The religion is named after Gautama Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (560 480 BC)
Place of origin:
Tripitaka: the Three Baskets of Wisdom, accepted by Mahayana branch
Pali Canon: accepted by Hinayana or Theravada branch
There is no one sacred place for all the Buddhists of the world. Pilgrimages are usually carried out in individual countries to local shrines and historic places.
Perahera: a festival held in August
Wesak (Kason): a festival in May celebrating Buddha’s birth
Buddhism was founded in India in the sixth century BC, at a time when the people of India had become disillusioned with the Hindu caste system and certain other Vedic teachings.
The founder of this new faith was Siddhartha Gautama who was a Hindu prince living in northern India. At a very young age, he became deeply affected by the great suffering and pain that existed in the world. He left his family, renounced his princely status and went out searching for the answers to these problems. He wandered from place to place in search of wisdom when, suddenly, he received enlightenment. Since that day he has been known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One.
Buddha lived for about eighty years and taught his new found wisdom all over India. For the next thousand years or so, Buddhism spread very rapidly in India and south east Asia. In every country, Buddhism adapted itself to the local conditions and absorbed many of the local beliefs and rituals. Over the years, many sects developed in Buddhism, two of which are very important:
Mahayana, Hinayana: or Greater Vehicle of Salvation, and (also called Theravada), or Lesser Vehicle of salvation
The Mahayana Buddhism is currently practiced in eastern Asia including China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Hinayana Buddhism is dominant in southern Asia including Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. A relatively minor sect, known as Northern Buddhism, flourishes in Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayas.
Initially, Buddhism started as a reform movement within Hinduism but eventually became an independent religion. Buddhism was the first missionary religion of the world where the followers of Buddha carried this faith to other countries and peoples with a strong sense of universal mission. Buddhism shares a number of beliefs with the traditional Hinduism such as the doctrine of reincarnation and the Law of Karma. The main differences between the two faiths originate from the rejection by Buddhism of the Hindu caste system, of the authenticity of the Vedas, and of the belief that an individual soul must be united with the World Soul or Brahman. To many Hindus, Buddha still remains the ninth avatar or incarnation of their god Vishnu.
Essential Beliefs of Buddhism
Following are the essential beliefs of Buddhism as the religion exists today:
- From good must come good, and from evil must come evil (this is the Hindu Law of Karma).
- Prayers and sacrifices to the gods are useless.
- The Vedas are not sacred books.
- The world always was and always will be.
- Brahma did not create the caste system.
- The aim of life is not pleasure or happiness but the end of individual existence through the practice of the Ten Perfections.
- He who attains perfect wisdom enters nirvana, and is freed from the endless chain of births and rebirths.
In addition to the above, the Buddhists believe in the Four Noble Truths:
According to the First Noble Truth, there are many kinds of sufferings in this world including old age, illness, death, failure, separation, etc.
According to the Second Noble Truth, the cause of all these sufferings is the human desire which grasps for the wrong things.
According to the Third Noble Truth, all human suffering can be dissolved by getting rid of the human desire.
According to the Fourth Noble Truth, the desire can be rid of by following the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
- Right Belief
- Right Resolve
- Right Speech
- Right Behaviour
- Right Occupation
- Right Effort
- Right Contemplation
- Right Concentration
The Buddhist DO’s and DON’T’s:
Among the extensive codes of Buddhism are the Ten Commandments and the Ten Perfections.
The Buddhist Ten Commandments:
- Do not destroy life
- Do not take what is not given to you
- Do not commit adultery
- Tell no lies and do not deceive anyone
- Do not become intoxicated
- Eat moderately
- Do not watch dancing or plays nor listen to singing
- Wear no garlands, perfumes or ornaments
- Do not sleep in luxurious beds
- Do not accept any gold or silver.
The Buddhist Ten Perfections:
- Giving (in charity)
- Duty (religious and worldly)
- Renunciation (from worldly pleasure)
- Insight (and wisdom)
- Resolution (in all undertakings)
- Loving kindness (towards friends and enemies alike)
- Serenity (towards joy and sorrow).
The Worship in Buddhism
Worship is not considered extremely important in Buddhism and varies a great deal between Mahayana and Hinayana branches. Some forms of Buddhist worship are noted below:
- Relic Worship: Actual and symbolic relics of Buddha are worshiped by the followers by prostration, chanting and making offerings.
- Meditation: Meditation is the main religious activity in which the individual attempts to control his self and tries to achieve nirvana.
- Paritta: This involves chanting of discourses from the sacred Pali books. This chanting may be done at special events such as death, illness, danger or when embarking upon a new activity.
Buddhist Philosophy of Life
Buddha strongly preached his followers to follow what he called the “Middle Way”. He told them to avoid both extremes. One extreme is to indulge in the pleasures and comforts of this material world and the other extreme is to starve oneself, go without sleep or inflict self punishment.
In the Buddhist philosophy of life, man can overcome the suffering in this world by controlling his desires and following the Eightfold Path. When man obtains perfect wisdom and masters his emotions and his self, he gains salvation and is ready for the final reward, that is nirvana.
Nirvana, in the Buddhist religion, is not only the blissful state in which all suffering ceases, but it also marks the release of the soul from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Wisdom of Buddhism
Following are some of the sayings taken from the Buddhist sacred book, Tripitaka:
- “A man who conquers himself is the greater conqueror than the one who battles against a million men”
- “Hatred is not diminished by hatred, but by love”
- “The evildoer mourns in this world, and he mourns in the next”
- “Few there are among men who arrive at the other shore; most of them run up and down this shore”
- “An evil deed, like freshly drawn milk, does not turn sour at once”
- “The scent of flowers does not travel against the wind; but the fragrance of good people travels even against the wind”
- “Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, nor in the clefts of the mountains, nor in the whole world is there a spot where a man could avoid death”
- “The fool wishes for precedence among the monks, for lordship in the monasteries, for honour among other people”
- “Without knowledge there is no meditation, without meditation there is no knowledge”
- “All created things perish”
- “No suffering befalls the man who calls nothing his own”
- “He whose evil deeds are covered by good deeds brightens up the world, like the moon freed from clouds”
- “No amount of effort can purify a man who has not overcome his doubts”
- “There is no fire like passion; there is no evil like hatred; there is no pain like this body; there is no happiness greater than peace”
- “You yourself must make the effort; the Buddhas are only teachers”
As we mentioned earlier, Buddhism started essentially as a reform movement within Hinduism. Gradually, however, Buddhism started to diverge away from Hinduism and reverence for Buddha increased so much that he began to be portrayed by his followers as a semi divine and, ultimately, as a celestial being.
Buddhism maintains belief in the process of reincarnation and the Law of Karma, as understood by the Hindus. Buddhism, however, rejects the Hindu caste system and the authenticity of the Vedas.
Buddhism of today places little emphasis on the concept of God. But then Buddhism has changed so much to adapt itself to the local conditions in the various countries, that it is almost impossible to ascertain with any great deal of accuracy what its original teachings used to be in this respect.
Buddhism is at once a philosophy of fife and a practical discipline. Although Buddhism lacks a well developed spiritual philosophy, it is an extremely humanistic religion and has found great popularity among the people in the western countries. What people find attractive in this religion is its great tolerance, its high moral and ethical standards, its relatively bloodless history and its concept of nirvana.