In an attempt to give a synopsis and not a social studies lesson, the following notes are just a few facts about the religion of Buddhism that comprises approximately 3.25% of the Indian religious population. That means that by 2008 about 30 million Indians living in India were Buddhist. Just before I list some interesting details about the faith, keep in mind that the simplistic nature in which I express the thoughts, precepts and ideals of this intriguing faith are not in any way to demean its followers, but rather to give clear and concise definition to those (like myself) who may not be familiar with the religion. I do not want to cause confusion with cumbersome terminology, but instead simply convey the overall theme of what these devout adherents believe.
- Siddhartha Gautama founded the Buddhist faith somewhere between the time period of the 4th and 6th BC. He was known as the Buddha, “the awakened one”. He was not and is not however conveyed as a “god”, but a wise teacher.
- The word Buddhism comes from the word “budhi”, which means to awaken. It ‘s origin is found in the life of founder Siddhartha Guatama, coming into use around the time Guatama experienced “awakening” at age 35 after a spiritual quest to end suffering.
- A fundamental belief of Buddhist is that “enlightenment” can be achieved by self denial and by eliminating earthly desires. One gets to this point through meditation.
- Buddhism is practiced all throughout Asia, not just in India, with followers throughout the world of approximately 350-500 million. Some of the more saturated regions are in Sri Lanka and Japan.
- There are several Buddhist schools. The teachings are all similar, but vary based on the path one may take to “liberation” or Nirvana. Nirvana literally means “blowing out”, referring to blowing out the flames of “greed, hatred and delusion”. Nirvana is apparently the pinnacle; the place one has reached when he or she is what Christians might call “sanctified” or “saved”.
- Also taught in the schools are “the three jewels”; there is the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Dharma is the truth. The Sangha is the community. Taking “refuge” in the “triple gem” is declaration that one is a buddhist and is on the path to freedom or “liberation”.
- Monasticism is a big part of the Buddhist religion. The monastic portion of the faith (meaning monks and nuns) comprise the Sangha or community. This area is the most important support role. These chosen people are “responsible for preserving and spreading Buddhist teaching and for education”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_monasticism
- The specific details of the life of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, are highly debated by scholars and historians; therefore I will not speak to those sacred myths and/or facts. What is apparently true, according to author Michael Carrithers, is that "the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death”. Gautama founded the faith and certainly instituted the most important aspect, the monastic practices, after he discovered that torturing one’s self and painful self denial was not the way to end suffering. Nor was the opposite, self indulgence, beneficial. He found the “Middle Way”, which all people Buddhist and other faiths alike could almost certainly profit from.
The most precious take away from this ancient teaching is that it promotes peace, enlightenment, wisdom, love and benevolence. Followers of Buddhism, unlike some other believers, do not endorse that they or their faith are absolute, but instead teach tolerance for others’ faiths.
Although not exhaustive, the above are just a few highlights of the Buddhist faith. Interested in finding out more? Check out these web sites: