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Buddhism Essay, Research Paper

Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century BC by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha),

is an important religion in most of the countries of Asia. Buddhism has come in

many different forms, but in each form there has been an attempt to draw from

the life experiences of the Buddha, his teachings, and the spirit or essence of

his teachings (called dharma) as models for the religious life. However, before

the writing of the Buaciha Charija (life of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa in the 1st

or 2nd century AD, the members did not have a complete record of his life. The

Buddha was born in North India (appx. 570 BC) at a place called Lumbini, near

the Himalayan Foothills, and he began to teach around Benares (at Sarnath). His

era in general was one of spiritual, intellectual, and social ferment. This was

the time when the Hindu idea of giving up family and social life by holy people

seeking Truth first became widespread. Siddhartha Gautama was the warrior son of

a king and queen. According to the legend, at his birth, a person predicted that

he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from the temporal life). To prevent

this, his father gave him many luxuries and pleasures. But, as a young man, he

once went on a series of four chariot rides where he first saw the more severe

forms of human suffering: old age, illness, and death. The difference between

his life and human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth

were short, or temporary, and could only hide human suffering. Leaving his wife

and new son (Rahula Fetter), he took on several teachers and tried to meditate

and worship in the forest until the point of near starvation. Finally, when he

realized that this too was only adding more suffering, he ate food and sat down

beneath a tree to meditate. By morning, he had attained Nirvana (enlightenment),

which gave him the answers to the causes of suffering and permanent release from

it. Now the Buddha began to teach others these truths out of understanding for

their suffering. The most important rules he taught included the Four Noble

Truths and Eight-Fold Path. His first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (dukkha).

The second Noble Truth is that craving for pleasures and for things to be as

they are not causing suffering. The third Noble Truth, states that suffering has

an end, and the fourth offers the means to that end which are the Eight-Fold

Path and the Middle Way. If someone follows this combined path he or she will

obtain Nirvana (Enlightenment), an indescribable state of all-knowing easily

understood awareness in which there is only peace and joy. The Eight-fold Path,

represented as a picture by an eight-spoked wheel (the Wheel of Dharma),

includes Right Views (the Four Noble Truths), Right Intention, Right Speech,

Right Action, Right Livelihood/Occupation, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness

(total concentration in activity), and Right Concentration (meditation). After

the Buddha’s death, his celibate followers slowly settled down into monasteries

that were paid for by the married followers as gifts. The monks then taught the

followers some of Buddha’s teachings. They also visited the Buddha’s birthplace;

worshiped the tree under which he became enlightened (a bodhi tree), built

Buddha-images in temples, and put the remains of his body in many burial mounds.

A famous king, named Ashoka, and his son helped to spread Buddhism through South

India and in Sri Lanka, in the Third Century BC. The Buddha?s followers built

many monastic schools. Around the First Century AD, a major split occurred

within the Buddhist fold, between the Mahayana and Hinayana branches. Of the

Hinayana branch of schools, only the Theravada school remains; it is currently

found in Sri Lanka and all Southeast Asian countries. This school stresses the

historical figure of Gautama Buddha, and the center of the monk’s lifestyle and

practice (meditation). Theravada monks hold that the Buddha taught a law of

anatta (no soul), when he spoke of the not long lasting of the human body and

form, perception, sensations and feelings, consciousness, and volition. They

believe that human beings continue to be reformed and reborn, and to collect

karma (the effects of moral action on the person who is the cause of the action)

until they reach Nirvana. The Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) branch of schools began

about the First Century AD; Mahayanists are found today mostly in Korea, China,

Japan, and Tibet. The three well-known schools are Pure Land, Chan or Len, and

Tantra. Mahayana schools stress that worshipers can also be good Buddhists. The

form of the historical Buddha was only one manifestation of Buddha Nature.

Mahayana speaks of many past and also future Buddha?s, some of who are

god-like and watch over Buddha-worlds or heavenly paradises. Especially

important are bodhisattvas, who are people who have reached the point of

Enlightenment, but turn around and take a vow to use their enlightenment,

compassion, wisdom, and power to help release others from their suffering.

Buddhism became virtually extinct in India (approximately Twelfth Century AD),

partly because of the ways of Hinduism, Muslim invasions, or too great a stress

on the monk’s way of life. However, it is still practiced in China, Japan and in

parts of Asia. As a religion, it has proved its possibility of living and

practical spirituality in the countries of Asia in which it is followed. The

many forms and practices that have been developed within the Buddhist fold have

allowed many different types of people to become Buddhists.


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