Buddhism is a tradition of beliefs that originated about 560 BC through the
teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, born Siddhartha Gautama in the area we now call
Nepal. With over 350 million practitioners worldwide, Buddhism is one of the
worlds major religions. It is derived from Hinduism, but emphasizes the
Path of Enlightenment through various means of personal meditation and other
forms of spiritual development.
Buddhism advocates that the discovery of the True Self is a significant step
toward spiritual enlightenment. According to Buddhist tradition and history,
Siddhartha Gautama was born a Prince, and throughout his early life was sheltered
from any unpleasantness or sad sights. When he discovered old age, sickness
and death in the world outside the palace walls, he left his sheltered life
and gave up all his worldly possessions to become an ascetic monk. For years,
he studied the practice of deep meditation to reach a state where he could learn
true knowledge, but realized that the knowledge he sought was still beyond his
reach. At that point, he embraced a life of extreme denial and asceticism, but
again found that it was not the path that would lead to enlightenment. After
six years of practicing fasting and denial, he sat himself beneath the Bodhi
tree of wisdom and resolved that he would not rise again until he had either
found enlightenment or passed from the world.
While Gautama sate beneath the tree, the demon Mara sent distractions to sway
him from his path. Gautama refused to be distracted though the demon sent his
three beautiful daughters to tempt him, then an army of demons to frighten him
and finally attacked Gautama himself with a terrible weapon. Gautama continued
to meditate and Mara was defeated and left him alone.
During the night, Gautama meditated upon his former lives, and upon the state
of man in the world. He saw the suffering of the world, and understood its source
and how to move beyond it. He perceived the Four Noble Truths that form the
basis of Buddhist belief and from them derived the Eightfold Path through which
every man can reach true enlightenment. When morning came, Gautama had achieved
enlightenment, and the light shone from him like the rays of the sun. His choice
was to enter Nirvana immediately, or to stay and teach the path that he had
discovered. He acceded to the pleas of Brahma to remain on the Earth and lead
others to the path that he had found. He had become the Buddha.
The Principles of Buddhism
Buddhist practice and belief is based on the Four Noble Truths. While there
are entire treatises dedicated to explaining each of the Four Noble Truths,
they can be expressed in simple terms:
Life is full of suffering.
Suffering is caused by desire and attachment to desire.
To eliminate suffering, eliminate desire.
To eliminate desire, follow the Eightfold Path:
Right in the Eightfold Path is often translated is Perfect,
thus the path to True Enlightenment is to be attained through Perfect Understanding,
and perfection of thought, words and concentration.
The other important tenet of Buddhism is that the potential to become the Buddha
exists in every thing in the world. The practice of Buddhism includes many disciplines
that help the student of the Eightfold Path with their balance, understanding
and eventual approach to Nirvana. The key to Perfect Understanding and to finding
your own Buddha nature lies in meditation and exercise.
There are several variants of Buddhism. The one most popular among Westerners
is Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the physical experience of the states of enlightenment
over the study of philosophy and texts. Key among the tools for
achieving enlightenment is seated meditation, yoga and study of the koans, or
parables that teach the principles of enlightenment.
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