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Buddhaism Essay, Research Paper

“Whether we like it or not,

we have all been born on this earth as part of one great human family ?

ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else:

we all desire happiness and do not want suffering.”

-Tenzin Gyaso XIV Dalai Lama


The birth of the first Buddha started out with a dream. Queen Maha-Maya of the Sakya warrior caste had a dream when the moon was full during the midsummer festival. Four guardian angels lifted her up and took her to the Himalaya Mountains where they laid her under a sal-tree. While there she was attended to by the wives of the guardian angels, who bathed her and removed every humanly stain from her being. Then they clothed her, anointed her with perfumes and decorated her with flowers. The future Buddha had become a white elephant and as it approached his mother-to-be he picked and held a white lotus flower with his trunk. Then he walked around her with his right side towards her, repeating this three times and upon the last time he entered into her womb (Wisdom of Buddha 12-14).

The next day Maha-Maya had her dream interpreted by the Brahmans. They told her that she was pregnant with a male child. One who if lived the household life would become a Universal Monarch but if he was to leave the household life he would then become a Buddha (Wisdom of Buddha 14).

Ten months into her pregnancy, Maya left for Lumbini where she went to visit with her kinsfolk. During her trip between the two cities she saw a sal-tree and stopped to admire it. As she stood near it, the tree appeared to reach out its branches for her to hold on to and as she did this, she gave birth to a spotless boy who spoke “This is the best direction”. Then he took seven steps and said “The chief am I in all the world” (Wisdom of Buddha 17).

The child was named Siddhartha (meaning “every wish fulfilled”) Guatama (family name). He lived a sheltered life inside the walls of his father’s empire. His mother died a few days after he was born and his father was the sole guardian of Siddhartha. His father did not want his son to become a Buddha but one day to rule over his empire, so Siddhartha was never allowed outside the empire walls. By the age of twenty-nine, Siddhartha was married and had a son himself, but he had never experienced the outside world. On three separate occasions, Siddhartha left the luxury of his home and found sickness, old age, and death, all of these truths of life that he had never been exposed to before. Greatly disturbed by what he saw, Siddhartha renounced his worldly possessions and abandoned his family and embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment.

After seven years of wandering, listening to many perspectives on life, and searching, he finally sat under a Bo tree at Bodhi Gaya. There he practiced starvation and self-denial of all physical pleasure, so that he would clearly be able to understand the intense struggle inside of himself until he reached a higher state of consciousness. Under this tree Siddhartha reached what is known as “the great enlightenment”, where all of his teachings and philosophies have come from. From then on Siddhartha was only referred to by the name of BUDDHA that meant “Awakened One”(web-site, see bibliography).

Buddha began to preach while wandering from place to place accompanied by five of his disciples. He returned briefly to his native town and converted his father, wife and other family members. After forty-five years of missionary work, Buddha died in Napal at about eighty years in age (Encarta “Buddhism”).

For almost two hundred years, those who followed Buddha were a small, some-what inconsequential group. It wasn’t until the third century B.C. when the Mauryan emperor, Asoka, converted to Buddhism that the religion spread quickly through India and to Sri Lanka where the most similar to the original form of Buddha’s teachings were maintained. While the rest of India and other parts of the world where Buddhism fragmented into a million sects (web-site).

One major sect that branched from India was the Tibetian sect. Primarily a nomadic and agriculturalistic society, Tibet was first introduced to Buddhism in 747 A.D. by a monk by the name of Padmasambhava, that meant “born of the lotus flower” (Encarta “Tibetan Buddhism”).

Padmasambhava established the first order of “lamas”, or monks and by 766 A.D. the first monastery named “Bsam-yas” was built. The supreme position in the Buddhism of Tibet was occupied by two lamas – the Grand, or Dalai, Lama and the Panchen, or Bogodo, Lama. Although both had the same authority, the Dalai Lama was considerably more powerful.

The native religion of Tibet, Bon, was slowly replaced completely by Buddhism. By 814 A.D. Tibet had expanded territorially in favor of Buddhism and many more temples and monasteries had been established (An-Che 21-28).

Tibetans, who have been predominantly Buddhist for more then one thousand years, have suffered greatly at the hands of the communist Chinese government. In 1950, the government of China began to move into Tibet and gradually took control. The peaceful Buddhist culture had now been tainted by the violent force used by the Chinese.

In 1959, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tensin Gyatso, along with one hundred thousand Tibetans, escaped to India, where they have been receiving political sanctuary up to the present. Since 1959 the Chinese government has tried to systematically eradicate Tibetan Buddhist culture through the destruction of monasteries, universities, and ethnic collections (Schmidt 314).

One of the lasting strengths of Buddhism has been its ability to adapt to changing conditions and to a variety of cultures. Today the population of Buddhist is estimated between one hundred-fifty and three-hundred million and is continually growing in all areas of the world. Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama is still striving for world peace and has worked constantly for the halt of the Chinese government assault on Tibetan culture.


It is human nature to use symbols in order to express portions of our outer and inner reality. Symbols are signs we use to remind ourselves of the interrelationship between the inward and outward and the mental activities and the material so that we can recognize then more clearly. All elements can be perceived as symbols. In Buddhism every form, every object, every attribute, every gesture of a deity, as well as position and color not only have their own particular significance but usually each part relates to other parts as well. Each symbol, image, color, and placement has its own specific meaning and reasoning behind it (Dagyab 10).

One image that has many components of meaning is the Image of Excellent Merit. It has twenty-one heads in seven stories, each story with three heads. The number twenty-one symbolizes the twenty-one stages on the path to perfection. The number seven represents the seven members of the Bodhisat Road. Each face has a different color, all have their own meaning. The red represents warm-heartedness, white – purity, blue – constancy, green – serenity, fierceness, growth and power, yellow- completeness in all merits, and the multi-colored head represents the comprehensive nature of all phenomena (An-Che 48).

Some other known symbols are the Eight Symbols of Good Fortune. They are the Parasol, the Golden Fishes, the Treasure Vase, the Lotus, the Right-Turning Conch Shell, the Glorious Endless Knot, and the Wheel also known as the Dharma Wheel. The Parasol is used as a symbol of spiritual power. The Golden Fishes is a symbol of good fortune. The Treasure Vase is a symbol of satisfaction of material desires. The Lotus is a symbol of purity. The Right-Turning Conch Shell is a symbol of the fame of Buddha’s teachings. The Glorious Endless knot is a symbol of the infinite knowledge of Buddha: no beginning and no end. The Victory Sign is a symbol of victory of knowledge over ignorance. The Wheel, consisting of three parts, the hub-training of moral disciple, the spokes- the application of wisdom, and the rid – training in concentration, make up the Dharma Wheel that was all embracing and complete in itself (Rinpoche 17-38).

Other items that are symbolic include beads called “mala” which help to create a mind set during a mantra or meditation. Incense can also be found in places of worship along with offerings such as flowers, lamps, fruits, tea, food, treasures and clothes. The focal symbol found in all places of worship is a statue of Buddha. This is a visual way for people to focus before and during all ceremonies and meditations.

A regular ceremony that takes place a few times a month, usually on a full moon, is known as the “Tsog” offering. Other special ceremonies that happen annually include, the New year’s celebration in February, the Flower Feast held at the beginning of summer in commemoration of the incarnation of the Buddha, and the Water Feast observed in August and September to mark the start of autumn. All Buddhist rituals and ceremonies are based on the esoteric mysticism of Tantra, devotions that involve yoga, mantra, and ancient shamanistic practices (Encarta Tibetan Buddhism).

These events take place at local and very holy, sacred temples or monasteries. Other holy and sacred places include, Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, and Bodhi Gaya, where the “tree of enlightenment” stood when Buddha was enlightened.

Buddhism is an analytic religion based on thought and proving a belief. Although early Buddhism did revolve around some mythology and some still does today, much of the mythology has been replaced by scientific findings.

Early Buddhist mythology believed that the universe consisted of innumerable world systems throughout infinite space. In these world systems existed supernatural beings regarded as spirits. These spirits were good and evil and some were considered semi-divine beings. The good and evil spirits brought about troublesome and beneficial feelings, emotions, and actions amongst the beings they surrounded. The semi-divine beings dwelled in gardens, houses, hills, rivers, seas, trees and in the waters. Only those who caused anxiety and fear to mankind were grouped as demons or evil spirits (Haldak 139).

The early mythology of Buddhism also explained Heaven and Hell. Heaven was to be composed of two worlds “Devaloka”, a heaven for the gods, and “Brahmaloka” a heaven for the Brahmas. Under the Brahmaloka, were six worlds of desire known as “Devaloka.” Under these were the eight major realms of hell. These sixteen worlds are stacked upon each other like stories of a building with heaven being at the top where there is no suffering and with hell at the bottom, a place of endless punishment.

Other mythological stories exist about different gods who are above the human level but inferior to Buddha. Although Buddha is not thought of as a mythological character, his story can be interpreted as somewhat mythical.


Unlike many religions of worship, Buddhism focuses on reaching a transcendental state of consciousness, beyond the reach of linguistic expression (Kalupahana 47). It does not seek to convert or force people into believing or joining their faith but it fulfills the spiritual need within its members.

Buddhism is a school of thought, based on logic and aesthetics. The pre-requisite for these is honesty. When members meditate or practice yoga, they may reach a higher state of contemplation where they find peace, balance, and deep meaning in life through their deep thoughts.

One Buddhist principle is to respect all forms of life. If one devoutly follows this principle they will discover that they become kinder and less selfish people. These characteristics make for a happier world and lifestyle (Mark Dickinson).

All the focal symbols of Buddhism reinforce a peaceful and calm environment for meditation and yoga. From a Freudian perspective, these symbols represent the ego. The ego strives for a balance between the id, our basic human desires, and the superego, ones mental recorder that has the ability to judge our options in any situation. In life, one must find that balance and meaning to find ones real self and to find spiritual happiness.


Millions worldwide of all ages, races, economic classes, and ethnic groups join to make up the religion of Buddhism. In the beginning Buddhism started as a small religion in India and it spread through East Asia to Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, through China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet. It wasn’t until 1900 A.D. that Buddhism found its beginnings in the West and by 1960 A.D. Buddhism had widespread establishments in the West (Schmidt 288-311).

Buddhist members can always find themselves in a warm community were anger, egos, and attachments are left behind. Members can find peace in meditation together or alone. Most sects of the religion have a democratic like government where all members have a voice in the community (Mark Dickinson).

There is a traditional hierarchy organization within Buddhism. There is a higher and lower clergy. The higher clergy is made up of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the Hutukutus, spiritual dignitaries, and the Hobilghans or Bodhisattuas, who have undertaken various ethical and spiritual disciplines with view to achieving Buddhahood, or complete enlightenment. These three groups make up the incarnations of Buddhist saints. The lower clergy must take a vow of celibacy, live in monasteries and usually shave their heads. The lower clergy includes the novice, assistant priest, religions mendicant, and the teacher or abbot (Encarta Tibetan Buddhism).

The openness of the Buddhist faith does not need to force people to convert. Buddhists simply spread their teachings and kindness with all they meet. There seems to be a great future for Buddhism in America due to freedom of religion but the American mind set would need to change before Buddhism would ever become a dominant religion of the land (Mark Dickinson).


The Buddhist scripture is known as the canon composed of two parts, the Tripitaka and the exegetical commentary. The Tripitaka is separated into three parts, the Vinaya, which describes conduct, the Sutta, which are the discourses, and the Abhidhamma, which are supplementary doctrines. The basic principle found in the Buddhist scripture relates to suffering and finding the end of it. The Four Noble Truths help explain suffering and how to avoid it.

The Four Noble Truths are Duhkhasatya, the truth of dukha, Samudayasatya, the truth of the cause, Nirodhasatya, the truth of cessation, and M?rgasatya, the truth of the way or path. Duhkhastya is translated as “life is suffering” but more appropriately as “life is painfully out of balance”. Dukkha was a word used to refer to a wheel whose axle was off-center. The Buddha named four specific points in life where this pain is most evident: birth, illness, old age, and the fear approaching death. He also added: to be separated from what one loves, and to be saddled with what one hates.

The second truth is that the cause of Dukkha is tanha, or “thirst”. Tanha is also generally translated as “desire”, but “thirst” suggests that it is meant more specifically, as “personal desire”. The desire for private fulfillment causes actions at the expense of others. It interferes with the oneness of all things, leads to ignorance, and brings suffering.

The third truth declares that a nirodha, or “cessation” of the cravings can be attained. When selfish cravings, ignorance, and hatred are overcome, balance will be restored to life.

The fourth truth describes that a m?rga, “path” or “way” exists to overcome the tanha (cravings). The Eightfold Path is the middle way which lies between the extremes of asceticism and indulgence.

The Eightfold Path can be broken down into three aspects, Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom. Under Morality falls right speech, action, and livelihood. Concentration includes right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. And wisdom contains right understanding and right thought. These three qualities must be developed to attain Nirvana.

The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Anyone can attain nirvana but usually it is a more realistic goal for those members of the monastic community.

Karma has a great impact on whether or not one will attain nirvana. The law of karma says that for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful (web site).

Human actions lead to rebirth, where good deeds are rewarded and evil deeds are punished. One’s karma determines such matter as one’s species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. Karma can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even one of the Hindu gods. This spiritual energy found in all things is part of the continuum of life.

Buddha was one of the greatest human beings, a man of noble character, warm compassion, and profound thought. Through the religion he established, he was able to affect millions throughout the world for nearly 2500 years. His teachings and philosophies are a way to live by if one wants to attain peace in one’s life.


An-che, Li. History of Tibetan Religion: A study in the field. Beijing, China: New World Press, 1994.

Haldar,J.R. Early Buddhist Mythology. New Delhi: Manohar, 1977.

Kalupahana, David. The Principles of Buddhist Psychology. New York: State university of New York, 1987.

Philosophical Library. The Wisdom of Buddha. New York: P.F. Collier and Son Company, 1968.

Rinpoche, Dagyab. Buddhist Symbols in Tibetan Culture. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

Schmidt, Roger, et al. Patters of Religion. Chicago: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999.

Other sources:

Interview with Mark Dickinson on April 24, 2000 at Buddhist temple in Long Beach

Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Microsoft corporation, 1993-1997.

Articles used:

Buddha – contributed by Wing-Tsit Chan

Buddhism – contributed by james paul McDermolt

Tibetan Buddhism

Web Site: www.ncf.carleton.ca/dharma/introduction/buddhism.html

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