Basic Beliefs of Buddhism

What are the basic beliefs of Buddhism? Buddhism is a complex religious tradition. It is hard to cover all the beliefs that Buddhists have, as there are many schools and branches which differ in many aspects between each other. Here, I’m going to talk about the basic teachings that are commonly attributed to the Buddha Siddharta Gautama.

First, I want to talk about some beliefs that were present in the Indian religious environment at the time of the Buddha (and are present also today). These beliefs influenced the Buddha and others were accepted by him with slight modification:

  • 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 Buddha changed a bit the way they see reincarnation. He said that beings don’t have soul. Indians believed that when someone died, his soul was reincarnated in another body. The Buddha rejected that and said that there wasn’t a permanent soul that went through one life to another, but it was just a stream of causes.  (To read more about this, go to the article The Doctrine of Reincarnation).
  • 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. (To read more about this, go to the article The Law of Karma).
  • 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. (To read more about this, go to the article The Real Meaning of Reincarnation).

The Teachings of the Buddha

Now, let’s talk about the teachings of the Buddha. The traditional summary of the teaching is given in four categories, the so called Four Noble Truths:
  1. The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha): The truth of suffering is expressed in the simple claim that All is Suffering. All the things in human experience cause suffering. (To read more about this, go to the article The Three Kinds of Suffering).

  2. The Arising of Suffering (Samudaya): It 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. (To read more about his, go the article The Arising of Suffering).

  3. The Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha): This is 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. (To read more about this, go to the article What is Nirvana?).

  4. The Truth of the Way (Marga): 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. (To read more about this, go to the article The Path of Nirvana).

The Path becomes a little bit more clear if we take these eight categories and reduce them or group them together into three:
  • Sila (moral conduct): No killing, no stealing, no lying, no abuse of sex and not drinking intoxicants. Pretty simple.

  • Samadhi (mental concentration): This is to meditate or concentrate the 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.

  • And Panna (wisdom): This is 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.

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