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Buddhism, with about 365 million followers makes up 6% of the world's population and is the fourth largest religion in the world (exceeded by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism).
Buddhism was founded in Northern India in the sixth century BCE by the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama when he attained enlightenment.
Buddhism is made up three main forms. They are Theravada Buddhism found mainly in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, Mahayana Buddhism which is largely found in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia and Vajrayana Buddhism. Some other that can be included are Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
There are four principle beliefs in Buddhism.
The Four Nobel Truths
The Eightfold Path
The three Jewels
The Three Marks Of existence.
The Four Noble Truths
The “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism are:
• Life means suffering.
• The origin of suffering is attachment.
• The cessation of suffering is attainable.
• The path to the cessation of suffering.
The first of the Four Noble Truths is life means suffering. The basis of this is that to live is to suffer, because the human race is not perfect and neither is the world. On this earth, everyone inevitably suffers pain, sickness, injury, old age, and eventually death as well as psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment and depression. Life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because the world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to permanently keep what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too there for all things are suffering and as all things are life, life is suffering.
The second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering is attachment. The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things. Transient things not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and all objects of our perception. The reasons for our suffering are desire, passion, pursuit of wealth and prestige and striving for fame and popularity, so basically attachment to transient things and because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, therefore is followed by suffering.
The third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering is attainable. The cessation of suffering can be attained through the unmaking of craving and attachment.
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The final Noble Truth is the path to the cessation of suffering. The path to the end of suffering is a gradual path of self-improvement. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism) and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to the conditions of Karma. The objects of suffering such as craving, ignorance and delusions will eventually disappear as progress is made on the path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The 8 aspects of the Eight Fold Path are the right view, right intentions, right speech, right actions, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration with each of these falling into three categories, wisdom, ethical conduct and mental development.
The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by the Buddha. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the aim of freedom from attachments and delusions. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the main point of Buddhism. The main emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can obtain the higher level of existence to reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not meant to be understood as a sequence of single steps instead they are actually interdependent principles. They are:
1. Right View
Right view is the beginning and the end of the path and simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to understand the Four Noble Truth.
2. Right Intention
While right view refers to the aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect for example the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement.
3. Right Speech
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline. Speech is an important aspect in Buddhism and there are 4 guidelines for right speech in Buddhism.
4. Right Action
The second ethical principle involves the body as the natural means of expression and refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Distasteful actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind.
5. Right Livelihood
Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason.
6. Right Effort
Without effort which is in itself an act of will nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence yet with the right effort the right goal is achieved. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavors that are in order importance.
7. Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected sense of consciousness. It is the ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. For this there are the four foundations of mindfulness.
8. Right Concentration
Right concentration refers to the expansion of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a comparatively low level of intensity, that is concentration. The right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration. I.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions leads to wholesome thoughts and actions.
Three marks of existence
The Buddha taught that everything in the physical world, including mental and psychological events are marked with three characteristics -- impermanence, suffering and egolessness.
1. Suffering (Dukkha)
The Pali word Dukkha is often translated as "suffering," but can also means "unsatisfactory" or "imperfect." In Buddhism everything material and mental that begins and ends is said to be composed of the five skandhas.
The 5 skandhas are:
1. The physical body
2. Feelings or sensations
3. The awareness of things outside us
4. Our thoughts ideas, wishes and dreams
5. Our consciousness
Therefore even beautiful things and experiences are Dukkha (suffering).
2. Impermanence (Anicca)
Impermanence is constant change and lack of permanence that is the fundamental property of everything in this world. All conditioned things are impermanent and are in a constant state of flux and the Anicca expresses that idea.
3. Egolessness (Anatta)
Anatta (anatman in Sanskrit) is also translated as non-self or non-essentiality.
The Anatta asserts the insubstantiality of all things and shows the idea that nothing has any irreducible essence.
Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
In Buddhist communities, a Pali chant, the “Vandana Ti-sarana” is often recited by both monks and lay people. It means the following:
• Buddham saranam gacchāmi
I take refuge in the Buddha
• Dhammam saranam gacchāmi
I take refuge in the Dharma
• Sangham saranam gacchāmi
I take refuge in the Sangha
Buddha, Gautama Buddha, Siddharta, the prince who found Enlightenment after years of fasting, meditation and having followed the best spiritual teachers of India. When Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, are honoring the man who started the whole tradition and taking refuge in the Buddha.
Dharma (or Dhamma in Pali) stands for the teachings of Buddhism, or for the practice of the Buddhist Path. And for all of the different branches of Buddhism this is obviously going to include a wide variety of texts and teachings
For Theravada Buddhism the Dharma means the Pali Scripture as well as the stories of Buddha's life and his previous lives (the Jataka tales).
In Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana they have an extensive literature added to the traditional texts. These include works like The Dhammapada, The Diamond Sutra, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Sangha can be interpreted widely or very strictly. The strict (Theravada) interpretation is that of the community of Buddhist monks. The wider interpretation of Sangha is: the community of Buddhists.
These are the central beliefs that make up the religion, Buddhism. There are regional and culture variations to the principle beliefs as well as the supporting beliefs of Buddhism. Difference such as the different texts between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are evidence of this, language difference and translation differences also support this idea.