BuddhismBy: Austin Smith

A Statue of Buddha
A Statue of Buddha


China is home to many religions and philosophies that many people follow.

They were started over 2000 years ago, and are still prominent till this day.

This page will cover the basics of one of them: Buddhism

This page will cover 5 topics:

1. What is Buddhism? - What exactly is Buddhism?

2. The Life of Buddha - A biography of Siddhartha Gautama

3. The Four Noble Truths - An explanation of the teachings of Buddha

4. Buddhist Practice - How do Buddhists exercise their religion?

5. Buddhism Today - What is modern Buddhism like?

What is Buddhism?

The Wheel of Life
The Wheel of Life
Buddhism is a religion that was started in China around 400-600 B.C.E. by a man named Siddhartha Gautama. Put simply, Buddhism is a religion in which followers of it try to end suffering, and achieve nirvana, or "enlightenment". Buddhists believe that every sentient being is in a cycle of suffering and rebirth. This is demonstrated in the picture on the right of the Buddhist "Wheel of Life". Everyone has pain, greed, hate, etc. that causes them to suffer. Buddhism teaches how to end that suffering by achieving inner peace. Rebirth is the belief that when you die, you are reborn again with a different soul and as a different being, based on your Karma. A person's karma is the sum of all of the actions that one has taken that led to a consequence. For instance if someone lived their life being kind to others and selflessly, then they would have good karma and be reborn in a higher realm of being. The opposite is true if you did evil deeds and accumulated bad karma. Some Buddhists believe that there is an intermediate state between dying and being reborn again. If one achieves nirvana in their lifetime, then they can escape the cycle. Buddhism is considered by some to be a philosophy and not a religion. Because Buddha taught his followers to not think of him as a god, Buddhism is non-theistic.
On a side note- Gautama Buddha wasn't a large, bald, jolly man that is typically portrayed: he was actually very thin and had hair.
For any questions or curiosities on Buddhism: Click Here


The Life of Buddha

Buddha's Awakening Meditation
Buddha's Awakening Meditation

Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini, India (Nepal in modern day) around 563 B.C.E. He was a prince and was prophesied to become a great king if he was not allowed outside the palace walls, or a holy man if he was. His father wanted him to succeed the throne so he forbid him to leave the palace. Despite his father's wishes, Siddhartha left the palace several times at the age of 29. It is said that on these excursions he learned of the suffering of people and because of this, he left his life as a royal and went on a spiritual quest. While meditating, he discovered the "Middle Way", or the path that people must take if they want to be enlightened. At the age of 35, Siddhartha meditated under a sacred tree, not to get up until he had reached enlightenment. After 49 days of meditation, he attained enlightenment and was from then on known as Buddha, or "Awakened One". He spent the rest of his life teaching of how others could attain enlightenment or nirvana as well. He didn't teach others what it was like to be enlightened because he believed it to be something one could only feel to understand. Many historians and Buddhists debate on what he actually did for the rest of his life, so there isn't one clear truth to it. One thing that is agreed upon however is that Buddha predicted his passing on in "Parinirvana", the final nirvana after leaving his earthly body, at the age of 80. Buddha's final words were this:

"All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence." -Gautama Buddha



The Four Noble Truths

The four noble truths are the fundamental Buddhist teachings. They are called truths because in Buddhism they are absolute. Buddha realized them through meditation.

Buddha's First Teaching
Buddha's First Teaching

1. "Dukkha" - The Reality of Suffering

The first noble truth is that life as we know it leads to suffering. There are 3 different kinds of suffering:
Ordinary Suffering - Any physical or mental suffering - Grief, Sickness, Pain, Sorrow, Despair, Death, etc...
Suffering Produced by Change - Suffering when good things end, happiness is not permanent - Looking forward to something but then being let down/disappointed, etc...
Suffering as Conditioned States - Suffering caused by attachments to ones self - Matter, Sensations, Perceptions, etc...

2. "Samudaya" - The Cause of Suffering

The second noble truth is that the main cause of suffering is through desire and craving. There are 3 main categories of desires:
Desire for Sense (Pleasures) - Wanting to have good sensations - Taste of Food, Sound of Music, etc...
Desire to Become - Wanting fame or recognition/Wanting Existence - Movie Star, Famous Musician, Acclaimed Scientist, etc...
Desire to Exterminate - Wanting to be rid of unpleasant experiences - Pain, Sadness, Work, etc...

3. "Nirodha" - The Cessation of Suffering

The third noble truth is that the end of suffering is letting go of desires and cravings. This state is nirvana and can be reached by freeing oneself from 5 aggregates or "Skandhas":
Matter - Material things/Anything physical - Clothes, People, Money, etc...
Sensations - Any kind of feelings/A level of happiness - Pleasure, Anger, Despair, etc...
Perceptions - To perceive or rationalize/distinguish things - This one is complicated:
"A familiar Buddhist illustration tells of a farmer, who after sowing a field, sets up a scarecrow for protection from the birds, who usually mistake it for a man and will not land. That is an example of the illusionary possibilities of perception; this aggregate can produce false impressions. A perception can become so indelible on our mind that it becomes difficult to erase." -Buddhism Teacher
Formations - Mental formations/Thought processes - Choices, Intentions, etc...
Consciousness - The 6 cognitive senses - Sight, Smell, Taste, Sound, Touch, and the Mind...

Dharma Wheel or The Eightfold Path
Dharma Wheel or The Eightfold Path

4. "Magga" The Path to the Cessations of Suffering

The fourth noble truth is that to end suffering you must follow the eightfold path. There are 3 qualities that must be attained to reach nirvana:
Wisdom - Right Understanding/View, Right Thought/Intention
Morality/Ethics - Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
Concentration - Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration

The four noble truths contain concepts that can be very confusing and hard to understand, but they represent the philosophical side of Buddhism. For a good and in-depth book on the 4 Noble Truths: Click Here

http://buddhismteacher.com/five_aggregates.php (Also a good explanation of "Who is a Buddhist?" at the top of the page)

Buddhist Practice

There are many ways that Buddhists exercise their religion. They meditate, go on pilgrimages, provide offerings, chant, etc... The primary step that Buddhists take when they are of age is "taking refuge" or in the three jewels. "The Three Jewels have the quality of excellence. Just as real jewels never change their faculty and goodness, whether praised or reviled, so are the Three Jewels (Refuges), because they have an eternal and immutable essence. These Three Jewels bring a fruition that is changeless, for once one has reached Buddhahood, there is no possibility of falling back to suffering." -Professor C.D. Sebastian

The Three Jewels Are:
1. The Buddha - The title belonging to the few that have attained nirvana. This is the unique and absolute refuge in some denominations of Buddhism.
2. The Dharma - The teachings passed on from Gautama Buddha. Referred to as "the way/path" or the law of nature.
3. The Sangha - The people that have attained any level of enlightenment or a congregation of monks.

Buddhists also have very strict ethical practices. There are different levels of Strictness in Buddhist Practice. The first basic ethical codes are referred to as the five precepts.
The Five Precepts Are:
1. Refrain From Taking Life - Non-violence towards any sentient being
2. Refrain From Taking What Is Not Given - Not committing theft
3. Refrain From Sensual Conduct - I think this one explains itself
4. Refrain From Lying - Always speak the truth
5. Refrain From Intoxicants - Mainly drugs and alcohol

There are three additional precepts that are ascetic codes.
The Ascetic Precepts Are:
6. Refrain From Eating - May only eat from sunrise till noon
7. Refrain From Entertainment - Dancing, Music, Performances, etc...
8. Refrain From Luxurious Seats/Bedding - Self explanatory

Finally, there are two more precepts that make up the ten precepts of a novice monk.
The Last Two Precepts Are:
9. Refrain From Decorative Accessories - Perfume, Cosmetics, etc...
10. Refrain From Accepting Money - Not accepting currency from others

The final level of Buddhist practice are taken up by monks who follow a set of 227 rules. Most monks live in monasteries, are separated by gender, and wear an an orange robe.

A Buddhist Monastery
A Buddhist Monastery

Meditation is also an important part of Buddhist practice. The most basic part of meditation is controlling ones breath. The basic traditional position for meditation is mudra, in which your palms are facing up, one on top of the other, with thumbs barely touching. When in the correct position, it is encouraged for beginners to count their breathing and make sure it is slow and regular, but natural. A harder and more advanced way of meditating is called shikantaza. It involves emptiness, not concentrating but being mindful and not letting your mind get attached to anything.

Buddhists practice their religion through every aspect of their life. While some practice it lightly, others devote their entire lives to this religion.

For more information on the Buddhist lifestyle written by a monk: Click Here
For more information on Buddhist meditation: Click Here

Buddhism Today

A Buddhist Monk On His Cellphone
A Buddhist Monk On His Cellphone

The number of Buddhists in today's society is estimated to be from 230 - 500 million. The reason this range is so vast is because there are many debates of who "counts" as a Buddhist. Modern day followers of Buddhism can be just intrigued by the philosophy behind it, or full-fledged monks that reside in temples. Most people consider Buddhism to be only applicant to natives of Tibet or China, but the truth is that Buddhism is one of the fasting growing spiritual influences in the west. Even if people don't believe in the religion behind it, meditation and the peaceful way of acting are a growing trend in the United States. The different strains and forms of Buddhism are staggering. The way many people have modernized and Buddhism and made it more casual along with involving it in media, is deemed sacrilegious by some, but welcomed by others as a way of spreading the religion/philosophy to people who otherwise wouldn't be exposed to it. Also, traditional Buddhists are commonly viewed as bald oriental people that chant a lot and are happy all the time. This stereotype is false, modern day Buddhists have access to, and use, all kinds of technology. Even some Buddhist monks use cell phones, computers, television, etc...


In summary: Buddhism is a very deep Chinese religion/philosophy that is ever-expanding and changing with the coming and going of new cultures.
Fantastic sites on an Introduction to Buddhism and Special Characteristics of Buddhism respectively:
Here and Here

Works Cited

My Sources Are:
"4 Noble Truths." December 6, 2009 <http://dharma.ncf.ca/introduction/4-Noble-Truths.html>.
Boeree, Dr. C. George. "The Basics of Buddhist Meditation." Shippensburg University. December 9, 2009 <http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/meditation.html>.
"Buddhism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. December 5, 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism>.
"Buddhist monasticism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. December 9, 2009 <http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/meditation.html>.
"Four Noble Truths." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. December 6, 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_noble_truths>.
"Gautama Buddha." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. December 5, 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha>.
Gethin, Rupert. "The Illustrated Life Of The Buddha." 1998. Oxford University Press. December 5, 2009 <http://orias.berkeley.edu/visuals/buddha/life.html>.
"Modern Buddhism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. December 9, 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Buddhism>.
"The Five Aggregates." Buddhism Teacher. December 6, 2009 <http://buddhismteacher.com/five_aggregates.php>.
"The Four Kinds of Buddhism Today." AMB. March 26, 2006. December 9, 2009 <http://www.amtb.cn/e-bud/releases/4kinds.htm>.
"What Is Buddhism? An Introduction to Buddhism." About.com December 5, 2009 <http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/basicshub.htm>.

~Clicking on pictures will link you to their respective sites~

The End!