Posted by: Submitter | February 17, 2008

Buddhism

BUDDHISM

Founder

Around the year 623 BC (there are varying dates, but we have settled upon this one for our research) in the month of May, a young boy was born into a family of Hindu warriors, one of the highest social classes of the Hindu religion, at Lumbini Park in Kapilavatthu, on the Indian borders of present-day Nepal. His father (Siddhodhana) was from the high ranking Sakya clan and his mother (Mahamaya) was a royal woman and queen. It is quoted in some historical accounts that she died some days before his birth or while giving birth. Their family name was Gautama

In spite of the tragic death of his mother, the event of his birth was seen by many in the kingdom as a joyous event and a good omen. Five days after his birth, the prince would be called by the name, Siddhattha (also sometimes alternatively spelled Siddhartha), which carries the meaning, ‘wish fulfilled.’ After the naming ceremony, several Brahmin priests were brought, with each one of them using their divination to state that this young boy would be a great enlightened one and a saviour for his people. This pleased the family greatly and they prepared him for what they believed lay ahead for him as a great future.

Siddhattha was to receive the best education of the time period, studying fine arts of writing, math, sciences as well as warfare. At the age of sixteen, as a young man he would marry a noblewoman and begin to build a family. Before long, he would have one child and the happy family enjoyed their time in the palace in each other’s company. But the happiness of Siddhattha was not to last. Ever so often, he would contact his charioteer and he would leave the confines of the castle to go into the world. It was during these visits that he would be traumatised at the state of the world and feel remorse at the privileged and naïve life that he was leading. While out in the world, he saw what he believed were the four signs, the old man, the sick man, the dead man being carried on a funeral and the ascetic man. A desire was kindled in the Gautama tribesman to follow the path of the ascetic that he observed. But the father of Siddhattha had already carefully constructed his future, preparing the coronation ceremony that would distinguish him as the rightful heir of the kingdom. Such things only further disillusioned the young man.

With firm determination, the future Buddha planned carefully to leave the high security castle and seek enlightenment. The night of his departure, at the age of 30, he wanted to look at his wife and child one more time. As he watched them, he vowed to come back and visit them once he reached the state of enlightenment. To make his departure easier, Buddhist records state that 33 gods descended from the sky and caused the guards of the castle to fall into such a deep sleep that Siddhattha Gautama was able to leave the castle unhindered and ride into the city with the willing assistance of his charioteer.

Once away from the confines of the castle wall, he dedicated himself to six years of rigorous austerity, taking little food and constantly meditating going into different phases of penance and monkery. But none of these had produced the answers to the questions that were still in his mind about the purpose of life and how to break the cycle of suffering, the chain of reincarnation that continued.

Near death and greatly emaciated from his yogic exercises, Gautama decided to nourish his body and try to regain his strength. By doing this, he hoped, his mind might be at peace and lead him to the way of enlightenment that he had not found in his previous practices. After taking light refreshments, he sat down in the presence of a Bodhi tree and it was here that he received the enlightenment of the ‘four noble truths,’ those being,

a. Life is suffering

b. Suffering is caused by attachment

c. Abandonment of attachment brings release from suffering

d. Release can be achieved by practicing the 8-fold path

This eightfold path was given to him during the meditation under the Bodhi tree and they are the following,

1. Right opinion

2. Right intentions

3. Right speech

4. Right conduct

5. Right livelihood

6. Right effort

7. Right mindfulness

8. Right concentration

The four noble truths and the eightfold path became known as the dharma. One who could master these would indeed reach enlightenment and break the cycle of suffering, reincarnation and rebirth. This enlightenment was to be known as nirvana, extinction, where one obtained peace by extinguishing the illusion of ego and desire. After reaching the climax of his expectations of life, the Buddha (as he would later come to be known due to his ‘enlightenment’) began to teach and take disciples. One of his most devoted was known as Ananda. It is he who would write down the sutras, the statements of the Buddha, as well as prepare his final resting place. Of the other 5-6 that he took as his most intimate students, he would spend the next 45 years teaching them all that they needed to become enlightened ones (Buddhas) as the wheel of dharma turned.

But the teaching of the Buddha would infuriate many members of the Brahmin priesthood and Hindu society. What was being taught by Siddhattha upset the balance of the priesthood, the warrior classes and all of what Hinduism had been based upon. In his life of teaching, there would be more than one assassination attempt on his life. The most memorable of them was that of Devadatta, a disciple and cousin of Gautama, who released a mad elephant that had killed one man already to assassinate the Buddha. This tactic was foiled when the mad elephant, upon preparing to charge and kill the now elderly Buddha, merely knelt down and allowed the teacher to pat its’ forehead.

The remaining years of his life were spent perfecting all those who would listen for life without him. They had to be instructed in the ways to deliver people from the suffering of life and the cycle of rebirths through reincarnation.

After teaching for nearly half a century, the Buddha died and passed into his final and greatest nirvana, death, in the year 544 BC (there are other varying dates, but we found this one to be the most common in our research). It was believed that he had finally broken the cycle and was never to return to the world (there are some accounts that would suggest he was poisoned, but the majority of historical accounts indicate otherwise).

After his death, there would be a series of Buddhist meetings to agree on how to impart his teachings to the world and how to systematise his works to be taught to every day people. Buddhism has now spread across the Far East and has made great inroads into the West and even some parts of the Muslim World. Its’ ability to adapt to numerous different cultures and take on the trappings of whatever society it has invaded make it an enduring religion.

As Buddhism spread into different societies, it took on different shapes to adapt to the desires of the people that it preached to, thus Buddhism has many forms. There are Theravada (also called Hinayana), Mahayana, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism and many other forms. In Japan, Buddhism has been intermingled so closely with the native Shinto religion; the two are almost identical and impossible to separate.

Key beliefs

Buddhism has a large geographic spread and has throughout history has not felt the need to lay down a systematic form of theology or creed that could be taken from their religious texts. But by examining the numerous schools of Buddhism, there are tenets of faith that they do share. Here are examples,

1. Whether Allah exists or not is irrelevant, as that does not free one from the cycle of death and rebirth. Therefore, one should concern himself with the four noble truths and the 8-fold path.

2. The way that the Buddha received enlightenment is the only way that one is able to stop the suffering and pain that goes with life.

3. Salvation lies in the 8-fold path and none other.

4. The Great Fire is not a place, but a state of torture for the cycle of rebirth continues.

5. The Paradise is not a place, but the state of unity and completeness after enlightenment.

Extent

It is estimated that there are 362 million Buddhists in the world today. Their numbers in the United States grow as the interest in New Age religion skyrockets and people look for fulfilment in themselves and not Allah, who made them.

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