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Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism teaches people how to end their suffering by cutting out greed, hatred and ignorance. When people do bad things, they will get bad consequences. When people do good things, they will get good consequences. Good and bad things do not cancel out.
This cause-and-effect chain is reflected in the endless cycles of life, death and rebirth. Buddhism believes in reincarnation (rebirth). The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to reach the state of enlightenment (Nirvana) and liberate oneself from endless reincarnation and suffering. Some see Buddhism as a religion, others see it is a philosophy, and others think it is a way of finding reality. Some think that it is unnecessary to label Buddhism.
Gautama Buddha – a man who lived between about 563 BC and 483 BC – was a rich prince. He gave up everything to find a way to end suffering. His teachings spread, after his death, through most of Asia, to Central Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and the East Asian countries of China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan and have now spread to the west.
The Buddha's teachings are about suffering and how to overcome it. According to the Buddha, overcoming suffering allows a person to be truly happy. The Buddha taught that if people make good decisions they would be happy and have peace of mind. The Buddha taught that life is imperfect and that we will suffer. He taught that we suffer because of desire, anger and stupidity, and he showed that we could end our suffering by letting go of desires and overcoming anger and stupidity. The complete letting go of these negative influences is called Nirvana, meaning "to extinguish", like putting out the flame of a candle. The end of suffering, when one is fully awake (put an end to one's own ignorance) and has let go of all desire and anger, is also called Enlightenment. In Buddhism Enlightenment and Nirvana mean the same thing.
- "To avoid all evil
- To do good.
- To purify one's mind.
- This is the teaching of all the Buddhas."
- --Dhammapāda, XIV, 5 ,
Buddhism teaches non-harm and moderation or balance, not going too far one way or the other. Buddhists often meditate while sitting in a special or specific way. They often chant and meditate while walking. Buddhists sometimes do these things to understand the human heart and mind. Sometimes they do these things to understand the way the world works. Sometimes they do these things to find peace.
Buddhism does not say if gods exist or not, but one can read many stories about gods in some Buddhist books. Buddhists do not believe that people should look to gods to save them or bring them enlightenment. The gods may have power over world events and they might help people, or they might not. But it's up to each person to get to enlightenment. Many Buddhists honor gods in ritual. Other Buddhists believe the stories about gods are just there to help us learn about parts of ourselves.
What is a Buddha?
Buddha is a word in the very old Indian languages Pāli and Sanskrit which means "Enlightened one". The word "Buddha" often means the historical Buddha named Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama), but "Buddha" does not mean just one man who lived at a certain time. It is used for a type of person, the equivalent of a prophet, and Buddhists believe there have been many - that there were Buddhas a very long time ago and there will be for a long time in the future.
Buddhists do not believe that a Buddha is a god, but that he is a human being who has woken up and can see the true way the world works. They believe this knowledge totally changes the person. Some say this puts them beyond birth, death, and rebirth. Others think this represents the final extinction of desire. This person can help others become enlightened too.
Who was the first Buddha?
According to Buddhism, there were countless Buddhas before Gautama Buddha and there will be many Buddhas after him. In short, he is not the first, nor will he be the last.
The first Buddha in Buddhavamsa sutta was Taṇhaṅkara Buddha, The Mahapadana sutta say the first Buddha was Vipassi Buddha, however, counting from the present kalpa (the beginning of our present universe) Buddha Gautama is considered the fourth Buddha. The first is Kakusandho Buddha, second Konakamano Buddha and the third Kassapo Buddha. The last Buddha of this kalpa will be Maitreya Buddha. Then the universe will renew itself and from then begins a new kalpa.
Old stories say that Siddhārtha Gautama was born around the 6th century BC. He was the one who would become the first Buddha in written history. Some Buddhists believe that Siddhārtha Gautama was a perfect person.
He was born a prince and was unsure about if he wanted to become a religious man or a prince. At age 29 he noticed pain and suffering. He then wanted to learn the answer to the problem of human suffering, or pain. He gave up all his money and power, and became a monk without a home. He walked from place to place, trying to learn the answers to life.
At last he found enlightenment while sitting under a big tree called the Bodhi Tree. He was the first person to teach Buddhism to the people, and Buddhists love him for that. A cutting was made from the Bodhi Tree and planted in Sri Lanka.
After Siddhārtha Gautama died, his students taught the Buddha's teaching to more people. After a long time, they wrote down the things that he may have said.
Beliefs of Buddhism
The Three Jewels
Buddhists often talk about the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Dharma is the way the Buddha taught to live your life. The Sangha is the group of monks and other people who meet together, like a congregation.
Buddhists say "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha." This means that these three things keep them safe. They give themselves up to the community and teachings inspired by the Buddha.
Four Noble Truths
- Life often—in fact almost always—involves suffering. This may sound obvious, but it is said so as to emphasize that this is the key thing Buddhism is interested in.
- The reason for this suffering is that we want things we can not or do not have. Or, more important, we become "attached" to those things. For example; if you would like an ice cream, that "want" is not a source of suffering. Becoming "attached" to that "want" is suffering.
- The way to cure suffering is to stop the wanting. Of course many could argue that a better way would simply be to go get the thing you want. The Buddhist response is that we can never get everything we want, partly because the more we have, the more we want.
- The way to stop wanting is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which focuses not on changing things around us, but instead it focuses on changing our own mind on how we view things.
Noble Eightfold Path
The Buddha told people to follow a special way of life called the Noble Eightfold Path if they want to understand the Four Noble Truths. These are:
- Know and understand the Four Noble Truths
- Give up all worldly things and don't harm others
- Tell the truth, don't gossip, and don't talk badly about others
- Don't commit evil acts, like killing, stealing, or living an unclean life
- Work for good and oppose evil
- Do rewarding work
- Make sure your mind keeps your senses under control
- Practice meditation as a way of understanding reality
Buddhists are encouraged to follow five precepts, or rules, that say what not to do.
These are the Five precepts.
- I will not hurt a person or animal that is alive.
- I will not take something if it was not given to me.
- I will not engage in sexual misconduct.
- I will not lie or say things that hurt people.
- I will not take intoxicants, like alcohol or drugs, causing heedlessness.
If a person wants to be a monk or nun, he or she will follow other precepts as well.
Books about Buddhism
- Bechert, Heinz; Gombrich, Richard (1984). The World of Buddhism. Thames & Hudson.
- Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press.
- Armstrong, Karen (2001). Buddha. Penguin Books. pp. 187.
- Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications.
- Robinson, Richard H.; Johnson, Willard L. (1982). The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. Wadsworth Publishing.
- Smith, Huston; Novak, Phillip (2003). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. HarperSanFrancisco.
- Chambers Dictionary, 2006; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2003; New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, 1998; Dewey Decimal System of Book Classification
- For example: Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds For example: Dorothy Figen, Is Buddhism a Religion?
- For example: Narada Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell, http://www.buddhanet.net/nutshell03.htm
- see, for example, Basic points unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna.
- Volume One, page 296 of the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004)
- Thanissaro (2006). Thanissaro, in part, references MN 9, Sammā-diṭṭhi Sutta, to support this statement.
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- Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia