Buddhism is probably the most tolerant religion in the world, as its teachings can coexist with any other religions. Buddhism has a very long existence and history, starting in about 565 B.C. with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. The religion has guidelines in two forms in which Buddhist followers must follow. These are the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path.
It all started in about 565 B.C. when Siddhartha Gautama was born. He was a young Indian prince born to the ruler of a small kingdom that is now known as Nepal. Gautama’s father was said to have been told by a prophet that if Gautama saw the sick, aged, dead, or poor he would become a religious leader. If he didn’t see these four things he would become an emperor. Because of this prophecy Gautama’s father decided to isolate his son from the outside world, where he might “see how the other half lived”, for the good of his empire and his citizens. Trying to shelter Gautama from all the four sights was impossible, and Gautama ventured out and that is when he eventually saw the four sights, which would, if experienced as it had been told to Gautama’s father, lead the young prince to a religious leader. These sights or as how Buddhists refer to them “The Four Signs” were in turn, a sick man covered with terrible sores, an old man, a corpse, and a wandering monk. The sightings of these men made Gautama think of the suffering and inevitable death which comes to all people great and small. This brought further questioning such as the meaning of life and the ultimate fate of man. As time passed these thoughts became great burdens to Gautama and he increasingly became dissatisfied with the shallow dissolute life of the royal court in which he lived. Therefore at the age of 21, although married with a beautiful young son and also the heir to a very rich throne he forsook it all and became a traveling holy man. After a while of traveling as a holy man there was a great even that transformed Gautama into the Buddha (or the Enlightened One).
Siddhartha had been meditating under a bodhi tree for six years, but had never been fully satisfied. Eventually at dawn it all began on Gautama’s thirty-fifth birthday. He finally realized the essential truth about life and about the path to salvation. He realized that physical harshness of asceticism was not a means of achieving Enlightenment and Nirvana. From then on, he encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He called this path the Middle Way. “Devotion to the pleasures of sense, a low practice of villagers, a practice unworthy, unprofitable, the way of the world [on one hand]; and [on the other] devotion to self- mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable. By avoiding these two extremes the Buddha has gained knowledge of that middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, which causeth calm, special knowledge, enlightenment, Nirvana.” He cleaned his mind of all evil thoughts and achieved Enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, earning the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One.” Because of this Gautama then became the Buddha and remained at this spot for many days while remaining in a trance-like state and told his teachings to five ascetics for many weeks. This experience made Gautama feel a desire to share his knowledge with others, so he and his five students preached to the world. Gautama was a teacher and guru until his death in about 483 B.C.
Buddhism is a lot like other Indian religions based upon the beliefs. Such as the beliefs in reincarnation, dharma, karma and Nirvana. But mostly in Raja Yoga the profound meditation which holds the key to enlightment and therefore to the way of Nirvana. Buddha himself expressed the base of his beliefs when he said, “I teach only 2 things, O disciples, the fact of suffering and the possibility of escape from suffering. These ideas are expanded upon in the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path”. In His first sermon to the five ascetics in the Deer Park near Varanasi, the Buddha spoke of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths summed up, in a systematic formula, are the central teaching of the Buddha and can be summarized by saying, life is suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering is desire (tanha) the way to end suffering is to overcome desire, and to overcome desire one must follow the “Eightfold Path”. Buddha taught that man is a slave to his ego. That man wishes happiness, security, success, long life, and many other things for himself and his loved ones. However, pain, frustration, sickness and death are all impossible to avoid and the only way to eliminate these evils is to overcome desire. The “Eight Fold Path” is a little more difficult to summarize it begins with, “Right to Knowledge”, which means basically the four noble truths. “Right Aims” in next, one must resolve in order to make progress towards salvation. “Right Speech”, our speech reflects our character. We must avoid speaking falsely, obscene, slanderous, and belittling words. “Right Conduct”, you must follow the five constitutes at the core of Buddhism’s moral code which are, no killing, no stealing, no lying, no committing indecent sexual acts or no consuming of intoxicants. “Right Livelihood”, some jobs are condemned by Buddha such as slave dealer, butcher, prostitute, and traders of lethal weapons and substances. “Right Effort”, one must have the will power to overcome obstacles. “Right Mindfulness”, Buddhism says that what a person is, comes from what he thinks. By improving our thoughts we can become more virtuous. And the last is “Right Meditation” by this meaning the practice of the Raja Yoga. Since Buddhism emphasizes the desirability of self-removal from the problems involved with everyday life, Buddhism easily became a monastic religion. Within monasteries, everyone has the same goal, which is to attain Nirvana. The Enlightenment which dwells in life does not belong to only one form. Man is always changing and entirely mortal. Buddhism is a natural religion. It does not violate either the mind or the body. The Buddha became aware that men are born and die according to their good or evil actions, according to their self-created Karma-the consequences of good or evil acts. Nirvana is “self annihilation or the extinguishing of all traces of desire, which repre- sents final enlightment and which releases a person from the cycle of rebirth”.
There are many monasteries in the world, in some of them in countries such as Burma, Thailand, and Ceylon, almost every young male spends at least a few weeks of his life within a monastery. Typically at the age of four the boy celebrates an elaborate ceremony which involves first dressing him in fine clothing. Then stripping the clothing from him, shaving his head and giving him a beggar-bowl along with a saffron-colored robe. These three things are all traditional symbols of a Buddhist monk. For those who become monks it is a life of poverty and celibacy. Before gaining the admittance into the monastery a monk must proclaim his faith by saying “I go to Buddha for refuge; I go to Dharma for refuge; I go to Sangha for refuge” by saying this a monk gives up his civil rights such as voting and being eligible for public services. Also a few sects permit marriage.
This report was just a short overview of traditional Buddhism, the Buddha, its beliefs and its way of life. It did not include the two major sects; Theravada the conservative sect, and Mahayana the liberal sect. Much more could be said of Buddhism but there are so many more aspects that could be explored that it would take a twenty-page report and forever to do.
Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World. New York: Macmillan Publi-
shing Company, 1991.
Mazour, Anatole G. and John M. Peoples. World History People and
Nations Revised Edition. Orlando, Florida: Holt, Rinhart and
Winston Inc., 1993.