The essential focus of the teachings of Buddhism is the preciousness of life itself and the importance of valuing the life of not only ourselves but also the people around us.
Siddhartha Gautama, Prince of the Shakya tribe was born in Lumbini, Southern Nepal in 563 BC (or thereabouts). Becoming deeply troubled by what he saw as the four inescapable sufferings of human life (birth, old age, sickness and death), he left his home to embark on a spiritual search to discover the fundamental cause of suffering (dukkha) and its solution. After going through a life of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment to the true nature of life, whilst sat in deep meditation under a pipal tree in Bodh Gaya, India. He then became known as Shakyamuni (sage of the Shakya tribe), Buddha (awakened or enlightened one).
Shakyamuni then set out on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death (Samsara) and reach the blissful state of supreme peace (Nirvana).
In his first sermon the Buddha encapsulated his wisdom into the Four Noble Truths, these are:
- All of life is marked by suffering;
- Suffering is caused by desire and attachment;
- Suffering can be eliminated;
- Suffering is eliminated by following the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path is Right beliefs; Right aspirations; Right speech; Right conduct; Right livelihood; Right effort; Right mindfulness; Right meditational attainment. His teachings are called the Dharma and were later compiled into sutras.
No of Buddhist Centres in Calderdale
Accounts of his life, discourses, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarised after his death and memorised by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later at the fourth Buddhist Council. The entire writing was collected in three baskets and given the name of Tipitaka or the Pali Canon (Tripitaka in Sanskrit). It comprises of three Pitakas, namely Vinaya Pitaka (the rules for the monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha’s discourses) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological systemisation of the Buddha’s teachings).
WHAT DO BUDDHISTS BELIEVE
Buddhism is known as the religion of Peace. The followers of Buddhism do not worship any God and follow the noble eightfold path in some form to lead a meaningful existence. Buddhism like most of the great religions of the world, is divided into a number of different traditions. However, those traditions share a common set of fundamental beliefs.
One fundamental belief of Buddhism is often referred to as reincarnation — the concept that people are reborn after dying. In fact, most individuals go through many cycles of birth, living, death and rebirth. A practicing Buddhist differentiates between the concepts of rebirth and reincarnation. In reincarnation, the individual may recur repeatedly. In rebirth, a person does not necessarily return to Earth as the same entity ever again. He compares it to a leaf growing on a tree. When the withering leaf falls off, a new leaf will eventually replace it. It is similar to the old leaf, but it is not identical to the original leaf.
The eternity of life gives rise to another belief, that of Karma, a Sanskrit word which means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect) in either this or a future lifetime.
Buddhism teaches that suffering derives from karma, the causes that we ourselves have created. The Buddhist teaching of karma is one of personal responsibility. It is therefore our responsibility to transform our sufferings into value-creating experiences. The Buddhist view of karma is not fixed or fatalistic–even the most deeply entrenched karmic patterns can be transformed.
The Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sutra states:
“If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present”.
By taking a difficult situation and using it as an opportunity to deepen our sense of personal responsibility, we can gain and develop the kind of self-knowledge from which benefit flows. Buddhism teaches that self-knowledge ultimately is awareness of our own infinite potential, our capacity for inner strength, wisdom and compassion. This infinite potential is referred to as our “Buddha nature.” the power of wisdom, compassion, courage and life force is inherent in all living beings.
SPREAD OF BUDDHISM
Asoka, the first Buddhist Emperor was the ruler of the Magadhan Empire. Initially a ruler obsessed with the aim of expanding his empire, he changed after witnessing the brutal carnage at the battle of Kalinga. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. He laid the foundation of numerous stupas and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha throughout the world. Emperor Asoka sent his son, Mahindra, to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism in the state. He succeeded in converting the King of Sri Lanka to Buddhism and soon, Buddhism became the state religion of the country.
Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous movements and divisions, such as Theravada and Mahayana.
Buddhism is divided into two main sects, these are Theravada (earlier teachings of Shakyamuni and Mahayana which Shakyamuni taught in the later years of his life. Mahayana Buddhism emerged and grew between 150 BCE and 100 CE. With the rise of this sect, new sutras emerged. The most significant ones are the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.
Mahayana Buddhism and New Scriptures
The period between third and seventh century CE saw the establishment of a new form of Buddhism, which emerged out of the Mahayana sect. This form came to be known as Tantra, Mantrayana and Vajrayana. Tantras emphasized on the bodhisattva ideal and empathy for all beings. At the same time, it also laid stress on drawing of mandalas or ‘magic’ circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras, the recitation of phrases known as mantras and visualizations. It was also believed that one needs an experienced teacher or guru to learn the teachings of Lord Buddha.
Although all practices of Buddhism vary according to the tradition followed they will certainly have the following:
Three Jewels/Three Refuges/ Three Treasures:
- The Buddha
- The Sangha (monastic community) or maybe a lay organisation like Soka Gakkai International or the Western Buddhist Order. These would contain a meditation and a study programme, if monastic they would also have retreats.
- The Dharma (truth or teachings)
Buddhism is a path of spiritual development that helps a person in finding the true nature of life. Socrates said “know thyself”, through their Buddhist faith and practice, Buddhists do just that by transforming their inner lives and developing the qualities needed to bring about personal fulfilment and contribute to the positive development of society. Buddhism emphasises on experiencing and changing that which causes us to suffer by taking responsibility for it (by not blaming others this empowers us to change our circumstances). It considers meditation as the means to enlightenment and is based on a number of principles. For instance in early Buddhism followers were encouraged to let go of their desires as life was impermanent, however Mahayana Buddhism encourages the principle of ‘turning desires into enlightenment”, necessary for the understanding and changing of oneself. Meditation can be silent or by means of a chant. Buddhism does not advocate blind faith so studying the teachings and putting them into practice is imperative. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha states for the first time that everyone has the state of Buddha within them. The main purpose of Buddhist practice therefore is to recognise the Buddha in ourselves and in others and to make the Buddha state (highest state of life) our most dominant life state – that is a state based on total respect for one’s own life and the life of others.
CURRENT STATUS OF BUDDHISM IN THE WORLD
Today, Buddhism has spread to almost all the countries of the world, and is the fourth largest religion with the population of Buddhists estimated to be close to 4 million. Out of these, almost half the number practice Mahayana tradition. The largest population of Buddhists are in China, while Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have the highest proportion of Buddhists in their population. The religion is also becoming quite widespread in America, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Soka Gakkai International, the lay organisation of Nichiren Buddhism is the fastest growing peace movement of its kind in the west. www.sgi-uk.org
Finally, Albert Einstein said that “if there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism”.
Buddhism – A complete Guide – Jack M Driver
Various web sites
To find a local Buddhist group, google Buddhism in Calderdale.