Buddhism at a
Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on
personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the
true nature of life. There are 376 million followers worldwide. Buddhists seek
to reach a state of nirvana,
following the path of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who went on a quest for
Enlightenment around the sixth century BC. There is no belief in a personal
god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that everything
always changes. Through the practice and development of morality, meditation
and wisdom we reach Enlightenment. They believe that life is both endless and
subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These states are called the
three signs of existence. Existence is endless because individuals are
reincarnated over and over, experiencing suffering throughout many lives. It is
impermanent because nothing lasts forever. We make a mistake by believing that
things that last are a chief cause of suffering.
Gautama, the Buddha, was born into a royal family in present-day Nepal over
2500 years ago. He lived a life of privilege and luxury until one day he left
the royal enclosure and encountered for the first time, an old man, a sick man,
and a corpse. Disturbed by this he became a monk before adopting the harsh
poverty of Indian asceticism. Neither path satisfied him and he decided to
pursue the ‘Middle Way’ – a life without luxury but also without poverty.
Buddhists believe that one day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of
awakening), Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation and reflected on
his experience of life until he became enlightened. By finding the path to
enlightenment, Siddhartha was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth
towards the path of enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or ‘awakened
1-The Four Noble Truths:
The Four Noble Truths contain the
essence of the Buddha’s teachings. It was these four principles that the Buddha
came to understand during his meditation under the Bodhi tree. The truth of suffering, the truth of the
origin of suffering, the truth of
the cessation of suffering and the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha is
often compared to a physician. In the first two Noble Truths he diagnosed the
problem (suffering) and identified its cause. The third Noble Truth is the realization
that there is a cure. The fourth Noble Truth, in which the Buddha set out the
Eightfold Path, is the prescription, the way to achieve a release from
Suffering comes in many forms. Three obvious kinds of
suffering correspond to the first three sights the Buddha saw on his first
journey outside his palace: old age, sickness and death. But according to the
Buddha, the problem of suffering goes much deeper. Life is not ideal: it
frequently fails to live up to our expectations. Human beings are subject to
desires and cravings, but even when we are able to satisfy these desires, the
satisfaction is only temporary. Some people who encounter this teaching
may find it pessimistic. Buddhists find it neither optimistic nor pessimistic,
but realistic. Fortunately the Buddha’s teachings do not end with suffering;
rather, they go on to tell us what we can do about it and how to end it.
The Second Noble Truth
suffering: Our day-to-day
troubles may seem to have easily identifiable causes: thirst, pain from an
injury, sadness from the loss of a loved one. In the second of his Noble
Truths, though, the Buddha claimed to have found the cause of all suffering –
and it is much more deeply rooted than our immediate worries. The Buddha
taught that the root of all suffering is desire, tanh?. This comes
in three forms, which he described as the Three Roots of Evil, or the Three
Fires, or the Three Poisons.
roots of evil
These are the three ultimate causes of suffering:
1-Greed and desire, represented in art by a rooster
2-Ignorance or delusion, represented by a pig
3-Hatred and destructive urges, represented by a snake
The Third Noble Truth
Cessation of suffering: The Buddha taught that the way to extinguish desire,
which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. This is the
third Noble Truth – the possibility of liberation.
Path to the cessation of suffering: The final
Noble Truth is the Buddha’s prescription for the end of suffering. This is a
set of principles called the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is also called
the Middle Way: it avoids both indulgence and severe asceticism, neither of
which the Buddha had found helpful in his search for enlightenment.
stages can be grouped into Wisdom (right understanding and intention), Ethical
Conduct (right speech, action and livelihood) and Meditation (right effort,
mindfulness and concentration). The Buddha described the Eightfold Path as a
means to enlightenment, like a raft for crossing a river. Once one has reached
the opposite shore, one no longer needs the raft and can leave it behind.
Karma is a concept encountered in several Eastern religions,
although having different meanings. Teachings about karma explain that our past
actions affect us, either positively or negatively, and that our present
actions will affect us in the future. Buddhism uses an agricultural metaphor to
explain how sowing good or bad deeds will result in good or bad fruit. For Buddhists, karma has
implications beyond this life. Bad actions in a previous life can follow a
person into their next life and cause bad effects (which Westerners are more
likely to interpret as ‘bad luck’). Even an
Enlightened One is not exempt from the effects of past karma. One story tells
that the Buddha’s cousin tried to kill him by dropping a boulder on him.
Although the attempt failed, the Buddha’s foot was injured. He explained that
this was karmic retribution for trying to kill his step-brother in a previous
life. The word karma means ‘action’ and
this indicates something important about the concept of karma: it is determined
by our own actions, in particular by the motives behind intentional actions. Skillful actions that lead to good karmic outcomes are
based upon motives of generosity; compassion, kindness and sympathy, and clear
mindfulness or wisdom. The opposite motives of greed, aversion (hatred) and
delusion, when acted upon, lead to bad karmic results. Karma is not
an external force, not a system of punishment or reward dealt out by a god. The
concept is more accurately understood as a natural law similar to gravity. Buddhists
believe we are in control of our ultimate fates. The problem is that most of us
are ignorant of this, which causes suffering. The purpose of Buddhism is to
take conscious control of our behavior.
Buddhism and abortion
Buddhists believe that life should
not be destroyed, but they regard causing death as morally wrong only if the
death is caused deliberately or by negligence. Traditional Buddhism rejects
abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life. Buddhists are expected to take full personal
responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow. The
decision to abort is therefore a highly personal one, and one that requires
careful and compassionate exploration of the ethical issues involved, and a
willingness to carry the burden of whatever happens as a result of the
decision. The ethical consequences of the decision will also depend on the
motive and intention behind the decision, and the level of mindfulness with
which it was taken.
Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that
a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order
to become fully aware. It plays a part in virtually all religions
although some don’t use the word ‘meditation’ to describe their particular
meditative or contemplative practice. Meditation does not always have a
religious element. It is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly
used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system. Anyone
who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy,
while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste
of the realm of meditation. Successful meditation means simply being –
not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as
it unfolds. In Buddhism the person meditating
is not trying to get into a hypnotic state or contact angels or any other
supernatural entity. Meditation
involves the body and the mind. For Buddhists this is particularly important as
they want to avoid what they call ‘duality’ and so their way of meditating must
involve the body and the mind as a single entity. In the most general definition, meditation is a way of
taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the
meditator becomes more aware.The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind
rushing about in an aimless stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim
of meditation is to still the mind. There are a
number of methods of meditating – methods which have been used for a long time
and have been shown to work. People can meditate on their own or in groups.
types of meditation
A useful way
of understanding the diversity of meditation practices is to think of the
different types of meditation. These practices are known as: Concentrative,
Generative, Receptive and Reflective.
If you focus
your attention on an object it gradually becomes calmer and more concentrated.
In principle, any object will do – a sound, a visual image such as a candle
flame, or a physical sensation. In the tantric Buddhism of Tibet and elsewhere,
meditators visualize complex images of Buddha forms and recite sacred sounds or
mantras (in fact these images and sounds have significance beyond simply being
objects of concentration). But the most common and basic object of
concentrative meditation is to focus on the naturally calming physical process
of the breath.
An example of a ‘generative’ practice is the ‘development of loving
kindness’ meditation (metta bhavana). This helps the person meditating
to develop an attitude of loving kindness using memory, imagination and
awareness of bodily sensations.
mindfulness of breathing or the metta bhavana meditation practice, a balance
needs to be struck between consciously guiding attention and being receptive to
whatever experience is arising. This attitude of open receptive attention is
the emphasis of the receptive type of meditation practice. Sometimes such
practices are simply concerned with being mindful.
meditation involves repeatedly turning your attention to a theme but being open
to whatever arises from the experience. Reflective practices in Buddhism
include meditations on impermanence and interconnectedness as well as faith
enhancing practices such as meditation on the qualities of the Buddha.
One of the
richest visual objects in Tibetan Buddhism is the mandala. A mandala is a
symbolic picture of the universe. It can be a painting on a wall or scroll,
created in coloured sands on a table, or visualization in the mind of a very
skilled adept. The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated
during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing an
aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of a guiding principle. The
mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and
to assist with healing.
According to Buddhist scripture, mandalas
constructed from sand transmit positive energies to the environment and to the
people who view them. They are believed to effect purification and healing.
Mandala sand painting was introduced by the Buddha himself and there are many
different designs of mandala, each with different lessons to teach. The mandala
sand painting process begins with an opening ceremony, during which the lamas
consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. The monks chant and
dance in resplendent dress.
The Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been
responsible for the governing of Tibet, until the Chinese government took
control in 1959. Before 1959, his official residence was Potala Palace in
Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of
Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet.
The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been
only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai
Lamas were given the title posthumously.
Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who
decided to be reborn again to continue his important work, instead of moving on
from the wheel of life. A person who decides to be continually reborn is known
believe that the first tulku in this reincarnation was Gedun Drub, who lived
from 1391-1474 and the second was Gendun Gyatso.
name Dalai Lama, meaning Ocean of Wisdom, was not conferred until the third reincarnation
in the form of Sonam Gyatso in 1578.
The present-day world needs very badly the teachings of Buddha. Everywhere we
see preparations for destruction of the human race and its culture. Scientists
and dictators have neither rest nor peace. There is mistrust amongst the
leaders of the nations. Malice, hatred and prejudice have grown to such a large
extent that the very structure of human civilization seems to be crumbling.
Scientists are working day and night in the laboratories to release as much
atomic energy as possible to destroy people. What a horrible state of affairs!
It is really shocking. The only way by which the world can be saved lies in a
return to the great principles of Ahimsa and Maitri (friendliness)
inculcated by Buddha. Hatred can never be cured by hatred. It can only be cured
by love. This is a lesson which the world has to learn again and again. Take a
solemn vow now to meet hatred with love, and malice with goodwill. This is the
best way to pay homage to the great sage Buddha, the apostle of love and Ahimsa.
And as Buddha said: “With our thoughts we make the world”.