A representation of the Dharmacakra (or "Wheel of Law") in Sun temple, Orissa, it represents the Noble Eightfold Path.
General Information
English name Buddhism
Other names Buddha-dharma
Dharma vinaya
Number of adherents From 360 million[1] to 535 million[2]
General classification Nontheism
Place of origin India
Approximate dating 544-543 BC (year 0)[3]
Related belief systems Sramana

Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha ("the awakened one").

In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is often compared to a great physician, and his teachings are compared to medicine. The teachings on the four noble truths in particular are related to a medical diagnosis. The truth of dukkha refers to the identification of an illness and its nature ("diagnosis"), dukkha samudaya refers to the identification of the causes of the illness ("etiology"), nirodha refers to the identification of a cure for the illness ("prognosis") and the eightfold path is the recommendation of a treatment for the illness ("prescription").

Buddhist concepts and terms Edit

Vinaya (Pali and Sanskrit: "leading out", "education", "discipline") is the regulatory framework for the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha, based on the canonical texts called vinaya pitaka. The teachings of the Buddha, or Buddha-dharma can be divided into two broad categories: dharma or "doctrine", and vinaya, or "discipline". Another term for Buddhism is dharma vinaya.

Dharma (Sanskrit: धर्म) or dhamma (Pali: धम्म) is a key concept with multiple meanings in Buddhism and other Indian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. There is no single word translation for dharma in western languages, and refers to behaviors that are considered to be in accord with the order that makes life and universe possible, including duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and "right way of living". In Buddhism specifically, dharma is referred to as "the Dharma", and means "cosmic law and order", but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha, as well as serving in philosophy as the term for "phenomena".[4] The Dharma can mean the "state of nature" as it is (yathā bhūta); the "laws of nature" considered both collectively and individually; the teaching of the Buddha (Buddha-dharma or dharma vinaya) as an exposition of the natural law applied to the problem of human dukkha and; a phenomenon and/or its properties.[4]

Karma (Sanskrit, also karman, Pali: kamma) is a term that literally means "action" or "doing". Within the Buddhist tradition, the term karma is used in two senses:

  • On the specific level, karma refers to those actions which spring from the intention (cetanā) of a sentient being. Karmic actions are compared to a seed that will inevitably ripen into a result or "fruition" (referred to as vipāka or phala in Sanskrit and Pali).
  • On the general level, contemporary Buddhist teachers frequently use the term karma when referring to the entire process of karmic action and result (Sanskrit: karmaphala).

Developing a genuine, experiential understanding of karmic action and result (how all of one's actions will have a corresponding result) is an essential aspect of the Buddhist path. Karmic actions are considered to be the engine which drives the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth (samsara) for sentient beings; correspondingly, a complete understanding of karmic action and result enables beings to free themselves from samsara (see below) and attain "liberation". In the Buddhist view, karmic results are not considered to be a "judgement" imposed by a deity or being; rather, these results are considered to be the outcome of a natural process.[5]

Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana) or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam, Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) upon death, becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream. In traditional Buddhist cosmology these lives can be in any of a large number of states of being including the human, any kind of animal and several types of supernatural being (see samsara below). Rebirth is conditioned by the karmas of previous lives; good karmas will yield a happier rebirth, bad karmas will produce one which is more unhappy. The basic cause for this is the abiding of consciousness in ignorance (Pali: avijja, Sanskrit: avidya): when ignorance is uprooted, rebirth ceases. One of the analogies used to describe what happens then is that of a ray of light that never lands.[6]

Saṃsāra is a Buddhist term that literally means "continuous movement" and is commonly translated as "cyclic existence", "cycle of existence", etc. Within Buddhism, samsara is defined as the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ordinary beings' grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. Specifically, it refers to the process of cycling through one rebirth after another within the six realms of existence, where each realm can be understood as either a physical realm or a psychological state characterized by a particular type of suffering. Samsara arises out of avidya and is characterized by dukkha. In the Buddhist view, liberation from samsara is possible by following the Buddhist path.[7]

Buddhist cosmology typically identifies six realms, which can be understood both as psychological states and as aspects of existence. These six realms are typically divided into three higher realms and three lower realms: the three higher realms are the realms of the gods, demigods, and humans; the three lower realms are the realms of the animals, hungry ghosts and hellish beings or "demons":[8]

  • Deva or "god" realm: the gods lead long and enjoyable lives full of pleasure and abundance, but they spend their lives pursuing meaningless distractions and never think to practice the dharma. When death comes to them, they are completely unprepared; without realizing it, they have completely exhausted their good karma (which was the cause for being reborn in the god realm) and they suffer through being reborn in the lower realms. This realm is sometimes known as the realm of paradise.
Demigod realm

A representation of Asura, in which war is constant.

  • Asura or "demigod" realm: the demigods have pleasure and abundance almost as much as the gods, but they spend their time fighting among themselves or making war on the gods. When they make war on the gods, they always lose, since the gods are much more powerful. The demigods suffer from constant fighting and jealousy, and from being killed and wounded in their wars with each other and with the gods. This realm is sometimes known as the realm of war.
  • Manuṣya or "human" realm: humans suffer from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, separation from friends, being attacked by enemies, not getting what they want, and getting what they don't want. They also suffer from the general sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Yet the human realm is considered to be the most suitable realm for practicing the dharma, because humans are not completely distracted by pleasure (like the gods or demigods) or by pain and suffering (like the beings in the lower realms).
  • Tiryag-yoni or "animal" realm: wild animals suffer from being attacked and eaten by other animals; they generally lead lives of constant fear. Domestic animals suffer from being exploited by humans; for example, they are slaughtered for food, overworked, abused, and so on. This realm is sometimes known as the realm of beasts.
  • Preta or "hungry ghost" realm: hungry ghosts suffer from extreme hunger and thirst. They wander constantly in search of food and drink, only to be miserably frustrated any time they come close to actually getting what they want. For example, they see a stream of pure, clear water in the distance, but by the time they get there the stream has dried up. Hungry ghosts have huge bellies and long thin necks. On the rare occasions that they do manage to find something to eat or drink, the food or water burns their neck as it goes down to their belly, causing them intense agony. This realm is sometimes known as the realm of hunger and thirst.
  • Naraka or "hell" realm: hell beings endure unimaginable suffering for eons of time. There are actually eighteen different types of hells, each inflicting a different kind of torment. In the hot hells, beings suffer from unbearable heat and continual torments of various kinds. In the cold hells, beings suffer from unbearable cold and other torments. This realm is sometimes known as the realm of agony.

The Bhavacakra or "wheel of life" is a popular teaching tool, a diagram which portrays these realms and the mechanism that causes the samsaric rebirths. In this depiction, the realm of deva is shown at the top, followed clockwise by asura, tiryag-yoni, naraka, preta and manuṣya. The Buddha is shown as being present in every one of these realms.[9]

Brahmavihāra ("sublime attitudes", lit. "abodes of brahma") are a series of four Buddhist virtues and the meditation practices made to cultivate them. They are also known as "the four immeasurables" (Sanskrit: apramāṇa, Pāli: appamaññā). While he searched for enlightenment, Gautama combined the yoga practice of his teacher Kalama with what later became known as "the immeasurables", thus inventing a new kind of human, one without egotism. What Thich Nhat Hanh calls the "Four Immeasurable Minds" of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are also known as brahmaviharas, divine abodes, or simply as four immeasurables, or even "four limitless ones". Of the four, mettā or loving-kindness meditation is perhaps the best known. The four immeasurables are taught as a form of meditation that cultivates "wholesome attitudes towards all sentient beings." The practitioner prays:[10]

  • May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
  • May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
  • May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
  • May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

Nirvana (Sanskrit, also nirvāṇa; Pali: nibbana, nibbāna) is a Buddhist term that literally means "blowing out" or "extinguishing" and refers to the event or process of the extinction of the fires of attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidya). In the Buddhist view, when these fires are extinguished, suffering (dukkha) comes to an end, and one is released from the cycle of the existences of samsara. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual path.[11] The term for anybody who has achieved nirvana, including the Buddha, is arahant.[8]

Bodhi (Pāli and Sanskrit, in devanagari: बॊधि) is a term applied to the experience of Awakening of arahants. Bodhi literally means "awakening", but it is more commonly translated into English as "enlightenment". In Pre-sectarian Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implies the extinction of raga ("greed", "craving", "lust"), dosa ("hate", "aversion") and moha ("delusion"). In the later school of Mahayana Buddhism, the status of nirvana was downgraded in some scriptures, coming to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained nirvana, and that one needed to attain bodhi to eradicate delusion.[8]

According to Mahayana Buddhism, the arahant has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattva achieves nirvana and full liberation from delusion as well. He thus attains bodhi and becomes a Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning as in the early texts, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion. The term parinirvana is also encountered in Buddhism, and generally refers to the complete nirvana attained by the arahant at the moment of death, when the physical body expires.[8]

Central path, middle way or middle path (Pali: majjhimā paṭipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad) is the term that Siddhartha Gautama used to describe the character of the path he discovered that leads to liberation. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Middle Way refers to the insight into emptiness that transcends opposite statements about existence.[12] The Middle Way has several definitions:[8]

  • The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification;
  • The middle ground between certain metaphysical views (for example, that things ultimately either do or do not exist);
  • An explanation of Nirvana (perfect enlightenment), a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory;
  • Another term for emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena (in the Mahayana branch), a lack of inherent existence, which avoids the extremes of permanence and nihilism or inherent existence and nothingness.

The Four Noble Truths of Dukkha Edit

The Four Noble Truths are regarded as the central doctrine of the Buddhist tradition, and are said to provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "unsatisfactoriness", "disquietude"), its causes, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.

Dukkha is the first of the noble truths. Within the Buddhist tradition, the term dukkha is commonly explained according to three different patterns:[13]

  • The dukkha of ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha), the obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, aging, illness and death.
  • The dukkha produced by change (vipariṇāma-dukkha), the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • The dukkha of conditioned states (saṃkhāra-dukkha), the overall lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to convey the different aspects of dukkha, such as: anxiety, stress, frustration, unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc. As one source notes: "Dukkha contains not only the ordinary meaning of suffering, but also includes deeper ideas such as imperfection, pain, impermanence, disharmony, discomfort, irritation, or awareness of incompleteness and insufficiency".[13]

The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has caused some observers to consider Buddhism to be a pessimistic philosophy. However, the emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition (that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable suffering of illness, aging, and death). Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. The Buddha acknowledged that there is both happiness and sorrow in the world, but he taught that even when we have some kind of happiness, it is impermanent and subject to change. And due to this unstable, impermanent nature of all things, everything we experience is said to have the quality of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness. Therefore unless we can gain insight into that truth, and understand what is really able to give us happiness, and what is unable to provide happiness, the experience of unsatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction will persist.[13]

Dukkha samudaya is the second noble truth, and refers to the origin of dukkha. The term is typically translated as the "origin of suffering". Samudaya meaning "origin" or "source". Within the context of the noble truths, the origin is commonly explained as craving conditioned by ignorance. This craving runs on three channels:[13]

  • Craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), the craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures.
  • Craving to be (bhava-tanha), the is craving to be something, to unite with an experience. This includes craving to be solid and ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future, and craving to prevail and dominate over others.
  • Craving not to be (vibhava-tanha), the craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing. A wish to be separated from painful feelings.

Avijja or moha is an important concept, and can be defined as "ignorance" of the meaning and implication of the four noble truths. On a deeper level, it refers to a misunderstanding of the nature of the self and reality. Another common explanation presents the cause of dukkha as kleshas (Sanskrit: "disturbing emotions") rooted in avidya. In this context, it is common to identify three root disturbing emotions, called the three poisons, as the root cause of suffering or dukkha. These three poisons are: Avijja (Sanskrit: "ignorance" or "bewilderment"), the misunderstanding of the nature of reality; raga (Sanskrit: "attachment"), attachment to pleasurable experiences; dvesha (Sanskrit: "aversion"), a fear of getting what we don't want, or not getting what we do want.[13]

Nirodha literally refers to the absence or extinction of a given entity. As the third of the four noble truths, it refers specifically to the cessation of dukkha and its causes, being commonly used as a synonym for nirvana. It is the third noble truth, and implies the cessation of dukkha. Nirodha refers to the cessation of suffering and its causes. It is "the cessation of all the unsatisfactory experiences and their causes in such a way that they can no longer occur again. It's the removal, the final absence, the cessation of those things, their non-arising." According to the Buddhist point of view, once we have developed a genuine understanding of the causes of suffering, such as tanha ("craving") and avijja ("ignorance"), then one can completely eradicate these causes and thus be free from suffering.[13]

The Noble Eightfold Path is one of the main teachings of the Buddha, who described it as the way leading to the cessation of suffering (dukkha) and the achievement of self-awakening[14], considered to be the essence of Buddhist practice. While the first three truths are primarily concerned with understanding the nature of dukkha and its causes, the fourth presents a practical method for overcoming it. The path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha, consisting of:[13]

  • Right Understanding
  • Right Thought
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

The eight items of the path are not to be understood as stages, in which each stage is completed before moving on to the next. Rather, they are eight significant dimensions of one's behavior (mental, spoken and bodily) that operate in dependence of one another. Taken together, they define a complete "path" or "way of living".[13]

Southern, Eastern and Northern Buddhism Edit

"Southern", "Eastern" and "Northern" Buddhism are geographical terms sometimes used to describe the styles of Buddhism practiced outside of India.[8]

"Northern Buddhism" sometimes refers to Buddhism as practiced in East Asia and the Tibetan region- particularly China, Tibet, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, and Vietnam. It is often held to by synonymous with Mahayana.[8]

However, the term Northern Buddhism is also sometimes used to refer specifically to Tibetan Buddhism. In this terminology, the Buddhism of China, Japan etc. is called Eastern Buddhism.[15] The Brill Dictionary of Religion uses the term Northern Buddhism in a sense exclusive of tantric Buddhism.[8]

Trivia Edit

  • In the United States, current estimates of the number of Buddhists range from 2,450,000 to 3-4 million.[16]
  • In the United States, the distribution of Buddhists by region is: 17% in the Northeast, 15% in the Midwest, 23% in the South and 45% in the West.[17]
  • In the United States, the age distribution of Buddhists is: 23% aged from 18 to 29, 40% aged from 30 to 49, 30% aged from 50 to 64 and 7% aged 65 or more.[17]
  • In the United States, the gender distribution of Buddhists is: 53% male and 47% female.[17]
  • In the United States, the ethnic distribution of Buddhists is: 53% White, 4% Black, 32% Asian, 6% Hispanic and 5% Other/Mixed.[17]
  • In the United States, the distribution of Buddhists by yearly income is: 25% Less than $30,000, 19% from $30,000 to $49,999, 17% from $50,000 to $74,999, 17% from $75,000 to $99,999 and 22% $100,000 or more.[17]
  • In the United States, the educational distribution of Buddhists is: 3% Less than high school, 49% High school graduate or some college, 22% College graduate and 26% Post-graduate or superior.[17]
  • In the United States, the marital distribution of Buddhists is: 45% Married, 8% Living with a partner, 12% Divorced or separated, 4% Widowed and 31% Never married.[17]
  • In the United States, the distribution of Buddhists by number of children is: 70% No children, 16% One child, 11% Two children, 3% Three children and 1% Four or more children.[17]

References and footnotes Edit

  1. Number of Buddhist World-Wide, Buddhist Studies.
  2. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices.
  3. Wikipedia article on the Buddhist Calendar.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wikipedia article on the Dharma.
  5. Wikipedia article on the Buddhist Karma.
  6. Wikipedia article on the Buddhist Rebirth.
  7. Wikipedia article on the Saṃsāra.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Wikipedia article on Buddhism.
  9. Wikipedia article on the Desire realm.
  10. Wikipedia article on the Brahmavihara.
  11. Wikipedia article on the Buddhist Nirvana.
  12. Wikipedia article on the Central path.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Wikipedia article on the Four Noble Truths.
  14. Wikipedia article on the Noble Eightfold Path.
  15. The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions.
  16. The Pluralism Project At Harvard University
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey.