Buddhism developed in India as a noncomforming system outside of Hinduism. Buddhists explicitly rejected the usefulness of the elaborate Vedic rites and refused to accept the caste system as authoritative. Despite these differences, however, Buddhism shares many fundamental beliefs with Hinduism, including the concepts of reincarnation, karma, and entering Nirvana, or absolute liberation.
Nirvana, the state of final liberation from the cycle of birth and death, is held to be beyond definition. Rather, there are steps one must take to gain direct experience of ultimate reality—Nirvana.
The Buddha accepted the principle of reincarnation. He believed that living beings are trapped within the physical cycle of birth and death under the law of karma until complete release is attained. His teaching mission was to enable disciples to attain a clear, deep, direct understanding of the obstacles they faced in their own spiritual lives.
The Buddha laid out the Four Noble Truths, which believers could follow to avoid the obstacles that prevent them from understanding their true nature. These Truths are still the bedrock of the faith two and a half millennia later. The Four Noble Truths are a rarity among the world’s major religions: a set of founding ideas that has never been used as justification for the acts of a warrior class or culture, or for any military exploit. There has never been a military crusade launched in the name of the Buddha, and considering the nature of the Four Noble Truths, it is doubtful that there ever will be.
In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha taught that:
The Buddha also taught that the abiding self is illusory. Physical form, sensations, perceptions, psychic exertions, even consciousness itself—none yield an unchanging, independent self. And the human tendency to view the self as an independent, controlling entity is not merely a benign delusion, but a significant barrier to spiritual progress.
The notion of “non-self,” emphasized in the teachings of the Buddha, has frequently been misinterpreted. In fact, many Westerners have dismissed Buddhism as “atheistic” or “nihilistic” because of it. Such labels may build barriers to understanding the faith. The limitation probably lies with familiar conceptions of what is and is not “God,” and not with Buddhism.
The Buddha taught that any conception dividing one phenomenon from another—a blade of grass from a meditating woman, for instance, or a meditating woman from her own Buddha-nature—is illusory. Nothing exists independently or eternally.
Nothing is permanent. No form endures forever. No single perceived manifestation fully expresses the supreme reality. The line between “a blade of grass” and “not a blade of grass” is an illusory one, in the end. Although it may be convenient in certain situations for the woman to use the term “blade of grass” to describe what is next to her as she meditates, or the term “enlightenment” or “Buddha-nature” to describe the eventual result of her sustained, disciplined practice, Buddhism reminds us not to take such labels too seriously—even (especially) when that meditation appears to be promising, or incorporates the experience of Samadhi (a higher level of concentrated meditation).
For the Buddhist, developing the right kind of self-discipline offers a pathway out of delusion and toward true awareness. Holding on to what does not actually exist will only lead to suffering.
The same principle of continuity between the meditating woman and the blade of grass is also applied to the God or distinct Supreme Being a non-Buddhist might suppose to be guiding the woman’s meditation. All imagined separateness between perceived entities is, as it were, a hallucination.
It is as a result of this philosophy, and not out of cynicism or any lack of piety, that Buddhists reject the notion of a separate God that is somehow set apart from everyday experience.
With such a doctrine, it is no surprise that Buddha taught that one should not seek divine intervention in this life. The familiar Hindu gods do indeed exist, he taught, but they do not hold dominion over daily human life. Instead they are subject to the same universal laws that human beings must observe.
Buddha’s path focuses on the single-minded pursuit of an individual’s spiritual goals, not on the establishment of new conceptions of the Deity. The emphasis of the religion he founded is on meditation and the observance of important moral precepts, seen as expressions of one’s own actual nature rather than as standards derived from external divine authority.
Both lay and monastic Buddhists commit to the following precepts:
In addition, monks vow:
Many other vows may also accompany the pursuit of a monastic lifestyle.
To lean more about Buddhism, be sure to check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, Third Edition. Peace!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions, Third Edition, by Brandon Toropov and Father Luke Buckles