The Buddha sought to show us how to overcome suffering by attaining Nibbana. Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world today. Its history that now p some two and a half centuries began from the birth of its founder, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Most scholars agree that Siddharta who became known as Buddha was an actual historical persona. He began the religion and philosophy of Buddhism when he reached Enlightenment in 535 BCE while meditating under a Bodhi tree following his abandonment of the life of luxury (The Buddha).
Beliefs and Ethics Central to Buddhism is the understanding of the nature of humans and the causes of human suffering or dukkha. The Buddhists hold the viewpoint that human suffering lays in ignorance, concluding that it is a condition brought about by conflict and stress inherent in human existence and the interaction with the world (Buddhist Ethics 2005). There are various schools of Buddhism such that it has no one bible or sacred texts but instead, a vast collection of authoritative texts from different traditions.
Theravada Buddhism has the Tipitaka or Pali canon; Mahayana Buddhism has the Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka, and the Tibetan branch has the Kangyur and Tengyur, among others (Strong, 2008). In sum, the following constitute part of the basic beliefs in Buddhism: A. The Four Noble Truths 1. Life is suffering or dukkha; 2. The origin of suffering is attachment or craving; 3. Attachments can be overcome, and this cessation of suffering is called nirvana; 4. The way to accomplish the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path (Boerre).
B. The Eightfold Path – consists of eight elements that can be grouped into the three categories, as follows: • Wisdom or prajna – right view and right aspiration or intention • Morals – rights speech; right action and right livelihood • Meditation or samadhi – right effort; right mindfulness, and right concentration (Strong, 2008). C. Karma – all of human actions bear consequences within a cycle of human craving and suffering, such that our lives are always conditioned by our past actions (Buddhist Teachings). D.
Buddhist ethics or precepts termed as sila – made up of the four conditions of chastity, calmness, quiet and extinguishment. According to the Karmic Law, keeping sila is meritorious and serves as good cause to bring about happy or peaceful effects (Buddhism 2008). E. Rebirth – consciousness continues beyond death, finding expression in another life or reincarnation in the future (Buddhist Teachings). F. Enlightenment – through the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, one is liberated from karma towards Enlightenment, the state of being that transcends suffering (Buddhist Teachings).
Customs and Festivals Because there are many schools of Buddhism that have emerged throughout the centuries, the rituals and practices of Buddhists vary according to tradition in different parts of the globe. Significant Buddhist customs include the following: A. Veneration of the Buddha – refers to the honoring of, and meditation, on the qualities of the Buddha. B. Pilgrimage – the main purposes of the pilgrimage to the many Buddhist centers is the fostering of spiritual discipline or the fulfillment of a vow.
C. Ordination – the rite of passage of anyone wishing to be a Buddhist monk involves the renouncing of secular life and accepting life in the monastic sangha as a novice (Venerating). Buddhist festivals are important holy days celebrated in various traditions, which include: • Dharma Day, which marks the beginning of the teachings of Buddha; • Losar, the most important Tibetan holiday that marks the New Year (lunar); • Parinirvana, a Mahayan Buddhist holiday marking Buddha’s death;
• Wesak festival, the most important festival in the Buddhist calendar, celebrates the birthday of Buddha on the full moon of the month of May. Sangha Day that celebrates the spiritual community (Holy days). The divisions of Buddhism have sometimes been called sects or schools, but in this book I have used the word lineage, as it seems to fit better with Buddhist experience. A Buddhist is one who has taken refuge, and he or she has taken refuge in a specific tradition whose teachers stretch back, or are claimed to stretch back, in an unbroken line or lineage to Shakyamuni Buddha.
There is one over-arching principle in the effective spread of Buddhism: skillful means. As Buddhism asks the individual, so it asks a culture: What is it, do you think, that will bring you the most happiness? When it has heard the response, Buddhism says, under its breath, But that will only bring you samsaric happiness, and continues, out loud, That is good, the Dharma can help you. Then, starting from that samsaric desire, it seeks a way of assisting the individual or culture to break out into extra-samsaric joy.
Most countries into which Buddhism spread were what we might call low cultures, that is, they had rich local traditions but little sense of nationhood or broad cultural identity, and did not have a national religion or philosophy. Buddhism was able to supply this lack. It provided a Great Tradition perspective, encouraging local customs to coalesce into national polities and incorporating them in a supra-national worldview. The price was the downgrading of the local customs.
Indigenous deities were said either to have converted to Buddhism, becoming Dharma Protectors (dharma-pala), or foolishly to have rejected it, thus being demoted to demons. The only country in which this did not happen smoothly was China. It had already developed, in Confucianism and Taoism, sophisticated national systems, and so was not the “pushover” that, for example, Tibet was. Buddhism had to be more humble as it approached the Chinese, and it has often smelled, to good upstanding Confucians, of foreigners and their nefarious plots.
Even so, the cultural blending was such that Buddhism came to be counted as the third religion of China, and the eirenic phrase ‘The three religions are a harmonious unity’ was coined. No other foreign system, other than Communism, has been able to penetrate Chinese culture so completely. Buddhism says that it can be said that since the human problem is essentially one of ignorance, and since this is a phenomenon that exists in varying degrees of intensity, it is always worth examining any claims to truth.
This is especially the case when the Absolute Truth attested by Buddhism is beyond perfect verbalization, for another religious or philosophical tradition, despite apparent conflict of ideas, may actually be trying with different terms to express the same ultimate perception which is enshrined in Buddhism itself. Rival truth claims are, then, not necessarily hostile and the Buddhist should feel it possible to engage in interested discussion with advocates of other ideologies. Further, it is always possible that other religions may be able to suggest useful techniques for the attainment or apprehension of Absolute Truth.
Yet the Buddhist knows that the propositions which attempt to approximate Truth must be submitted to the light of the ultimate Buddhist experience, and if they cannot be seen to lead toward this, they are in genuine and decisive conflict with Buddhism. Each religion, then, is open to dialogue, but each presents a touchstone by which authority is to be tested – the experience which suggests the U+016nyatA concept for Buddhism, and for Christianity the experience of God as he expresses himself in Christ.
Interestingly enough, this emphasis on a decisive experience or intuition of Truth means that ardent adherents of both recognize the significance of Kierkegaard’s dictum about subjectivity being truth and know that there are important respects in which a man committed to another religious experience may yet understand mine far better than a purely objective observer can ever hope to do. To study and record the observable data of a religious tradition is utterly useless for the purpose of understanding what the religious man considers important about it.
Thus the dialogue between Christians and Buddhists may well be more productive of sympathetic understanding (even with strongly affirmed disagreement) than that between either Christians or Buddhists with disinterested social scientists. Resources Strong, John. Experience of Buddhism. Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from Shippensburg University Site: http://webspace. ship. edu/cgboer/buddhawise. html. Buddhism. (2008, April 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:38, April 10, 2008, from http://en.
wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title= Buddhism&oldid=169957239. Buddhist Ethics and Social Criticism. (Updated 21 June 2005). Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from Image India Site: http://india_resource. tripod. com/buddhism. htm. Buddhist Teachings. Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from bbc. co. uk Site: http://www. bbc. co. uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/buddhateachings. shtml. Holy Days. Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from bbc. co. uk Site: http://www. bbc. co. uk/religion/religions/buddhism/holydays/.
‘Religious text. ’ (2008, October 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:44, April 9, 2008, from http://en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title= Religious_text&oldid=166613250. The Buddha. Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from bbc. co. uk Site: http://www. bbc. co. uk/ religion/religions/buddhism/history/history. shtml. Venerating the Buddha, Pilgrimage and Ordination. Retrieved 07 Apr. 2008 from bbc. co. uk Site: http://www. bbc. co. uk/religion/religions/buddhism/ customs/customs. shtml.