PROBLEM OF SUFFERING: Suffering is a universal experience. Buddhism provides a philosophical path out of the constant cycle of suffering. Buddha is not a God, he is a human being who found his way out of the cycle of suffering and it is possible to emulate his achievement. It addresses basic questions in life: What is ultimate Reality? Who am I? How can I develop my full potential as a human being? Buddhism doesn’t depend on belief. It is all about questioning and understanding. It has a number of pathways to greater awareness of Reality – ascension to Nirvana, or staying on Earth to help suffering humanity as a Boddhisattva (ie. one whose essence is Compassion). These pathways do not take us to the extremes of spiritual asceticism on the one hand, or materialistic indulgence on the other. The spiritual Path recommended by the Buddha is a sensible balance between extremes that each person can follow according to their abilities and situation – The Middle Way.

THREE JEWELS OF BUDDHISM (TRIPLE REFUGE): Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels or Triple Gem (also known as the “Three Refuges”). The Three Jewels are:

  • the Buddha, the fully enlightened one.
  • the Dharma, the teachings expounded by the Buddha.
  • the Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism that practice the Dharma.

THE MIDDLE WAY OF BUDDHISM: THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:

1 – ‘Attachment’ or ‘Thirst’ (‘Trishna’) for objects of sense causes suffering and heartache.

2 – Attachment can be made to cease by:

3 – ‘Living the Life’.

4 – Through application of the Exalted Eightfold Path.

Along life’s journey it is inevitable that we all encounter the Three Awakening Sights: Disease, Old Age, and Death. The realization of our own inevitable mortality provides us with the opportunity to ‘open our eyes’ to our purpose for being here and to some of these truths that the Buddha and other great spiritual teachers have spoken of in their own way.

THE EXALTED EIGHTFOLD PATH:

  • Right Belief.
  • Right Resolve.
  • Right Speech.
  • Right Behaviour.
  • Right Occupation.
  • Right Effort.
  • Right Contemplation.
  • Right Concentration.

THE PARAMITAS (PERFECTIONS): Generosity; Ethical Discipline; Patience; Joyous Perseverance; Meditative Stabilization; Wisdom. 

Why should we develop these particular qualities along the Path of spiritual learning? To achieve the aims of others for spiritual understanding you must first help them with material goods as they won’t appreciate spirituality if they have an empty stomach! Since no benefit will come from Generosity accompanied by harmfulness towards living beings, you need Ethical Discipline, which has great purpose for others; this is the state of desisting from harm to others and the causes of harm. To bring this to its full development, you need Patience that disregards the harm done to you. You need to develop the ability to fix your mind on your ideals so you need to develop Meditative Stabilization. Calmness and single-mindedness in the service of others lead to Wisdom. None of this is attainable by laziness, so you need Joyous Perseverance in pursuit of wisdom through service to others and so this quality is the basis of the other Perfections.[These comments are based on Tibetan spiritual teacher Tsong-Kha-Pa, from his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment]

TIMELINE:

Date(s) Historical Event(s)
5th Century BCE Life of Shakyamuni Buddha, based on whose teachings Buddhism developed.
269-231 BCE Reign of King Ashoka, patron of Buddhism; sends first Buddhists to Sri Lanka in the third century.
100 BCE to 100 CE Rise of Mahayana Buddhism.
First half of 2nd century CE Reign of King Kanishka; Mahayana Buddhism spreads to Central Asia.
1st century CE Buddhism first enters China.
520 First Zen patriarch Bodhidharma arrives in China.
538 Buddhism enters Japan from Korea.
7th to 8th century Vajrayana Buddhism established in Tibet.
11th to 14th century Theravada Buddhism established in Southeast Asia.
1199 Nalanda University destroyed; demise of Buddhism in India.
13th century Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren Buddhism established in Japan.
1881 Pali Text Society founded.
1893 World Parliament of Religions (Chicago).
1956 Celebration of 2,500 years of Buddhism.