Buddhism beliefs are taught by Siddharta Gautama or more popularly known as the Buddha. Most historians date the beginning of Buddhism at around 5th century BCE in India. It has been argued that Buddhism is not a religion but “merely” a philosophy since it does not command its followers to worship to a supernatural being. However, for the sake of our religious comparison study, throughout this site it will be categorized in the religious group. In this article we will be covering the following topics about Buddhism beliefs:
- History of Buddhism
- The Main Teachings of Buddhism
- The Sacred Texts of Buddhism
- The Buddhas
- Buddha Maitreya
HISTORY OF BUDDHISM
About 2500 years ago, Prince Siddharta Gautama was born in ancient India (today Lumbini, Nepal). Siddharta was born in a Hindu family, just as Jesus was born in a Jewish one. Being a prince he belonged to the Kshatriya (warrior) caste, however his particular family of Sakya Kshatriya was of Brahmin (priestly) lineage.
As a prince, Siddharta had a very easy, protected and luxurious life in the palace. But that didn’t stop him from questioning about life and despite the Queen’s objection Siddharta left the palace and saw four unfamiliar sights: a sick man, an old man, a dead person and a monk. These sights made Siddharta realize that illness, suffering and death are inevitable even for a royalty like him.
Thus, he became a wandering monk himself in order to find the answer to the purpose of illness and suffering and how to overcome these. He spent many years praying, fasting and meditating until finally he understood the Buddhist Middle Way – that is a path between two extremes: self mortification and self indulgence. This enlightenment took place while he meditated under a Bodhi tree (i.e. peepal tree) in a place called Bodh Gaya, India. From then on Siddharta was known as the Buddha (meaning “the enlightened one”). At this stage Buddha was said to have attained the stage of nirvana.
The term “nirvana” in Buddhism refers to a state of mind that is free from negativity and is peaceful, happy and non-reactive. By achieving nirvana, one escape “samsara” that is the cycle of reincarnation/rebirth, a concept that is believed by both Hinduism and Buddhism.
After that, Buddha converted his family to Buddhism and gained disciples. Then Buddha and his disciples wander from place to place to teach the truth to the people. His mission went for around 45 years and at the age of 80 Buddha attained pari-nirvana. The term “pari-nirvana” means “nirvana-after-death”, which means the physical life vanishes and no further rebirth takes place.
Buddha died due to natural causes at 483 BCE in the city of Kusinara (at present called Kushinagar, India). Today Buddhism is practiced by around 535 million people (ref. Wikipedia 2010) or around 7% - 8% of the world population with China as the country with the largest population of Buddhist (ca. 18% of its total population).
THE MAIN TEACHINGS OF BUDDHISM
The main teachings of Buddhism can be summed up in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path:
Four Noble Truths
1. There is a lot of suffering in human’s life.
2. It caused by greed.
3. This suffering may be ended.
4. To end the suffering one should follow the Middle Path.
Here are the eight principles to follow the Middle Path:
1. Right understanding (based on the Four Noble Truths).
2. Right attitude (by being compassionate).
3. Right speech (no lying, gossiping and cursing).
4. Right deeds (helping others, no harming other beings and the Earth).
5. Right dedication (choosing jobs that are useful and not harming others).
6. Right effort (doing good and avoid negativity).
7. Be mindful (constant check on one’s thoughts and feelings).
8. Proper meditation (to attain peaceful mind that can lead to nirvana).
As with other religions, Buddhism also splits into several groups/schools. Here is the simplest explanation to each of the school:
- Mahayana (mainly in East Asia)
The main practice is Bodhicitta (training the mind towards awakening and compassion).
- Theravada (mainly in South and Southeast Asia)
The main practice is by following and preserving the original Dharma (the way of the Buddha). So reading and knowing the holy scripture is essential for the Theravada monks.
- Vajrayana (mainly in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and Republic of Kalmykia (federal subject Russia)
This is the “quick path” to nirvana but also the hardest, because it requires complete Bodhicitta, renunciation (abstinence) and selflessness.
THE SACRED TEXTS OF BUDDHISM
* The Tipika or Ripitaka or Tripitaka
The Tripitaka (meaning “three baskets”) is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only text recognized as canonical by the Theravada Buddhists. It was written on palm leaves in the 1st century BCE (so about 400 hundred years after Buddha’s departure) in Sri Lanka and was written in Pali language (a middle Indo-Aryan language of North India).
* The Sutras
Mahayana Buddhist reveres the Tripitaka as a holy text but they also add over 2000 sacred writings mostly called the Sutras.
* Tibetan Book of the Dead
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the most well known Buddhist book in the West. It was written by a Tibetan monk and it contains in detail the stages of death and rebirth.
The Vajrayana reveres to the Mahayana Canon and also various tantras. Tantric practice is a means to channel the energy of desire/pleasure into realization of enlightenment.
The term Buddha (meaning “the enlightened one” is a title, not personal name. Although considered in conventional history as the founder of Buddhism, Buddhist themselves believe that Siddharta Gautama was only one of a long series of Buddhas who were born to Earth at intervals and who all teach the same doctrine.
As in Hinduism, Buddhists also believe in the concept that the universe undergoes cycles of formation, existence and destruction. The unit of time to measure the cycles is called a Kalpa. It is similar to the concept of an “aeon” – in the sense of an indefinite and very long period. Originally a kalpa was equivalent to about 4 million years, but later Buddhist scholars have varied opinions.
Now, according to Buddhist tradition, every kalpa has 1,000 Buddhas. Gautama Buddha taught that innumerable Buddhas have lived in past kalpas. There are 28 Buddhas described in the Buddhavamsa (the Chronicle of Buddhas), although it is believed that these are not the only Buddhas to have existed.
Similar (but not the same) to the believe of Jesus return in Christianity, Imam al-Mahdi in Islamic traditions, Sri Kalki in Hinduism and other heroes/gods in pagan religions, many Buddhist believe that the future Buddha (the 29th) will arise in the future and his name will be Buddha Maitreya.
The prophecy of his arrival is found in the religious texts of all the three major Buddhist sects and is accepted by most Buddhist about an event that will take place when the Dharma (original Buddhist teaching) will have been forgotten on the earth.
Today , some Buddhists pay homage to this Buddha Matreiya, a successor of Gautama who will appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment and teach the pure Dharma.
For a complete religious comparison studies between the five major religions in the world, world mythologies/legends, forbidden archaeology, ancient alien theories and their relations with modern scientific data to retrace the true pre-history of humanity, read: MythoReligio Series books.