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Understanding Buddhism, It’s History, Doctrines & Types

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Buddhism is one of the great religions in the world and has deeply influenced the character and evolution of the Asian civilization for more than 2500 years. This religion was established by Siddhartha Gautama in 500 B.C. Over the past years, Buddhism has assumed many different forms, but each case draws from the life experience of the Buddha and his teachings as a model for religious life. Buddhism originally evolved in India and moved across Asia absorbing indigenous beliefs and incorporating a wide range of imagery into its art and religious practice. The philosophy continued to expand and evolved into many different ways as it provided simple definitions for beliefs and moral practices. The term “Buddha” is not a proper name, but a descriptive title meaning “Awakened One” or “Enlightened One”. This implies that most followers of this religion are seen, in a spiritual sense, as an awakened nation in the world. Although it is not as globally widespread as Islam and Christianity, Buddhism has shaped the civilization of many Asian countries. The analysis of Buddhism will be provided.

History of Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha, was born in India in 530 B.C. He was a son of a tribal chief of a clan in southern Nepal. At his birth, a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from temporal life). The soothsayer also predicted that Gautama would be a king if he stayed at home or a savior of humanity if he left the palace. His father wanted him to become a king so he provided with all sorts of luxuries and pleasures. These luxuries meant that Gautama would never leave the palace. He lived in these palaces where he was shielded from any pain or the ugliness of the world as his father did not want him to experience human suffering. Gautama grew up knowing that the world is full of luxuries and pleasure and that humans do not experience any pain or suffering.
At the age of 29 years, Siddhartha became restless with the luxury life and wanted to experience the life outside the palace. He always wondered what else there was to life and demanded to see the outside world. His father gave in to his demands and decided to allow him to see the world outside the palace. While on a series of four chariot rides, Siddhartha saw various forms of human suffering; sickness, poverty, death, starvation and old age. He was terrified by the contrast between life in the palace and outside world. He was shocked to see old and deceit people. When he was trying to find more about the old persons, he stumbled upon a very ill individual. He also saw a funeral party which shocked him more. As he tried to find answers to these shocking events, he came across a traveling monk who had given up the pleasures of the flesh.

Deeply unsettled by what he saw, Siddhartha sat under a banyan tree trying to find answers to the causes of human suffering. He meditated until he achieved the enlightenment. As a result of his attainment of enlightenment, Siddhartha became the Buddha and started to spread the principles of enlightenment known as The Four Noble Truths. These truths included the life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, it is possible to end suffering and suffering can be ended by following the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha began to spread the moral teachings which were later coined as Buddhism. Most of his followers were a former community of monks who began to spread the ideology across Asia. By the beginning of the first millennium, there were about 18 different schools of Buddhism in India.

Doctrines of Buddhism

Four Noble Truths

These are one of the basic facets of Buddha teachings which include suffering, cause of suffering, end of suffering and the path. The doctrine holds that life always involves suffering, in obvious or subtle forms. Even when life seems good, people still an undercurrent of anxiety or inside uncertainty. It also states that the cause of suffering is the desire and fundamental ignorance. People usually suffer because of their mistaken belief that they are separate and independent. Buddha used this facet to reprimand the creation of a caste system in society. This system instills the mistaken belief that humans are separate and independent which creates suffering in the pursuit of delusional ego. This doctrine also holds that suffering can only be ended through a purified and awakened mind. Buddha claimed that suffering can be extinguished through liberating from attachment with desires. He was the living example as he abandoned from luxury and pleasure life to experience the life outside. Buddha also claimed that there is a path to the cessation of suffering. This principle is known as the eightfold path. It involves eight paths which include right understanding, right action, right speech, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness.

Karma

Karma involves the person’s acts and their ethical consequences. According to ancient belief, there is a god to operate the effects of karma. It holds that God punishes according to individual’s bad karma and rewards according to one’s good karma. However, Buddha did not believe that karma occurs according to divine judgment. He claimed that karma occurs through a process of the natural moral law. this means that an individual’s karma determines matters such as a person’s social status, intelligence, wealth and longevity. Buddha holds that karma can lead to a person’s rebirth. People can control karma through their efforts and mental purity.

Nirvana

The main goal of the Buddhists path is to end suffering. Nirvana means to attain this goal, which is defined as an enlightenment state. This state is free of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Buddha held that the ethic which leads Nirvana entails four main virtues; loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, and equability. If an individual cannot attain this state, they must rebirth through karma. To attain nirvana, people must overcome lust, hatred, and delusion. The main purpose of human life should be to purify their clouded, deluded and misled minds and free themselves from worries and disappointments.

Types of Buddhism

Theravada

Theravada is the oldest school of Buddhism and it draws its teachings from the earliest Buddhist teachings. It follows the oldest Buddhist teachings known as Pali Canon, which was written in ancient Indian language. Theravada is considered more conservative because it follows the old teachings of Buddha without adding the widely-accepted new perspectives or scriptures. The main objectives of Theravada teachings are to cultivate liberation and become an awakened being. The monks usually strictly follow rules known as Vinaya, eats what is offered freely and spend most hours of their day sitting in formal meditation. The cultivation of liberation and fully awakened being is attained through meditation practice, contemplation of the dharma and taking refuge in the three jewels. This type of Buddhism is common in Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

Mahayana

Mahayana is considered as the largest school of Buddhism in the world. This type of Buddhism focuses on the path of the bodhisattva. Bodhisattva refers to a person who has become awakened. These individuals have the ability to access nirvana, the state beyond suffering. The main objective of Mahayana is not to attain enlightenment but to cultivate Buddhahood for all beings. Unlike Theravada, this type of Buddhism allows for new teachings outside Pali Canon. Mahayana monks live with less strict rules. They engage in strict meditation to cultivate Buddhahood. Mahayana Buddhism is most popular in Korea, Nepal, China, and Japan.

Vajrayana

Also known as Tantric Buddhism, Vajrayana approaches rapid enlightenment through the use of Tantras. The Tantras are mystical texts which were used in 6 B.C as the focus for meditation. This form of Buddhism originated from the Mahayana tradition. Most of these practices are considered dangerous for beginners if worked without proper guidance. It leads an individual into craving and clinging. Vajrayana practices are known only to senior teachers and serious students. It is responsible for most of Buddhism art and symbols as its practices focus on the use of objects and visualization. Vajrayana differs from other types of Buddhism in its strong emphasis on sacramental action. It uses Tantric practices, which combines the physical and spiritual worlds, to generate the sacred place in the mind of followers. These practices incorporate sounds of trumpets and strong incense to stimulate the senses.

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