Thursday, 22 September 2011


Buddhism is a religion which does not have a God at its centre and was founded by an Indian prince, Siddartha Guatama, who became the Buddha, in the 6th Century BC when he found enlightenment. Buddhism has spread throughout the world. The ultimate goal for a Buddhist is to achieve Nirvana and stop the cycle of rebirth. To achieve this they must follow the Buddha's example and teachings.

Buddhism, since Buddha's death, has divided into different schools of thought. These are geographically and philosophically separate. Each are sub-divided into many different sects. The two main schools are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism.



There are approximately 328,000,000 Buddhists worldwide with between 30,000 – 130,000 in the UK. Buddhism is mainly practised in Asia, in countries such as Vietnam, Japan, Sri Lanka, Kampuchea, S. Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China.

Buddhism started in India, but is really only practised now on its margins, in areas such as Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. There are however Buddhist Centres throughout the world. The oldest Tibetan Centre in the UK is in Eskdalemuir, Scotland.



Buddhism is based upon the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born in approximately 563 BC. Siddhartha began his spiritual quest at the age of 29 which lead 6 years later to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (‘tree of wisdom’) at Bodh Gaya in Northern Indian. He became known as the Buddha (the enlightened one). He lived to the age of about 80 and when he died he had a following of approximately 500 disciples. Buddhism grew dramatically during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (268-239BCE.) He converted to Buddhism. As his Empire covered much of India, Buddhism spread throughout it. He also sent missionaries off to other lands. It is said that his children introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

By the 1st century AD it had spread to China, largely due to the opening of trade routes from India. By the13th Century BC however Buddhism in India had declined. This was partly due to the destruction of the monasteries by the Muslim invaders, but also because it simply became re- absorbed into Hinduism. Buddha came to be seen as another incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

The 20th century saw its arrival in the west. Here it has attracted new followers. Westerners have found that its lack of dogma its focus on the individual and emphasis on personal experience and its concerns about the environment fit comfortably with modern trends.



There is no one statement of beliefs (a creed). Buddhism is however based on Buddha's teachings. At first these were passed down by word of mouth. At some stage between 250-500 years after his death two sets of scriptures were compiled, one set by Council of Monks of the Theravada school (The Tripitaka) the other by the Mahayana school. Both were similar. The latter were mostly lost when the Moslem's invaded, but their ideas were continued in Tibetan and Chinese texts.

The Tripitaka (the three baskets) is in three parts and written in the Pali language, it consists of:

1.The teaching of Buddha (Dharma)
2.An explanation on that teaching (Adhidharma). Most of these are called Sutras
3.A rule book for monks and nuns (the Vinaya) There are 227 rules for monks,and more for nuns! The rules can be relaxed. Shoes were not one of the items a monk was originally allowed to have, but they are worn. It also sets out instructions on ceremonies

Studying, chanting, learning and discussing these and other texts are an important part of a Buddhist's life. The Prahmoksha (the heart of the Vinaya.) Is recited by monks and nuns when there are new and full moons.

Jatakas are part of the Tripitaka. They are hundreds of stories about Buddha's earlier life, particularly as an animal. They are an introduction to Buddhism and to the importance of good qualities.



To become a Buddhist a person must be committed to three central beliefs. These are known as the three jewels as they are felt to be so precious. They consist of a belief in Buddha, in his teaching (this is known as Dharma which word also covers the practice of what Buddha taught) and in the Buddhist community (called Sangha). This is made up of ordinary people as well as the monks and nuns. The purpose is to help others and by doing so to cease to become selfish and to move on the way towards enlightenment. In many cases this will centre on the local monastery which as well as its religious function will often operate as a community centre where people go to meet, as a hotel where visitors stay and as a bank where valuable belongings can be stored.

A Tibetan Buddha

The practice of the Three Jewels is central to Buddhist life who follows them:

1. I take refuge in the Buddha
2. I take refuge in the Dharma (teachings of Buddha)
3. I take refuge in the Sangha ( the community of the Buddha).

The Four Noble Truths is the heart of Buddhist Dharma / teaching and they are:


-unsatisfactoriness. The imperfection of life. It is one of the three signs of being, the others being: Anicca -impermanence
Anatta -no permanent self

– origin of unsatisfactoriness, Dukkha is seen as originating in tanha, a craving that can not be satisfied and therefore results in rebirth.
Niirodha – The cessation of Dukkha, the overcoming of tanha

– The Way. This is often known as the Middle Way of Life, the fourth noble truth is the way to overcome dukkha by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

In other words, existence entails suffering, suffering is caused by inherently insatiable desires, desires must be suppressed in order to end suffering and existence, to do this one has to follow the Noble Eight Fold path.

The Noble Eightfold path encompasses the following:

Right Understanding Right Intention
Right Speech Right Action
Right Livelihood Right effort
Right Mindfulness Right Concentration

A further explanation of the Noble path is:

1. Right understanding- This means a proper
understanding of Buddha's teachings and of the world

2. Right intention- This means thinking kind or wise thoughts and doing so consciously free from fantasy

3. Right speech- This means not telling lies or speaking angrily but speaking honestly and compassionately and well of others

4. Right action- This means behaving peacefully and honestly

5. Right livelihood- This means not harming any other living creature. Buddhists believe it is vital to look after the earth's resources and to stop the pollution and destruction of the environment.

6. Right effort- This means using discipline and control to overcome difficulties. To think before acting

7. Right mindfulness- This means paying full attention to what is going on.

8. Right concentration/ meditation- This means to be able to be at peace in any situation through an ability to focus deeply on it.

The Five Precepts help Buddhists follow the path of samma kammanta (right action). They are as follows, refrain from:

Harming living beings Taking what is not given
Sexual misconduct Harmful speech
Drink or drugs

For Buddhist monks there are additional vows which they have to undertake.

In Mahayana Buddhism there is also the need to practise the Paramitas – perfections, especially the first six which are:

Giving Keeping the moral precepts
Patience Strength to preserve
Meditation Wisdom

By following the correct action Buddhists believe that they will eventually achieve enlightenment and reach Nirvana.



People meditate to try to find their true selves, and so become closer to Nirvana. Meditation is seen as a way to settle the mind into a state of clarity and A statue of a Bodhissattva openness. In Zen Buddhism the aim is to learn to identify with another. This is seen as reflecting the way that a Bodhissattva helps others.


These are often very detailed pictures or patterns, inside a circle, which are intended to be seen as three-dimensional. It is thought that concentrating on these helps meditation.

As with other areas of Buddhist art these have meaning as well as beauty. Colour is used to represent Buddha's different virtues. Red is his compassion, blue the truth of his teaching and white his purity. The shape also has meaning. The circle symbolises the Buddhist universe. There are 4 openings from the circle. These are the entrances to the virtue shown in the centre.

Many Buddhists will meditate every day, some alone, others together. To aid concentration some chant, others focus on an object. This might be an elaborate picture, known in Tibet as a Thankga, or Mandala. Others might count the 108 beads of a Mala ( a rosary- 108 is a sacred number for Buddhists.)

Skandhas – the ego is composed of 5 constantly changing skandhas or states.


There is no permanent ego-entity but what a person does affects their future under the Law of Karma.



There is no God in Buddhism rather by breaking the cycle of rebirth and achieving enlightenment Buddhists believe that they will reach the state of Nirvana, it is not a place like the concept of Heaven but rather a state of eternal being. It is the end of suffering, a state where there are no desires and the individual consciousness has come to an end. The Buddha never gave an exact definition of Nirvana but he did say the following:

‘There is disciples, a condition, where there is neither earth
nor water, neither air nor light, neither limitless space,
nor limitless time, neither any kind of being, neither
this world nor that world. There is neither arising nor
passing-away, nor dying, neither cause nor effect,
neither change nor standstill.’

As has been stated Buddhism has no one all powerful creator god, though Mahayana Buddhists worship bodhisattvas. These are god like figures who have gained enlightenment and could enter Nirvana but chose to stay in the world to help others. There are thousands of them.

In Tibet there are also gods. Manjushri is seen as a representation of the Bodhisattva's. Along with another figure, called Avalokiteshvra, he represents the spirit and strength (or wisdom and compassion) of Buddha. Other figures can represent the same thing, for example the goddess Tara, who is worshipped for her compassion, is said to represent Buddha's own compassion.

Buddha is worshipped but not as a god simply as a human who gained enlightenment. Reference to Buddha usually means Siddhartha Guatama. He however is the 4th Buddha. Other Buddha's are expected in the future. The next is called Maitreya



Buddhists pray not to a god but to within themselves. They seek enlightenment.

Places of Worship

Buddhists will often worship daily at home alone or in a group. This will be before a shrine containing an image of Buddha or a bodhisattva, usually with a candle or incense.

Many visit Monasteries or Temples, especially on full moon days and festivals, to chant or make offerings and to listen to talks by monks.

Pilgrimages are popular. There are four main centres:

1. Lumbini, where Buddha was born
2. Bodhgayar, where he gained enlightenment
3. Sarnath where he preached his first
sermon and set in motion the wheel of law.
4. Kushinagara, where he died and was
cremated. There are other sites such as
Dharasala ,the home of the Dalai Lama.

Pilgrimages are often lively joyful occasions with music and dancing. They remind people that they too can be enlightened and help them think about Buddha's teachings. Bells are rung during ceremonies, they represent wisdom.

Forms of Worship

Whether he is before a shrine, in his home or in the Shrine Room of a Temple a Buddhist will recite the 3 jewels and the 5 precepts to renew his commitment to Buddhism.

People will remove their shoes before entering a Temple. In the Shrine Room in front of an image of Buddha they will usually bow three times with their hands together in greeting. Each bow stands for the three jewels, Buddha, dharma and sangha. They may light a candle or an incense stick, which are symbols of his enlightenment and make offerings of flowers or food, as a sign of thankfulness and respect. In addition to reciting the jewels and the precepts a Buddhist may pray, meditate or chant. Some will circle holy places in a clockwise direction. Again this is symbolic. Buddha's followers circle him in the same way that the planets circle the sun

Tibetan Buddhists pray in a special way. They believe that if some sounds ( Mantras) are repeated they can open up the mind. The words "Om mani padme hum" (meaning the truth at the heart of teaching or praise to the jewel in the lotus.) are repeated by ordinary Buddhists as much in the streets as they go about their daily lives as in Monastries and Temples These words are frequently inscribed on prayer wheels or written on banners. In Japan the word Amida is often repeated in prayer. Amida was also a Buddha.

Prayer flags and wheels are other unusual forms of prayer. A prayer wheel is a cylinder. These range from ones which can be held in the hand to large drums outside holy places. Inside is a paper scroll on which thousands of prayers are written. Prayers will also be written on flags that will be placed out in the breeze. Buddhists believe that each flutter of the flag and turn of the wheel signifies a prayer.

There are many Buddhist festivals Most occur on full moon days and the most important celebrate important moments in Buddha's life. In May/ June Buddhists celebrate Buddha Jayanti, Wesak or Vesak The main festival is the ‘Thrice Blessed Day’ when the Buddha was born, reached enlightenment and died.


Buddhists believe in reincarnation – the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It is the Buddhist’s aim to break this cycle and achieve Nirvana.



There are two main traditions within Buddhism they are:

Theravada – The Way of the Elders

Theravada (meaning Doctrine of the Elders) or Hinayana (meaning
small vehicle) Buddhists form the earliest school. It has one hundred million or so followers. They are mainly found in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka as well as parts of Vietnam.

It is more serious in manner than the other school. It insists on a monastic way of life. It regards the path to Nirvana as an individual pursuit and places reliance on individual wisdom.

Buddha thought that both men and women could be enlightened but nuns are seen as less important than monks within this school of thought. It focuses on the historical Buddha and the idea that the individual has
achieved release from rebirth. It is based on the Pali canon of scriptures.

Mahayana – The Great Vehicle

This is found in Central Asia, China, Tibet and Japan. Its special characteristic includes belief in many Buddhas who can be present at the same time and the concept of Sunnata - emptiness. It also believes in the Bodhisattva – a perfect being who embodies panna (wisdom) and karuna (compassion) and is dedicated to help all sentient beings achieve liberation from the world. It has many different canons of scripture including the Chinese Canon and the Tibetan Canon.

Additional information

In Tibet Buddhism became a form of government as well as a religion.The Dalai Lama is the Tibetan Buddhists' spiritual leader and is seen as a reincarnation of the spirit of Buddha. Before the invasion of Tibet by China, he was also the Tibetans' ruler.

Zen Buddhists developed martial arts e.g. Kung fu and Karate as a way to help them meditate. They are thought to focus the mind and increase concentration and self-awareness. They also use riddles as an important part of meditation. This is thought to teach the mind new ways of understanding. END=NAM MO SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA.( 3 TIMES ).



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