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Buddhism: The Ancient Path to Enlightenment

August 5, 2023

Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, with originated in India and dates back at least 2,500 years. Meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the means to enlightenment or nirvana in Buddhist thought, who view human life as a source of sorrow.

One of the world’s major faiths is Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama brought it to South Asia in the fifth century BCE, and throughout the succeeding millennia, it expanded throughout Asia and beyond. Buddhists believe that existence is a never-ending cycle of sorrow and rebirth, but that through the attainment of enlightenment (nirvana), the cycle can be broken for good. The name “Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the first person to achieve enlightenment. There are supernatural characters who can aid or impede people on the way to enlightenment, but Buddhists do not believe in any form of deity or god.

Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who was born on the Nepali side of the present-day Nepal-India border about the fifth century B.C.E., came to the conclusion that human life is suffering after witnessing the plight of the destitute and the dying. He gave up his money and wandered the world as a beggar, thinking and exploring but ultimately settled on “the Middle Way.” This concept claimed that a middle ground approach to life, somewhere between severe asceticism and extreme prosperity, was the best way to achieve enlightenment. He sat under the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening) and meditated till he reached enlightenment, also known as nirvana. The Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar, India, is a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site because it is believed to be where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths are central to Buddha’s teachings. This first truth, “Suffering (dukkha),” explains that dukkha, or suffering, is an inevitable part of life. “Origin of Suffering” (samudaya) is the second truth. All pain is a result of wanting something (tanh). The third truth, “Cessation of suffering (nirodha),” asserts that one can attain enlightenment and put an end to their suffering. Fourthly, “Path to the cessation of suffering (magga)” describes the Middle Way, the means to enlightenment.

The Buddhist concept of rebirth is a circular process. This is related to the concept of “karma,” which describes the potential consequences of one’s deeds in this and previous lives.

Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana are the three major Buddhist traditions. China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are all home to sizable Mahayana Buddhist communities. It highlights the bodhisattvas, who are enlightened beings who come back to teach others. Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar) are all countries where Theravada Buddhism is widely practiced. It promotes ascetic practices like meditation and monastic seclusion as the path to enlightenment. Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia are all home to significant Vajrayana Buddhist communities. Compared to Mahayana and Theravada, it provides its adherents with a more expedient route to enlightenment.

The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and spiritual leader of the Tibetan school of Buddhism, escaped China-controlled Tibet for India in 1959. Despite China’s occupation of Tibet, many Buddhists there are fighting back. This raises issues about when and where the present Dalai Lama, believed to be the 14th reincarnation of the original Dalai Lama, will choose to reincarnate.

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