Overview of Buddhism

 

This information can be found on http://www.asia.si.edu/explore/teacherResources/ArtofBuddhism1.pdf

Buddhism began about 2,500 years ago, when young prince Siddhartha Gautama tried to understand the causes of suffering in the world. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, about five hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, and twelve hundred years before Muhammad, the founder of Islam. He lived for eighty years sometime between 563 and 400 B.C.E.

 

Until he was twenty-nine years old, the prince lived a life of luxury in his palace within sight of the Himalayan mountains. Then, on several trips he made outside his palace, he saw for the first time people who suffered. Among them was an old man, a sick man, someone who had recently died, and a wandering monk. Following this sudden awakening to the suffer- ing in the world, Siddhartha decided to leave his family and the safety of his palace to seek out the causes of suffering. He spent many years medi- tating, praying, and fasting. One day he became aware that people suffer when they want to hold onto material things. He realized that we should not become attached to possessions because nothing is permanent: eventually everything dies

 

or becomes worn out. If we think anything will last forever, we are bound to suffer. The mo- ment Siddhartha recognized the cause of suffering, he attained enlightenment, or the great awakening. From that point on, Siddhartha was known as the Buddha, the “enlightened one.” He spent the rest of his life teaching in India.

 

As the teachings of the Buddha spread from India to other parts of Asia, two major schools of Buddhism developed: Theravada, the “teaching of Elders,” and Mahayana, the “greater vehicle.” Theravada extended in a southeastern direction and can be found today in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. In Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha is considered a great teacher, and each individual is responsible for his or her own journey

The Spread of Buddhism

O V E RV I E W O F B U D D HI S M 7towards enlightenment. Mahayana, on the other hand, traveled from India in a northeasterly direction to China, Korea, and Japan. This tradition not only recognizes the Buddha as a godlike figure but also involves devotion to other enlightened being called bodhisattvas.

All schools of Buddhism believe that every living beings experiences repeated lives on earth and has the opportunity to improve its next birth by performing good deeds in a current life. They also teach that after death, a being can be reborn into another form, such as an animal or insect, and will continue to be reborn until enlightenment is achieved. Enlightenment brings the ultimate goal of nirvana, the final death, that marks release from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. Buddhists believe that by following the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path, freedom from the endless cycle of rebirth is possible.

The central teachings of Buddhism include:

The Middle Way

In life, you must reject the extremes of either wanting everything or giving up everything and seek the balance of the Middle Way.

The Four Noble Truths

1 . S UF F E R I N G

Existence is a realm of suffering: from birth to growing old, becoming sick, and dying—all life is suffering.

2 . T H E S O U R C E O F S U F F E R I N G

Suffering arises from desire. Wanting selfish pleasure, continued life, power, and/or material possessions can all lead to suffering.

3 . S T O P P I N G S U F F E R I N G

You must completely stop wanting things in order to cease desire. Only when no desire remains is enlightenment possible.

4 . T H E W AY T O S T O P S U F F E R I N G

The way to attain enlightenment and stop suffering is to follow the Eightfold Path.

8 T H E A R T O F B U D D HI S M

The Eightfold Path

If you follow these eight rules, the world will become a place in which all people can live in harmony.

1 . R I G HT U N D E RSTA ND IN G

Only when you understand the Four Noble Truths and follow the Eightfold Path can you find true happiness.

2 . R I G H T A I M S

Love and help others. Don’t cheat or want things that other people cannot have.

3 . R I G H T S P E E C H

Always tell the truth. Listen and communi- cate in order to understand others.

4 . R I G H T A C T I O N

Never kill, steal, or be jealous. Perform good acts for the sake of benefiting others, not for your own reward.

5 . P RO P E R WO RK

Do work that will not harm any living creature.

6 . R I G H T T H I N K IN G

Focus your thoughts on the positive in order to overcome difficulties.

7. P ROPER AWA RE NE S S

Never let your body control your mind. Know when to say “no.”

8 . M E D ITATI O N

Train your mind to concentrate and think deeply, to be inwardly attentive, and to find peace within so you will be able to learn and do many things.

Today, more than three hundred million Buddhists practice their beliefs throughout the world. The highest concentration of Buddhists is found in Asia: Japan, Korea, Nepal, China, throughout Southeast Asia, and in the Himalayan regions. A wide range of Buddhist tradi- tions exists. Some of the practices include: making religious journeys (pilgrimages) to holy temples and stupas and walking around these sites (circumambulating); praying; making offerings of fruit, food, and flowers; burning incense to the Buddha and bodhisattvas in a temple; and making offerings and praying at small shrines erected in the home.

The spread and practice of Buddhism have transformed India, China, and Japan at different points in history. India, where the Buddah lived and taught, is the homeland of Buddhism. Trade and cultural exchange between India and China during the first century C.E. introduced Buddhism to China, and within a few hundred years the religion permeated all aspects of Chinese society, art, and culture. From China, Buddhism spread throughout East Asia and reached Japan. Since its introduction and assimilation in Japan in the mid- sixth century, Buddhism has been a major influence on Japanese life and art.

Meditation

Meditation—the practice of quieting the mind and focusing on the present moment—is one step on the Eightfold Path of Buddhism (see page 9). The goal of meditation is to detach oneself from thoughts of daily life and observe them without judgment or emotion. In this way, one can recognize that endless thoughts and speculations about the past and future are just thoughts, not reality, and need not disturb the mind. One is then free to expe- rience the true reality of the present moment.

One can practice meditation in a variety of ways, depending on individual preference and the type of Buddhism followed. Some methods include counting and monitoring the breath,chanting a special word or phrase (mantra), or using a visual or audio focal point, such as the flame of a candle or the sound of a bell. Meditation usually takes place seated in a quiet space.

The Buddha achieved enlightenment after an intense period of prolonged meditation. To recall this important event in the life of the Buddha, he is often depicted in a seated position with his hands in the symbolic gesture of meditation, the Dhyana mudra (see mudras on page 10).

Buddhism began about 2,500 years ago, when young prince Siddhartha Gautama tried to understand the causes of suffering in the world. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, about five hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, and twelve hundred years before Muhammad, the founder of Islam. He lived for eighty years sometime between 563 and 400 B.C.E.

Until he was twenty-nine years old, the prince lived a life of luxury in his palace within sight of the Himalayan mountains. Then, on several trips he made outside his palace, he saw for the first time people who suffered. Among them was an old man, a sick man, someone who had recently died, and a wandering monk. Following this sudden awakening to the suffer- ing in the world, Siddhartha decided to leave his family and the safety of his palace to seek out the causes of suffering. He spent many years medi- tating, praying, and fasting. One day he became aware that people suffer when they want to hold onto material things. He realized that we should not become attached to possessions because nothing is permanent: eventually everything dies

or becomes worn out. If we think anything will last forever, we are bound to suffer. The mo- ment Siddhartha recognized the cause of suffering, he attained enlightenment, or the great awakening. From that point on, Siddhartha was known as the Buddha, the “enlightened one.” He spent the rest of his life teaching in India.

As the teachings of the Buddha spread from India to other parts of Asia, two major schools of Buddhism developed: Theravada, the “teaching of Elders,” and Mahayana, the “greater vehicle.” Theravada extended in a southeastern direction and can be found today in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. In Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha is considered a great teacher, and each individual is responsible for his or her own journey

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