Are you always attracted to the practice of Buddhism? But, it seems quite difficult for you to follow up? You are not alone. Hence, this article is a basic introduction to Buddhism. In other words, it serves as a blueprint to fully guide you to the practice of Buddhism. Of course, you will eventually find out if Buddhism is truly a path for you. Therefore, I will encourage you to read to the end so as to gain full knowledge of the path of Buddhism.
Buddhism began in India in the sixth century B.C. However, it began as a reform movement in Hinduism. It was the first religion of the world to become international. And, today, Buddhism has a membership of 254,867,450.
Buddhism is one of the world’s great religions. Moreover, it has a deep influence on the character and evolution of Asian civilization over the past 2,500 years. Thus, Buddhism has its base on the teachings of a historical figure, Siddhartha Gautama. He lived around the fifth-century B.C.E.
Buddhism moved across Asia on varying occasions. As a result, it engaged indigenous beliefs and combined a wide range of imagery into its practice. Certainly, these include both local and foreign arts. Similarly, Buddhism continues to evolve as a religion in many parts of the world.
Generally, Buddhism is a complex subject. It is a philosophy that has evolved in many different ways. As a result, providing simple definitions for the beliefs, arts, and historical developments of Buddhism is therefore difficult. This is because so many variations occur. So, a Buddhist should be aware of these variations and points of view. However, no matter the kind of changes that occurred in the Buddhist teachings, it is still a living faith today.
Actually, we have provided a very general overview as a foundation for looking at:
- History of the Buddha
- The Original Teachings of the Buddha
- Buddhist Belief System
- The Main Branches of Buddhism
History of the Buddha
You may ask…
Who was the Historical Buddha?
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around the 6th-century B.C.E. He is the son of the rich ruler of the Kshatriya caste. Therefore, he lived a luxurious and sheltered life.
Gautama married at the age of nineteen and later had a son. But, one day, he rode outside the royal compound. Consequently, he saw a decaying old man, a diseased man, a corpse, and an ascetic monk. This made him obsessed with the fact that all must face age, sickness, and death. As a result, he determined to find an answer to this anxiety and suffering.
Deeply unsettled by what he had seen, the prince finally renounced his worldly life. Subsequently, he set out on a quest for truth. Hence, to confront human sufferings and the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara).
Also, the caste system at the time troubled the Buddha. This was a common issue among other thinkers who lived during this era. Basically, the caste system denied many the possibility of salvation. More so, there were as well the abuses of the Brahman priestly caste. This, controlled religious practices at that time.
What Did the Historical Buddha Preach?
The Buddha sought to find an end to human suffering. As a result, he first engaged in extreme soberness as practiced by Puritans of his time.
After several years of these practices, Siddhartha concluded that this extreme path was not the correct route to perfect understanding (enlightenment). Rather, he proposed that a middle way between extreme seriousness and extreme understanding was the path to wisdom. And, most of all freedom from suffering.
What Did the Buddha Do?
Finally, around the age of thirty-five, he left his wife, son, family, and inheritance. Subsequently, Gautama clipped his hair and beard. Then, he exchanged clothes with a beggar and began his quest.
He sat down under the shade of a fig tree to meditate. Certainly, he determined to meditate until he received enlightenment. And, after seven weeks of meditation, he attained the Great Enlightenment. Afterward, the Buddha distilled the principles of enlightenment into a doctrine known as The Four Noble Truths.
Henceforth, he became known as the Buddha (enlightened one). More so, these four noble truth is psychological thinking into the cause and cure of suffering and evil.
The Original Teachings of the Buddha
The Buddha started his teachings with the four noble truths. Hence, this truth talks about his findings after enlightenment. The Buddha set out to find the causes and end to human sufferings. Thus, this is what the four noble truth is all about. Above all, this was his original teachings.
What are The Four Noble Truths?
The first sermon that the Buddha preached after his enlightenment was about the four noble truths.
The First Noble Truth Is That Life Is Frustrating and Painful
If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when it is downright miserable. On the same note, things may be fine with us at the moment. But, if we look around, we see other people in conditions of pity. For example, we see children starving, terrorism, hatred, wars, intolerance, and people being tortured. Most times, this brings up a sort of unsettled feeling within us. Especially, whenever we think about the world situation in even the most casual way.
Generally, we ourselves will someday grow old, get sick and eventually die. This occurs no matter how much we try to avoid it. Although, we can try to avoid thinking about it. Even still, there are constant reminders that it is true.
The Second Noble Truth Is That Suffering Has a Cause
We suffer because we are always struggling to survive. In other words, we are continually trying to prove our existence. As a result, we may find ourselves extremely humble and self-deprecating. But, then, even that too is an attempt to define ourselves. Thus, the harder we struggle to establish ourselves and our relationships, the more painful our experience becomes.
The Third Noble Truth Is That the Cause of Suffering Can Come to an End
Our struggle to survive, our effort to prove ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary. Therefore, we and the world can get along quite comfortably without all our pointless posturing. Hence, there is a possibility to live a simple, direct and straight-forward life.
Confidently, we could form a simple relationship with our world, our coffee, spouse, and friends. And, we do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be. Basically, we focus more on how things really appear.
The Fourth Noble Truth Is the Way, Or Path to End the Cause of Suffering
The central theme of this way is meditation. Generally, meditation here means the practice of mindfulness/awareness (shamata/vipashyana in Sanskrit). Therefore, we practice being mindful of all the things that we torture ourselves with.
Moreover, we become mindful by abandoning our expectations. Especially, not focusing on the way we think things should be. With this practice, we begin to develop awareness about the way things are. Above all, we begin to develop the insight that things are quite simple. Thereby, we can really handle them ourselves. Also, we can manage our relationships very well. This is as soon as we stop being so manipulative and complex.
The Eightfold Path
The path to liberation from these miserable states of being is the Eightfold Path. Basically, this is the original teaching of the Buddha. And, it has eight points that we should follow.
Hence, the path is as follows:
The First Point Is the “Right View”
This is the right way to view the world. In general, the wrong view occurs when we impose our expectations on things. Most of all, expectations about how we hope things will be.
On the other hand, the Right view occurs when we see things as they are. This is an open and accommodating attitude. As a result, we abandon hope and fear. Subsequently, we take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.
The Second Point of the Path Is the “Right Intention”
This proceeds from the right view. Hence, if we can abandon our expectations, our hopes, and fears, we no longer need to be manipulative. In other words, we do not have to try to trick situations into our defined notions of how they should be. Instead, we work with things out as our intentions are pure.
The Third Aspect of the Path Is the “Right Speech”
Once our intentions are pure, we no longer have to worry about our speech. That is since we are not trying to manipulate people. Thus, we do not have to be hesitant about what we say. Nor, do we need to bluff our way through a conversation. Therefore, we say what is needful very quietly in the right direction.
The Fourth Point On the Path is the “Right Discipline”
This involves a kind of renunciation. Most importantly, we must follow the Five Precepts: do not kill, steal, lie, be unchaste, or drink intoxicants.
The Fifth Path, We Should Engage in the “Right Livelihood”
We need to give up our tendency to complicate issues. As a result, we should practice simplicity. For instance, we need to have a simple straight-forward relationship with our dinner, our job, our house, and our family. Henceforth, we give up all the unnecessary and frivolous complications that we usually try to cloud our relationships with.
Although, it is only natural and right that we should earn our living. However, often times, many of us do not particularly enjoy our jobs. Consequently, we cannot wait to get home from work. And, on the other hand, we become jealous of the amount of time that our job takes away from our enjoyment of the good life.
Perhaps, we might wish we had a more glamorous job. So, we do not feel that our position in a factory or office is reflecting the image we want to project. But, the truth is that we should be glad of our jobs. This is irrespective of whatever it is. Hence, we should form a simple relationship with it. Thereby, we need to perform it properly, with attention to detail.
The Sixth Aspect of the Path Is the “Right Effort”
Wrong effort is to struggle. We often approach a spiritual discipline as though we need to conquer our evil side and promote our right side. As a result, we get locked in combat with ourselves. But, Right effort does not involve struggle at all. Hence, when we see things as they are, we can work with them. Above all, we will be gentle and without any aggression whatsoever.
The Seventh Path Involves “Right Mindfulness”
This includes precision and clarity. Therefore, we are mindful of the tiniest details of our experience. In addition, we are mindful of the way we talk. Also, the way we perform our jobs, our posture, our attitude toward our friends and family, all-inclusive.
The Eighth Point of the Path Is “Right Concentration or Absorption”
Usually, we get absorbed in absentmindedness. Consequently, our minds are completely in captivity of all sorts of entertainment and speculations. However, Right absorption means that we are entirely absorbed in newness. Most noteworthy, this can only happen if we have some discipline such as sitting meditation. As a result, we might even say that without the training of sitting meditation, we cannot walk the eightfold path at all. Therein, sitting meditation cuts through our absentmindedness.
Aside from The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Paths, Which Other Beliefs Did the Buddha Teach About?
He preached about the non-existence of God. And, below are the teachings.
Buddhism Did Not Believe in The Existence of God
Buddha did not believe in the existence of a personal God. Nor, did he think that man had a soul. Basically, his teachings tend to deny the presence of the substance of every kind. Therefore, he stressed impermanence.
Furthermore, Buddhism in its earliest form was not a religion. Instead,, it was a system of psychological-ethical discipline. Hence, it based its teaching on a negative philosophy of life. And, thereafter, found a solution.
How Then Did Buddhism Begin to Develop?
As a collective faith, Buddhism first developed in north-eastern India. And, this was with the historical Buddha’s followers. In general, they formed a community of monks and laypersons during his lifetime. Those wishing to join the monastic order renounced family and worldly ties. Also, they proclaimed their faith in the “three jewels” namely:
- The Buddha,
- The doctrine (dharma), and
- The monastic community (sangha).
How Did Buddhism Spread?
Buddhism received its most significant propelling force from the Indian emperor, Asoka. Basically, the emperor converted to Buddhism in 297 B.C. Consequently, he became convinced that Buddhism was a religion for all of the people of the world.
Accordingly, he sent missionaries throughout the known world. Moreover, Asoka also called the third council of Buddhism in 247 B.C. The aim was to determine the actual canon of Buddhist scriptures.
What Was the Buddhist Scripture?
The scripture of Buddhism is the Tripitaka (Three Baskets of Wisdom), made up of the:
- Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket),
- Sutta Pitaka (Teaching Basket), and
- Abhidhamma Pitaka (Higher Doctrine Basket).
Furthermore, parts of the Tripitaka such as the Dhamma-pada and the Sutta-Nipata are among the most expressive religious books in the world. Above all, some of Buddha’s parables are very similar to those used by Jesus.
After the Buddha’s death, concerns arose regarding the interpretation and survival of the order and doctrine. As a result, a first council established a set of beliefs. These beliefs base on those surviving monks who could remember what the Buddha had taught.
Subsequent councils added to these sayings. Hence, there were debates over how could one be reborn if there was no self. Also, questions of who could attain enlightenment. And, also, whether enlightenment was gradual or raised.
Furthermore, by the beginning of the first millennium, there were approximately eighteen different schools of Buddhism in India. Of course, this was how Buddhism began to spread.
Are There Branches of Buddhism?
Yes, over the centuries, two main branches of Buddhism emerged. As a result, we have a transmission that traveled to Southeast Asia. And, on the other hand, we have a transmission that evolved in East Asia. More so, a further subdivision of the northern communication also developed. All three branches began in India and developed further as they moved across Asia.
Thus, the main branches of Buddhism include:
- Mahayana and
- Theravada Buddhism
Who Are the Mahayana Buddhists?
Mahayana is a philosophical movement that announced the possibility of universal salvation. Consequently, they offered assistance to practitioners in the form of concerned beings called bodhisattvas.
Definitely, the goal was to open up the opportunity of Buddhahood (becoming a Buddha) to all conscious beings. Due to this, the Buddha ceased to be simply a historical figure. Instead, the Buddha interpreted as a transcendent figure whom all could aspire to become.
Mahayana also spread to Southeast Asia. However, its most significant impact was felt in the East Asian nations of China, Korea, and Japan.
As Mahayana evolved, it continued to expand a vast pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other divine and semi-divine beings.
Were There Other Branches of Mahayana Buddhism?
Of course, the main branches of Mahayana Buddhism include the:
- Pure Land Sect,
- Intuitive Sects,
- Rationalist Sects,
- Socio-political Sects and
- Tibetan Sect.
The Pure Land Sect
The Pure Land Sect seeks to achieve salvation and life after death in the “pure land of Western Paradise”. More so, they believe in Dhyani Buddhas who are lesser deities who help human beings. Generally, their priests may marry, and their worship practices are similar to the church and Sunday school services of Christianity.
The Intuitive Sect
The Intuitive Sects such as Ch’an and Zen emphasize that the truths of religion do not come through rational thought processes. But, a sudden flash of insight. Hence, they believe the externals of religion are unnecessary.
Zen concerns mostly with the limitations of language. And, with the reason that it makes their greatness the central intent of its method. Experience, not words are essential. So, they sit hour after hour, day after day, year after year seeking to develop their intuitive powers.
The Rationalist Sect
The Rationalist Sects believe that in addition to meditation one should utilize reason and a study of the scriptures to find the truth. All approaches to enlightenment may be useful at times. But, in reality, there is only one actual Buddhist teaching. And, one must study the scriptures of Buddhism to know this truth. The Chih-i sect in China and the Tendai sect in Japan stress the importance of the rational approach.
The Socio-Political Sect
The Socio-political Sects such as the Japanese Nichiren sect have had a significant effect on the social and political dynamics of various nations. Generally, the founder of Nichiren thought that all of the factions of Buddhism were a falsification of the actual teachings of the Buddha. As a result, they were leading people to hell. Further, he came to believe the only scripture one needed to study was the Lotus Sutra. Most of all, Nichiren teaches a simplified form of Buddhism.
The Tibetan Sect
Tibetan Buddhism is a representative of sects that emphasize the use of magic words or formulae to achieve different goals. As a result, Tibetan people traditionally have used incantations, spells, and magic to protect themselves from demons.
In addition, Tibetan monks or lamas invented the prayer wheel to augment their defenses against evil. So, by the 14th-century monastery, leaders became more powerful than kings. And, for all practical purposes, the Buddhist priests ruled the country.
The lamas of Tibetan Buddhism are into two orders. Namely:
- The Red Hats, and
- The Yellow Hats.
Hence, the leader of the larger Yellow Hat group is the Dalai Lama. And, he was virtually the ruler of Tibet.
Theravada appears to be the oldest form of Buddhism. In general, it upholds the monastic path. Also, it follows the oldest surviving recorded sayings of the Buddha. And, that is the Pali canon. Thus, these original texts were set down in the Pali language. Basically, by the monks in Sri Lanka in the first century C.E.
How Was the Buddhist Doctrine Communicated in Theravada?
Before this organization, Buddhist moved on through oral transmission. However, concern arose that it is crucial to preserve original texts. Especially, in light of the growing sacrilege that was developing in India.
Before this time, however, Buddhist doctrine already was in Sri Lanka. Of course, this became a further point of reference for the spread of Buddhism to Southeast Asia. More so, travelers and missionaries carried the message of Buddhism by sea and land routes through Central Asia. And, they already got to China by the first century C.E.
Thus, Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism today in Sri Lanka as well as Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Generally, the subject matter of Buddhist art from these traditions focuses on the life events of the Buddha.
Did Theravada Buddhism Survive in Other Regions?
Theravada Buddhism flourished in China between 300 and 900 C.E. As a result, it provided a point of reference for Buddhism as it developed in Korea and Japan. Furthermore, Chinese translations of Indian texts contributed to the development of printing.
Theravada Buddhism is still active today in Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam.
Throughout its history and transmission, Buddhism proved very flexible to local beliefs and customs. Due to this reason, it was able to combine ideas and symbols with these local forms. Thus, this became a characteristic of Buddhist art throughout Asia. Therefore, Buddhism today is once more a missionary religion.
This article provided you a well-detailed introduction to Buddhism. Hence, it discussed the way Buddhists perceive the world. Also, it touched the four central teachings of the Buddha, the Buddhist view of the self, culture, and origin. Most importantly, this article touched the relationship between this self and the various ways in which it responds to the world. Therefore, it is now in your interest to make up your mind and thread this path of life that leads to eternal happiness.
To your success!