The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation: The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Other BA
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Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and a few other spiritual thoughts originated out of Asia and the Middle East and some are older than the Hebrew, Christian and Islamic faiths. Many of these paths are misunderstood by mainstream believers but should be understood as there is a growing appreciation developing around the world, especially in the Western world.
Buddhism started in India about 2500 years ago by Gautama the Buddha. King Suddhodana was the father of Gautama who ruled the kingdom of the Sakyas. It was foretold Gautama would be a great religious leader. The King hoped his son would follow him on the throne.
Hoping to keep his son away from a life of religion, he thought that by surrounding him in the lap of luxury and sheltered away from the bad side of life would make him appreciate the finer things of life. His father knew if Gautama heard of the injustices, Gautama would probably try to save the world and follow a life of religion.
Gautama grew up and married a young princess and was groomed to take over the throne. His father thought all was well until one day when Gautama went to a nearby town he had not seen before. It was the start of the four trips to this town which changed his life.
The first time he met an older man. In this trip he learned what life was like when you grow old, full of regrets, wishing there was still time to change what you have done knowing your days are numbered and feeling very alone.
The second time he met a sick man. Much like his time with the older man, he saw suffering of the illness while he had his regrets and wished there was time left.
The third trip, he met people in a funeral procession going to the cremation ground. All the people who wished things could have been different and how they never got the chance to finish things with that man.
As Gautama was sheltered his entire life, he has never seen old age, sickness and death and could not find peace and security with his palace life. It was no longer pleasant as he became concerned with the suffering of the people and wanted to find a way to end it.
It was on his fourth trip to the town where he found an answer to this problem. He met a holy man who had given up everything to follow the religious life. Although he had nothing, he had a calmness that suggested he had come to terms with the unpleasant fact of suffering. Gautama studied the man to learn the key.
Gautama slipped out of the palace and exchanged his silk robes for the orange cloth of a holy man and cut his hair. He carried an alms bowl with food for the people and went on his great search. Gautama went to all the famous religious teachers and learned what they taught. He subjected his body to great hardship and torment to learn to appreciate the suffering of the world. He lived in the forests subjecting himself to the extreme heat of the day and the cold of the night.
He slept on the cold hard ground or thorns and lived in cemeteries to understand those without a home. He starved himself until he became so thin that if he touched his stomach, he could feel his backbone to understand the hungry (which is why he later had such a bloated belly). He was frustrated that he still had no answers by doing all of this and knew if he kept on that way he would probably die.
For his own survival, he had to settle for a middle ground between self-deprivation and the little luxuries of life which made it pleasant enough to live. This alienated his mentors and fellow religious seekers, who left him in disgust. He sat under a great Bodhi tree now called Bodh Gaya until he found answers or die trying.
One night in May, when the moon was full, Gautama went deeply into a meditative state and gained the knowledge which he sought.
He discovered past lives and how it solved the answers to the regrets those had in life. If anything in one life cycle goes undone, there is always a chance to finish it again.
He understood how karma works and how justice was served when those who did wrong seemed to get away with evil deeds. Karma is volitional action, one done by choice. If you choose to act one way, you will ultimately face the consequences for each decision you made. Right actions you have chosen produce good results. Bad actions you have chosen produce bad results.
He learned how to overcome desire by eliminating his attachment to this existence. The soul being the only thing that is real and everything else is only an illusion in this life to help us learn.
As he arose in the morning out of meditation he became The Buddha which meant The Awakened One. He had seen things as they really are and is said to have attained Nirvana (not the rock group wise guys:-). In a state of Nirvana one becomes at one with the world and is no part of it at the same time. It is the extinction of greed, hate, and the delusion of the ego where your soul is consumed in love of the purest state. The true nature of Nirvana cannot be put into words and one must experience it to know what it truly means.
Gautama, known as Buddha to his followers, died at the age of 80 in Kusinara. His final words were, “Impermanent are all compounded things. Strive on heedfully.” He is said to have passed into what is called Parinirvana or Full Nirvana which is the ultimate, loving state of being and not being which cannot be expressed in words.
Gautama was not and never considered himself to be a god, a prophet or supernatural person. He was a remarkable man who achieved true wisdom, compassion and freedom from suffering. He did not invent the process, but he simply learned the way that had always existed which is what everyone could do if they were to free themselves from the illusions of life.
According to Buddha, God did not create the Universe. Dharma (loosely translated, life energy) was running through everything that exists. By living in accordance with Dharma, true wisdom and compassion as well as freedom from suffering can be achieved. If a person truly wanted to overcome suffering, they must endure it, experience it and meet its challenge instead of avoiding its reality.
A follower of Buddhist teaching is not really like a follower of most mainstream Christian/Jewish/Muslim religions where if you don’t follow that path you are not doomed to eternal damnation. There are some basic, core fundamental Buddhist doctrines, but there is a wide variety in the approaches, traditions and practices. include the following:
There are three signs of being which are “Change,” “Suffering,” and “no I” (or denial of self).
Change means that nothing in this world is permanent. We are constantly changing physically, emotionally or mentally every second of the day. If we were to try and embrace every fleeting moment of who we think we are, it would be impossible to find lasting security.
Suffering, or Dukkha is the unsatisfactory and imperfect nature of life. Its not that Buddhists believe that life is all suffering, but without suffering one cannot appreciate the joys of life. Even the most seemingly fortunate of lives are all touched by suffering. It is only by embracing suffering as much as one embraces the joys of life can one accept all that life is.
People tend to try to remove themselves from the pain and suffering of life by escaping from its reality instead of trying to learn from it. Joy can be seen in the suffering when you take a valuable lesson learned in it. As this life is an illusion, even the suffering you face is not real, but a learning experience.
As there is nothing everlasting in human beings who are always changing, no soul can truly anchor itself to the illusion of the ego. The ‘I’, in which people normally refer to themselves is the false mask of your ego playing out the role you create on earth. It is an illusion over which you must master as its nature is unstable and temporary.
To achieve “No-I” one must remember it is to face the fact that your soul is your true nature and your ego is the false nature. Your ego, which is how you express yourself in this life and is always changing, is temporary and will die. Your soul, which is always the same and forever, will follow you for eternity.
- There are Four Noble Truths:Suffering and unsatisfactoriness exist.
- The cause of suffering and unsatisfactoriness exists.
- The cause may be brought to an end.
- The means whereby this may be achieved: The Noble Eightfold Path.
- There is the Noble Eightfold Path:Right Seeing.
- Right Thought.
- Right Speech.
- Right Action.
- Right Livelihood.
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness.
- Right Contemplation.
In General, Buddhists value the virtues of kindness, humanity, patience, giving, and compassion. These virtues are extended to all living things and non-living objects. Many Buddhists are pacifists and vegetarians for this reason, but it is not an obligation of this path. Buddhism stresses self-reliance and Buddha told his followers not to believe anything until they tested it for themselves. The bottom line of Buddhism is to cultivate what is good while you purify your heart and do no harm or evil.
Buddhism is a daily practice which does not require one joining a certain religion, but one can incorporate the practices at the temple which follow the lines of which tradition the Buddhist adheres. Most Buddhists will incorporate chanting and meditation as part of a usual daily ritual. Many will visit a temple to make an offering or to perform a service to reduce a person’s sense of ‘I.’ They all try to practice the Buddhist virtues everyday. The ultimate goal is to bring about that same state of Nirvanah that the Buddha achieved.
Buddhists follow three main traditions: Theravada or Southern tradition, Mahayana or Northern tradition and Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition. They all follow the basic principles, but the practices vary. To learn more, have a look at the recommended books-
- What the Buddha Taught
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