Buddhist Studies

 


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Buddhist Studies

Siddharta was born into the royal family of a small kingdom on the Indian-Nepalese border. According to the traditional story he had a cloistered upbringing, but was jolted out of complacency on understanding that life includes the harsh facts of old age, sickness, and death.

He left home to follow the traditional Indian path of the wandering holy man, a seeker after Truth. He practised meditation under various teachers and then took to asceticism. Eventually he practised austerities so severe that he was on the point of death - but true understanding seemed as far away as ever.

He decided to abandon this path and to look into his own heart and mind. He sat down beneath the pipal tree and vowed that 'flesh may wither, blood may dry up, but I shall not rise from this spot until Enlightenment has been won.' After forty days, the Buddha finally attained Enlightenment.

Buddhists believe he attained a state of being that goes beyond anything else in the world. If normal experience is based on conditions - upbringing, psychology, opinions, perceptions, and so on - Enlightenment is Unconditioned. It was a state in which the Buddha gained Insight into the deepest workings of life and therefore into the cause of human suffering, the problem that had set him on his spiritual quest in the first place.

During the remaining 45 years of his life he travelled through much of northern India, spreading his teaching of the way to Enlightenment. The teaching is known in the East as the Buddha-dharma - 'the teaching of the Enlightened One'. Travelling from place to place, the Buddha taught numerous disciples, many of whom gained Enlightenment in their own right. They, in turn, taught others and in this way an unbroken chain of teaching has continued, right down to the present day.

The Buddha was not a God and he made no claim to divinity. He was a human being who, through tremendous efforts, transformed himself. Buddhists see him as an ideal and a guide who can lead one to Enlightenment oneself.

What Happened After the Buddha's Death? Buddhism died out in India a thousand years ago (though it has recently revived). It spread south to Sri Lanka and South East Asia, where the Theravadin form of Buddhism continues to flourish, and north to Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Japan. The Mahayana forms of Buddhism are still practiced in these countries, although in the last century they have suffered greatly from the effects of communism and consumerism. In the last century Buddhism has emphatically arrived in the West, and hundreds of thousands of westerners have become Buddhists.

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Keyon College

An excellent collection of links provided by the department of religious studies.


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Buddhist Studies