Buddhism was founded about 2500 years ago in northern India.
Buddhists belive that the goal of each individual should be to achieve enlightenment (complete understanding).
They believe that once a person is enlightened, they are released from the suffering of human existance into a state called Nirvana.
The path to enlightenment is through practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.
Siddhartha Gautama - Founder
Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince born around 580BC.
He was haunted by restlessness and longed to see the world outside his palace.
Outside the palace, he saw a sick man, a dying man and a poor monk. On reflection, he decided to leave his family and wealth behind him to find a solution to the problem of human suffering.
The Middle Path and Nirvana
Guatama fasted and practiced meditation concluding that neither a life of pleasure or a life of poverty prevented suffering, so he decided to take a middle path between them.
He sat under a Bodhi tree to focus and vowed to stay there until Nirvana was achieved. This occured on the 7th day where he recieved perfect happiness, truth and a release from selfishness and suffering.
He was determined to teach the way to enlightment and his teachings were intended to wake people up to the truth. He became known as the Buddha 'the Enlightened One' for the next 45 years. By his death, there was a large well organised community established.
Shortly after the Buddha's death, 500 monks met in India to compile the doctrine and teachings of Buddhism.
The monastic code and Buddha's lessons (the Sutras) were spoken and later written down.
This meeting formed the: 1. Tipitaka (stories, rules and philosophy) 2. Sutras (complicated concepts)
Dharma means 'the eternal truth' and is the word Buddhists use for the teaching of the Buddha.
Being a Buddhist involves:
understanding and following this teaching.
Escaping from the continious cycle of suffering to a state of everlasting joy and happiness called Nirvana.
The Four Noble Truths
Dukha (Suffering) - Life is unsatisfactory and full of suffering. - Nothing is permanent, even pleasure.
Trsna (Craving) - Cravings are a part of human nature. - Once we are satisfied, we start to want something else.
Nirvana (Bliss) - It is possible to stop craving when we become enlightened. - Nirvana is a reward for enlightment.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is the answering to suffering and can be described as the 'Middle Way'.
Samsara (The Cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth)
Buddhists belive that a person has to go through life many times before finding release from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. (Samsara)
Buddhists believe that there is a continous process that leads from one life to another. According to Buddhist thought, humans are made up pf five elments known as Skandhas.
Karma connects one life to another. It is the effects of all the deeds done during ones lifetime, which links one existence to the next.
Rites of Passage
When followers reach Nirvana they become free from all ignorance, greed and hatred.
There is no religous ceremony as a child is reborn from a previous existance.
Those who are ordained are called monks or nuns. They give up all possesions except for a saffron robe, a razor, a needle, a water strainer and a begging bowl.
Marriage is important as it brings balance and stability however there is no religious ceremony for a wedding.
Most marry in a local registry office and ask a monk to bless their marriage.
When a Buddhist dies the body is washed carefully and laid in a wooden coffin with flowers.
Death rituals vary from one country to another.
There may be a ceremony on death and rebirth.
This ceremony is a joyus occasion. The body is cremated and the ashes scattered into a river, lake or sea.
There can be a ceremony of rememberance after:
- Seven days. - After three months. - Annually on the anniversary of the death.
Places of Worship Sangha
The Sangha is the community of Buddhist monks or nuns.
Weasak (Buddha Day) This most important Buddhist festival is known as either Vesak, Wesak or Buddha Day, and is celebrated annually on the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which usually falls in May, or in early June.
Vesak commemorate the birth of the Buddha-to-be, Siddhattha Gotama, his Enlightenment at the age of 35 when he became the Buddha and his final 'passing' into Nirvana at the age of 80 and his rebirth.
Kathina Day The Kathina festival, which originated 2,500 years ago, celebrates the largest alms-giving ceremony of the Buddhist year.
It occurs at the end of the Vassa, or monsoon, period, in October and November.
During the Vassa period, normally nomadic Buddhist monks will have remained in one place for three months, and the Kathina celebration marks the time for them to move on.
Sangha DayThis festival is also known as Fourfold Assembly or Magha Puja Day.
Sangha Day is the second most important Buddhist festival. It is a celebration in honour of the Sangha, or the Buddhist community.
For some Buddhists Sangha refers only to monks and nuns. It is a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions.
Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls)
Runnubdei in Nepal (the Buddha's birthpalce) Bodh Gaya in Bihir (where the Buddha was enlightened) Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh (the site of the Buddha's first sermon) Kusinagara in Uttar Pradesh (where the Buddha died)
Buddhists hope to visit at least one of these places in their lifetime.
Other places of pilgrimage include temples that have stupas (caskets) containing relics of the Buddha.
The role of the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet, until the Chinese government took control in 1959. Before 1959, his official residence was Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet.
The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
According to Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn again to continue his important work, instead of moving on from the wheel of life. A person who decides to be continually reborn is known as tulku.
Buddhists believe that the first tulku in this reincarnation was Gedun Drub, who lived from 1391-1474 and the second was Gendun Gyatso.
However, the name Dalai Lama, meaning Ocean of Wisdom, was not conferred until the third reincarnation in the form of Sonam Gyatso in 1578.