A Short Course in Buddhism

At around 560 B.C.E. Siddhartha Gautama was born near the present Northern border of India. He was a prince, not a god but a man, born to a King. As he grew, his parents protected him from the world. Never letting him see suffering, old age, poverty or death, he knew nothing of these things. One day, as a young man, he left his father’s palace and discovered the real world. Shocked by the suffering he encountered, he felt that there must be a way for all people to rise above the suffering of the world and live a good, happy life. He was raised in the lap of luxury, and that had done nothing to alleviate suffering so he thought that maybe a life of asceticism may be the answer. So he left his family and wandered alone, denying himself the basic needs of life. He ate little, had no job, money or home. Finally, sick and thin he decided that this was not the way either. He decided that a harmonious relationship of body and mind was necessary for the relief of suffering and called this “The Middle Way,” between a life of luxury and a life as an ascetic. Discovering the middle way still had not helped him figure out how to end suffering in the world. One day he sat down under a tree and vowed not to move until he understood how to help people find relief from suffering.
buddha under a tree

By the next morning he had done it. He had what is called the “Four Noble Truths.” The first truth is: There is suffering in the world. The second truth is: There is a cause for suffering. Most suffering is caused by craving or desire. All sense pleasures (food, sex, material objects, etc) only alleviate suffering temporarily and thereby actually cause suffering by lacking them. The third truth is: There is a way to end suffering. The fourth truth is: Following the Eightfold path will end suffering and bring one to enlightenment, or nirvana which is a condition of freedom from suffering. Realizing all this, he became “The Buddha.”
dharma wheel

The eightfold path is this: Right View-seeing the world as it really is, not how you would like it to be. Right Speech-Using words only for good and not for harm (gossip, etc.) Right Resolve-having a positive outlook and a mind free from distractions. Right Action-letting your actions do only good in the world and keeping the five precepts (which I’ll talk about later.) Right Livelihood-earning a living in such a way as to do no harm to humans, animals or the environment. Right Effort-directing the mind to these goals and other wholesome states. Right Mindfulness-means focusing the mind on the present moment. Not letting your mind wander helps you to focus on the task at hand and maintain a wholesome state of mind. Right Meditation-learning to meditate to clear the mind of extraneous thought to help rid yourself of craving and desire for unwholesome things.

The five Precepts of Buddhism, 1. Do not kill or injure living creatures. 2. Do not take what is not given. 3. Avoid sexual misconduct. (adultery, prostitution, etc.) 4. Do not use false speech. (lie, gossip, etc.) 5. Do not become intoxicated.

Now this is a very simplified explanation of what Buddhism is and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m an expert by any means. Far from it. Buddhism can be as simple or as complicated as you would like it to be, involving years of study and meditation practice or simply trying to live a better life. And being a Buddhist doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in another religious practice because Buddhism doesn’t involve any kind of deity worship. It doesn’t confirm or deny the existence of a god or gods. They are just simply left out of Buddhism. There are atheist Buddhists as well as Catholic Buddhists.

Practicing Buddhist meditation has helped me be more focused and awake and trying to live the eightfold path has helped me to be a better person. If you think this sounds good to you, by all means get some books about Buddhism (there are many) or maybe see if there is a Buddhist meditation center near you. (I’m sounding like an advertisement.) Give it a try, the worse you can do is feel better.

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