With between 488 and 535 million practitioners, Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. But what do you really know? If you’re like most, you might associate Buddhism with vague notions of spirituality and the practices of meditation and yoga. But what is it, really?
It started with the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in Nepal about 2,500 years ago. Siddhartha was a member of the royal family of a kingdom on the Indo-Nepal border, and although he had an ostentatious upbringing, he was shocked by his privileged life realizing the truths of aging, disease, suffering and death. This led him to contemplate the meaning of life and the cause of human suffering, eventually prompting him to leave his palace and follow the traditional Indian path of the wandering holy man. He continued to study and master meditation from various teachers, adopting an ascetic lifestyle, believing that one could free the mind and invite understanding by denying the flesh. In vain he abandoned this path, turning to his own mind and intuition for truth – he decided to learn from direct experience. He sat under a pipal for 40 days, when he finally attained Enlightenment. For the rest of his life, the Buddha traveled, imparting his new understanding to others, founding Buddhism.
Buddhists believe that Siddhartha attained a state free from conditions – things like upbringing, psychology, perceptions, opinions, presuppositions, etc. To be enlightened is to be unconditioned, and a Buddha is free from conditioned reactions such as prejudice, hatred, and greed. On the contrary, a Buddha is characterized by wisdom, compassion and freedom. To be a Buddha is to see reality as it really is. The word Buddha, in fact, is a title that means “one who is awakened” – in essence, one who has fully awakened to reality.
Buddhism fits surprisingly well into our contemporary world. Although classified as a world religion, Buddhism, with its emphasis on the nature of our reality, is more akin to the scientific process than to any of the religions. It is a non-theistic belief system – believing in gods, as a Buddhist might say, is not helpful in seeking enlightenment, and therefore Buddhism is more about practice than belief. It is not just about believing in the precepts of Buddhism, but the process of exploring those beliefs, understanding them, and ultimately testing those beliefs against individual experience.
Buddhism sees life as constant change and takes advantage of it by advocating that individuals can change for the better. The path to positive change, for the Buddhist, lies in the mind, through techniques such as meditation, a way to achieve higher levels of focus, calm and awareness of one’s own emotions. By using this higher consciousness, it is then possible to have a better understanding of self, others and life.
The most fundamental encapsulation of the Buddha’s teaching is expressed by the Four Noble Truths, which are as follows.
All existence is dukkha.
Dukkha translates roughly as “suffering” or “dissatisfaction.” A big part of the Buddha’s revelation was that life is a struggle and we do not find ultimate satisfaction in everything we experience. This is the problem of life.
The cause of dukkha is craving.
Humans tend to blame their suffering on external causes, but the Buddha embraced the idea that the real cause lies within – in the mind, specifically. Our propensity to grasp or repel puts us at odds with true reality.
The cessation of dukkha comes with the cessation of craving.
Because we are the ultimate cause of our own suffering, we are also the solution. We cannot change our environment, but we have power over our reactions.
The intellectual position of Buddhism is best summed up by the Buddha himself in the Anguttara Nikaya when he writes: “Now, Kalamas, do not be guided by reports, tradition or hearsay. Do not be guided by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by the consideration of appearances, nor by the pleasure of speculative opinions, nor by apparent possibilities, nor by the idea: “This is our Master”. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, bad and bad, then abandon them… and when you know that certain things are wholesome and good, and the wise believe them to be so, then accept them. and follow them. Again, Buddhism emphasizes personal experience as the path to enlightenment, to finding the cause of suffering, how to end it, and how to find the path that ultimately sets us free from it.
At the heart of Buddhism are three ideals, known as “the three jewels”. These “jewels” are the Buddha, represented by a yellow jewel, the Dharma, a blue jewel, and the Sangha, represented by a red jewel. By making these principles the central tenets of your life, you become a Buddhist.
The Three Jewels are like that.
The Buddha is both the historical Buddha and the ideal of Buddhahood. The Buddhist tradition regards the historical Buddha as their guide and inspiration, and regards him as the ultimate teacher and spiritual example. This idea also means that a practitioner of Buddhism is committed to attaining Buddhahood – enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, by seeing reality exactly as it is, by living in accordance with this vision. This is the goal of Buddhist spiritual life.
The Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha, made up of the truth he has acquired. Dharma means ‘unmediated truth’ and encompasses the Buddhist teachings – the entirety of the scriptures of the Buddhist canon, which is many times longer than even the Bible. Dharma also encompasses the practices described in these scriptures – essentially “learning to do good; stop doing evil; purify the heart.
The third gem is the Sangha, which is simply the Buddhist spiritual community and the teachings, support and friendship of other practitioners. In the most general sense, Sangha means all Buddhists in the world, past and future.
Buddhism, as you can see, is more of a philosophy or a way of life than a religion, but like other religions, it is a path to finding the purpose of life, why suffering arises and how we can separate ourselves from this suffering and attain true happiness. . It is now becoming popular in Western countries because it provides excellent insight into the human spirit and because its teachings can act as a panacea for our contemporary, materialistic lifestyles, which often lead to deep and nebulous dissatisfaction.
If you want to know more, just ask! Although the Buddhist tradition does not encourage evangelism, practitioners are often more than willing to explain and teach. You may just find a nugget of wisdom to incorporate into your own life.