Buddhism 101 – What Is Buddhism?

This is part of a series of posts about Buddhism. I’ll try to answer many of the basic questions and provide a clear explanation. This is an overview of Buddhism. Each of these concepts will be further elaborated on later. This is to provide a basic overview of Buddhist philosophy.

What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a religion to some, a philosophy to others, or a way of life. It’s often said that the Buddha himself did not want Buddhism to become a religion.

The Buddha, which means awakened one, has provided a path to liberation from the world of suffering. He is said to have found the truth of the world, to have become enlightened, spending the rest of his life teaching others the path to liberation.

What am I being liberated from?
The Buddha, like a doctor, diagnosed humans with chronic suffering. Life is suffering in many ways. When you have happiness, it is only temporary and will later become suffering. The ones you love provide you joy now, but one day they will die or leave you and cause suffering. Your health will fade, resulting in suffering, and so on.

Sounds depressing, right? Well actually it isn’t. The Buddha merely made an objective observation of the world and life around him. And finally, he found the answer. Like a sickness, the suffering can be cured. Like a spiritual doctor, the Buddha provides us with a way to alleviate our suffering. By changing the way we see the world, we can better deal with the painful realities of the world.

The 4 Noble Truths
These are the truths of the world the Buddha saw.
1. Life is suffering
2. The origin of our suffering is craving/desire
3. We must give up our craving and desire to alleviate our suffering
4. Following the Noble Eighfold Path will help us give up our craving, and subsequently our suffering.

What is the Noble Eightfold Path?
Buddhists ought to follow the Eightfold Path to bring about the cessation of their cravings and desires, and consequently, suffering. The Noble Eightfold Path is separated into 3 main sections.
1. Right View
2. Right Intention

Ethical Conduct
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

How can I do all of this?
Buddhism emphasizes taking refuge in the Triple Jewel. These are the Buddha (the enlightened teacher), the Sangha (community of practisioners), and the Dharma (the teachings). Utilizing these three methods, individuals can become liberated. It emphasizes following the practices of Buddhism in a community. Community is important for support, to answer questions, and help individuals develop more.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that is, being reborn and living many lives. This cycle is called samsara, and we are attached to this cycle through our desires. The existence in samsara cannot be guaranteed, even for wise individuals. One life you may have good opportunities to practice a good life and meditate. Others you might not, depending on what actions you may have had in other lives.

Karma and Interdependence
Karma affects your births and rebirths. Essentially Karma is translated as action. The things you’ve taken in past lives or this present life have a cause and effect. Buddhists believe that nothing happens in a vacuum. We are all interrelated and interconnected. By doing sewing seeds today, I will harvest a crop tomorrow. Perhaps you sewed bad deeds, which result in bad crops for you now or tomorrow.

Everything is interdependent and has cause and effect. Do not feel helpless, however. For like Einstein, the only constant in a Buddhist world is change. Everything is subject to change, including ourselves. Therefore, you may still attain enlightenment or liberation from the world and its suffering if you practice well.

Probably one of the most important things in Buddhism is to have compassion for fellow humans, animals, and all sentient beings. They could have been your mother, uncle, cousin, sister, or lover in a previous life. They may have done good things for you, and we ought to have compassion for all living beings. Compassion is an everyday practice that can help people gain wisdom. The more compassion you genuinely show others, the more wisdom and happiness you will gain.

There is a very strong emphasis on meditation in Buddhism. The reason is that meditation is should help an individual in all aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. It forces you to develop your concentration, and gain wisdom, which then helps you to live a more ethical life.

Meditation is key to liberation. It also provides individuals with the ability to connect with the bliss of existence or living. It allows individuals to feel and see beyond their material existence into their ultimate reality. Meditation also allows individuals to see the truth of the world for themselves. You can find your true inner self, when you no longer require desire for external things.

The Mind is Key
All in all, Buddhism is about the mind. It is a psychology to free individuals from unhappiness and unnecessary suffering. In the end, you realize that it is your perception that shapes ultimate reality. There are millionaires who are unhappy, and poverty-stricken people who have found happiness. There are perfectly able individuals who wallow in self-pity, and there are disabled individuals who are free and blissful.

It is not your environment around you that makes you happy or not. It can certainly influence you since nothing happens in a vacuum. But all people have the potential to attain joy and liberation in this life. The Noble Eightfold Path may help you get there.

Is Buddhism compatible with other religions?
I personally believe Buddhism to be compatible with any of the major religions. Similar to other Eastern religions, meditation and Buddhism can help you to connect with the universe, God, Allah, or Yahweh. It is a philosophy, a kind of psychology to provide peace and happiness to all individuals.

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