According to Karen (187), Buddhism is one of the religions that are most prevalent in the Asian subcontinent. It encompasses various traditions and practices, as well as a system of beliefs that are based on the teachings of its founder. The founder of this religion is Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who forsook the throne to be a spiritual leader.
This prince is famously known as the Buddha, which is a Pali or Sanskrit word for “the awakened one” (Lama 22). This is a man who was born into a community that was peripheral to the Asian continent, both in terms of its culture and geographical location. He lived and taught, according to scholars such as Kasulis (49), in the northeastern part of India. The scholars approximate that he lived and taught between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
Two main classes of this religion are recognized and practiced both in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the world. The first is what Wynne (73) refers to as the Theravada, or “The School of the Elders”, which is common in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Lama 31).
The second is Mahayana, or “The Great Vehicle”, which is mostly practiced throughout East Asia. It is made up of several traditions, such as the Pure Land, Zen, and Tiantai among others. Some scholars also recognize Vajrayana, which is mostly found in Tibet and Mongolia regions, as another class of Buddhism. However, others conceptualize it as a sub-branch of Mahayana (Wallace 29).
In this paper, the author is going to discuss Buddhism as a religion. Several aspects of the religion will be analyzed to this end. This includes the name of the religion followers, the history and origins of the religion including the founders, the name of the Supreme Being or God, as well as the name of the place of worship for followers of this religion.
Four major beliefs of Buddhism will also be analyzed, as well as two of the most important rituals or observances. Symbols used in the religion will also be highlighted, including their meaning and why they are used. Finally, the researcher will look at 10 key words found in Buddhism and try to define them as accurately as possible.
A person who practices Buddhism is referred to as a Buddhist. It is noted that to be a Buddhist is to go beyond the mere practicing of the rituals and other activities that goes with religion (Kasulis 55). It is embracing, and being guided by, a set of philosophies that define the way of life. Philosophy can be taken as the “love of wisdom” (Lama 33), and seeing that a Buddhist is always seeking wisdom and enlightenment, Buddhism can then be taken as a philosophy.
A Buddhist is a person who aspires to live by the philosophies of the religion as indicated above. Wynne (73) sums up these philosophies into three. The first involves leading a moral life, which means not prioritizing pleasure in this life. The second philosophy is being mindful and aware of one’s thoughts and actions, or karma, and finally, to seek and develop wisdom and understanding (Wynne 73).
According to Wallace (30), Buddhism is regarded as the fourth largest religion of the world, following Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It is estimated that today, 376 million people around the world are Buddhists. This is a major fete considering the humble beginnings of Buddha, the founder of the religion.
Like other religions such as Christianity and Islam, the origins of Buddhism can be traced back to a single individual. A discourse on the origins of Buddhism that fails to mention the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, can be taken as an incomplete account of the religion.
Buddha, as indicated in the introductory part of this paper, was born as a prince. His father was the king of the Sakya tribe in latter day’s Nepal, and Buddha was born circa 566 BC (Karen 190). He left his father’s palace at the age of 29, and went to seek out spiritual enlightenment. He became the Buddha after he was enlightened following a long period of meditation.
For almost half a century, Buddha went around the plains of northeastern India teaching people the path or “Dharma” (Kasulis 56) as it was revealed to him during his enlightenment. He developed a band of followers, known as Sangha, which was made up of monks and nuns who came from all the tribes and castes in India. He died at the age of 80 years, leaving behind his followers to continue the teachings. This is the origin of what is today known as Buddhism.
Islam has Allah, Christians have God, and Hindus have Brahma, but what about Buddhists? According to Wallace (33), it is noted that Buddhists, unlike their counterparts in other religions such as Christianity and Islam, have no recognizable Supreme Being or God that they supplicate to.
Buddha, the father of the religion, is not worshipped how Christians worship Christ or Muslims worship Mohammed. In fact, Buddhism scholars acknowledge that Buddha was not a God, and he never made claims to the contrary. He taught his followers on how to identify and follow the path to enlightenment, and this was based on his own experience, as opposed to spiritual revelations (Wynne 55).
Buddhists are not known to pay homage to idols or images representing gods. Buddhist respect images of the Buddha, but it should be noted that it is not in worship or requests for favors (Wynne 55). When a Buddhist bows to a statue of the Buddha, it is not in worship; rather, it is a way of showing their gratitude for the teachings of the enlightened one.
There are various scriptures and texts that are to be found in this religion. The different schools identified earlier in this paper attach varying levels of importance to these various scriptures.
Most of the texts are written in Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian or Chinese, while others are in the traditional language of Sanskrit (Kasulis 55). There is no single text or scripture that is universal to all Buddhists in the world. Some of the scriptures which are highly revered are the Vinaya Pitaka as well as the first four Nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka, which are common to most adherents of this faith (Kasulis 55).
Like their Hindu counterparts, Buddhist worship mainly in a temple. For example, Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya India is built near the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha acquired Nirvana or enlightenment. The Buddhist also practices pilgrimage as a way of following the path.
This is one of the beliefs of a Buddhist, which is a Sanskrit word for “action or work” (Lama 31). They believe that karma is the force that propels samsara, or the cycle or suffering and rebirth that attends every being on earth.
Buddhist believes that beings go through a process involving succession of lifetimes which takes various forms of “sentient life”, according to Kasulis (55). This is what they refer to as rebirth, where each rebirth process runs through conception to death.
Buddhists also believes that human beings, who falls under the sentient beings classification, seek out pleasure while avoiding pain as they transit from birth to death (Kasulis 43). Samsara refers to the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering that is brought about by the seeking out of pleasure while avoiding pain.
The Four Noble Truths
They also believe in the four noble truths, which are “suffering, the arising of suffering, the end of suffering and the way leading to the end of suffering” (Lama 27).
This is one of the major rituals and practices in Buddhism. It involves a state of meditation, where the Buddhist tries to attain some level of “mindful” awareness.
Refuge in the Three Jewels
This is one of the first steps that a Buddhist is taught in order to be grounded in the faith. The first jewel is the Buddha, who is an individual who has attained nirvana; the second is dharma, or the teachings of the Buddha Gautama, and the Sangha, who are the individuals who have successfully gone through any of the four stages of enlightenment.
One of the symbols in Buddhism is the Dharmachakra wheel, which is a representation of the Noble Eightfold Path (Kasulis 55). The other is the wheel of life, which has six realms (Wynne 77). In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, this is represented in a Thangka.
This is, as earlier explained, action or work
It is a state of enlightenment
This is the wisdom that purifies that mind (Wynne 100), which helps the practitioner to gain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things in the world
This is ethics or morality, avoidance of unwholesome deeds
This refers to speaking the truth and in a non-hurtful manner (Wynne 100)
This is non-harmful way of living
This is the mental discipline that is needed by a Buddhist to acquire mastery over their mind
This is the ability to see things for what they really are, and with a lucid consciousness
Impermanence, meaning that all things are not permanent
Karen, Armstrong. Buddha. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
Kasulis, Titus. Zen as a Social Ethics of Responsiveness. Journal of Buddist Ethics, 22(3), 2009.
Lama, Dalai. The Middle Way. New York: Wisdom Publications, 2009.
Wallace, Griffiths. Buddhism in the World Today. New York: Free Press, 2007.
Wynne, Alexander. The Origin of Buddhist Meditation. London: Routledge, 2007.