Understanding Religions in the World – Part 5: Buddhism Major Beliefs

How is everyone doing? Hope everybody is staying healthy and safe. This is the next part of my “Understanding Religions” series, and we are going to be looking at Buddhism major beliefs, including its beginnings and how it is faring on the planet today. Buddhism is a religion that I respect a lot due to its tolerance of different faiths through the ages.

Here’s part 4 of the series if you missed it.

Buddhists’ Core Beliefs

Practitioners of Buddhism are called Buddhists, and at the heart of the religion lay the “Three Jewels” – Buddha (the Founder), Dharma (the Teachings) and Sangha (the Community).

The aim of Buddhists is to achieve enlightenment or Nirvana, a state of inner peace, bliss, and wisdom. When someone reaches these spiritual heights, they would escape the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth (reincarnation). The path to enlightenment is said to be attained by developing and employing morality, meditation and wisdom. Since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they also believe in karma, which is defined as the law of cause and effect.

Buddhists do not believe in a supreme god. Buddha, after whom the religion is named, is the founder of Buddhism and an extraordinary man, but not a god. Thus, some scholars don’t recognize Buddhism as an organized religion.

The Buddha’s most important teachings are the Three Universal Truths (aka the Three Universal Characteristics of Existence), and the Four Noble Truths. The 3 Universal Truths are:

  1. Everything in life is temporary and always changing. Because nothing is permanent, there is no rest except Nirvana.
  2. Because nothing is permanent, possessing things or people doesn’t make you happy. No one could avoid suffering (e.g. unhappiness, dissatisfaction, boredom, discomfort) in life. Following the Buddha’s teachings is one way to avoid suffering.
  3. There is no self. There is nothing that people bring over from one life to the next except the karma that they previously created in this as well as previous lives.

The 4 Noble Truths are:

  1. There is a lot of suffering in life.
  2. The cause of suffering is our desires and attachments.
  3. It is possible to end suffering, by letting go of desires and attachments. Suffering ceases when one reaches Nirvana.
  4. The way to end suffering (to achieve enlightenment) is to follow the Middle Path (avoid overindulgence but also avoid over-fasting and excess hardship)

(Following) the Eightfold Path guides Buddhists to the Middle Path: Right understanding and viewpoint, right values and attitude, right speech, right action, right work, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Tripitaka (the Three Baskets) is a collection of sermons by the Buddha and his senior disciples, analyses and interpretations of Buddhist concepts, and rules of public life for monks and nuns. The Tripitaka was initially written on palm leaves which were then collected in baskets.

Siddhartha and the Bodhi Tree

Siddhartha Gautama, who is the founder of Buddhism, became known as the Buddha (Enlightened One) after achieving enlightenment. He lived in 5th century B.C.

Siddhartha was a prince born in present-day Nepal, and although he had an easy life in the palace, he became very much moved by all the suffering in the world. Siddhartha reached the age of 29 with little experience of the world outside his palace walls. Overcame by curiosity, one day he asked a charioteer to take him on a series of rides through the countryside. On these journeys he saw four sights – a sick man, an old man, a dead man and a monk. These sights showed him that even royalty cannot escape illness, suffering and death. He learned that a monk is someone who had renounced the world and sought release from the fear of death and suffering.

Thus, Siddhartha decided to give up his life as a prince and become a wandering holy man, seeking answers to the causes of suffering. He endured poverty at first, but this did not fulfill him. He then lived his life between the two extremes, without excess but also without deprivation. This became known as the Middle Path.

It is believed that after 6 years of searching, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He then spent the rest of his life teaching others how to achieve Buddhahood. He taught people not to worship him as a god, but rather to take responsibility for their own lives. After he died, his teachings were written down based on people’s memories.

Read: A simple meditation with effect

Buddhism in the World

Practitioners of Buddhism worship in temples and also their own homes.

After the Buddha’s death, differences of opinion led to different types of Buddhism being formed. There are two main types. Theravada is prevalent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, while Mahayana is prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and parts of Russia and northern India. Mahayana is further separated into Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Images that represent Buddhist beliefs include the lotus flower, the four-spoke dharma wheel, the eight-spoke dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree and even the swastika, which means “well-being” or “good fortune” in Sanskrit.

Stay Tuned Everyone!

This is it for part 5. I hope you’re enjoying reading about each different religion (please share if you do!) Please come back often, and subscribe to my emails! Just leave any questions or comments that you may have below and you’ll find me more than ready to start a discussion with you. Thanks a lot!

Part 6: Judaism

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