Often considered a religion, Buddhism is more a philosophy or way of life.
Buddhism began in India and is based on the teachings of Prince Siddhartha Gautama who was born in the city of Lumbini around 485 B.C. and was raised in Kapilavastu. Having led a sheltered existence, Siddhartha was exposed to the grim realities of life when he ventured outside the palace walls at the age of 29 for the first time. He witnessed the suffering caused by death, disease, old age and deprivation and decided to abandon the royal life for that of a spiritual seeker. He practiced different forms of self denial and soon realized that they were not productive.
Siddhartha then began practicing meditation and discovered the Middle Way, the path of moderation between self mortification and self indulgence. He meditated under a Fig tree (Bodhi tree) until he attained Nirvana (enlightenment) at the age of 35 and became a Buddha (enlightened one). He went on to establish a monastic order and teach the Dharma for the rest of his life.
Buddhism preaches the concept of Karma – the law of cause and effect. And Samsara – the cycle of suffering and rebirth. The basic concepts of Buddhism are:
- The Four Noble Truths
- The Noble Eightfold Path
- The Five Precepts
The Four Noble Truths:
- Life is suffering
- Suffering is caused by attachment to worldly desires
- Suffering ceases when freedom from desire is achieved
- Enlightenment is achieved by following the path of the Buddha
The Noble Eightfold Path:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
The Five Precepts – to abstain from:
- Sexual misconduct
- Telling lies
- Consuming intoxicants
The two main branches of Buddhism are:
Therevada Buddhism aims to achieve introspection, individual enlightenment and the suppression of desire. Mahayana, or ‘Greater Vehicle’, encourages its practitioners to become Bodhisattvas – Buddha-like beings who delay the achievement of Nirvana in order to serve the faithful.
Mahayana is responsible for the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism which is characterized by Tantric ritualistic symbols and monastic discipline among its other features. Tibetan Buddhism is associated with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader from Tibet.
Mahayana also found its way to Japan and gave birth to Japanese Buddhism.
Japanese Buddhism today has four main schools:
- Amidist (Pure Land)
- Nichiren Buddhism
- Shingon Buddhism
- Zen Buddhism
Buddhism encourages mindfulness, or the kind of meditation that Buddha practiced, as referred to in the seventh step of the Eightfold Path. Buddhist Meditation in its most basic form concentrates on the breathing, to develop mindfulness, concentration and insight. The two most common types of Buddhist Meditation are Mindfulness of Breathing (anapana sati) and Loving Kindness Meditation (metta bhavana).
The spot where the Buddha meditated and achieved enlightenment is marked by the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. Traditional Buddhist Temples are designed to create inner and outer peace.