Created: Jul 09, 2022 08:00
Faith followed by 400 million: a large bronze statue of Buddha sits on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island
This month’s article on faith is a look at the Buddhist religion.
Although its local community is much smaller than the other religions we have featured, Buddhism is actually one of the largest religions in the world and is considered among the 12 dominant religious beliefs.
Buddhism originated in ancient India in the 6th century BCE. It is based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama.
Gautama was a spiritual teacher in South Asia and is considered a “fully enlightened” being who taught the path to spiritual freedom, also known as nirvana.
Gautama was born into a wealthy family as a prince in present-day Nepal. He became aware of the suffering of humanity, renounced his wealth and became a monk. Gautama spent his time meditating and traveling, depriving himself of material possessions in the hope that he would be able to better understand the truth of the world around him.
This search for truth culminated in a deep meditation experience where he is believed to have attained enlightenment, or nirvana, under a Bodhi tree – the tree of enlightenment – in the city of Bihar, India.
From this epiphany, Gautama became known as “Buddha”, or “the enlightened one”.
Buddha spent the rest of his life traveling through India and teaching others what he had learned. His followers became known as Buddhists.
His teachings can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths:
• Dukkha: All life is imperfect and involves suffering.
• Samudāya: the cause of suffering is desire.
• Nirodha: Suffering can end.
• Magga: the way to end suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path – right understanding; good intention; good speech; Good deed; good livelihood; right effort; right attention; good focus.
In simple terms, these teachings explain that suffering exists, has a cause, and can end with a specific intentional action. These truths constitute the essence of Buddha’s teachings, but also leave much unexplained.
There are, however, guiding principles that Buddhists adhere to in order to lead a morally good life and help achieve enlightenment. These principles are known as the Five Precepts and include:
• Refrain from taking life. Do not kill any living thing, including animals. Thus, many Buddhists choose a vegetarian lifestyle.
• Refrain from taking what is not given. Don’t steal from anyone.
• Abstain from the abuse of the senses. Not having too much sensual pleasure.
• Refrain from erroneous speech. Do not lie or gossip about others.
• Abstain from intoxicants that cloud the mind. Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs that inhibit your ability to think clearly.
These precepts are considered important for eliminating human suffering and attaining nirvana, which is the main goal of Buddhism.
Another fundamental element of faith is the principle of karma. Karma is basically the sum of a person’s actions that will decide his future fate. Although it is now a common term used by people of various beliefs, karma is deeply connected to the Buddhist cycle of rebirth.
Buddhists believe that when someone dies, they are reborn in another form. How they are reborn depends on their actions in a past life. Humans go through an unknown number of cycles of rebirth over many lifetimes that can span six realms – the realm of the gods, the realm of the angry gods, the realm of the animals, the realm of the tormented being, the realm of the hungry ghost, the realm of humans.
Buddhism is a unique world religion because it does not recognize a divine creator or supreme being. She accepts the existence of celestial beings, but these beings are not considered creator or eternal. As such, it is often referred to as a non-theistic religion, a huge contrast to monotheistic and polytheistic religions.
While an ancient Eastern belief system, Buddhism spread to the Western world through immigration and grew in popularity. It particularly appeals to people who have an agnostic or atheistic worldview and who are more concerned with living a moral life than achieving eternal life or salvation.
This heightened interest in faith comes at a time when many people are suffering. Over the past two decades in particular, Buddhism has seen an increase in acceptance in Western culture, as meditation and mindfulness have become impactful mental health practices.
Simple practices, such as becoming aware of your breath and thoughts through meditation, are also fundamental Buddhist teachings and have scientifically proven mental and physical health benefits.
Aside from its recent popularity, Buddhism is indeed an interesting and thought-provoking set of beliefs with around 400 million adherents spread across the globe. We hope to share the stories of those within the Buddhist faith in our local community.