From reincarnation to koans to the selection of the Dali Lama, Buddhism is a fascinating and unique way of life that has some surprises in store for those who do not know it.
Stemming from the ancient teachings of the Buddha, it is currently the 4th largest religion in the world, with more than 495 million adherents, representing 7 percent of the world population spread in almost every country in the world.
While Buddhism may appear to be all about meditation, stillness, and quiet monasteries, it has just as many interesting quirks as the other major belief systems in the world. Let’s explore these quirks by examining 7 facts about Buddhism that will surprise you.
It was started by a prince.
The title “Buddha” refers to an enlightened person who awakened from ignorance and freed himself from suffering. Therefore, there is more than one Buddha.
The historical figure known as the Buddha – the capital “B” – was born near the Ganges basin in ancient North India, in what we know today as Nepal.
Before becoming Buddha, his name was Siddhartha Gautama – his first name meaning “one who achieves his goal” – and he came from a royal family. His life was a life of luxury, sheltered and sheltered from the suffering and violence of the world.
Around the age of 29, Siddhartha witnessed suffering for the very first time on a chariot ride outside his family palace. This had a profound effect on man, and because of it, he subsequently gave up his wealth and royal ties in a quest to find the cause of and end human suffering.
For six years he searched for the best meditation teachers, living a life of denial of his needs, begging for food on the streets. However, this produced in him a feeling of weakness and ill health: he suffered and concluded that it was not so.
After that, he sought the truth of suffering in yogic meditation. But in this, too, he was dissatisfied.
Ultimately, he opted for what Buddhists call the Middle Way – a way of moderation that keeps an individual away from extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
Finally, Siddhartha sat down under a pipal tree, where he swore not to get up until he found the truth. But found that he had done it and that he rose up enlightened after 49 days of meditation, writing down what he had learned, writings which became the basis of Buddhism.
Most modern scholars agree that the historical Buddha was alive between around 563 and 483 BCE. This means that the teachings of Buddhism have been passed down for over 2,500 years.
To give you an idea of how old it was, let’s look at what else happened around the time the Buddha was alive.
Around this time, the contemporary English city of London found its origins amid the swampy waters near the River Thames, in the form of a few dozen huts and a small landing stage built by the Celtic king, Belin. The catapult had also just been invented by the Greeks, and war broke out between Sparta and the city-state of Elis. Jesus, the founder of Christianity, would not have been born for hundreds of years.
From this perspective, it is hard not to be surprised at how long the teachings of the Buddha have been passed down from teacher to teacher.
There is not a single holy book.
Unlike other major world religions, Buddhism does not have a single holy book from which all of its teachings are derived. Instead, there are a great number of texts and teachings, but few are accepted as authentic and authoritative.
Buddhist scriptures are called sutras, which means “thread”. This title indicates that the work is a sermon given by the Buddha, or by one of his disciples, but many have other origins.
There are a multitude of sutras, ranging in size from a few lines to that of a large tome. And beyond that, there are countless fables, rules for monks and nuns, and commentaries.
To complicate matters, Buddhism split into two great schools around 2,000 years ago, becoming what is known today as Theravada and Mahayana. Buddhist scriptures are divided into canons for each of these schools. And, to go even further, the Mahayana cannon is divided between the Chinese cannon and the Tibetan cannon.
Does that sound a bit overwhelming to you? He is. Better read now!
There is no Buddhist god.
A major difference between Buddhism and other major religions is the absence of a central deity.
Siddhartha was only a man, although he was enlightened, and made absolutely no claim to divinity. Buddhists follow his teachings and try to live like him, but they don’t worship him.
Interestingly, the Buddha, unlike the gods of other religions, encourages Buddhists not to take his word for it, but rather to seek out what works for themselves – it is about exploring beliefs, understanding them, and to test these beliefs against experience. .
The Buddha himself explains it best when he writes: “Do not be guided by reports, tradition or hearsay. Do not allow yourself to be guided by the authority of religious texts, nor by simple logic or deduction, 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 some things are unhealthy, bad and bad, then let them go … and when you know that some things are healthy and good, and the wise believe that they are. are, then accept them. and follow them.
It’s Buddhism, it’s more about practice than just having a certain set of dogmatic beliefs.
It is closer to psychology than to religion.
One fact about Buddhism that will surprise you the most is that it is closer to psychology than religion – it really is very practical.
The Buddha could be considered one of the first psychologists, teaching his followers the idea of acceptance – that the world is a certain way, and wishful thinking only leads to sorrow.
One of the main ideas of Buddhism is that suffering comes from greed, mainly from wishing things to be different from what they are. We all wish that disease did not take hold of our bodies. We want money, friends and lovers. We want success and glory. We want and we want, and when the world doesn’t align with those desires, we suffer.
But Siddhartha, in his enlightenment, recognized the futility of this.
Buddhism promotes a state of mind which helps adherents to accept the world as it really is and to abolish destructive urges that lead to anger, grief and suffering.
To do this requires constant attention, a concept that is becoming a huge trend in the field of psychology. Paying attention is simply focusing your attention on the present moment, while avoiding judging your thoughts and feelings as bad or good. It means living totally in the present, and it has proven to be incredibly therapeutic.
One of their leaders is found, not chosen.
Another Buddhist fact that may surprise you concerns the Dali Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
The Dali Lama is found rather than chosen.
It is believed that the Dali Lama has the ability to choose the body in which he reincarnates, which means that each Dali Lama is a reincarnation of the last.
The High Lamas of the Gelupta tradition set out in search of the reborn Dali Lama whenever the previous chief dies. It can take years – it took, in fact, 4 years to find the current Dali Lama, Tensin Gyatso.
When the High Lamas have a vision, the search begins. They meditate at the sacred lake in central Tibet, waiting for signs that might indicate where the new Dali Lama resides.
When the boy is found, the High Lamas conduct a series of secret tests to ensure that he is their true leader reincarnated. choose the right one.
If chosen, the boy, accompanied by his family, is taken to Lhasa, where he studies the Buddhist sutra to prepare for his place as spiritual leader of Tibet.
They study the kōans.
A Buddhist kōan is a paradoxical statement or question that is used in Zen practice to provoke doubt and test progress in Zen practice. Once the solution is found, the kōan is no longer paradoxical and can be understood for what it is: a deeply meaningful statement produced from the state of consciousness it is intended to awaken.
They are usually only a few sentences long. A well-known example is the question of Master Hakuin Ekaku: “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of a hand?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not just absurd statements that suddenly spark “Enlightenment”. They are meant to be resolved creatively, but not in the way our Western minds might expect.
It is not an easy process either. Students meditate on them for a year or more, and in some schools it can take up to 10 years to master all assigned kōans.
At the most basic level, a kōan slowly breaks down a student’s conception of how reality works, allowing him or her to begin to truly “see” through the fog of presuppositions and expectations.
This last Buddhist fact may surprise you simply because of its effectiveness. When paired with a teacher, resolving koans can create immense clarity of mind.
Don’t you believe that? Find a Zen master and try it for yourself. You might just be surprised.
Discover the path to a clearer vision.
Buddhism is very different from its Western stereotypes. It is a lifestyle focused on relieving suffering through a rational, emotional and spiritual journey to clarity. Surprisingly compatible with Western life, Buddhism is all about removing prejudices and assumptions to find out the truth about what reality is.
And these 7 Buddhist facts that will surprise you are just the beginning of this complex and ancient belief system. For more information on the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, go here.