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Part One: What is Buddhism? Your Questions Answered

What is Buddhism?

Fashioned from a strong moral code and religious practice, Buddhism is one of the major religions found across the globe. The history of this religion can be traced back about 2,500 years, which means it has been around longer than both Islam and Christianity. The structure of Buddhism was established from the teachings of a human, who was called “the Buddha.” This title translates into the ‘Awakened One’ or ‘Enlightened One.’ As for believing in God, the teachings of Buddhism do not credit a supreme being for the creation and protection of the world.

Who is Buddha?

Siddhartha Gautama believed that he had attained a state of being, where he fully understood all of the ins and outs of the human condition. He referred to this level as ‘nirvana,’ which meant that the termination of his desires ended all of his suffering. He began to spread the word, claiming that through his teachings, this state of bliss could be achieved.

How many Buddhists are in the world?

Throughout the world, Buddhism possesses quite a few followers, spanning numerous countries. It is estimated that there are more than 350 million adherents in locations, such as India, Thailand, Cambodia, Tibet, China, Europe, the United Kingdom, as well as the United States. Those who practice Buddhism come in all shapes and sizes. A few well-known Buddhists in the United States include: Tina Turner (singer); Richard Gere (actor); Phil Jackson (NBA basketball coach), as well as George Lucas, who directed the blockbuster hit, “Stars Wars.”

Are there different Buddhist sects?

Throughout the years, Buddhism has taken on many different forms, as seen with the establishment and growth of various schools. Each school possesses their own take on rituals and traditions. The earliest form of Buddhism, which is also practiced in Thailand, is called Theravada. Branching off from this school, Mahayana Buddhism was formed, which deals with Zen Buddhism, as well as Pure Land Buddhism. Another major school is called Vajrayana, as seen through Tibetan Buddhism. Today, all three schools are found throughout the world.

What are some of the main teachings of Buddhism?

There are many different religious concepts related to the Buddhist religion, but the main teachings deal with the Four Noble Truths; the Noble Eightfold Path; as well as the Five Precepts. Basic moral guidelines are presented through the Five Precepts, while the Noble Eightfold Path deals with the spiritual growth of a Buddhist. The Four Noble Truths offer insight into the main ideas associated with the Buddha’s teachings.

What are the Five Precepts?
The Five Precepts deals with the basic moral guidelines associated with the Buddhist religion. They are:
1. I undertake to abstain from harming living beings
2. I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given
3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct
4. I undertake to abstain from false speech
5. I undertake to abstain from intoxicating drugs or drink

What are the Four Noble Truths?
It is the pulse of the Buddha’s teachings that can be found in the Four Noble Truths.
1. The Noble Truth of Suffering: Refers to a short-lived happiness that we experience through life, which is plagued with inevitable factors, such as sickness and old age. Death cannot be avoided and we all eventually experience sorrow, pain and grief.
2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering: The things we most desire are the instances that cause the most suffering. This is because when we are denied these desires, we suffer through frustration. This can be expressed through the common craving to achieve wealth, as well as abundant success.
3. The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering: If we do away with our desires, then we will be able to lessen the potential for suffering. You will become closer to attaining peace and karma no longer becomes an issue, as the cycle of suffering will be broken.
4. The Noble Truth Leading to the Extinction of Suffering: Refers to the Noble Eightfold Path, which deals with choosing the right speech, right actions, and more throughout your life.

What is the Noble Eightfold Path?
Important to the spiritual growth of a Buddhist, there are eight points along a path, marked by morality, knowledge and awareness.

1. Right Understanding: Achieving wisdom through the Four Noble Truths and other teachings of the Buddha.

2. Right Thought: Free oneself through the denouncement of desire, cruelty and negativity, while embracing compassionate and loving ways.

3. Right Speech: No spreading rumors, lying or cursing.

4. Right Action: Do not kill, steal or have improper sexual contact.

5. Right Livelihood: Abstain from jobs that involve drinking, drugs or killing others, such as stripping or selling guns.

6. Right Effort: Avoiding evil actions and living a positive lifestyle.

7. Right Mindfulness: Be aware of the body, feelings, thoughts, ideas and other states of the mind.

8. Right Concentration: Proper meditation.

What are some symbols associated with Buddhism?

The main symbols associated with the Buddhist religion can be viewed through what is called the “eight auspicious symbols.” It is through these significant items that offerings are made to Buddha. These symbols also correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path. They include: the mirror, medicine, yogurt, durva grass, bilva fruit, conch shell, mustard seed and vermilion powder.  

Whereas the conch shell represents the power of the Buddha and Right Speech, it is the mirror that corresponds to Right Thought, due to its reflecting capabilities. The lotus is also regarded as an important symbol in Buddhism, standing for enlightenment and a pure mind. You will find the lotus depicted throughout numerous forms of artistic expression. Additional symbols include two golden fish, the parasol, the wheel, and vase.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article series on Buddhism.

About the Author: You can learn more about Buddhism at Rex's handmade handbag site, Siam Sensibilities. He sells handbags and accessories made from Thailand's indigenous materials--silk, hyacinth, leather or hemp--at budget friendly prices.

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