What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is one of the 6 major religions in the UK. There are many different ways of being a Buddhist and of practising Buddhism. Buddhism offers many different techniques for learning about and gaining control of your own mind in order to become more compassionate and wise.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says of Buddhism: “My religion is kindness.”
Lama Thubten Yeshe, the founder of FPMT said:
“Buddha says that all you have to know is what you are, how you exist. You don’t have to believe in anything. Just understand how your mind works, how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises and where emotions come from. It is sufficient to know the nature of all that; that alone can bring happiness and peace.”
Who was the Buddha?
The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from approximately 566 to 480 BCE. The son of an Indian warrior-king, Gautama enjoyed all the privileges of his wealthy caste – but it did not bring him contentment. As a young man he searched for meaning in life. After encountering the 4 sights- an old man, an ill man, a corpse and an ascetic, Gautama understood that suffering underpinned life. He left his wife and son, renounced his princely title and became a monk, exchanging worldly possessions for a spiritual search for truth.
The culmination of his search came while meditating under a tree in Bodhgaya. He finally understood how to be free from suffering and to achieve liberation and enlightenment. Following this, Gautama was known as the Buddha, meaning the “Enlightened One.” He spent the next 50 years journeying about India, helping and teaching others.
What is the essence of Buddha’s teaching?
The Four Noble Truths are the essence of Buddha’s teachings. They are:
· the truth of suffering,
· the truth of the cause of suffering,
· the truth of the end of suffering, and
· the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.
Simply put, suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a cause to bring about its end. This emphasis on suffering does not mean that Buddhism dwells on a negative world view – it has a pragmatic perspective about the reality of what humanity faces. The concept of pleasure is accepted but needs to be recognised as fleeting and temporary. The pursuit of worldly happiness is unquenchable yet ultimately, only ageing, sickness, and death are certain.
The First Noble Truth identifies the presence of suffering.
The Second Noble Truth identifies the cause of suffering – desire and ignorance. By desire, Buddhists mean the craving for pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them brings suffering. By ignorance, Buddhists mean the way we don’t understand the world as it actually is. Out of ignorance, we don’t develop our capacity for concentration so our mind is left undeveloped, unable to grasp the true nature of things so greed, envy, hatred and anger develop.
The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the end of suffering, explains that there can be an end to suffering through achieving Enlightenment. Enlightenment is a transcendent state free from suffering and the worldly cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Fourth Noble truth explains the method for attaining the end of suffering which is the Noble Eightfold Path.
How can we end suffering?
Through perfecting the eightfold path which is:
1. Right Understanding,
2. Right Thought,
3. Right Speech,
4. Right Action,
5. Right Livelihood,
6. Right Effort,
7. Right Mindfulness and
8. Right Concentration.
What is karma?
Karma refers to the actions of body, speech and mind that a person does during his or her lifetime. Positive actions, such as generosity, righteousness, and meditation, bring about happiness in the long run. Negative actions, such as lying, stealing or killing, bring about unhappiness in the long term. The Buddhist interpretation of karma does not refer to preordained fate.
What is the cycle of rebirth?
The role of karma can be seen in the Buddhist explanation of the cycle of rebirth. Buddhist cosmology suggests that there are six realms into which any being can be reborn – three fortunate realms, and three unfortunate realms.
The inhabitants of the three unfortunate realms – the animal realm, the hungry ghost realm and the hell realm – suffer untold suffering. Those who create favourable, positive karma will take rebirth in one of the fortunate realms: the realm of demigods, the realm of gods, and the realm of humans. Although the demigods and gods enjoy pleasures, they suffer unceasing jealousy and envy.
Despite all the many difficulties involved in being born a human, the human realm is considered the most fortunate realm of rebirth. This is because it is only with a human rebirth that Enlightenment can be achieved. Given the number of living things, to be born human is, to Buddhists, a precious and rare opportunity.