What Do You Really Know About Buddhism?
I have always loved Buddhist imagery, it seems to exude peace and tranquillity. Like many spiritual westerners I have had a Buddha in my home for many years, often more than one (and usually one in the garden too).
The Buddha image has almost become a symbol for the ‘new age’ spiritual movement.
When my niece was tiny, literally she could just say a few words, one of the words she said was ‘bubba’ and pointed at my Buddha statues. She would hug them and kiss their heads when she came to my house. Now I don’t know if she just thought they were babies like her, or if she could sense some sort of peaceful, gentle, child-like energy about them, but it was lovely.
Is Buddhism What You Think It Is?
I don’t class myself as a Buddhist, but I do feel that much of the essence of the Buddha’s teachings are in line with my beliefs. Having said that, where the essence or ‘big picture teaching’ of any religion, faith or philosophy is love and peace I can feel an affinity with them. It’s in the detail that things start to raise questions for me, and when men’s interpretations come in to the mix, and that’s why I don’t follow any one of them.
What Are The Fundamentals of Buddhism?
Here’s a whistle-stop tour of my interpretation of the basics of Buddhism.
The man who became ‘Buddha’ was born a prince over 2500 years ago in a province near the Nepal-India border.
Despite his lifestyle he wasn’t happy, he was dissatisfied in some way. At 29 went off to study spirituality & philosophy with religious teachers, and I guess, to find himself and his purpose, or the meaning of life.
One night, at the age of 35 he sat under a big tree on the night of a full moon and meditated. It must have been a super-deep meditation because during it he received insights in to the mind, and all of nature. He became Enlightened. and in his enlightenment he was set free of cravings, the delusion of man, any suffering and from the continual cycle of rebirth. It could be said that he attained absolute peace.
He then spent the rest of his life teaching the path to enlightenment, these teachings are called the Dhamma. This translates as ‘the nature of all things’ or ‘the truth underlying existence’. This covered 7 areas:
- The path of inquiry: Don’t just accept what people tell you, even if it’s tradition or scripture. Seek your own truth, ask questions, be open-minded and investigate life. Yeah, I totally get this one!
- The four noble truths: These boil down to 1) us all being afflicted by suffering, 2) which is caused by craving, 3) when we reach Nirvana (the state of enlightenment) we can break the cravings, and therefore the suffering, and 4) that this is achieved by following the middle way – or the eightfold path. Kinda get his point but it seems a bit negative doesn’t it? There is a lot of joy in life too.
- The eightfold path or Middle Way: this is a path that avoids the extremes of life, self-indulgence and self-mortification (the subjugation of appetites or desires by self-denial or self-discipline as an aspect of religious devotion – I had to look that up). When you take the middle you are just comfortable enough, and therefore able to meditate sufficiently well to discover the truth. A REALLY short version of guidelines of this path is: Meditate a lot, be nice to each other, don’t over indulge, don’t cause the death of any living thing, don’t steal, lie, break promises, engage in sexual misconduct – particularly adultery, drink alcohol or take drugs, do seek spiritual answers, be virtuous and moral, and meditate a lot. I know, I repeated that one the Meditation is REALLY important. I think it’s because when we meditate we are chilled out, and we feel more connected to others, and are less likely to do the other things we aren’t supposed to!
- Then there’s the whole ‘Kamma’, ‘Karma’ or ‘Kharma’ thing. Your actions and the results of them –a huge subject but I’m sure you know the gist of it. If you want to know more about it I wrote about Karma here.
- And the cycle of rebirth: based on your Kamma you get reincarnated with certain challenges to overcome. Reincarnation is hugely complex and very personal. Do you believe?
- ‘No Creator God’: And no supreme being. Each one of us must take personal responsibility for our path and the working out of our own Kamma. Wow, some people are gonna struggle with that personal responsibility right?
- The illusion of soul: The illusion of having a soul manifests as ego, and is the root cause of all suffering. Understanding and dissolving this illusion is part of the process towards enlightenment. I’m sure this could fund days of debate and discussion!
Buddhist Monks – And Nuns, And How The Various Types Of Buddhism Came To Be
The Buddha founded a monastic order and set down rules for monks and nuns to follow; interestingly the monks got 227 rules, while the nuns got 311. You don’t ever hear of Buddhist nuns do you? I have noticed in Thailand that there are nuns’ quarters as well as monks’ at the monasteries and temples, but you don’t see them walking around as you do the monks. There are also opportunities to have ‘Monk Chat’ at the temples, where you get to ask the monks questions. There is no ‘Nun Chat’. I wonder why that is? The nuns don’t really get much press do they? The Buddha said that the minor rules he created could be amended but after his death there were arguments about which were the minor ones. This caused different factions of Buddhism to break away and form their own sects within the Buddhist philosophy.
As with all faiths and philosophies there will be things that challenge you. I don’t understand why there are different rules for monks and nuns. While the temples are amazing to visit, their extravagant decor and sheer number of Buddha images, and shrines seems excessive for a philosophy that teaches a ‘middle way’. At all of them you are encouraged to buy blessings and offerings. While I know that a lot of good work is probably done by the monks (and nuns of course) there seems to be a sad sense of irony, and in such poor countries too. I’m not sure that Buddha would have wanted or condoned all this fuss when he was alive, but that’s just my take on it
Interesting Things I Have Learnt About Buddhism In Thailand
The Thai word for temple is Wat.
Every nine days the Thai people change the offerings of flowers and sweet drinks (and often alcohol) that they place on their home shrines.
There are temples that women cannot enter in to, this is often because they house an ancient artefact and are therefore more sacred spaces. As women menstruate this ‘humiliates and ruins the sanctity’ of the temple / artefact. Really? Again, this seems really incongruent.
In many temples devotees of Buddhism can buy small amounts of gold leaf which they place on the Buddha statue as their offering.
In other temples, people leave food as offerings which is then distributed to those who need it.
The reclining Buddha is occasionally seen in Temples. I don’t know he’s lying down, if I lay down to meditate I fall asleep!
I still find the statues that represent Buddha to be peaceful and tranquil. They are, to me the symbol of a man at peace in his world, with himself and with others. That’s a nice place to be. That’s a place I would like to be more often than I am. If you’re looking for a way to more peace and acceptance, maybe Buddhism is the path for you, just remember what Buddha said, never just accept someone else’s teachings. Always search, inquire and discover your own truth.
p.s. This is a good website to visit if you want to know more details http://www.buddhismforbeginners.com/ ( I appreciate mine is a very succinct overview!)