Buddhism focuses on the
teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who was born around 563 BCE. With as many as 500 million
followers, Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world. Siddhartha was born a Hindu, but had a
difficult time believing the teachings because of all of the suffering he saw
in the world. He also rejected the caste system. Siddhartha was born a wealthy
prince, but gave up everything to find a true understanding of the world. He tried many different types of Hindu
beliefs, but eventually he formed his own belief system and taught many
others. He was called “The Buddha”, or the enlightened
one. Many of Siddhartha teachings or
what is called his “dharma” come from
Hinduism. His teachings were written in Buddhist holy books called Tripitaka or Sutras.
Buddhism is a religion that is not based on the idea of
God—it’s more of a way of life, so it is actually a philosophy, but most people still call Buddhism a religion. Siddhartha believed in a powerful spirit
force, but not a god. A “Buddha”
is a person who discovers the true understanding of life through years of
spiritual investigation and studying using meditation. There have been several Buddhas, but Siddhartha was THE Buddha. Buddhists
respect all life and encourage nonviolence and kindness. Buddhism
encourages its followers to reach enlightenment—understanding the true
meaning of life and truth about the world.
Buddhists do not require a special building to worship, although there are two main types of Buddhist temples: pagodas and stupas. A stupa (left) is a mound-like structure that often has a Buddhist relic buried underneath. A pagoda (right) is a temple usually found in China and Japan with several tiers or levels. Buddhist worship is called puja. It involves meditation, bowing, chanting, or making offerings--depending on the region.
During his time, Siddhartha viewed life as a time of great suffering. He basically said, 'life is suffering... but there is a path to end the suffering". His "path" became his dharma, or lifestyle. He said we must detach from the world around us. The aim of Buddhist life is to put an end to the
sorrow of life. When someone understands the
world’s reality (enlightenment), all of his or her suffering will end. If a person can end the sorrow
of life they will reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the end of all desire, ignorance,
and sorrow. The spirit is freed from all possessions; it is the
realization that all human desires are pointless. Nirvana is the end of
reincarnation, so it is similar to heaven. Buddhists also believe in reincarnation and karma.
Today, there are two main types of Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada is more traditional--they accept fewer historical people as true Buddhas and include fewer local adaptations. Mahayana history was built along the Silk Road, adapting new ideas, people, and cultures changes. All Buddhists, especially Theravada wish to achieve the end of suffering (Nirvana). To do this, Buddhists must train and purify their mind by
following the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths are:
1—Life is suffering
2—Suffering is due to attachment to things
can be overcome
4—There is a life path to accomplish all of this
The "path" mentioned in the 4th Noble Truth is called the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is often represented as a wheel
with eight spokes. This is called the Buddhist dharma wheel because it shows
Siddhartha's dharma or life path to Nirvana. It is meant to focus the mind and behavior of Buddhists and help them reach Nirvana. The correct view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration is Siddhartha's idea of how to avoid the sorrow of life and eventually reach Nirvana.