An Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is a tradition of beliefs that originated about 560 BC through the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, born Siddhartha Gautama in the area we now call Nepal. With over 350 million practitioners worldwide, Buddhism is one of the world’s major religions. It is derived from Hinduism, but emphasizes the Path of Enlightenment through various means of personal meditation and other forms of spiritual development.

Buddhism advocates that the discovery of the True Self is a significant step toward spiritual enlightenment. According to Buddhist tradition and history, Siddhartha Gautama was born a Prince, and throughout his early life was sheltered from any unpleasantness or sad sights. When he discovered old age, sickness and death in the world outside the palace walls, he left his sheltered life and gave up all his worldly possessions to become an ascetic monk. For years, he studied the practice of deep meditation to reach a state where he could learn true knowledge, but realized that the knowledge he sought was still beyond his reach. At that point, he embraced a life of extreme denial and asceticism, but again found that it was not the path that would lead to enlightenment. After six years of practicing fasting and denial, he sat himself beneath the Bodhi tree of wisdom and resolved that he would not rise again until he had either found enlightenment or passed from the world.

While Gautama sate beneath the tree, the demon Mara sent distractions to sway him from his path. Gautama refused to be distracted though the demon sent his three beautiful daughters to tempt him, then an army of demons to frighten him and finally attacked Gautama himself with a terrible weapon. Gautama continued to meditate and Mara was defeated and left him alone.

During the night, Gautama meditated upon his former lives, and upon the state of man in the world. He saw the suffering of the world, and understood its source and how to move beyond it. He perceived the Four Noble Truths that form the basis of Buddhist belief and from them derived the Eightfold Path through which every man can reach true enlightenment. When morning came, Gautama had achieved enlightenment, and the light shone from him like the rays of the sun. His choice was to enter Nirvana immediately, or to stay and teach the path that he had discovered. He acceded to the pleas of Brahma to remain on the Earth and lead others to the path that he had found. He had become the Buddha.

The Principles of Buddhism

Buddhist practice and belief is based on the Four Noble Truths. While there are entire treatises dedicated to explaining each of the Four Noble Truths, they can be expressed in simple terms:

  1. Life is full of suffering.
  2. Suffering is caused by desire and attachment to desire.
  3. To eliminate suffering, eliminate desire.
  4. To eliminate desire, follow the Eightfold Path:

Right understanding

Right intention

Right speech

Right actions

Right livelihood

Right effort

Right mindfulness

Right concentration


“Right” in the Eightfold Path is often translated is “Perfect”, thus the path to True Enlightenment is to be attained through Perfect Understanding, and perfection of thought, words and concentration.

The other important tenet of Buddhism is that the potential to become the Buddha exists in every thing in the world. The practice of Buddhism includes many disciplines that help the student of the Eightfold Path with their balance, understanding and eventual approach to Nirvana. The key to Perfect Understanding and to finding your own Buddha nature lies in meditation and exercise.

There are several variants of Buddhism. The one most popular among Westerners is Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the physical experience of the states of enlightenment over the study of philosophy and texts. Key among the “tools” for achieving enlightenment is seated meditation, yoga and study of the koans, or parables that teach the principles of enlightenment.


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