World Religions Buddhism The Basics

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World Religions - Buddhism
The Basics
Religion is belief in a supreme being or beings; in a God or gods. Religion is a belief system that is practiced through faith, obedience, prayer, and worship.


People practice religion for many reasons. Some follow a religion because its part of their family or tribal heritage and culture. For others, religion provides a feeling of security because the divine power is believed to be watching over them. Some follow a religion because it promises salvation and happiness or a chance to improve themselves in another life after death. For other people, religion yields a sense of individual fulfillment and provides meaning to life. Finally, many people follow their religion to enjoy a sense of kinship with fellow believers.


For many people, religion is an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, practices, and worship involving one supreme God or Deity. Other peoples' religions involve a number of different gods. Some people's religion has no specific God or gods to be worshiped. There are also people who practice their religious beliefs in their own personal way, largely independent of organized religion. But almost all people who follow some form of religion believe that a supreme being created the world and influences their lives.


There are thousands of religions. The eight major ones in our world are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Taoism. Hinduism, Shinto, and Taoism developed over many, many centuries. Each of the others bases faith on the life or teachings of specific individuals: Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as Gautama Buddha, for Buddhism; Jesus Christ for Christianity; Confucius for Confucianism; Muhammad for Islam; and Abraham and Moses for Judaism.



Buddhism began in northeastern India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism is divided into two major branches: Theravada, the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. Buddhism is now prevalent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, (where Theravada is popular) and in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam, and India (where Mahayana is more common). There are about 300 million Buddhists in the world.

Central Theme

Buddhism teaches its followers that in this life they are only temporary vessels of body, emotions, thoughts, tendencies, and knowledge. Buddhists believe that there is no sense of self or soul when in this world. A fundamental concept of Buddhism is the notion that the goal of one’s life is to break the cycles of death and birth. Reincarnation exists because of the individual’s craving and desires to live in this world. The ultimate goal of a Buddhists is to achieve freedom from the cycle of reincarnation and attain nirvana. The enlightened state in which the person is free from greed, hate, and ignorance. The way to nirvana involves the person showing love for others, being compassionate and sympathetic of other people, and showing patience in everything. A Buddhist must also follow five main principles, which prohibit killing, stealing, ill language, sexual immorality, and the use of toxic substances. When one successfully follows these principles, the three roots of evil (, hate, and deceit) can be overcome.


Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, India, which is present-day Nepal. He was the son of king of the Sakya clan. His name Siddhartha Gautama is a combination of the family name, Gautama, and his given name, Siddhartha. The title of Buddha means "Enlightened One."

Buddha married at an early age and lived the life of self-indulgence. However, he found that this life was dull and left his home in search of enlightenment. On his journey, he met an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. From these encounters, he determined that suffering was a shared characteristic of all humankind.

Then he came upon a calm and peaceful monk. From this encounter, he changed his outlook on life. This new life called for him to forsake his family, wealth, and power in order to be free to search for truth. This decision is known as the Great Renunciation.

About 528 BC, while sitting under a tree, he experienced the Great Enlightenment. Through this revelation, he discovered the way to salvation from suffering. From this revelation, Buddha traveled through the valley of the Ganges River, teaching his doctrines, attracting followers, and establishing religious communities.


The Tipitaka, which is divided into three sections, is the fundamental scripture of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists regard the Tipitaka as the complete teachings Buddha. Mahayana Buddhists also use the Tipitaka, but they regard the Mahayana sutras, or journals of the Buddha, as more important. Buddha’s disciples orally passed down the content of the Tipitaka.

The three section of the Tipitaka are the Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Rules and regulations for Buddhist monks and nuns are described in the Vinaya Pitaka. The actual experiences of Buddha are documented in the Sutta Pitaka. Along with the documentation of his experiences, there are extensive commentaries on myths and legends about Buddha. The doctrine of the absence of self and suffering is also found in this section of the Tipitaka. The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains works that teaches on the Theravada positions from Buddha's teaching. These works are now considered to be mainly for advanced students of Buddhism.

According to Buddhist sources, the Tipitaka was written down after 50 BC in Sanskrit. The word "tipitaka" means "three baskets". The Tipitaka spread with the growth of Buddhism.


The Theravada branch of Buddhism is called the "Doctrine of the Elders". This branch uses the Tipitaka as its main spiritual guide and abides by the original teachings of Buddha. Theravada is also known as the "Lesser Vehicle" in Buddhism. For centuries, Theravada has been the main religion of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. Today, there are over 100 million Theravada Buddhists around the world. This branch teaches its followers to refrain from all kinds of evil, gather together all that is good, and to purify the mind. These goals can be achieved by developing an ethical mindset, meditation, and a deep thirst for knowledge.

Followers of the Theravada branch describe themselves as imperfect beings that have a temporary stay on this earth. When an individual understands this nature of existence, they find nothing valuable in this world. Through this knowledge, there is no sense of greed in their lives. Then with this knowledge, a Theravada Buddhist can reach the state of perfection and enter nirvana


The Mahayana branch of Buddhism is often called the "Greater Vehicle" because of its more liberal beliefs. Instead of regarding Buddha as a divine being, the Mahayana believes that Buddha was a manifestation of a divine being. They believe that Buddha takes on three entities: essence, godlike form, and body. Essence is the collection of his spiritual qualities that make him Buddha. In his godlike form, he is seen meditating and revealing himself to his people. In his body form, he is shown as a mortal that walked the earth like his believers. They believe that the Tipitaka is an important resource, but they also use other sutras, or written records of Buddha’s experiences, as forms of teachings to live by.

Unlike the teachings of Theravada Buddhism, a Mahayana Buddhist is expected to lead others into nirvana. Mahayana Buddhists believe that they have the ability to do so and see it as a duty. In the Theravada doctrine, people can only find nirvana for themselves. A Mahayana Buddhist also believes that each individual has the ability to gain Buddhahood in his life.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path illustrates the moral principles in which all Buddhists should practice. It goes into detail about the basis of all Buddhist teachings: morality, meditation, and wisdom. This is the eightfold path:

  1. Right Knowledge

  2. Right Thinking

  3. Right Speech

  4. Right Conduct

  5. Right Livelihood

  6. Right Effort

  7. Right Mindfulness

  8. Right Concentration

Following the Noble Eightfold Path helps a person realize that greed and selfishness cause all earthly suffering. With this new understanding, one’s suffering may end.

Nirvana is the supreme state free from suffering and individual existence. It is a state Buddhists refer to as "Enlightenment". It is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists. The attainment of nirvana breaks the otherwise endless rebirth cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists also consider nirvana as freedom from all worldly concerns such as greed, hate, and ignorance. No one can describe in words what nirvana is. It can only be experienced directly.


Buddhists believe that they are temporary vessels in this world and that until they attain enlightenment or Buddhahood, they do not know their own self or soul. They believe that this world is an illusion and that as a result, one cannot know one’s true nature..

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