Buddhism is a living evangelical faith with millions of followers in the world today. As a reform movement within Hinduism, Buddhism walks the middle path between indulgence and asceticism (self-denial).
The Buddhist initiate takes three vows, or confesses “Three Refuges”:
- “I take refuge in the Buddha.”
- “I take refuge in the Dhamma.” (the teachings of Buddha)
- “I take refuge in the Sangha” (the order of the Buddha’s disciples or monks)
Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakya clan, in the year 563 B.C., in the village of today’s Padaria in southern Nepal. As a king’s son (who may have been only chief of a clan), Gautama w (Lumbini) as surrounded by beauty and protected from suffering and death. At 16, he married Yasodhara; they had one son, Rahula. Usually streets were cleared of unpleasant things when Gautama was to venture out, but when he was 29 years old, he encountered the Four Passing Sights: a sick man, an old man, a corpse, and a recluse. This led to the Great Going Forth: six years Gautama wandered in search of the answer to human misery. During this time he tried Raha Yoga and then asceticism (extreme self-denial and fasting). Gautama decided, at 35, to meditate under a Bo-tree (a type of fig tree) until he either died or found the answer to life’s riddle. After 40 days, he attained enlightenment or perfect knowledge. Through this “Bo-tree Experience” he became the Buddha, or the Enlightened One. He decided to share this experience with others and preached all over northern India for 45 years, making converts. Gautama died in 483 B.C. at the age of 80 of food poisoning.
The Four Noble Truths…
Suffering in life is inevitable. The cause of suffering is desire. The cure of suffering is the overcoming of desire. The way to overcome desire is through the Eightfold Path:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Actions
- Right (mode of) Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration (meditation)
Basic Buddhist Concepts:
- Anatta: (without soul) the belief that there is nothing at the center of the human personality. There are five entities or skandhas (feelings, impulses, acts of consciousness, perceptions, body) held together by the life force. When you die, these are carried forward by karma (like Hinduism, but not in one personality (unlike Hinduism).
- Nirvana: (emptiness) This ultimate goal is not a negative concept but a positive one that is marked by freedom and peace.
- Karuna: Compassion, disinterested good will.
There are two streams or groups within Buddhism. According to tradition, a hundred years after the Buddha’s death, the Second Council of Arahats (monks) met to argue over points of doctrine and the question of moderating the severity of the early Buddhist doctrines. A schism occurred. The two groups were known as Theravada or Hinayana Buddhists and Mahayan Buddhists. Theravada or “Followers of the Way of the Elders” is the name preferred by this group. The other group calls them Hinayana. Mahayan is a more “liberal” form of Buddhism.