is very similar to the Hindu worldview, but it is important to recognize that Buddhism is very much distinct from Hinduism.

Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion, comprising around 6% of the world’s population. The 350,000,000 adherents to the religion are found mainly in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indochina, Korea, and Tibet. There are around 800,000 Buddhists in the U.S.

Siddhartha Gautama
The Period of Enjoyment:
Siddhartha was born into the warrior caste in the town of Kapilavastu, which at the time was in northeastern India but is now part of Nepal. Tradition says that Siddhartha’s father sought to shelter his son from the suffering of this world (sickness, old age, death, poverty) – for it was foretold that Siddhartha would be a great spiritual leader, and his father wanted to secure his son’s political future. One day however, Siddhartha ventured away from his family’s palace and encountered all four kinds of suffering – a man wracked by disease, a man decrepit with old age, a corpse, and a monk begging for money. This experience had a profound effect on Siddhartha, as it caused him to take a negative view of his wealth and social status and he became deeply concerned with the problem of suffering.

The Period of Enquiry:

As a result of this experience, Siddhartha left his family (including a wife and a child); he sought to discover the source of suffering and how to eliminate it. Siddhartha took on the life of an ascetic; his meditation on the cessation of suffering was not successful. He then resolved to live on next to nothing. After almost drowning while bathing (he was so weak he could not resist the current of the river), he realized that one has to give the body what is natural and necessary, for while excess is an obstruction to the attainment of enlightenment, so to is selfdeprecation. The “middle path” as he called it is the mean between excess and defect.

Siddhartha cont.
The Period of Enlightenment:
After eating to regain his strength, Siddhartha walked to the city of Bodh Gaya, where he sat under a fig tree (the “Bodhi Tree”) and vowed that he would not rise again until he had attained enlightenment. During this deep state of meditation, Siddhartha was severely tempted by Mara, the evil one. After some period of time (some say one night, while others argue for as many as forty-nine), Siddhartha was awakened to the truth, or enlightened; Buddhists call this Nirvana. After sharing his findings with others, it became clear that what Siddhartha had discovered was truly revolutionary. In short, the teachings of Siddhartha challenged Hinduism in the following ways:

* Questioned the authority of the Brahmin class * Rejected all caste divisions * Condemned the developing philosophies regarding “religion” (according to Siddhartha, it is only what one does, not what one believes, that matters). * No God, nor any specific ritual, can bring enlightenment

The Four Noble Truths
Suffering Exists (Life is Suffering): Desire Causes Suffering:
Humans sleep away their lives in senseless and self-centered preoccupations; this self-centeredness only leads to pain, misery, sorrow, and unfulfillment. The need to refer all things to ourselves causes suffering. We suffer because our ego dupes us into believing that we need that which is not permanent (body, perspective, emotion, feeling, impulse are all very real – it is our linking of these realities to a “self” that is incorrect).

Cessation of Desire Brings the Cessation of Suffering:

One must see things as they really are, not simply as they are for ourselves. Rather than absorb everything into the ego for our own pleasure, we must allow our connection with reality to cause an outward flow – a universal compassion toward all living creatures. This is not a belief, it is an action.

The Cessation of Desire Is Found Through the Eightfold Path:
The observance of the truths of the Eightfold Path is at the heart of the Buddhist life.

The Eightfold Path
Wisdom
1) 2) Right View – know the truth Right Intention – resist self-centeredness

Ethical Conduct
3) 4) 5) Right Speech – refrain from unkind, negative speech Right Action – respect all life Right Livelihood – work for the good of others

Mental Discipline
6) 7) 8) Right Effort – exert oneself in freeing the mind of evil (egocentric thought) Right Awareness – elevate one’s thoughts beyond the haze of emotion and mood Right Meditation – practice the discipline of meditation

Nirvana: The Result of the Eightfold Path
Although Buddha’s immediate goal was to eliminate the cause of suffering, his ultimate goal was to become liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth. This was to be accomplished by teaching how we can cease craving and thereby eliminate our attachment to and beliefs in the existence of the illusory self (that is, the self tied to existence here on earth). When we are successful in eliminating such attachment, then the effects of karma cease to matter because all is seen for what it is – no longer are we tied to the longings of the earth. At that moment, the moment of enlightenment, the person achieves the state of nirvana – the ultimate goal of the Buddhist, and Buddhism’s equivalent of salvation or heaven.
The Wheel of Life, otherwise called the Cycle of Samsara (material existence) explains this process of death and rebirth. In the very center, there is a rooster chasing a pig chasing a snake chasing the rooster -- craving, hatred, and ignorance. Around that are people ascending the white semicircle of life, and others descending the black semicircle of death. The greatest portion of the Wheel is devoted to representations of the six realms -- the realm of the gods, the realm of the titans, the realm of humans, the realm of animals, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of demons -- each realm looked over by its own boddhisattva. The outermost circle is the 12 steps of dependent origination.

Wheel of Samsara

Mahayana & Theravada
Those Buddhists who believe that enlightenment is accessible to everyone are referred to as Mahayana Buddhists (the greater vehicle). The Mahayana’s are more likely to deify Buddha, making him available to all. Those who said that enlightenment is only attainable for a committed few and that Buddha was only a man and not a god (monks, for example) are called Hinayana Buddhists (the lesser vehicle). Those in the Hinayana tradition also tend to place more emphasis on the sacredness of scriptures. Being offended by the term Hinayana, they began to refer to themselves as Theravada Buddhists, which means “teaching of the elders.” The difference between the two is best illustrated in the difference between the Bodhisattva and the Arahat. * The Bodhisattva has forgone Nirvana in order to take the whole of mankind with him into Nirvana. This person lives in service to all who live – according to Buddhist tradition the Bodhisattva sees no individual persons, yet is resolved to save every individual; for enlightenment is not a higher, superior point of view, it is the total eradication of point of view in order to accept all. * The Arahat, on the other hand, is of the belief that enlightenment is only a personal process that must be worked out by each individual – to “forgo” Nirvana is not possible, for one never knows when he/she had reached Nirvana; it would be odd for one who had ceased to have a concept of self, who is free from self-consciousness, to think to himself that he has reached Nirvana.

The Dalai Lama
Today’s Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation of one of the original Bodhisattvas. He is the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet. In a recent speech in London, in front of many religious leaders of varying religions, the Dalai Lama said:

“For some people, religions which are based on belief in a Creator God have the most powerful effect on their ethical life and serve to motivate them to act in an ethical and sound way. However, this might not be the case for every person. For others, the Buddhist tradition, which does not emphasize belief in a Creator, may be more effective. In the Buddhist tradition, there is an emphasis on a sense of personal responsibility and action rather than on the understanding of a transcendent being who cannot be understood. It is crucial to recognize that both spiritual traditions share the common goal of producing a human being who is fully realized, spiritually mature, good , and warm-hearted. There has always been and there will always be diversity in human disposition…what we must seek is understanding.”

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