A Brief Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is the compilation of doctrines and practices based on the enlightenment of Sakyamuni Buddha, who lived and taught in northeastern India about 2500 years ago. The Sanskrit name Sakyamuni stands for “hermit of the Sakya tribe” while the name ‘Buddha’ means ‘The Awakened One’. Known as Prince Siddartha before he became enlightened, Buddhism’s founder was a wealthy prince, the son of an Indian king, who was protected from the outside world most of his life. When he was 29 years old, Siddhartha managed to escape the palace and wandered beyond the palace walls in search of a contemplative experience to discover the truth of life. Siddhartha learned that suffering lies at the end of every experience, and this truth affected him in the most profound sense. As a result Siddhartha abandoned his life of wealth and became a monk only to pursue enlightenment through austerity. After he became enlightened, he was henceforth known as the Buddha and the Enlightened One then spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma, passing his realisations on to others to show how they can liberate themselves from universal sufferings of life. Because the teachings of the Buddha are now so commonly associated with inner peace and tranquility, even today images of Buddha are the most searched for images on the Internet.

Those who want the basics of Buddhism should know that it is not just a religion. As a matter of fact, Buddhism is more of a philosophy, concerning matters like existence, values and knowledge. The Four Noble Truths are at the heart of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. To put it simply, everything revolves around suffering and suffering ends only when entering enlightenment. Wealth, with its ever-changing values, does not guarantee happiness and it is also ephemeral. Buddhism places emphasis on cultivating spiritual awareness and on the importance of finding truth. What is more, this religion holds in high regard kindness, what people from Western cultures tend to call compassion or love. And contrary to popular belief, the Buddha was not a god. The truth is that Siddhartha never considered himself to be a divine being, but rather a mentor or guide for others. Millions of people around the world have followed and continue to follow his path of practice and spiritual development. There are many types of philosophies, like Tibetan Buddhism, which is becoming the fastest growing faiths in the United States. Unfortunately, the true essence of this religion is often misunderstood by the outside world.

Understanding karma is essential to understanding Buddhism. Karma does not mean predetermined fate. It is a spiritual principle. Karma (cause and effect), simply speaking, explains how the person can be reborn and how good or bad actions determine their status for the next life. Only by following a strict moral discipline can a person attain liberation, though that may take many lifetimes. A person’s intentions are considered the determining factor in whether an action is ultimately good or bad, which then determines one’s direction in the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Those with positive karma are born into favorable dimensions of existence, while those with negative karma inhabit the realms of animals, ghosts and hell. The realm of man is considered to be the most ideal, with enough suffering to compel spiritual practice and with enough opportunity to practise and attain enlightenment. Negative karma is the reason why inequalities exist around the world. The bottom line is that it is crucial to take control of one’s behavior throughout life. Good deed and good intent contribute to future happiness, in other words positive karma.

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