Friday, 17 June 2011

The History of Buddha

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The History of Buddha

To start to understand the Buddhist philosophy it is best to understand Buddha himself. The Buddha came into being after having completed the ten perfections through countless life times, and was first know as Siddhartha Gautama. He was born to a king in a small kingdom in what today is known as Southern Nepal. Up until his late twenties Siddhartha had never been aloud outside the palace gates by his father, for fear that he should witness pain, suffering, and old age. However Siddhartha soon learned the truth about the outside world, and found that there must be a way to end the suffering he witnessed around him. He then made a decision to secretly set out into the world as a wondering mendicant, learning what he could from whomever would teach him.

Upon leaving the palace Siddhartha first practiced meditation with several teachers, but found that none could show him a path leading to the cessation of suffering and left. Soon after, he came across five spiritual seekers who told him that the way to salvation was through severe asceticism. Siddhartha followed their practices, and eventually was only eating a single grain of rice per day. After continuing this practice for quite some time, and weakening in the process, Siddhartha realized that extreme asceticism was just as wrong as the extreme indulgence he had experienced earlier in life. So he left his companions and set out once again to find a path leading to the cessation of suffering, but this time concluded that he would have to find it for himself.

Siddhartha, now well aware of his mission of solitude, set out to sit under a large bodhi tree in Gaya, in what is now known as the “Circle of Awakening”. Under this tree he sat, keeping his historic vow “ Let my skin, my sinews and bones dry up, like-wise my flesh and blood, but until I have achieved the Supreme Enlightenment I will not leave this posture”. There he sat throughout the night, and by sunrise had found all the remedies for the ill’s of mankind, and henceforth became known as Buddha.

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Now fully enlightened, the Buddha decided that his discovery was too profound to be understood by the vast majority of the world, and so decided to remain under the tree to live out his existence without ever passing on his knowledge. This however did not last, and the Buddha, moved by compassion for the suffering of people caught in the cycle of existence, traveled around India, teaching all who cared to listen.

An Over View of Buddhism

Though the message of “riding ones self of desires” is a strait forward and easy to comprehend aspect of Buddhism, to cover all of Buddhism’s philosophy’s in a relatively short essay is not an easy task. Therefore I will be trying to briefly cover as many of the philosophies as possible, paying special attention to the points deemed by most to be the fundamentally important aspects.

Buddha’s teachings begin almost right after enlightenment, when he walked over one hundred miles to find and teach his former ascetic followers who had previously renounced him. In this, his first sermon, he formed the basis of his future teachings, and spoke about The Four Noble Truths. These truths, like most of Buddha’s philosophy’s came to him during his enlightenment, and revolved around the logical process of seeing life and actions, not how we want to see them, but as they really are. They were developed to show the way to end suffering by following the middle path, a path that follows neither the extreme of pleasure or pain.

The first of these truths is that life always incorporates suffering, whether it’s the feeling you get from pain, old age, sickness, loos, or separation from a loved one. This suffering was known also known as Dukkha, and could also represent a general unsatisfied feeling, a feeling you may be left with if you feel your life is not taking the direction you choose. In short the human condition is so liable to attachment that suffering through the loss of these attachments is inevitable.

The second noble truth lies in the fact that suffering is caused by desire, and specifically ignorance towards what one needs for self-fulfilment. This is witnessed through mankind’s constant quest to achieve and acquire, then move on to something new, never feeling fully satisfied.

The third noble truth states that if we end our attachment to desire, so too will our suffering end. This is not intended to imply that one should have less enthusiasm for life, but to create an understanding of the nature of life, and to control those desires, which come from that lack of understanding

The fourth noble truth shows the way to the end of suffering. The Buddha said that the way to cease suffering is to follow the middle way, the Noble Eightfold path. This provides the guidelines for day-to-day living. There is some analogy here with the Ten Commandments in Christianity, but the eightfold path is meant as a guideline rather than a strict rule.

The Buddha reached this middle way after himself living the extremes of life. In his early years, he was surrounded by luxury, given access to all pleasures available at that time. In his search, he lived the opposite life, one where he deprived himself of even the essentials, and faced death. The Noble Eightfold path leads to a way, which embraces life and is neither indulgent nor severe. This path, if followed correctly, would help you cope with desires while remaining detached

The Noble Eightfold path consists of Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation.

Right Understanding Is the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. In other words,

it is the understanding of oneself as one truly is.

Right Intent Right Intent urges us to decide what our heart wants. It must come from the heart, and involves recognising the equality of all life. It is comparable to having the right motivation behind your actions.

Right Speech Involves the appropriate use of language. Words were seen as powerful, and therefore should be used wisely? Careless words may hurt others, and open yourself to attack.

Right Action deals with refraining from killing, stealing and other bad acts. It helps

one to develop a character that is self-controlled and mindful of the rights of others.

Right Livelihood Right Livelihood means earring ones living in a way that is not harmful to others.

Right Effort Effort is needed to cultivate Good Conduct or develop ones mind, because one is often distracted or tempted to take the easy way out of things. The Buddha teaches that attaining happiness and Enlightenment depends upon ones own


Right Mindfulness Right Mindfulness is the awareness of ones deeds, words and thoughts.

Right Meditation Meditation means the gradual process of training the mind to focus on a single object and to remain fixed upon the object without wavering.

The Three Characteristics of Existence

One of The Buddha’s main teachings was the three main characteristics of existence. This included suffering, impermanence and the concept of no unique self.

Suffering, as defined before, comes from life, as sickness, loneliness, old age, or just a general feeling of life not being what it should. Part of the problem is that we wish life to be permanent when all existence is impermanent, everything is subject to continuous change. Birth and death are part of that process of change.

This impermanence is not only applicable to human beings, but to all of nature. While a river may seem the same each time you look at it, in reality each moment is different, to look at a river is to witness the continuous state of flux that embodies all of nature. In our lives, our bodies grow when we are young, and change as we age. Relationships come and go, often because personalities, interests and attitudes change. We develop habits as we pass through life, then attempt to associate them with our “permanent selves”. Once we realise the fallacy behind the unchanging individual we can begin to explore one of the more difficult concepts of Buddhism, the concept of “no self”.

While the Buddha saw life as continuing after death, his view differed greatly from that of Hinduism. Where as the Hindu religion generally accepted the idea of the eternal self, where the body was destroyed but the self lived on, the Buddha instead taught the interconnectedness of life. We are unique individuals, however when we die it is not our “self” that is reborn, instead it is more of our karma and energy that follow us over into our next life. In fact, the Buddha took a middle way on the definition of self. He saw the self as dependant on everything that had gone before, and constantly changing in response to an interconnecting and changing reality. While we are not permanent and fixed entities, we are certainly part on the on-going reality. Once this is understood, once interconnectedness becomes part of the way of seeing the world, then suffering arising from the personal concept of an independent self may cease.


Karma tends to be a word used by many, and truly understood by few. While many believe it to be a type of destiny or fate, in actual fact it is close to the opposite. Where as destiny deals with the future, karma deals with the past. It deals more with intended action, and is not fate or predestination, but a consequence of what has gone before. In other words, you are now in circumstances because of your thoughts and decisions, and this is an on-going process. That is, new actions create new Karma. Intention is a major part of Karma. If you come home and accidentally trip over the dog and hurt the animal, this is not intended and has no effect. However, after a hectic day, you come home and kick the dog, then negative Karma is generated. All the combined intended actions add up to what you are now.

The Buddha saw this as an explanation of the different circumstances that all living beings find themselves in. In short it is the consequence of the law of cause and effect. In the Bible, it says that we reap what we sow, and karma has the same impact.

Obviously, we also are subject to non-karmic forces, such as the ageing of our bodies. And there are circumstances, which are natural and also affect our lives. But in addition to that, the Buddha said that we are subject to this karmic effect, where the ethical actions and thoughts we have will have a positive effect on the future and on our spiritual development.

This outlook on life leaves room for much hope, as we are left with the possibility of determining our own future with our actions and thoughts today. This means that no future event is locked in, and what happens today and tomorrow will create the personal and global world of the future


Nirvana is the most misunderstood term in Buddhism. Those in the West recognise the term as meaning Heaven, or a Heaven on Earth. Instead the Buddha described Nirvana as the ultimate goal, a goal that he reached during his enlightenment. At this point, he chose to teach others so that they might also experience this realisation, and so when he died, forty-five years later, he then passed through pari nirvana, meaning completed nirvana.

Nirvana literally means extinguishing or unbinding. The implication is that it is freedom from what ever binds you, from the burning passion of desire, jealousy, and ignorance. Once these are totally overcome, a state of bliss is achieved, and there is no longer the need the cycle of birth and death. All karmic debts are settled.


Heinz, D, Richard, G. (184). The world of Buddhism. London Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Kessler, G. (001). Voices of Wisdom. Belmont, CA Wadsworth

Robinson, R. (170). The Buddhist Religion. Belmont, CA Dickenson Puublishing Company.

Morgan, K. (156). The Path of the Buddha. New York, NY The Ronald Press Company

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