In this series on minority religions, Tuesday’s column skimmed through some bizarre aspects. Today takes us more mainstream.
Albert Einstein had this to say about Buddhism:
“Buddhism has the characteristics of what one would expect of a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal god, avoids dogma and theology. It covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense that aspires to experience all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.”
Buddhism is the world‘s fourth largest religion, with over 520 million adherents worldwide. They make up about 1% of Americans.
Buddhism began with Indian prince-turned-monk Siddhartha Gautama around 500 BC. AD, a man who gave up his throne, his family and his wealth to see the suffering in the world and develop a philosophy to make it better. The title “Buddha” means “one who has awakened”.
Not all Buddhists see Buddhism as a religion, saying it’s more of a philosophy of life – especially here in the United States. Most people around the world practice it as a religion with hierarchies of rulers (led by the 14th Dalai Lama) and religious practices.
Buddhism does not prohibit any approach.
Like Jesus, Buddha never wrote down his teachings, but in his case, his students wrote down his words at the same time during his lifetime – five centuries before Jesus was born. Since then, Buddhist scholars have written describing its various beliefs and practices – the most popular of course being the many co-authored bestsellers of the current Dalai Lama.
One of the keys to understanding Buddhism, and the root of much of its misunderstanding, is the lack of hero worship. Buddha himself said to his student, “Do not follow me,” emphasizing that worshiping others is not the path to enlightenment. Buddhists believe that enlightenment is found only within and that the journey is individual. Other religions are generally not seen as false, but simply as different paths to potential enlightenment.
The Buddhist path involves four “noble truths”, in simple terms:
• Dukkha: Suffering is universal.
• Samudaya: The cause of suffering is desire (to have or control things or people).
• Nirodha and Magga: Suffering ceases by giving up desires.
To better acquire wisdom and self-awareness or mindfulness, Buddhists believe in meditating and increasing acts of kindness. Mindfulness leads to the identification of truth, self-knowledge, and freedom from negative thoughts and suffering. There is also the concept of karma – that every act has an effect on oneself and on others. There is neither heaven nor hell in Buddhism, but one can attain nirvana – a state of freedom from suffering.
As Buddhism has developed over the centuries, other beliefs and practices have been introduced by its followers, which vary by country/culture. Among these is the idea of reincarnation – something Buddha did not mention. Buddhists who believe in reincarnation believe that the body taken in the next life depends on the knowledge and enlightenment gained in the previous one.
On this measure, next time I will probably come back as a pea plant.
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Sholeh Patrick is a lawyer and columnist for the Hagadone News Network who wouldn’t mind the simple life of a pea plant. Email [email protected]