The life of the Buddha



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The life of the Buddha

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The Buddha was the founder of Buddhism but is not seen as a God. The Buddha was an actual person who lived approximately 2,500 years ago (563-483 BCE)

It is difficult to separate myth and legend from fact, and the story of Siddhattha Gotama (Pali- Theravada) Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit – Mahayana) is no exception. There is a lot of symbolism in this story that leads to a greater understanding of Buddhist beliefs and practices.

The dream, conception and birth

King Suddhodana ruled a land near the Himalaya Mountains. One day during a midsummer festival, his wife Queen Mya rested. Once asleep she dreamed a vivid dream. Four angels carried her high into white mountain peaks and clothed her in flowers. A magnificent white elephant bearing a white lotus in its trunk approached Maya and walked around her three times. Then the elephant struck her on the right side with its trunk and vanished into her.

When Maya awoke, she told her husband about the dream. The king summoned many Brahmans/Priests to come and interpret it. His future destiny was foretold at his birth by an old Brahmin sage called Asita, he said Queen Maya would give birth to a son and if the son did not leave the palace he would become a great ruler. However, if he were to leave the palace he would become a Buddha (religious teacher).

When the time came for the birth of Prince Siddhartha, Queen Maya travelled from the capital to her childhood home to give birth. With the king’s blessings she left on a palanquin carried by a thousand courtiers.



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On the way, the procession passed Lumbini Grove, which was full of blossoming trees. Entranced, the Queen asked her courtiers to stop, and she left the palanquin and entered the grove. As she reached up to touch the blossoms, she gave birth, standing up with no pain.



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Then the Queen and her son were showered with perfumed blossoms, and two streams of sparkling water poured from the sky to bathe them. And the infant stood, and took seven steps, and proclaimed “I alone am the world-Honored One!”

The Queen and Prince Siddhartha returned to the palace and the queen died seven days later.

Symbolism in the story



  • The white elephant – sacred animal represents fertility and wisdom

  • The lotus – Common symbol for enlightenment in Buddhist art can also represent mental and spiritual purity which is needed for the practice of meditation

  • The 7 steps – directions (north, south, east, west, up, down, and here)

  • Buddha’s birthday is a festive celebration with parades, flowers, floats of elephants, figures of baby Buddha pointing up and down are placed in bowls, sweet tea is poured over the figures to ‘wash’ the baby.

  • In Mahayana Buddhism they talk about the Buddha-nature in the story and the eternal nature of all beings.

  • The Queens death – The impermanence of all things (Anicca)

The four sights

The King decided that he would protect Siddhartha from the outside world as he wanted him to become a great ruler and not a religious leader. Any time the prince wanted to leave the palace the king would order servants to ride ahead and clear the road of any suffering that he may see. The king surrounded his son with every luxury and pleasure imaginable and not once did he see poverty, old age or sickness. Siddhartha married in his thirties and had a son and eventually wanted to know what was really outside the palace walls. He persuaded his servant Chana to take him into the town without his father’s knowledge. On these visits Gautama saw four sights that shocked and disappointed him.



  • Old age – He seen an old man leaning on a stick and realised that people do not stay young forever.

  • Sickness – He came across a beggar, covered in cuts and sores, lying on the ground and realised that people get sick and do not always stay healthy.

  • Death – He passed two men carrying a dead man and learned the most frightening thing of all. People do not live forever.

  • ‘Sadhu’ (holy man) – He passed a monk who was searching for the answer to all his suffering and wondered how the Sadhu could be so peaceful and happy surrounded by so much suffering.

The prince couldn’t get these 4 sights from out of his mind and he was so deeply troubled that his life of wealth and luxury could not stop him getting old, sick, and dying in order for the cycle to begin all over again. He asked the question “why is there so much suffering?” and wondered if it was at all possible to find happiness.

Siddhartha decided to leave his home and family behind and follow the Sadhu’s example. He cut off his long hair, removed his silk clothes and Jewels and put on the sort of basic robe worn by holy men. He renounced all earthly pleasures to follow the life of a wandering holy man. This event is known as the Pravrajya (‘Going Forth’). He studied the philosophies of two religious teachers and in the company of five monks he practiced asceticism. He hoped that by denying his physical needs and punishing his body through severe fasting he would release spiritual energy which would help him in this search for inner peace.

After six years of asceticism the prince concluded that this route to Enlightenment was not working so he accepted a bowl of rice from a young woman. He also concluded that both extremes (luxury – self-indulgence and asceticism – self-denial) were no path for enlightenment so he began to look for a ‘middle way’.


Ways to think about the ‘Middle Way’

1 The Parable of the Lute

A monk named Sona loved comforts and luxury and was really struggling with monastic life (life as a monk) He thought about returning to his family and asked The Buddha what he thought. The Buddha replied:

If a lute (Asian guitar) has its strings pulled too tight then they break but if they are too loose then they can’t be played but if they are in the middle, neither to tight or too loose then the lute makes a perfect sound. This is the Middle Way.

2 A tightrope

You can only go one path on a tightrope and that is forward. The other paths (left and right) lead to suffering and pain. Enlightenment is on the end of the tightrope.



3 Cooking an egg

If you don’t cook an egg enough it is raw, if you cook an egg too much it will burn but if you cook it in the medium way it will be perfect.




Achieving Enlightenment

The prince began to look for the ‘middle way’ his 5 fellow ascetics were disgusted that Siddhartha had begun to eat so he left them behind and travelled to a village called Uravela where he sat under a Bodhi Tree or ‘Tree of Awakening’ and meditated. While meditating he had visions involving Mara, the Evil One. According to tradition, Mara tempted him with all the delights of earthly things which he had renounced. Mara sent his daughters, Mara taunted him with words, Mara sent monsters to scare him. Each of these attempts was without success and Gautama attained his goal of enlightenment – A feeling of total peace. From that time on, Gautama was known as Buddha – The enlightened one.

Siddhartha had concluded that life was full of suffering and that suffering was caused by people’s selfishness and greed. The way to be happy was to stop wanting things, stop believing things last forever and stop being selfish.

Deer Park Sermon

After reaching enlightenment The Buddha spent some time thinking about his experience in great bliss and meditation. He then made his way to Deer Park in Benares (Varanasi) to seek out his five ascetic companions. At first they ignored him but were impressed by what he had to say. Here he taught his first sermon, which was knows as the Deer Park Sermon and he formed the first ‘Sangha’ (Community of Buddhists). The Buddha dedicated his final years preaching the Dhamma (truths) and expanding the Sangha to include monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.



Death

He died in approximately 483 BCE at the age of eighty. By this time he left a considerable amount of followers, including hundreds, if not thousands of enlightened people. He criticised his follower Ananda for being upset that he was dying. He said that this showed he had not been listening all these years to his teaching that all things are impermanent. He told his followers that the Dharma should now be their teacher and reminded them that ‘Subject to decay are all compounded things, so be mindful and vigilant in working out your own salvation.’ After having had many re-births before he reached enlightenment it is believed that this time after death he finally achieved ‘parinibbana’ – Perfect enlightenment, never to be reborn.



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Beliefs – The Buddha’s teachings (Dhamma)

The Four Noble Truths

At the Deer Park Sermon the Buddha explained what he had discovered in terms of Four Truths, which function as a kind of doctor’s diagnosis of the human condition i.e. what wrong with the world? The Buddha likened himself to a doctor and the Dhamma was the medicine needed to cure the illness of the nature of existence/human beings. The Deer park sermon is a key event and the Dhamma was memorised at first and passed on by spoken word. The teachings were later written down to form the Dhammapada.



  1. What is wrong with my life? – Dukkha/unsatisfactoriness

  2. What is causing it? – Tanha/craving

  3. Good news is it can be overcome – Can be stopped to achieve Nibbana (Enlightenment)

  4. The prescription/cure – Noble Eightfold Path – Magga


1 Everything is unsatisfactory

2 Unsatisfactoriness stems from craving

3 To get rid of the unsatisfactoriness you must get rid of the craving

4 To get rid of the craving you should follow the eightfold path




1 Dukkha

There is no English word to adequately translate this term. It is usually translated as suffering but unsatisfactoriness is better. The Buddha taught that life is suffering, in the sense that life is unsatisfactory at its deepest level. You only have to pick up a newspaper to see that people suffer through injury, sickness, old age, and death. Some might object and say that some human experiences such as love and happiness could not be seen as suffering, however, they are impermanent (Anicca) so even the knowledge of this leads to suffering as we cannot control them and they do not last. For Buddhists, suffering is built into the system. It’s difficult to avoid.



2 Tanha – Desire

Tanha is desire or craving and this results from greed, selfishness and hatred (The three root poisons). The Buddha taught that suffering/unsatisfactoriness is caused by desire. This craving becomes a source of suffering. This desire is also pointless because it can never be fulfilled. Every time one desire is over we desire something else. Tanha can include wanting to possess objects as well as the pursuit of perfection and fame.



3 Nibbana

By eliminating anger, desire and ignorance you can achieve Nibbana (Enlightenment). Nibbhana is when all cravings stop and a state of non-attachment is achieved. This is the goal of all Buddhists.



4 Magga – The Noble Eighfold Path

The way to stop the three root poisons is to accept and follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Accepting this and following the teachings of The Buddha (Dhamma) properly will lead to the end of suffering and you will have reached Nibbana.



The Three marks of Existence/ The Three Universal Truths

The Buddha taught everyone to be aware of the true reality of life. Buddhists refer to these teachings as the Three Marks of Existence or the Three Universal Truths. Everything else he said is based on these. They are:



  1. Anicca (Impermanence – Everything is always changing)

  2. Anatta (no soul or no self)

  3. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or suffering)

1 Anicca

This is the central concept of Buddhism. It states that life is a constant process of change from birth through growth to decay and death. Nothing remains the same. Nothing is permanent. Human beings find this concept difficult to understand and so have a false sense of permanence, which only leads to suffering. Everything we know changes. This process of change is happening all the time. We may not notice the changes if we see people or animals every day. The fact that we do not notice the change does not mean that the change is not taking place. Some things change slowly such as mountains and rocks but others change quickly.



Accepting Anicca diminishes craving and lessens suffering. If you do not accept Anicca this leads to the illusion that things and people are permanent which causes craving and attachment which leads to suffering. This then leads to bad kamma in the form of the three root poisons which are at the centre of the wheel of Samsara (the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth). You cannot reach Nibbana until you accept Anicca.

Anicca in The Buddha’s life

  • Prince Siddhatta’s mother died shortly after giving birth and he is brought up by his father and aunt who becomes his stepmother.

  • His father attempts to cheat impermanence by sheltering the prince from suffering but this attempt fails because the Prince craves more knowledge about life.

  • When he leaves the palace and sees the four sights he becomes aware of impermanence for the first time through old age, illness and death.

  • Through asceticism the prince realises that although he has disciplined the body he has not disciplined the mind he has only changed what he craves.

  • He is tempted by Mara with all the attractions of impermanence. He overcame this and realised the nature of impermanence and became enlightened.

  • He chose to become a wandering holy man rather than remaining in one place and by dying at the age of 80 and criticising Ananda for questioning his death showed that all life is impermanent and you must accept that.

Anicca in The Buddha’s teaching

  • The sermon at Benares: In his first sermon the Buddha preached that everything that has a beginning has an end. This is known as the ‘eye of the doctrine’ as it is central to the whole sermon.

  • The Story of Kisagotami is told by the Buddha to demonstrate the concept of Anicca and how refusing to accept it leads to Dukkha.

  • The Dhammapada teaches that Anicca is central to human life: “Consider the body! A painted puppet with jointed limbs, sometimes suffering and covered with ulcers, full of imaginings, never permanent, for ever changing.” The Dhamapada 148

  • Understanding this truth is the way to get rid of suffering and attachment to life. “When a man considers this world as a bubble of froth, and as the illusion of an appearance, then the king of death has no power over him” The Dhamapada 170

Anicca in Buddhist practice

  • Meditation – Meditation on impermanence is a central aspect of Buddhist practice. Buddhists believe they can gain better awareness of Anicca through practising meditation. The ‘lotus’ position is one of the most recognisable images of Buddhism. This helps the Buddhist to detach himself from his senses and attachment to the world. In order to fully appreciate the impermanence of the body, Buddhists often meditate on breathing. As breathing goes in and out it helps the meditator to realise that everything is constantly changing.

2 Anatta

Anatta is the idea that, because everything is continually changing, there is no soul (Atman) or no permanent you. This is basically the belief of Anicca when it is applied to the human person. This belief really separates Buddhism from other religions because they all believe that there is soul which survives after death. According to Buddhism, we are not fixed individuals at all. We have no fixed identity and that means we have no need to be selfish. Belief in Anatta would therefore help Buddhists to cultivate peace and wellbeing within themselves. This belief should also encourage compassion for others.



What we normally think of as the self is actually a collection of constantly changing parts. Human beings are made up of 5 skandhas. It is important to understand that the five budles of us are not things we possess, they actually are us.

The 5 skandhas

  • The physical body (rupa skandha)

  • Sensations and feelings (vedana skandha)

  • Perception (samjina skandha)

  • Will – intention (samskara skandha)

  • Consciousness (vijnana skandha)

The parable of Nagasena and The Chariot is a good source for explaining Anatta. It is important to understand that the five budles of us are not things we possess, they actually are us. We are simply a process of change.


A bicycle is made up of a number of parts: the frame, the wheels, the handlebars, mudguards, chain and so on. When one of the parts or components wears out we replace it with another. We can still recognise it as the same bicycle even though it is slightly different. Eventually, all the original parts might be replaced so that nothing of the original bicycle remains. However, because the change in parts has happened over a period of time we tend to think of it as the same bicycle. In some ways it is. But it is also true that it isn’t. For Buddhists people are a bit like bicycles. They are made of parts. When some parts, such as cells wear out they are replaced. The continuity of the person, like the continuity of the bicycle, can be experienced even though most of its parts have been changed.

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Another way of looking at the Buddhist way of understanding a person is to think about a bicycle.


Anatta in The Buddha’s life

  • There are few explicit references to the doctrine of Anatta in the stories of Buddha’s life but there is an emphases on the transience of human life within the eternal cycle of Samsara (rebirth)

  • During the fourth watch of Siddhatta Gotama’s meditation under the Bodhi tree he understood the concept of Anatta: “He thought: ‘Here I have found freedom’, and he knew that the longings of his heart had at last come to fulfilment. Now that he had grasped the principle of causation, and finally convinced himself of the lack of self in all that is, he roused himself again from his deep trance, and in his great compassion he surveyed the world with the Buddha – eye, intent on giving it peace.” Buddhist Scriptures (p52)

  • Buddha was concerned to show that he was not important as an individual but that his life was interconnected with all sentient (thinking) beings. Understanding the Dhamma, including the doctrine of Anatta, is more important than the character of the Buddha.

  • Buddha’s death shows the insignificance of the self and the importance of selflessness. He died of a stomach-ache at the age of eighty in Kusinara, a place of no real significance. He also criticised Ananda for being upset when he should have realised that everything is impermanent.

  • Theravada Buddhists refer to the Buddha as ‘tathagata’ (thus gone). After the Buddha’s death he was no longer available to ordinary Buddhists for any help. Enlightenment, therefore, can only be gained through personal effort, not through faith in the Buddha.

  • The Mahayana Buddhists’ view of Sakyamuni (historical) Buddha extends the belief of Anatta as, in this view, the Buddha is seen as merely one example of many Buddhas that have appeared to teach people the Dhamma. There is no real distinction between Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other beings, as all should be aiming towards the enlightenment of everyone and the understanding of the truth that there is no-self.

Anatta in Buddhist teachings

  • The five skandhas – The earliest reference to Anatta in Buddhist teachings comes in the Sermon at Benares where the Buddha explains how attachment to the five skandhas leads to suffering.

  • The Questions of King Milinda, Nagasena explains the concept of Anatta by using the metaphor of a chariot to explain.

  • Buddhists do accept that there are two levels of truth when it comes to accepting Anatta. On an everyday level it is convenient to talk about by ‘self’ and your ‘self’ as the human brain needs categories in order to make sense of what is being experienced. However, on an ultimate level, there is no such thing as ‘self’ as everything is interconnected with everything else.

  • Buddhists view of Anatta affects the way they act in everyday life. By seeing no difference between ‘self’ and ‘others’ Buddhists learn to become dispassionate about things. Selfish feelings such as jealousy, lust, depression are discouraged but those which encourage connections between people such as caring, listening and helping others are developed.

  • The eightfold path could be said to encourage the understanding of Anatta. Each step on this path enables the Buddhist to reflect on the way in which people are impermanent and interconnected.

Anatta in Buddhist practice

  • Meditation – this is a practice within the eightfold path that directly draws upon the concept of Anatta in a number of ways.

    • Samatha meditation – Meditation begins with the development of mindfulness where the meditator becomes mindful of the current state of the skandhas. For example, in mindful breathing the meditator concentrates on the action of breathing in and out so that he or she is able to detach from the everyday concerns of the world and concentreate on the impermanence of existence. Samatha meditation is intended to bring about calmness of mind and body and can include zen walking, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, Martial arts, meditation on loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy.

    • Vipassana meditation – aims at producing insight and enables the Buddhist to analyse the attachments to the world and see things as they really are. The ultimate goal of Vipassana meditation is enlightenment.

3 Dukkha

Dukkha is the idea that life is unsatisfactory because there is so much suffering which is caused by craving, clinging, attachment and delusion. It is caused by not accepting Anicca and Anatta. If everything is always changing, can there be anything which will make us happy for ever? Suffering can be physical, mental or emotional and includes all things which make life less than perfect.

Buddhists say that if all the things which make us happy, and even the happy feelings we have, are impermanent then our lives or our experience is very unsatisfactory. Our life is essentially one of suffering. Everything that is transient is, therefore, unsatisfactory. So this teaching is that lasting happiness will never be found if our happiness is based on or comes from anything which is impermanent.

Because of this teaching Buddhists are sometimes called pessimists. They do not, however, see themselves as pessimists. They think of themselves as realists. They think that there way of looking at things is honest. They think that people should not hide from the truth as it does not good pretending that things are different from the way they actually are. They also believe that they have found a way of discovering how to be rid of the feeling of unsatisfactorines – The Noble Eightfold Path.




In Buddhism, The Three Marks of Existence/The Three Noble Truths must be understood together to understand the nature of existence (what life is like). If you don’t understand Anicca or Anatta then it will lead to Dukkha. Anicca, Anatta and Dukkha are experienced by all living things.


Samsara – The endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth ‘endless wandering’

Most Buddhists believe in rebirth but one question that arises when we begin to talk about Samsara/re-birth is what is reborn if there is no soul? The answer to this question is: It is not the person that is reborn but the energy pattern that they produced during their lifetime.




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Think about it like a candle flame being used to light another candle. The second flame could not have existed without the first but it is not the first flame itself.

Buddhists believe that there are six realms in which sentient beings can be reborn – animals, humans, gods, demi-gods or asuras, hungry ghosts or hells. The realm in which a being is born depends on the accumulation of Kamma/actions in previous lives. Buddhists think that it is the energy of our previous actions which keeps us being born in one body after another. The principle, that all voluntary acts have consequences which will have an effect at some time in the future is known as The Law of Kamma. Buddhists believe Samsara is a state of recurring misery and dissatisfaction in which humans are trapped. This unsatisfactory state is the result of attachment to impermanent things.

Samsara continues until the individual becomes enlightened. The goal of Buddhism is to achieve better rebirths to get closer to the ultimate goal of Enlightenment and escape Samsara.

To show how difficult it would be for a human birth the Buddha told the story of the Giant Turtle. He lives on the bottom of the ocean. The turtle comes to the surface every hundred years for air. There is a yoke (a kind of wooden life-belt) floating around on top of the ocean. The chances of being reborn as a human are roughly the same as the chances that the turtle has of putting its head through the yoke when it comes up for air.



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Attaining Nibbana is when Samsara is brought to an end. This is the ultimate goal for Buddhists and a person who attains Nabbana (Enlightenment) will not be born again.



Samsara in Buddha’s life

  • In Theravada Buddhism the Buddha was an historical figure who gained enlightenment after many lifetimes of achieving good Kamma. During these previous lives he is referred to as a Bodhisattva and in some lives he is born as an animal whilst in others he is reborn in the heavens or as a human being.

  • During the meditation under the Bodhi tree Siddhatta remembered the series of his former births and thought with compassion of the suffering that the cycle of rebirth enevitably encourages: “Again and again they must leave the people they regard as their own, and must go on elsewhere, and that without ever stopping. Surely this world is unprotected and helpless, and life a wheel it turns round and round.” Buddhist Scriptures (p49)

  • Once he became enlightened his father acknowledged that the Buddha had fulfilled Asita’s prophecy and in doing so is not longer subject to Kamma and has escaped Samsara.

  • The Mahayana view of Samsara differs from the Theravada view. Samsara is seen almost as an attitude of mind rather than a reality. There is essentially no difference between Samsara and Nibbana since Samsara is simply an illusion and Nibbana is the only thing that is ‘real’.

  • In relation to the Buddha’s life Mahayana Buddhists believe that Sakyamuni Buddha is in fact only one manifestation of the Buddha ideal. This was because they believed a historical Buddha would not just die leaving the world without a Buddha figure. Sakyamuni is just a magical transformation of the Buddha nature in everyone. Other Buddhas like Amithaba or Maitreya, the future Buddha, are all at work in history for the welfare of human beings.

Samsara in Buddhist Teaching

  • It is through good kamma that we can leave the wheel of Samsara behind. “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.” The Dhammapada 1:1

  • The cycle of Samsara is seen as having no beginning and as long as ignorance continues it has no end. “Oh Bhikkus, this cycle of continuity (Samsara) is without visible end, and the first beginning of beings wandering and running around, enveloped in ignorance (avija) and bound by the fetters of thirst (desire, tanha) is not to be perceived.” What the Buddha Taught (p27)

  • For Theravada Buddhists, the highest ideal that any Buddhist can attain is that of the Arahat (worthy one). The Arahat is a monk, who by his own efforts has achieved enlightenment. At his death he will attain Parinibbana and will therefore be outside the influence of Samsara. His is therefore in no position to help other Buddhists on the path to enlightenment, except by his example.

  • In Mahayana Buddhism there is a strong belief in many schools that the concept of Samsara is not as important as the belief that anyone can achieve Nibbana. To Mahayana Buddhists the path of the Arahat is seen as limited because it only concentrates on the individual’s search for enlightenment. Often the Arahat is seen as a cold figure because he has concentrated on his own path without apparent awareness of the needs of others.

  • The concept of the Bodhisattva has developed in Mahayana Buddhism. The Bodhisattva (literally – enlightened being) is one who, on the way to enlightenment makes the vow that he will save all beings. These Bodhisattvas are considered as saviours who help others to achieve a better rebirth through transfer of merit (good deeds produce merit and these can be transferred to others). People can attain merit (good kamma) by supporting monks (donating food or robes), listening to lectures or providing funds for monasteries. There are many examples of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition and they are freely represented in Mahayana art. One signigicant Bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara (or Cheenrezig). The Dalai Lama is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be Cheenrezig in human form. Tibetian Buddhism has a strong artistic tradition, which the monks of Samye Ling are trying to keep alive.

Samsara in Buddhist practice

  • The Sangha or monastic order – The belief in the cycle of rebirth has a daily effect on how Buddhists live their lives. The importance of following the Dhamma in order to gain good Kamma is an important part of most Buddhists’ daily life.

  • In Theravada Buddhism the difference between the monastic lives and the lives of the lay community are clearly spelled out. It is not thought impossible for a lay person to achieve Nibbana but it is seen as highly unlikely as their attachment to the material world is great. Therefore the actions of the lay people are primarily done with the goal of achieving good Kamma for a better rebirth. Lay people have duties towards the monastic community whom they support with material goods, finance and manual labour. Mahayana Buddhists have a similar idea and an example of this at Samye Ling is to help with gardening and to cook and clean for the monks and Nuns. In return the monks teach them which helps them on their first step towards Nibbana and act as role models for the lay community.

  • Good Kamma can be gained by taking part in Buddhist worship whether through festivals and pilgrimage or daily Puja. The major rites of passage celebrated in Buddhism are initiation and death which both mark the imprtance of the cycle of Samsara.

  • In the initiation or ordination ceremony the novice gives up his life of attachment to become a monk, which itself produces good Kamma.

  • The monk and nun’s goal is really Nibbana rather than Samsara. However it is difficult even for monks, so the secondary goal of a good rebirth is not totally neglected.

Kamma/Actions

In Buddhism Kamma is the process by which thoughts, actions and choices shape lives. What people do, what they think and what they say will have an imact on their present an future lives. All intentional actions have consequences. This is the natural law of cause and effect (One thing leads to another). Thoughts lead to actions which lead to consequences. Overall, the sort of rebirth achieved is dependant on previous behaviour and this is called the Law of Kamma.

Good and bad Kamma is dependent on


  • Skillful actions

    • These help achieve the goal of Nibbana and freedom from Samsara.

  • Unskilful actions

    • These bind the individual more closely to the cycle of Samsara.

The type of action is determined by:

  • The intentions

  • The foreseen consequences

  • The appropriateness of the act to the person doing the act.




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The Buddha explained that kammic choices were like seeds. The seeds would grow and produce fruit according to the type of seed sown. The moral choices we make result in the development of certain outcomes. Again it is simple cause and effect. If you sow an apple seed you can only reasonably expect to produce an apple tree. Obviously moral choices aren’t really seeds and we can’t always predict the outcomes of certain choices. However, according to the Buddha, what we have to do is act for the right reasons or intentions and think through what are the most likely consequences of our actions.





  • Three forms of bad root (Akusala) when it comes to intentions:

    • Choices based on greed

    • Choices based on delusion

    • Choices based on hatred



    Three forms of good root (Kusala) when it comes to intentions:


Kamma comes fom actions containing choices. For example if you accidently stepped on a spider you would accrue very little if any negative kamma but if you intended to kill the spider then you would accrue a much higher level of negative kamma. Many actions have consequences which can be forseen and actions are also linked to the person who carries them out.

Buddhists believe they are masters of their own lives and that everything that happens to them is the result of kamma brought upon themselved during one rebirth or another. Kamma keeps them in Samsara.



Nibbana

Nibbana is very difficult to define or describe. It literally means ‘blowing out’ as in a candle flame and is often described in a negative way as ‘not this’ or ‘not that’. However, Nibbana is anything but negative. It is the first of all cessation. It is the complete stopping of the cycle of life, death and rebirth (Samsara). It is an end of all misery. Nibbana is ease and is like cool water removing the heat and thirst of our desires. Like the wind you cannot point out or grasp hold of it, but it can be known from its effects.






Nibbana is all about experience according to Buddha’s teachings. Nibbana cannot be fully or adequately explained. It can only be known by experience. The story of the turtle and the fish is a good way to illustrate this…

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_iicjrgutm1w/ttitdlspppi/aaaaaaaaag4/cvs8keitp0m/s1600/turtle+and+fish.jpg

When a person achieves nibbana they still feel physical pain like anyone else (as the nerves are still present) but they are free from all mental pain and confusion and can more easily deal with the pain. A person who has achieved Nibbana can still enjoy physical pleasures like good food, but they do this without any attachments or cravings. They will look after their body and give it what it needs, but not out of greed for pleasure but simply to stay alive and healthy in order that the body should function as it should.



The question has been asked ‘if there is no self then what is it that obtains nibbana? The Buddha would not answer such questions (story of the arrow). He did not give answers to puzzling questions because he did not want people to be distracted from the more important task of getting rid of suffering. He also said that these types of questions were only asked by those who were confused in their understanding of themselves and life.

Nibbana in Buddha’s life

  • Sidhatta became the Buddha after concentrated meditation for 49 days. He had been reborn man times gaining good Kamma and the meditation itself gave him the opportunity to overcome the cravings of this world and deepen his understanding.

  • After he became enlightened he continued to live as a travelling holy man, teaching others the Dhamma so that they could also achieve Nibbana.

  • The Theravada view of Nibbana seen in the Buddha’s life develops a further strand with his death. The Buddha’s body dies but the Buddha is described as entering Parinibbana which means completed Nibbana or enlightenment without left over Kama. Parinibbana essentially means the death of a Buddha.

Nibbana in Buddhist teachings

  • The concept of Nibbana is often referred to in the Dhamma with an explanation of what it is not, rather than what it is. “As no seed can grow on a mountain peak, so the seeds of all the passions cannot grow in Nirvana. And finally, as a mountain peak is free fom all desire to please or displease so is Nirvana.” Buddhist Scriptures (p157)

  • In the Questions of King Milinda, Nagasena explains to the king that Nibbana can only be understood by experiencing the state yourself. Nagasena compares Nibbana to the wind which cannot be seen or touched but can be experienced.

  • To the Theravada Buddhist the path to Nibbana is difficult, but straightforward. The Buddhist is entirely on his own on his journey to enlightenment and can expect no help from the Buddha who is considered ‘tathagata’ (thus gone) except as a guide and example.

  • In Mahayana Buddhism the path to Nibbana is less individually strenuous as it is connected to the concept of the Bodhisattva – enlightened beings who have so much compassion that they want all thinking beings to achieve enlightenment. Although the Theravada school of Buddhism also believe in Bodhisattvas, they only believe in two – Sakyamuni Buddha (The historical Buddha) and Maitreya Buddha (The future Buddha). Since there is more help available to aspiring Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism it is believed that Nibbana is something that everyone should achieve.

  • Since Mahayana Buddhists believe that everyone can achiebe Nibbana their beliefs about the Buddha have been extended. Mahayana Buddhism teaches the concept of the Buddha is not limited to the earthly life of Siddhatta Gautama. The Trikaya Doctrine teaches that there are three different ways of looking at the Buddha, which are referred to as the Three Bodies:
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