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An Introduction to Buddhism

If you wish to be enlightened in the Buddhist way, eliminate earthly cravings and be stoic about suffering. To be a Buddhist is to want spiritual development more than worldly satisfactions. Identify with an empty vessel, open the mind. Desire, wait for fulfillment. Want to be in tune, at one with the universe. Buddhism is a belief system, shaped and generated by the drive of the individual. It is the personal practice of positive psychology and philosophy, reaching for a positive state of mind. There is no ideology, no religious rites and no gods. There is just YOU!

Buddhism does not evangelise, yet 300million people are Buddhists. It is a belief system available to anyone who wishes to explore new paths. It is open to all races in all countries. If you wish to follow the Buddhist way, you can. There is no baptism or christening into the “faith”. Just confront reality with peace, seek objective wisdom and practice compassion for others. Such an approach is not dogmatic. In fact, Buddhism claims to be like a science and not a superstition, based more on understanding than faith. Offer a theory based on evidence. But when the evidence fails, adjust the theory. Buddha said,
“Do not believe in anything that I say just out of respect for me, but test it for yourself, analyze it, as if you were buying gold.” www.berzinarchives.com

The brainchild of Siddharta Gautama, Buddhism began 2,500 years ago in Nepal. He became known not as a god but as “the Buddha”, “the awakened one”. Buddhism initially represented a rebellious response to the ritual and caste system of Vedantic Hinduism. In particular, it ignored the Hindu belief in the eternal soul. To the Buddhist, there can be reincarnation, where a present life evolves extending, “correcting” past lives. It is a little like re-addressing “incomplete business”. Consciousness goes beyond death, finding new existence in a future life. That is the nature of a Buddhist rebirth. But there is no link, no thread, no ongoing soul.

The teachings of Buddhism are known collectively as “dharma”. The essence of Buddhism is based on “The Four Noble Truths”. The Eight Fold Path is the practice of morality, under the guidance of the Four Noble Truths. Karma is a vital element of this practice. Every action activates a consequence. To achieve a desirable consequence, evaluate the “rightness” of the action. At all times, be aware that life is shaped and conditioned by past actions. Rebirth is all about karma. The only way to be free of the karma cycle and all its inherent cravings and sufferings is to desire and follow the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Enlightenment is the highest state of good. Nirvana is the highest state of happiness achieved by enlightenment.

Buddhism is a malleable belief. Around the world, it has been infused into regional beliefs. Theravada Buddhism has dominated south east Asia, particularly Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand since the 13th century. It is also known as “The Doctrine of Elders” and abides by the original teachings of Buddha. A more liberal form of Buddhism is Mahayana, found in China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. Mayana differs from Theravada in that it encourages followers to lead others to nirvana. Well-known subdivisions are Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. Many Western countries are selecting their preferred brand of Buddhism. Switzerland and the U.S. practice the psychology of Buddhism. Areas of southern Europe and Latin America favour the devotional, chanting perspective of Buddhism.

The meditational practice of yoga is tightly entwined with Buddhism. Zen meditation, in particular, is closely based on yoga practices.

Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as an idol. The statue of a Buddha, with hands resting quietly and a gentle smile, is a visible reminder to reach for the same inner serenity in our own lives. A bow to the Buddha is an expression of thanks for the teachings.

Respect may be expressed in a temple or in the home. Temples may be like the pagodas of China or Japan. In Australia, there is the multi-layered Nan Tien Temple, south of Sydney. A community of Buddhist monks (known as “sangha”) live here. Long steps climb to simple, artistic gardens. More steps lead to the wide patios outside the temple door. The climbing to the temple implies a spiritual pilgrimage; a time to arrange thoughts. Anyone may enter the temple and enjoy the beautiful light, colour and quiet inside, provided they leave their shoes at the door. Flower petals, in a wicker basket by the entrance, are available as a devotional offering to the Buddha. Just take a handful.

In the home, a room may be set aside as a shrine. To create a sacred atmosphere, the room may contain a statue or image of the Buddha, candles and burning incense.

Buddhism is a friendly, open belief system. Buddhist faith values knowledge and moral behaviour beyond the material world. Enlightenment through knowledge and well being through ethical practice are Buddhist goals. Nirvana, the ultimate state of happiness, is the Buddhist reward.