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Essentials of Buddhism Essay

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Introduction and Background

The lifestyle of a Buddha

Many scholars have not managed to make a good analysis of the life of Buddha. However, majority of them believe that Buddha existed, provided teachings and also helped to establish a monastic order.

Concepts governing the belief system of Buddhists

It is believed that that some Buddhists concepts like yoga, rebirth and karma have been in existence for a very long time. Later on, these concepts were absorbed in Buddhism.

In terms of the life and the world, Saṃsāra refers to a fundamental ethos or worldview which perceives all living beings to be in some continuous and endless cycle of birth, life and death.1 On the other hand, Karma means “action” or “deed”. This term can also be described using the law that associates actions with reactions or causes with effects.2

The concept of rebirth in Buddhism is also highly valued. In this regards, rebirth refers to a belief system which maintains that almost all the souls have the ability to reincarnate. Rebirth is not similar among all living creatures. Special or selective rebirth confirms that only selective minority souls are able to undergo rebirth.3

Perception of the world among Buddhists

One of the staunch belief systems of the Buddhists is attached on the notion that solution to problems can be caused through suffering. There are different ways of avoiding suffering. For example, suffering can be avoided by observing rightful living especially on how people behave, their verbal utterances, feelings as well as beliefs. Suffering can also be avoided by eliminating bad desires and finding ways of getting what we actually need.

There are four splendid platforms of truth among Buddhists. The human life is filled with trauma and various forms of suffering according to the first pillar of truth. Although some people might have few problems, there are those who are always struggling to have a decent life. Such people include those subjected to torture, starvation, hatred, war and acts of terror.

As a result, individuals will always live in fear especially whenever they think of disturbing issues like getting old, sickness and death. No matter how individuals try to avoid their negative thoughts, there is always a constant reminder that prompts people about death.

All forms of suffering are associated with the second pillar of truth. It is believed that the need to survive contributes significantly towards suffering experienced by various people. Sometimes, people might try to be humble, but this does not help to reduce the level of suffering. In fact, the level of painful experiences increases as one tries to achieve the most desired relationships.

Most types of human suffering can be terminated according to the concept of the third pillar of truth. Individuals can manage to live a comfortable life by doing away with activities that are not necessary. This means that people should always aim at being simple, direct and straight-forward.

The path or way to eliminate the sources of suffering is the fourth noble truth. This is achieved through meditation whereby individuals are required to practice awareness or mindfulness. This also requires individuals to be mindful of the things that are likely to subject them to torture. In order to achieve the latter, people should increase their awareness and appreciate the condition of a particular situation. This eventually makes them to realize the desired relationships and avoid instances of being complex and unnecessarily manipulative.

The Gallant Eightfold Path

The right view or perception is the first aspect of the path. This is based on how we see the world. Wrong views may be experienced when individuals impose their expectations on different aspects of life and express some form of fear on such things. On the other hand, the right view is realized when people express simplicity on different things and avoid any form of fear.

Right intention is the second aspect of this path. This aspect requires people to avoid being manipulative by abandoning their expectations, fears and ambitions that cannot be met. Thus, people should not work according to their intentions.

The next aspect is called the right speech. Under this provision, it means that the intentions of the people are expected to be pure. People should strive towards eliminating any form of embarrassment. Individuals should express their feelings in a sincerely genuine and straightforward way.

The fourth aspect is known as right discipline and is based on renunciation. People are expected to avoid complicating issues and instead practice simplicity. Thus, there should be a clear and straight-forward association with family members, jobs and meal times. All the frivolous and unnecessary complications should be discarded.

The fifth aspect of this gallant path is called the right livelihood. This requires individuals to be happy of the different jobs that they undertake in order to earn their livelihood. We should not wish of having a better job while neglecting the current one. Instead, people are expected to form comprehensible associations with their jobs and do their parts properly.

The next feature of the path is called the right path. This requires individuals to avoid any form of struggle or negative tendency when approaching a given spiritual discipline. Individuals are recommended to appreciate different situations by working gently and avoiding any form of aggression.

The seventh element of the path is known as right mindfulness. This means that one should be careful and be able to pay attention even to the minor details of their experiences. They are also required to be mindful when talking, working and also on their attitude towards family members and friends.

The last characteristic of the path is called the right concentration. Individuals should avoid being absent minded as a result of being captivated by different speculations and entertainments. In order to achieve this, appropriate discipline is a vital component.

The 4 immeasurable elements

In Buddhism, the four immeasurable elements are set in a manner that individuals can be able to generate wholesome attitudes through meditation. Hence, meditation is given a very significant platform in the life of a Buddhist.

The Middle Way or Path

The middle way has different meanings. In simple terms, the middle way is used to refer to a practice that is non-extremism in nature. This path helps people to avoid cases of self-mortification or self-indulgence.

The Nature of existence

In Buddhism, the nature of existence is based on various ideologies such as nonintellectual theories, and different concepts about the world according to philosophers. They are used to help people make decisions on what to do or what to avoid.

The existence marks

Buddhism has three main marks that are highly valued. Impermanence is a Buddhist’s notion that terms different experiences as being unsteady, irregular and temporary. This implies that human experiences come in parts while existence depends on the surrounding conditions.

In addition, the world is always changing and this means that it is not possible to establish any permanent relationships. The Buddhist’s notion of suffering and pain mainly refers to the situation whereby an individual feels disturbed. Buddhism tries to make individuals to be realistic and avoid cases of being extremely optimistic or pessimistic. Individuals experience pain mostly when they try to relate themselves with the outside world.

Moreover, an individual should avoid fantasizing about things that he or she is not capable of achieving or obtaining in life. Egolessness is the last Buddhist’s notion. This is an aspect that helps individuals to avoid suffering. In order to achieve this quality, an individual should be capable of analyzing the mental constituents of objects or people.

Dependent arising

This doctrine is used to explain that a phenomenon arises through both the process of action and reaction. It is mainly used to explain the frequent chain of suffering that a human being is most likely to undergo while still alive.

The aspect and value of emptiness

This term explains why properties lack any intrinsic value. This belief system is based on the fact that all properties are relational in nature.

Nirvana

This term implies the act of separating from the main group or mainstream Buddhism religion. This is based on passion, aggression as well as ignorance. People should not struggle in order to live. Doing so will only add extra complications to the lives of people.

Eras of the Buddha

A Buddha era refers to a time in history when people recall and observe the teachings associated with the earliest Buddha. This means that the various eras of Buddha exist during the human existence period.4

Various practices in Buddhism

The term practice does not refer to mere acceptance of Buddhism. It involves the ability of an individual to be committed to Buddhism practices such as through chanting and conducting daily meditation.

To begin with, yoga is mostly used in Tibetan Buddhism and refers to the meditative or physical disciplines that help to generate mystical experiences. On the other hand, refuge in the jewels as applied in Buddhism include the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Being a refuge in Buddha helps an individual to transform annoyance into compassion. Refuge in Dharma and Sangha helps in transforming an individual from illusion into wisdom and from a desire to openhandedness respectively.5

Ethics is also another important area of practice in Buddhism. Buddhist’s ethics refers to the principles or practices that enable people to act in meaningful ways other than causing any kind of harm. In Buddhism, the main ethical code is known as the five precepts. These precepts do not represent the commandments but focuses on training principles taken willingly and which require high levels of sensitivity and intelligence.

The monastic life refers to the decision by certain people (who are commonly known as monastics) to live a pure life. This is mainly to help such individuals to preserve and disseminate Dharma for the benefit of other people.6

Buddhism also values that art of meditation. The latter is based on two themes. The two themes relate to the ability to transform the minds of people and at the same time explore their minds. There are various types of meditation. For instance, samatha meditation enables a mediator to develop a peaceful mind by observing a strong mental concentration. This helps to free the inner obstacles and impurities from the mind. It also enables the mediator to have strong concentration that is attained in a jhana state.7

Besides, the theravāda Buddhism aims at identifying the reasons behind human suffering. These factors are referred as craving and they are believed to carry a number of defilements. There are increased stressful situations that people go through largely due to lack of satisfaction and hatred that exist among people. In order to do away with such sufferings, individuals are expected to develop measures that can provide permanent solutions. One way of doing this is by conducting internal investigation and making an appropriate analysis.

The vipassana meditation refers to a mediation technique whereby then mediator observes oneself continuously and realistically while mediating. It also refers to a form of wisdom that has the ability to snuff out afflictions. The overall aim of Vipassana meditation is to help attain nirvana.

Zen helps individuals to have a satisfactory understanding of their life by avoiding being misled either through language or thought in Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is popular in Japan and Korea and is categorized into two schools namely Rinzai and Soto. The former focuses more on meditation while the latter focuses more on sitting.

Tantras are the main pillars of Vajrayana. In simple terms, tantra refers to internal realization that fights ordinary appearances and helps in accomplishing Buddha purities. Vajrayana and Tantra ioncorporates all the necessary concepts found in Mahayana and at the same time includes some physical techniques that are specifically meant to improve Buddhist practices.

Historical developments of Buddhism and why it among the fastest growing religions

The philosophical roots of Buddhism

The philosophical roots of Buddhism can be traced back in ancient India. This was towards the end of first millennium. Since there was lack of satisfaction on the practice of conducting sacrifices and rituals, there was a lot of social and religious strife. As a result, different groups reacted by rejecting and failing to respect the powers given to the Brahmans and Vedas. It is perhaps necessary to explore the Indian Buddhism in detail.

Indian Buddhism is grouped into a number of periods. These include early Buddhism, Nikaya Buddhism, early Buddhist schools, late Buddhism and Vajrayana/Esoteric Buddhism. Each of these groups grew and expanded independently leading to a widespread of the religion.

The Pre-sectarian Buddhism was also instrumental in the growth of Buddhism.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism refers to the earlier Buddhism known to almost every scholar. The main scriptures in pre-sectarian Buddhism are Agamas/Nikayas and Vinaya Pitaka. Most of the previous information contains basic teachings. As a result, people believe that Gautama Buddha had similar teachings. These teachings had a direct association with the noble eightfold path, dependent origination, the noble truths, the five aggregates and also the marks of existence.

The earliest Buddhist schools were also effective in spreading the philosophy of the religion. These are the schools which triggered the splitting of sangha.

This was attributed to the Vinaya differences as well as monk’s separation and doctrinal differences. In the early Buddhist schools, all information was passed orally. Oral transmission was conducted from the assembly in order to prevent oral transmission errors. Different people were assigned the role of reciting whereby some groups recited monastic rules while others engaged in reciting discourses.

The earliest beliefs in Mahayana Buddhism indicated that there was another school that was established to out-compete the earlier “Hinayana schools”. When Christianity suffered a major split in Europe, it gave way for Buddhism to thrive.8 This trend has continued for a relatively long period of time while Buddhism has remained intact without any splits.

During the late Mahayana Buddhism, a total of four different thoughts were developed. These were the Madhyamaka, Buddhist logic, yogacara and Tathagatagarbha. Both Yogacara and Madhyamaka dwelt in the teaching of deep underlying ideas in Buddhism. These philosophies have been regarded as major impetus towards the growth of Buddhism religion.

Vajrayana Buddhism refers to a ritualistic and an esoteric path found in Mahayana Buddhism. In terms of sociological development; Vajrayana Buddhism triggered hereditary priesthood development in parts of Nepal and Tibet.

The diverse development of Buddhism

At first, Buddhism recorded a slow spread in India until the coming of strong supporters of Buddhism. These supporters triggered the construction of religious memorials. Buddhism also spread in Maurya Empire and to the surrounding areas like central Asia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Currently, the religion has spread far and wide and has believers across the world. Buddhism religion is slowly turning out to be unpopular in India but it is still practiced in other countries especially those surrounding India. Although formal membership in Buddhism is different amongst communities, all the members relate their faith to the earlier formula where all the practitioners rely on the three jewels.

It is also pertinent to note that Nava-bauddha (also called neo-Buddhist) refers to the Ambedkar followers. Ambedkar started practicing Buddhism in the year 1956. It also led to the spread of the religion. The demographics of the current Buddhist followers is also an influencing factor that has prompted the growth of the religion. Previous research shows that Buddhism closely follows Christianity, Hinduism and Islam in popularity. It is also believed that Buddhism was the earliest and largest religion in the early 20th century.

The development of schools and cultures in Buddhism

People who practice Buddhism group themselves into two groups namely Mahayana and Theravada. Other scholars have made considerable efforts to classify Buddhists according to their cultural or geographical areas. Such groupings include Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada and East Asian Buddhism.

Theravada is the earliest Buddhist school which grew at unprecedented rate. Although some branches of the school have ceased to exist, some branches like those located in south East Asia and Sri Lanka still survive. The commentaries of Pali Canon were largely used as important spiritual guidelines at the Theravada school.9 It is definite that the teachings acquired from this school spread in different parts of the world and as a result, the teachings were quickly adopted and practiced among new and old adherents of Buddhism.

The growth and development of Buddhism as a religion is also believed to have been accelerated by the renowned Mahayana traditions. This growth was noted as early as the fifteenth century. During this time, a number of Mahayana centers were established to facilitate learning.

Mahayana Buddhism is still very common in parts of China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Russia and Japan.10 Bodhisattva in Buddhism is used to mean “enlightenment being”. In Theravada Buddhism, the term Boudhisattvas is used to relate the previous existence of Gautama Buddha.

The Vajrayana traditions are still very common in Tibet, china and Mongolia. It is imperative to note that vajrayana is practiced differently both in Tibet and China although it is valued by Buddhists in both regions.

Buddhist writings

Buddhists texts are of different forms and have been used to advance the ideologies of the religion. The value of these texts depends on the nature of a school where as some schools relate some texts with religious objects, other schools use a scholastic approach to classify these texts.11 One of the widely used scriptures in Buddhism is the Mahayana Sutra.

Finally, different opinions can be used to establish whether Buddhism is a religion or not. This is due to the fact that different people have conflicting ideas regarding Buddhism as a religion. However, reaching an accurate conclusion depends on a good understanding of the term religion.

Bibliography

Butler, Mike. “Introduction to Buddhism” Buddha Dharma Education Association and BuddaNet. 2012. <>.

Cheah, Joseph. Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Eliot, Edward Arnold. Japanese Buddhism, London: Sage, 1935.

Keown, Damien Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Kinnard, Jacob. The Emergence of Buddhism: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Kogen, Mizuno, Essentials of Buddhism, Shunju-sha, 1972, English translation. Tokyo: Kosei, 1996.

Kozak, Arnold. The Everything Buddhism Book. Avon, Mass: Adams Media, 2011.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009.

Richard, Gombrich. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Footnotes

1Jacob Kinnard, The Emergence of Buddhism: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 48.

2 Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009), 324.

3 Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009), 324.

4Mizuno Kogen, Essentials of Buddhism, Shunju-sha, 1972, English translation. (Tokyo: Kosei, 1996), 56.

5 Arnold Kozak, The Everything Buddhism Book. (Avon, Mass: Adams Media, 2011), 66.

6 Gombrich Richard, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. (New York: Routledge, 1988), 89.

7Joseph Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 271.

8 Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1996), 59.

9 Mike Butler, “Introduction to Buddhism” Buddha Dharma Education Association and BuddaNet. 2012.

10Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009), 88.

11 Arnold Eliot Edward, Japanese Buddhism. (London: Sage, 1935), 16.

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