Today’s Western religions revolve around a central God that is one and the same for all of the followers of that religion.
For instance, a Catholic goes to Church and prays to the same God as the person sitting beside them. There are many Eastern religions where that is not the case. Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest religions, is one such instance. Buddhism, in fact, stresses a more individual approach to spirituality. In 563 B.
C., in India, a man named Siddartha Guatama was born into the ruling family of the Sakya people. Because of his elevated position in society he was forced to live a life of seclusion. When he was twenty-nine years old, he ventured out into the world and was confronted with the reality of suffering and death in the world. The next day he left his wife and son to search for a way to put an end to human suffering. After six years of living ascetically, he realized that the path to success and enlightenment was neither of the extremes of vast material possessions or the lack thereof , but a balance between the two.
He called this the Middle Way. By the time he was thirty-five, Siddartha had achieved true enlightenment and earned the title Buddha(awakened one). He was the fourth man recorded to have done so, but is credited with the creation of the Buddhist religion.
Today Buddhism is one of the most commonly practiced Eastern religions. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Its characteristics are simple and strive only for spiritual enlightenment. The critical element of Buddhism is what Buddha called the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth as related by Buddha is that suffering is unavoidable and universal to all beings. It is suffering that teaches us the lessons we need to learn to become enlightened.
The Second Noble Truth reveals the root of that suffering; desire. Desires for things such as sex, wealth and power are what blind us to the true nature of reality. The Third Noble Truth is the way in which we alleviate suffering. By clearing oneself of desire, one can reach a state of mind known as Nirvana. The Fourth Noble Truth is knowing the path taken by Buddha himself, the Middle Way.
The Middle Way has come to be known as the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is the means to achieve liberation from suffering through eight factors that must be taken into account when living one’s life. They are right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Right understanding is the knowledge of Buddha and his teachings as well as the understanding of oneself as one really is. Right thoughts are the proper motives of our actions, that is to think only good thoughts that can benefit others. Right speech refers to not speaking ill of others and never telling lies.
Right action is much like right speech except that you must not inflict ill on others, take what is not yours or engage in the forming of lies. Right livelihood deals with five kinds of trade which should be avoided by people not of the specific discipline or be avoided altogether. They are, trade in deadly weapons, trade in animals for slaughter, trade in slavery, trade in intoxicants and trade in poisons. Right effort is needed so we can learn to shun emotions such as fear, anger and jealousy and to attempt to do good unto others. Right mindfulness is the act of training our minds to cast out desire through the method of mediation.
Right concentration is the act of meditation itself. Meditation is an inner stillness and focus that transcends ordinary consciousness. Through meditation one can develop a calm and concentrated mind and help to prepare one for the attainment of wisdom and enlightenment.Another important aspect of Buddhism is the belief that after we die, we are reborn into new lives. This is known as reincarnation. Skills attained in past lives and even vague memories are passed onto a person’s new life.
Buddhists often claim that the feeling we call dj vu is really recollections from past lives. A person is reborn on the Wheel of Life until they attain spiritual enlightenment.Karma is one of the most essential ideas involved in Buddhism. Karma basically says that everything you do has either a positive or a negative effect on you.
If you do something bad, then something bad will eventually happen to you. That atonement can even come in another life. It is sort of like saying “what goes around, comes around.” However, just because someone has fallen on hard times in their current life, is not necessarily an indication that they did something bad in one of their previous lives to deserve it. In fact, being in bad situation in your current life could be a result of the good things you did in your past life. Perhaps the other people around you in your new life are in need of compassion and understanding that you may be able to provide. People are not, however, fated to live one way or another.
Karma can determine where we are placed in life, but we still live by our own choices and are forced into nothing. One of the biggest differences between Buddhism and modern Western religions is the added emphases on the individual. In Buddhism, there is no one else who is responsible for a person’s actions than that person themselves.
And unlike the predominant religions in the west, that person is always given another chance, no matter how grave their transgressions. There is no Hell where a person is punished for eternity. The only punishment that person will face is Karmic retribution and having to live more lives before reaching Nirvana.
Buddhism stresses the need to help others while striving towards a personal spiritual evolution as opposed to a communal worshipping of God. Success and happiness in the West is most often measured by accumulated wealth, power and fame. However, to a Buddhist, success in life if measured by spiritual progress. If you moved closer to spiritual enlightenment and Nirvana, then you would consider your life a success by moving closer to your ultimate goal. Siddartha Guatama, the Buddha, has managed to create something that is not a religion, but more of a method for spirituality that has stood the test of 2500 years and is now becoming more prevalent in Western culture. Unlike theoretic philosophers, Buddha has concocted a spiritual mode that can be readily understood and practiced by anyone.
He has had indirect influence over the lives of millions and is not soon to be forgotten. The fame brought to Buddha would mean absolutely nothing to him compared to the accomplishment of helping and giving direction to countless numbers of people; exactly what he set out to do in the first place.