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Buddism Essay, Research Paper


In a world filled with technology and industry, it can become increasingly difficult to take a step back and view the world in its natural state. In essence, we are humans trying to figure out how we fit into a world seemingly contradictory to the path of humanity. We look to nature for answers. We look to each other, as well as to one another’s accomplishments for these same answers. In the end, our entire species comes to the same conclusion. In order to fully understand our world, we must first seek inner-peace and come to understand how we can relate to one another on a spiritual level. We must strive for this alternative consciousness if we, as a race are to escape our culture’s self-imposed shackles.

Throughout history there have been hundreds of influential figures. Some are well-known for their charitableness or kindness, or for their supreme knowledge which contributed to the growth of humanity. Others are noted for their religious, literary, or cultural contributions to the world. Yet very few are known as all of these. One figure in particular could be called not only a religious founder, but a humanitarian and a philosopher as well. This is Siddharta Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha. (The word “Buddha” means “one who is intuitive, awakened, or enlightened.”)

Buddhism is based on the beliefs and teachings of one man. The Buddha built a ‘religion’ on a framework that consists of the Four Noble Truths, the 4 passing sights, and the four temptations of Mara. These truths are not fixed dogmatic principles, but living experiences to be explored individually in the heart of the sincere spiritual seeker. He encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He promoted a path he called The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. “Devotion to the pleasures of sense, a low practice of villagers, a practice unworthy, unprofitable, the way of the world [on one hand]; and [on the other] devotion to self- mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable. By avoiding these two extremes the Buddha has gained knowledge of that middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, which causeth calm, special knowledge, enlightenment, Nirvana.”

Siddhartha Gautama was born in 566 B.C. His father was the ruler over a district near the Himalayas which is today the country of Nepal. He sheltered his son from the outside world and confined him to the palace where his luxurious upbringing was one of pleasure and wealth. Great lengths were gone to see that nothing ‘unpleasant’ tainted his pretty world. In part, this was due to the lavish lifestyle his family was accustomed to; but his father had some alterior motives in mind during all these pleasantries.

When Siddartha was born his father brought in fortune tellers to discern his future. They agreed he wasn’t an ordinary child, but their predictions were ambiguous. It was said that if he succeeded his father he would conquer the world and unify India, if he forsook the world he would become a ‘world redeemer’. His father made every effort to keep his son on course. Before Siddartha was to leave the palace, scouts were sent out ahead of him to clear the roads of the sick, decrepit, and dying. Despite all his father’s efforts, one day this precaution was overlooked. Siddartha happened to come across an old man for the first time in his life. He was appalled at the wrinkles and decrepitude. On another occasion he observed a sick person and learned about the loathsome nature of disease. On a third outing he witnessed a funeral procession and was able to see the lifeless corpse that was being carried. The suddenness of these three experiences set him thinking about the transitoriness of human life. Finally he came upon a religious ascetic, with a shaven head, and an ocher robe who had renounced materialistic things to seek enlightenment, and was therefore content and happy. This incident left an indelible mark on the mind of the young prince.These 4 inevitable events became known as the 4 Passing Sights.

As time passed these thoughts became great burdens to Gautama and he increasingly became dissatisfied with the shallow dissolute life of the royal court in which he lived. He lost interest in the pleasantries in which his father surrounded him, fleshy pleasures had lost their appeal. One night during his 29th year, although married with a beautiful young son and also the heir to a very rich throne, he forsook it all and took to the woods to begin his journey to attain the truth of life. At the edge of the forest, Siddhartha took off his jeweled sword, and cut off his hair and beard, and entered the forest to seek enlightenment.

Six years followed, during this time he directed his efforts to accomplishing this task.

He studied the Hindu scriptures under Brahmin priests, but became disillusioned with the teachings of Hinduism. He then devoted himself to a life of extreme asceticism in the forest. Legend has it that he eventually learned to exist on one grain of rice a day which reduced his body to a skeleton. He soon concluded, however, that asceticism did not lead to peace and self realization but merely weakened the mind and body. This was the first constructive part of his program, which was the principle of the middle way between extremes of asceticism and indulgence.Gautama eventually turned to a life of meditation. Sensing that a breakthrough was near, he sat down under a fig tree known as the Bohdi tree (meaning, “tree of wisdom”), vowing not to get up until he had achieved his ultimate goal of Enlightenment.

While he was meditating, Mara, the ‘evil one’, attempted to disrupt Gautama’s concentration. He tried to tempt him with disasters, fear, dancing girls and distractions of pleasure. It was a temptation scene involving voluptous women, flaming rocks, (which sounds like a lousy combination to me) and (tempoarily) ended with Mara challanging Gautama’s right to do what he was doing. Legend has it that he touched his finger to the ground, and the earth thundered, ‘i hear you witness’. Mara fled. (as would I)

Siddhartha, entered a deep meditation. The great awakening had arrived. He

recalled all his previous rebirths, gained knowledge of the cycle of births and deaths, and with certainty, cast off the ignorance and passion of his ego which bound him to the world. Thereupon, Siddhartha had attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. His own desire and suffering were over and, as the Buddha, he experienced the highest degree of God-consciousness called Nirvana… ” He believed he had found the answers to the questions of pain and suffering. He finally realized the essential truth about life and about the path to salvation. He realized that physical harshness of asceticism was not a means of achieving Enlightenment and Nirvana. His message now needed to be proclaimed to the whole world. Gautama was gone, and had been replaced by the Buddha.

Mara was waiting with one last temptation. Who would understand a truth as profound as what Buddha had discovered? Why not wash your hands of the whole mess and be done with your earthly body and slip into a perpetual state of Nirvana? Buddha made a great act of self-sacrifice. He turned back determined to share his enlightenment with others so that all living souls could end the cycles of their own rebirth and suffering. In the end the Buddha responded, “there will be some who understand”. An understatement if i ever heard one; 2500 years later, 150 to 350 million followers around the world follow the teachings of one man, (how ever distorted his original ideas may have become) I believe the heart of his ideas are still the core of the religion.

It wasn’t long before he found the first of these, who did indeed understand. Buddha was somewhat notorious for his subtler teaching methods, on occasion not resorting to words at all. The classic instance of this is the Flower Sermon. Standing on a mountain with his disciples around him, the Buddha simply held up a golden lotus flower. I imagine his disciples gazed at oneanother in quiet discontent, searching for someone who grasped the meaning of this gesture, trying to understand. One man smiled. His name was Mahakasyapa, and his quiet smile, indicating he understood, prompted Buddha to appoint him his successor. The secret of life cannot be expressed in words, it must be experienced.

To become a Buddha that would mean you would have to become fully enlightened. Many people question whether this is level of enlightenment is even possible to attain. One thing that may be close are the Sangha. The Sangha (Buddhist monastic order) are people who follow the Dharma and its teachings. Their monastaries and nunneries are spiritual dynamos, and their monks and nuns are regarded with a great deal of respect. They have rejected a great deal of negative thinking and afflictive emotions. The Sangha provides the outer framework and the favorable conditions for all those who earnestly desire to devote their life to the realization of the highest goal of deliverance, free of worldly distractions.

Buddhism can be better understood when contrasted with Hinduism from which it sprang and split. To understand Buddha’s teachings, we need to understand the Hinduism that provoked it. Buddha sought to create a religion devoid of the elements that clog it’s works; authority, ritual, explanations, tradition, grace, and mystery. Each of these elements would seem at first glance an important piece of religion as a whole, but Buddhism appears to have developed without these ‘important’ aspects in tact, without which we might have said it were impossible for religion to take root.

Buddha preached a religion devoid of authority. He challanged individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. “be lamps unto yourselves,” “work out your own salvation with diligance”. He preached a religion devoid of ritual. He ridiculed the Brahmanic rites as ’superstitious petitions to ineffectual gods’, and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant to the process of ego-reduction. Buddha preached a religion without explanations. He doesn’t attempt to explain the world in all it’s mystical functions, whether it’s eternal or not, infinite or not. he ‘maintains a noble silence’ in this regard. Buddhism is without tradition. Buddhists do not celebrate the birth of buddha, and adorn foliage with decrative lights, while singing songs and exchanging gifts with family. In American culture, almost every holiday has some kind of christian or catholic root, in our day to day lives, we don’t consider that most things we celebrate are supposed to reflect our ‘faith in christ.’ I think most people tend to think of these holidays as a free pass from work, or an excuse to get presents, drink green beer, eat candy, etc. Very few celebrate these ‘holidays’ as what they were. Most celebrate them as what they’ve become. Buddhism doesn’t offer the frilly appeals of traditions, which in my opinion only serves to strengthen it as a whole, and redirects attention to the substance of the religion. Buddhism is a religion of self-effort. There is no grace, or glorified anything. He believed that each individual must tread the path (to the end of suffering) him or herself, through determiniation, and effort to achieve the ultimate goal, where as in christianity, there is talk of being ‘graced by god’, and in Hinduism they believed the cycle of samsara to be unending, which the Buddha thought to be like a neverending sentence of ‘hard labor’. “there is a path to the end of suffering” he said, “tread it.” Lastly, Buddhism is a religion without mystical supernatural things. He condemned all forms of divination, and fortunetelling and the like as ‘low arts’. He seemed to acknowledge that the human brain was capable of some unexplainable things, though he discouraged seeking these things.

Buddhism also rejected important views of Hinduism. It did not recognize the validity of the Vedic Scriptures, other sanskrit scriptures, nor the sacrificial cult which arose from it. It also questioned the authority of the priesthood. Also, the Buddhist movement was open to people of all castes, denying the rather concrete Hindu belief that a person’s worth could be judged by their blood and background, that their place in society was set and determined on this basis, that aptitudes were hereditary.

Buddhism also rejects the yogas; karmayoga and bhaktiyoga. He believed that ritual sacrifice and ‘magic’ are not a part of dharma. He disagreed with Bhaktiyoga because he believed that God, or personal Gods are irrelevant. It may have occurred to the reader that in our discussion thus far no mention has been made of God or an eternal deity. It is clear that Buddha did not claim to be divine. He claimed to be the one to point the way to Nirvana, but it was up to each individual to find his own way there. Buddha wasn’t worshiped as a god, but as a human being who gained enlightenment. The concept of a personal God does not fit into the Buddhist system of religion. Today there are many sects of Buddhism. Many differ in their concept of the divine and of Buddha. In general, Buddhists are pantheistic in their view of God. Buddhism claims that gods have no role to play in human liberation, any more than any other person or spirit. Each person must find his or her own destiny and final path to spiritual redemption. Many view God as an impersonal force which is made up of all living things and holds the universe together. Since Buddhism in general does not believe in a personal God or divine being, it does not have worship, praying, or praising of a divine being. It offers no form of redemption, forgiveness, heavenly hope, or final judgment. The Buddha would say that craving salvation is a selfish desire.

Enlightenment as I understand it, can be described as a complete separation from all worldly ties or attatchments, but it’s much more than that. It’s the elimination of suffering itself and is also referred to as Nirvana. It is a state of perfection where the mind has completely transcended the body and the self. It is the point in which one is no longer susceptable to suffering. Only when the candle of suffering has been blown out can one truly reach enlightenment. In order to help lead us toward enlightenment, Buddha created a set of guidelines which he called the Four Noble Truths..

The first Noble Truth is perhaps the simplest one to comprehend. It is the truth of misery, also known as dukkha. In essence it is merely the realization that suffering exists and that we are all experiencing it nearly every moment of our lives. Physical pain is a part of life, but mental pain is self inflicted. This helps us by identifying the problem which affects every human being. It also allows us to understand the significance of what we face. After we have realized that we do indeed suffer and understand at least some of the extent of this misery, then we can begin to look at the causes of it. Dukkha is broken down then into three categories.

The first, is not getting what you want. When your boyfriend of 5 years asks you to dinner for a special talk, you are ready for the ring. When his idea of a special talk is letting you know that he’s leaving you for a stripper, you experience some heavy duty dukkha. This is a fabulous example of how dukkha is a lot like dookie. There are lots of times in life when we don’t get what we want. We probably dwell on these times a lot more than we should, in fact the Buddha would say that we should never ever dwell on these at all.

The second, is getting what you want. Getting what you want can be satasfying, for a little while. Buddha doesn’t want us to be fooled by this superficial satasfaction, because the satasfaction itself leads to discontent. Perhaps you get a promotion after what feels like a long competition with a co-worker. You’re thrilled, and you celebrate, you got what you wanted. You return to work, and you’re co-worker, who is currently experiencing an unfulfilled desire, wants nothing to do with you. You leave your cubicle for your new office, (it has a window) and your boss fills it with paperwork. You feel overloaded, express your discontent. He says in so many words, that if you can’t handle it, he’ll gladly give the promotion to your co-worker. This is how the satasfaction from getting what you want is superficial, and only sparkles for a short while before discontent returns.

The third, is wanting to get something. Everytime we crave, we suffer. Unfulfilled desires are the cause of much inner turmoil. The desire for a much deserved raise can make everyday on the job painstakingly frustrating. The desire for children when when the odds are really bad, can put a lot of strain on a relationship. It is this kind of dukkha that seemingly reduces us to a childlike nature; “I want I want I want!”

Buddha stresses that the pursuit of happiness is self defeating, and explains it six ways.

The first of which states that sickness, old age, death are inevitable. Yet they seem to be the very core of human fears. The fact that they are enevitable, which we all acknowledge, doesn’t seem to dull the blade so to speak. Death (and icky spiders) are the epitamy of fear to most, though to a buddhist, death would seem a rather arbitrary and relatively meaningless part of existance. We can fight age with anti-aging creams and wrinkle smoothers and face lifts, but this is going to prove fruitless, except to offer some form of denial based satasfaction. Most fear growing old and helpless and being dependent. I would say that most senior citizens fight really hard for independance even after it’s been lost. Unless you’re fortunate enough to croak at the top of the hill, it’s inevitable. All pursuits will be self defeating.

His second statement, is that satasfaction of desire is transitory, knowing it won’t last forever diminishes the satasfaction. When we’re presented with a blow pop, we don’t always think, “well this blow pop is great, but i’m going to be so bummed when it’s gone”, but He wants us to know that that’s how it is. Even the bliss experienced during the peak of a romantic relationship has it’s paranoid moments, when you fear that they might leave you, and that if they did the world would cease to exist and you would perish in a pool of your own blasted misery. The simple fear of a desire ceasing to be satasfied can be nerve wracking. “That pig is paying child support now, but I just know it’s too good be true. He and that stripper are going to hop a plane to Amsterdam, and he’ll be gone, I tell you, gone!” My point is made.

His third statement is that satasfaction of desire is addictive, more you have the more you want. How true. How many times have you sat in front of one of those blasted (illegal) video slot machines, and doubled the ten bucks you just put in?…..If you were smart you’d cash out, but this thing is addictive, you can’t stop, you want more more more! (you lose your 400 credits, and then lose twenty more bucks trying to make your ten back) Those poor souls on Who Wants to be a Millionaire….how many times have you seen the guy win $250,000, and blow the $500,000 question because he decided to make a guess?? He walks away with like $60,000 UNSATASFIED. How does that happen?? I rejoice in small change i find on the floor.

His fourth statement is satasfaction of desire is insecure, because the more you have, the more you have to lose. You’re dating Britney Spears. ( forgive me, I hate her too) You’re enthralled, enraptured, infatuated. You soon devote you’re entire waking hours to beating the crap out of anybody who looks at her the wrong way, and devoting your sleeping hours to dreaming about different ways to beat the crap out of anybody who looks at her the wrong way. You can’t even enjoy her pleasant company anymore, because your mind is working over time trying to protect your claim. Eventually she learns of your dispicable antics, and she puts a restraining order on you. This is how your pursuit of britney spears (happiness) has been self defeating.

His fifth statement is status. Success sometimes requires losers, success is high risk. Often in life in order to attain private fulfillment it’s necessary to view others as rivals, for either having something you want, or standing in the way of attaining it. It’s unfortunate that there must be this element of yin and yang where success is concerned. Wherever there are winners, there must also be losers. As a for instance: The Art department is involved in awarding a free trip to Italy to 8 students. You know your professor has selected work from certain students for the committee to view, and you happen to know that your work was in the lot, and so was the work of a girl whose art you don’t like and whose attitude you can’t stand. You think you’ve got a pretty good chance, but cringe when thinking of spending 12 days with this girl. When you get your letter in the mail, you do the happy dance. When you read the names of the other 7 students picked, you do the happy dance again, because she’s not among them. How unfortunate. (hehehe) Yet another fine example of how the pursuit of happiness is self defeating. Ok, so pretend you’re the other girl.

His sixth statement, is satasfaction of desires is superficial, because it doesn’t change you on the inside. Taking all of these things into account, the satasfaction of any given desire isn’t going to change the person you are. (unfortunatly, we’ll find out later that there is no ’self’ to change) Winning $60,000 isn’t going to make you a better person (unless you share it with me), and having your lover leave you for an (ugly) stripper isn’t going to make you any less than what you are. You’re still a beautiful person on the inside, or evil rotten bad. The series of losses and gains one experiences during a lifetime isn’t going to change who you are on the inside. Any attempt to change that person is going to have to begin inward. Other pursuits of happiness will prove self defeating.

This is the Second Noble Truth which states that misery originates within us from the craving for pleasure and for being or non-being. Buddha identifies this is as Tanha, which translates as desire, mores specifically, the desire for private fulfillment. One must realize that we suffer because we become tangled in a web of our own attachments. When we take pleasure from something, it is in our nature to grow attached to it. The more we indulge in a particular pleasure, the more the attachment grows and even the possibility of separation from the pleasure results in suffering and misery. Tanha causes dukkha because a selfish desire arises from ignorance of Anatta.

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