Buddha and Buddhism – Part 1
The Buddha was a spiritual teacher from ancient India. And the founder of Buddhism. His real name was Siddharta Gautama. And accounts of his life and teaching were passed down by word of mouth until they appeared in writing around 400 years after his death.
The early life of Buddha
There is not much information is available about the life of the Buddha. And what little there is has over the centuries, become mixed with myth. However, it is said that he was born a prince of the Sakya tribe of Nepal in around 566 BC. As a child, Siddharta was troubling the very same thoughts and fears that we all have today. He worried about topics such as, ” Why do things change?”, ” Why do we grow older?” and ” Why do people get sad?” In his late twenties, he had realized that the wealth and luxury provided by his royal position could not bring him real happiness, so he left his home and family to look for the meaning of life and the key to contentment by living simply and trying out the teachings and philosophies of his day.
For six years Buddha wandered from place to place, living plainly. He studied with great masters and learned how to meditate, but still, he felt unhappy. After that, one day, he decided to sit in meditation underneath a great tree, called the bodhi tree, and stay there until he found the answers he sought. After many days of deep meditation, he experienced an amazing flash of insight during which he came to understand the cause and true nature of human “suffering”, and how to prevent it: he became what is now known as “enlightened”.
The name Buddha is a title that comes from the Sanskrit word Budh, meaning “to understand”, or “to be awakened”. Buddha can therefore be translated as “someone who has awakened to the truth”. For the rest of his life, the Buddha traveled around India teaching others the way to enlightenment, later this journey known as the Dharma ( the Path ). Gradually, he gathered a group of followers, who became known as the Sangha ( the Community ).
One important aspect of Buddhist practice was that the Buddha encouraged the Sangha to think for themselves. He directed them not to follow his teachings just because he said so, but to test them for themselves. And he taught people from all walks of life. Although the Buddha died at the age of 80 in around 486 BC, his teachings have lived on. Buddha’s last words were: ” All created things are Impermanent, Strive on with awareness.” And the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – Three Jewels or Three Refuges – are still at the heart of Buddhism today.
There are around 350 million Buddhists in the world today, including a growing number of Westerners. Buddhism gradually became popular in India during the fourth century BC before spreading slowly to other countries in the Far East: northward into Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Japan, and southward into Thailand: Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia.
Many different forms of Buddhism have developed in these places over the centuries. And therefore they vary according to the culture and customs of each country. However, the Buddha’s basic teachings remain the same wherever Buddhism is practiced. The most important ideas include believing in non – violence, understanding and tolerant of differences, and having a strong sense of compassion. The Buddha taught that we have to understand the nature of life before we can improve our own lives and become happier, so he formulated The Four Noble Truths. They are :
- Suffering ( or struggling ) is part of everyone’s life
- The cause of our suffering is our own greedy mind, which constantly wants ” more ” and ” better “
- We can overcome Suffering.
- We can overcome suffering by following the steps of The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path involves :
- Developing a deep understanding of The Four Noble Truths to inspire us to engage with the rest of the Path
- Making a commitment to self-improvement
- Speaking in a kind and truthful manner
- Developing ” right action ” through behaving with compassion toward others
- Earning a living without harming any being
- Banishing negative thoughts to conquer ignorance and desires
- Encouraging wholesome thoughts, because all that we say and do arises from our thoughts
- Developing and strengthening the depth of our concentration
We must read the teaching of Buddha in life once.
Another set of training principles, known as The Five Precepts, encourages us to take more responsibility for our actions. They are :
- I resolve not to take life
- 1 resolve not to steal
- 1 resolve not to mistreat others
- I resolve not to tell lies
- I resolve not to indulge in excess
End of Part 1
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