Many of us know about Buddha and how he was the enlightened one. But, do any of us know what enlightened means and how he became enlightened?
- What is Buddhism?
The Three Jewels
The Four Noble Truths
The Wheel of Life
- Important Places for Buddhists
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism has around 350 million followers worldwide. With approximately 150,000 active Buddhists in the UK. This number is increasing all the time.
Buddhism began in north-eastern India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha. The religion is 2,500 years old. Many Asian countries have Buddhism as one of their main religions. Buddhism is a religion about suffering and the need to get rid of. Nirvana is a key concept of Buddhism and Nirvana means, the most enlightened, and blissful state that one can achieve. It is a state without suffering.
Unlike many other religions, Buddhism is not centred on the relationship between humanity and God. Buddhists don’t believe in a personal creator or God. The Buddhist tradition is founded on and inspired by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. He was called the Buddha and lived in the 4th or 5th century B.C. in India.
Siddhartha Gautama also known as Buddha was born in the village of Lumbini, in Nepal, around the year 580 BCE. He was born into a royal family and for many years lived within the palace walls away from the sufferings of life; sufferings such as sickness, age, and death. He did not know what these were. One day, after growing-up, marrying and having a child, Siddhartha went outside the royal palace and saw, each for the first time, an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. He was worried by what he saw. He learned that sickness, age, and death were the inevitable fate of human beings. This was a fate no-one could avoid. Siddhartha also had seen a monk when he went outside the royal palace and this was when he decided that this was a sign that he should leave his protected royal life and live as a homeless holy man. Siddhartha Gautama’s travels showed him much more of the sufferings of the world. He searched for a way to escape the inevitability of death, old age and pain first by studying with religious men. This didn’t provide him with an answer.
Buddhists believe that the Buddha saw the truth about what the world is like. They believe that nothing in the world is perfect, and that the Buddha found the answer to why it is like this. Buddhists do not believe that the Buddha was a God. They believe that he was a human being just like them. They believe that he was important because he gained Enlightenment, and he chose to teach other people how to reach it too.
The Three Jewels
There are three Buddhist central beliefs. These are known as the three jewels as they are felt to be so precious.
- Belief in Buddha
- Dharma – The teaching of Buddha
- The Sangha – the Buddhist community made up of ordinary people as well as the monks and nuns. The purpose is to help others and by doing so to cease to become selfish and to move on the way towards enlightenment.
One important belief involves reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living, and death. After many such cycles, if a person breaks out of this cycle which is to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana which is a state of liberation and freedom from suffering.
At the heart of the Buddha’s teaching lie The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path which lead the Buddhist towards the path of Enlightenment.
The Four Noble Truths
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e. life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, boredom, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger.
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and the needing to control things. It can take many forms: the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf let go of our craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
- Magga: In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path.
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
The Noble Eight-fold Path focuses the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths. It is said to be the way Buddhists should live their lives. Buddha said that people should avoid extremes. They should not have or do too much, but neither should they have or do too little. The ‘Middle Way’ is the best.
The path to Enlightenment (Nirvana) is through the practice and development of wisdom, morality and meditation.
|Three Qualities||Eightfold Path|
|Wisdom (panna)||Right View (understanding)|
|Morality (sila)||Right Speech|
|Meditation (samadhi)||Right Effort|
|Right Contemplation (concentration)|
The Wheel of Life
Important Places for Buddhists
There are many different places that Buddhists worship in and that are important to them, e.g. at home, in a temple or any where quiet. Buddhists mainly worship at home or at a temple. Worshippers sit on the floor barefoot facing an image of Buddha and chanting. It is very important that their feet face away from the image of Buddha. They listen to monks chanting from religious texts and take part in prayers.
At home, Buddhists will often have a shrine. There will be a statue of Buddha, candles, and an incense burner.
Buddhist temples come in many shapes. Perhaps the best known are the pagodas of China and Japan. Another typical Buddhist building is the Stupa (upside down bowl shape temple). All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha.
Buddhist worship is called puja. In Hinduism it is also called puja. People chant to show their love for the Buddha. They make offerings of flowers, candles, incense and pure water at a shrine. People thank Buddha for his teachings.
When Buddhist worship alone they usually meditate and read from the Buddhist holy books.
Every month, most Buddhists have special religious days. These are often days when there is a full moon. Many Buddhists go to temples to worship on these special days. This also occurs with Hindus.
One of the many important places for Buddhists is Lumbini. This is the village where Buddha was born. But to this day,Buddha’s birthplace is being threatened by a dam that India is building. A few years ago, India began building the Rassiyal-Khurda-Lautan dam across the Danav River, just 655 feet from the Nepal-India border south of Lumbini. The dam is meant to block and manage the flow of river water, mainly for irrigation, Indian officials have said.
The 20-foot high dam has come under interrogation from Buddhist scholars and Nepalese political parties. They accuse India of violating international laws that don’t allow such constructions within five miles of an international border.
India has long claimed the actual birthplace of Buddha is in India and not Nepal. However, archaeologists discovered in 1996 a commemorative pillar placed there by the Indian Emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C. that marked the precise location.
They say that they are building a dam to block and manage the flow of river water, mainly for irrigation but is it just because India want revenge?