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What exactly is Buddhism?

Apr 29, 2022

 “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred” – The Dalai Lama XIV

The 4 noble truths and the 8 fold path – a brief introduction.

If you’ve ever taken a walk around a garden centre in recent years, you’ll be familiar with the Buddha in the form of calming looking statues and ornaments. You may even own a couple! He’s usually meditating in the lotus position with his eyes closed, looking very relaxed.

If you’ve ever had any curiosity about Buddhism, but perhaps never had the chance to find out any details, then this blog will give you a basic overview. The next time you go to a garden centre you’ll see those statues in a different light … and if any of this comes up in a pub quiz, you can thank me later.

What you may not realise is that the word Buddha is not a name, it’s actually a title that represents a higher spiritual state of being. 

The original Buddha was an wealthy Indian man called  Siddhattha Gotama. Siddhattha lived around 500 BC and was a Hindu so Buddhism is heavily influenced by Hinduism. With tongue in cheek, Philosopher Alan Watts used to often say that “Buddhism is Hinduism that’s been stripped for export”.

Young Siddhattha was so distressed by all the suffering and pain he saw, that he gave up all his privilege and money and became a travelling monk.  Gradually his wisdom and his unique observations on suffering earned him a following and things grew from there.

Buddhism has become very popular in the west and appeals to people for a number of reasons. Unlike in some western religions, there is no vengeful bearded God figure in Buddhism. There is no heaven and hell. This is because the Buddhist idea of “God” is experienced as an infinite ‘one-ness’ that is inside us all, a connection to everything in the universe. 

There is a Buddha inside you, it’s just a matter of finding it. Meditation is key to finding these states and is practiced regularly by its followers.

Buddhism recognises that suffering is an inevitable consequence of living and calls the painful process of living (and reincarnation), Samsara. If there was a goal for Buddhists, it would be Nirvarna, which is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth and a state of unification or one-ness with the universe. Not to be confused with the band Nirvana, although they are also very good and have been known to evoke higher states of consciousness.

The 4 main principals or noble truths that the Buddha came to understand while he was in self isolation and famously meditating under the bodhi tree, are as follows:

The truth of suffering (Dukkha)

The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya)

The truth of the end of suffering (Nirodha)

The truth of the path of the end of suffering (Magga)

The last truth of Buddhism, Magga, offers a path to help followers manage their suffering and those around them. This is called the 8 fold path and it gives a nice guideline to living the right way…it’s such a good guide, I’m considering starting a line of Magga hats. It seems like it could catch on…

Right intention – intention behind our actions is key. Our intentions should be compassionate and kind at all times.

Right speech – no lying or rudeness. No gossip.

Right conduct – don’t hurt or kill others. Don’t take what is not offered and be respectful of the opposite sex. Don’t become too attached to the illusion of the material world (maya) and it’s desires.

Right livelihood – earn your living in an ethical way. Obvious examples would be arms dealing, environmentally unethical work, harmful activity.

Right effort – consider your efforts in what you do and don’t allow bad habits to form.

Right mindfulness – be present and focussed with your attention. Remain conscious of what you are doing and conscious of the impermanence of things.

Right samadhi (meditation practice) – practice is key and it promotes a healthy mind (sometimes referred to as ‘one pointed’). It’s backed up by science that the more we meditate, the calmer and more controlled our thoughts become.

Right view – all actions have consequences. You may be familiar with the concept of Karma and this is relevant to right view.

So even if you’re cautious of associating with a particular religion or philosophy, the main principals behind Buddhism are hard to argue with. It’s more than just a philosophy or a reminder that meditation is good for us, it’s a guide on how to go out into the world and act in a way that’s kind, compassionate and thoughtful. I’m sure you’ll agree that we need more of that.

I wonder if you’ll think a little differently when you next see that statue in the local garden centre.

Time to start working on those Magga hats.

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