About the Buddhist Religion
Buddhism is a religion which was started around 2,500 years ago by a man who became known as Buddha.
Buddha was born as a prince in a wealthy royal family in India with a life of luxury. He was expected to become a king. But, when a young man, he became deeply troubled by the way in which life seemed endlessly tied up with suffering and misery. He noticed how, among both human beings and animals, one creature’s happiness often caused suffering for another – like the hunting of animals for food. For every winner, there were always losers. No-one could avoid major sufferings through the death of loved ones or through becoming ill, old and frail themselves. Also, very many pleasures seemed short-lasting or disappointing or eventually to cause you suffering. Buddha decided to give up his palace, his wealth and his family and go searching for something which could give meaning to life.
For six years Buddha lived in the forest in north India, meeting and learning from wandering holy men and trying different ways of seeing deeper into life. One night, when he was sitting under a Bodhi tree, letting his mind rest in deep peace, he had an experience, called Enlightenment, when he understood why everything is the way it is.
He saw how suffering comes from us believing, mistakenly, that we are each separate individuals and hence each grasping to get things or trying to avoid suffering for oneself. He saw that if we wake up to how things really are, our suffering ceases, just as a nightmare fades once you realise that you were only dreaming. Buddha saw that much of our suffering results from beliefs which are actually made up by our minds, just like in a dream, and ceases if we realise this. The name, Buddha, by which he later became known, means ‘Awakened One’ because Buddha’s teaching is about waking up from a false understanding of reality.
Buddha also saw a way in which he could help other people gradually to get closer to the same understanding which he had gained and to wake up to the true nature of reality. This way is the Buddhist religion, which Buddha taught to other people for the rest of his long life. It is a mixture of:
- Listening to Buddhist teachings and investigating how these apply to your everyday life.
- Following the Buddhist list of Dos and Don’ts for living a peaceful and friendly way of life, which will benefit both yourself and people around you. It has much to do with kindness to others.
- Mental exercises called meditation which help you to understand your mind, understand Buddhist teachings, develop kindness to others, and follow a Buddhist way of life.
Buddha taught eight basic principles for following the religion, which are known as the Noble Eightfold Path. For this reason, a common symbol for Buddhism is a wheel with eight spokes. Often a deer is shown on each side of the wheel. This is because Buddha gave his first teaching about Buddhism in a deer park in north India and two deer are said to have come and sat beside him. The two deer show that Buddhism embraces all living creatures, not only human beings.
Continue reading: More about Buddhism.