Buddhism can be considered as one of the oldest religions which is still being practised in many parts of the world. It commenced its existence before about 2,500 years ago in India. Though people call Buddhism, a religion, most Buddhists prefer to refer to Buddhism as a philosophy or faith. The reason is that there is no super powerful deity or a god in this religion. As most scholars refer, it is not ‘an organized religion but a spiritual way of life or tradition.’
This way of life was found by Gauthama Buddha, an extraordinary man but not a god. The 6th century B.C. was a golden age of philosophical concepts in many countries of the world. In India also, many philosophical truth-seekers conducted a vast number of different religious visions and different types of truth which collided with each other. But as we can observe even now, the philosophy of Gauthama Buddha does not collide with other religions but overlaps some of them. The main teaching of the Buddha is the four noble truths. It depicts how people suffer at the worldly level and also how to end that suffering. The four noble truths are the truth of suffering (Dukkha Arya Sathya), the truth of the cause of suffering(Dukkha Samudhyarya Sathya), the truth of the end of suffering (Dukkha Nirodarya Sathya), the truth of the path to end suffering (Dukka Niroda Gamini Patipadarya Sathya). These four noble truths acknowledge why we suffer, and also how to end that suffering. Buddhism states that the cycle of rebirth is the reason for suffering and they are practising the Buddhist way of life to end that rebirth by attaining Nirvana.
Though the concept of Nirvana is unique to Buddhism, many other religions state the truth of the path to end suffering. In Buddhism, Lord Buddha has defined the eightfold path to attain that blissful state of Nirvana. But when we analyze the life of the buddha, he understood this eightfold path through experience. Let me first get into his childhood. He was a prince born to a rich ruling family in India. They were the Shakyans. King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya were his parents. The Prince was named Siddhartha and a prophecy was uttered as, if this prince indulges in worldly materialism he will, one day be a great ruler (Sakwithi king) but, if he understands the reality of the word and tries to find the truth, he will eventually become a great spiritual teacher4. King Suddhodana wanted him to become the greatest ruler of all time, thereby he gave prince Siddhartha extensive material pleasure and refrained him from any suffering or religion. At the age of 16, he gets married to princess Yashodhara. Then as he notices the Four Passing sights, an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a wandering ascetic, he acknowledges the existence of suffering in every living being and when his charioteer explains that an ascetic is a person who has renounced the worldly comforts in search of a cure to suffering. This made prince Siddhartha wanting to end all the suffering of the world. Therefore, he renounces the material comforts and enters the wilderness alone in search of a way to end suffering.
In the beginning, he followed renowned teachers and learned everything they had to teach. But this did not satisfy the curiosity of the Bodisatva5. Then he, with 5 of his fellow ascetics, wandered away to find the truth by themselves. First of all, they tried to find the path to ending by enduring extreme pain, starving almost to death, etc. In the legends, it says that Bodisatva only ate leaves fallen from trees for almost 6 years.
As you can see in the above picture, the Bodhisattva was even horrifying to look at. Eventually, the Bodhisattva understood that he is trying to stop suffering, by enduring suffering. He understood the uselessness of the action. From the beginning, he followed extremes. First of all, he indulged in the greatest comforts possible, now he was indulging in the greatest sufferings possible. This was not the way. He then moved on to the middle path, in which he will not go to the extremes of pleasure nor suffering. He accepted what life had to offer and was contented with them. He did not get upset when the day was rough or when he didn’t get any food to eat and also he did not rejoice in an easy day or royal almsgiving. He accepted everything with the same mentality. The Buddhists refer to this as the “Thadi” quality which depicts the stable mentality in good times and bad times alike.
Shortly after he started to follow the middle path, he attained enlightenment. It was then he had an organized vision of life to preach. It is said that he understood everything in the world when he was enlightened. This was how Buddhism was created. This is how a great spiritual way of life was gifted to the world. But as this is not an essay about the life of Buddha, I’m not going to present further incidents in Buddha’s life.
The summary of all the teachings of the buddha is condensed into this simple stanza.
“Sabba Pāpassa Akaranan,
Sacitta Pariyō Dapanan,
The meaning of this can be put forward as to,
“Avoid all Evil
Cultivate the good and the true
Purify your heart
This is the teaching of all Buddhas”
It is apparent how Buddhism will change one’s mind. It will grant inner peace to anyone who follows the vision. Lord Buddha has a nice depiction of what evil is. That is if a certain action is harmful to yourself, to your friends and family, or to society that action is evil. Lord Buddha has preached ten main evil deeds of humans and has addressed to refrain from them to attain the bliss of Nirvana. They are mainly caused due to three main evil root motives. They are greed, hatred, and delusion. Think of any bad action and there will be a connection to these 3 roots of evil.
How do all of these connect with the primary teaching of the Buddha, the four noble truths? As in the four noble truths, the most important is the last one. The way to end suffering. These teachings mainly are for the ending of the suffering. If a disciple follows these, foretold principles of Buddhism, he will eventually be able to end his suffering, thereby, be able to attain Nirvana. But only the above principles will not grant you Nirvana, but also you need to have the concentration of mind, purity of the thoughts and you should be dedicated to the cause.
The speciality of Buddhism is there are two main ways you can follow. The first is being a priest or a bhikku as Buddhists call them. If someone becomes a bhikku, he has to observe a state of celibacy and a strict code of conduct. It is said that one can only be Arahant only if he becomes an ordained bhikkhu. The other way of Buddhism is to stay as a lay person and observe the five precepts which were meant for the lay and follow the vision of the Buddha, in the best way possible. In Buddhism, there are many preachings about how to live a good spiritual lay life including preachings about ways of earning, ways of managing wealth, etc. Some people criticize Buddhism saying that it is just renouncing the worldly matter and that leads to no happiness after all. But if those criticizers actually studied Buddhism, I’m sure they will regret what they have said. It is not entirely about abandoning your possessions. It is equal to a guidebook that will make your life better and better.
Buddhism is built on the cause and effect theory. Everything you do has an effect in this life or even in one of your next lives. According to Buddhism, your next place of birth is decided according to what you have done. Good deeds and an exemplary life will make your rebirth prosperous and will result in your life becoming comfortable. But evil deeds and a life filled with evil roots will make your rebirth very disappointing. This is the motivation that refrains the Buddhists from the evil roots. They believe that they are bound to a catastrophic effect if they do something evil. This theory is somewhat believed in the western parts of the world now because there are many people who claim to see their previous births.
If we summarized all of these facts, we can conclude that Buddhism is a realistic vision of life and a philosophy for those who embrace it. Anyone can get a basic understanding of life just by studying a little about Buddhism. It is, in the fullest sense of the word, is a much-appreciated vision of life around the world.