With the advent of the New Age movement, the fusion of Eastern philosophies and ideas with Western spiritual practices has seen a huge increase in popularity. The exotic appeal of the bronzed Buddha relics and temples have led many a curious spiritual seeker to wonder…who was the real Buddha and what exactly is Buddhism?
The Real Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama was born to royalty in the 5th Century in what is now Nepal. During the celebration of his birth, a seer told the king, Siddhartha’s father, that Siddhartha would either become a great king or a great holy man. Wanting his son to become a powerful ruler, the king made sure that Siddhartha led a life of wealth and luxury and shielded him from all of the suffering of the outside world. Within the palace walls Siddhartha lived until he was 29 years old – even taking a wife and having a child.
Deciding to take a trip outside of his palace, Siddhartha encountered an old man. As he had never encountered the sufferings of old age before, this sight disturbed him. On subsequent trips, Siddhartha saw a diseased man and a decaying corpse. These experiences led him to yearn to escape this fate. After meeting an ascetic – a spiritual person who abstains from worldly pleasure to achieve enlightenment – Siddhartha decided to abandon his royal life and live as an ascetic, hoping to reach spiritual truth.
After six years as a practicing ascetic, he realized that this extreme path just didn’t cut it. But his previous life of luxury wasn’t satisfying either. Instead, Siddhartha envisioned what he called the Middle Way. The Middle Way is one of the basic premises of Buddhism and essentially means to take the path of moderation, steering clear of extremes that would ultimately create suffering. After 49 days in deep meditation, Siddhartha reached enlightenment and was henceforth known as the Buddha (“awakened one”).
Basic Buddhist Teachings
From these experiences – living as an ascetic, following the Middle Way and deep meditation – the Buddha developed teachings that he shared with others for the next 45 years of his life. Central to his teachings are The Four Noble Truths – a doctrine explaining his views on suffering. The Four Noble Truths include the following:
- Suffering exists
- The cause of suffering is craving and want.
- Suffering can ultimately be eliminated.
- The way to eliminate suffering is by following the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
According to the Buddha, in order to reach nirvana (“the highest happiness”) one must take these ideas into consideration when deciding on all courses of action in everyday life:
- Right understanding
- Right thought/emotion
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
Buddhism and You
Buddhism as a whole is a peaceful religion preaching moderation and mindfulness. Many of its concepts have been popularized and integrated into Western culture, but ultimately, just like any other major religion, Buddhism is a tool to help people deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
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