Basic Beliefs of Buddhism
By Pablo Antuna
Which are the Basic Beliefs of Buddhism? Buddhism is a remarkable religious tradition, not only because it is the fourth-largest religion in the world, but also because it has concepts and beliefs that make it unique and distinct from all the other religions.
The Buddha inherited from his background some religious beliefs. These beliefs come from the Indian ancient tradition. They are:
- The Doctrine of Reincarnation: I think most of you know what I’m talking about here. Human beings don’t live just one life, but cycle around again and again, life after life, death after death, in a process of death and rebirth. Indian civilization view reincarnation not as a single life, or two or three lives strung together, but see it on a time scale that involves millions and millions of lifetimes. They see it as a burden, as a problem to be solved. This is known in India as Samsara.
- The Law of Karma: In India, the word Karma simply means “action”. The cycle of death and rebirth, the cycle of Samsara, is driven by an inexorable law: What you do now, will produce some result in a future life. You have to find some way to work with this law in order to permit some positive solution to the problem of Samsara.
- The Realms of Rebirth: Where Karma can lead you? Six realms are considered into which you can be born. You can be born as a god, as a demigod or a lesser category of gods sometimes referred as demons, as a human being, as a ghost, as an animal, or as a spirit in hell. Yes, hell. It is a place where you can really be punished for the bad actions you have done.
Buddhists believe in the teachings of the Buddha, the Awakened One. The traditional summary of the teaching is given in four categories, the so called Four Noble Truths:
- The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha)
- The Arising of Suffering (Samudaya)
- The Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha)
- The Truth of the Way (Marga) that leads to the cessation of suffering.
If you understand the first Truth of Suffering, you understand all of the Four Noble Truths by implication. The truth of suffering is expressed in the simple claim that All is Suffering. All the things in human experience cause suffering.
The second Truth of The Arising of Suffering says that suffering arises essentially from ignorance. From that ignorance comes desire or craving. And then, out of that craving or desire comes reincarnation. Ignorance leads to desire, desire leads to birth. If you want to stop rebirth, what you have to do then is to remove ignorance. Somehow chip away at that basic misconception that people have about the world, and as a result, diminish desire.
The third Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is the famous Nirvana. Nirvana means literally to blow out. You might say that Nirvana is the cessation, is the extinction of “self” that wanders constantly from one life to the next. What’s so great about this? You must remember that the process of reincarnation is a burden for Buddhists and Indian religious people in general. They see it as a really serious problem, and Nirvana is the final solution.
Buddhists also see Nirvana as freedom from ignorance and the perfection of a human being. When the Buddha achieved Nirvana, he didn’t just stayed there enjoying his enlightenment, he went on to tell the secret of how to reach it to other people. During his life, the Buddha showed how people should be with his own example.
How do you achieve Nirvana? The fourth Noble Truth of way tell us how. The Path of Nirvana is often divided in eight categories, The Noble Eightfold Path. It includes the concept of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The Path becomes a little bit more clear if we take these eight categories and reduce them or group them together into three. Sila, or moral conduct. Samadhi, mental concentration. And Panna, or wisdom.
Well, but, what a Buddhist has to do to achieve Nirvana? First of all, you should abide basic rules of moral conduct. Why? Because otherwise you might end up coming back as a worm or a mosquito in a future life. It is very difficult to try to achieve Nirvana if you are a mosquito.
Which are the rules? No killing, no stealing, no lying, no abuse of sex and not drinking intoxicants. Pretty simple. This applies to lay people as well to monks. Monks observe other precepts and regulations, as you might expect. These rules form the Sila or moral conduct.
The next Buddhist practice is mental concentration. The term here is Samadhi, to concentrate the mind. Maybe you think that meditation is the most fundamental thing that Buddhists do, and that’s certainly true in many parts of the Buddhist tradition.
What you try to do is to situate yourself very stably, keep your back straight, and then just breath. Concentrate your attention as much as you can on that place where your breathing centers. With this you allow your thoughts in your head to simply drain out of your mind. It is a way to stop all of those distractions and all of that negative tendencies that tie you to the experience of death and rebirth.
Finally, and the most important thing you should do in Buddhism, is to cultivate wisdom. To try to know the nature of the world and to know where it is going, so you can become detached from it and begin the process that leads to Nirvana.
“Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.”
To do good and to avoid evil. Every religion teaches you that. That last bit is what makes Buddhism unique: “To purify one’s mind.” That’s the Buddha speaking. You’ve got to find some way to purify the mind of ignorance and desire. Then you can really strike the root of the issues of evil and good. This is the teaching of the Buddha.
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