Buddhism: The Pathway to Enlightenment
Deep in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the modern day region of Nepal, the philosophies of Buddhism were established by the warrior-prince Siddhartha Gautama who set out on a spiritual quest in the fifth century BCE that took him from the heights of luxury to the depths of near-starvation in his attempt to understand the nature of reality.
Siddhartha was born into an affluent family, destined to live the life of either a warrior or a holy man. His mother died during his birth and his father determined that Siddhartha would grow to inherit his lands and be a powerful emperor. Siddhartha was given a military education and started a family of his own within the palace walls, having no contact with the outside world until he was twenty-nine.
At that time, the young prince grew dissatisfied with the wealth and responsibility he’d been raised to accept. He started to explore the countryside, and for the first time he was confronted with poverty, sickness, and death, as well as people striving to live happy lives despite having none of the advantages Siddhartha himself had been raised with. He made up his mind to leave the palace and search for a way to understand and conquer the earthly desires that the riches of his former life couldn’t satisfy.
Siddhartha spent a year studying different types of mediation from local gurus he met on his travels. He continued his search, deciding that the only way to conquer his earthly hungers was to endure the extreme limits of deprivation. For over five years, he slept on the ground, ate little or no food, and meditated in discomfort.
A young woman came across Siddhartha as he was close to death and she fed him a meal of rice and vegetables. When he regained his health, Siddhartha vowed to sit and meditate beneath a Bodhi tree until he solved the problem of how to ease human suffering. After trying to calm his earthly hungers with both indulgence and then deprivation, he began to teach the “middle way,” a philosophy that encouraged a person to find health and happiness despite the pain that is inevitable in our human lives.
Siddhartha had become “enlightened” and was known from that time on as Buddha. The cornerstone of his teachings are the Four Noble Truths, explaining the nature of human suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path, the way to conquer suffering with mindful thinking and living.
Siddhartha Gautama meditated beneath the bodhi tree until he found the “middle path” and became enlightened. From then on he was known as the Buddha
Karma and Reincarnation
To a Buddhist, karma is the reality that thoughts lead to actions, that uplifting thoughts of kindness, peace, and non-violence results in positive actions (happiness), while negative thoughts of greed, hatred, and cruelty results in unwholesome actions (suffering).
The balance of a Buddhist’s positive and negative karma determines whether they’re reborn to a higher or lower life form. This process of reincarnation continues for many lifetimes until a person’s consciousness is reborn into the highest life form, achieving “Nirvana” and being free for eternity from the burden of working through their karma in the earthly realm.
And there is no “heaven” or “hell” in the Buddhist philosophy. Most religions believe that humans have a soul or spirit that leaves the physical body when a person dies, however, Buddhists view the “self” as a form of energy that exists in nature, an essence that isn’t owned or defined but is part of the natural world.
The Four Noble Truths
- Pain, anxiety, and suffering are part of being human
- Suffering results from the craving of sensual pleasures, status, or control
- There is a way to conquer pain and end worldly cravings
- The pathway to end suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path:
(1) Good Intention
The willingness to confront suffering with kindness, non-violence, and compassion. Refraining from the intent to harm others in thought or action
(2) Noble Vision
Understanding the reality of the Four Noble Truths, that human lives have suffering caused by desires that can be conquered by following the Noble Eightfold Path
(3) Proper Words
The practice of speaking in uplifting, truthful ways. Never using lies or slander to hurt others or cause conflict
(4) Honest Actions
Actions that won’t cause harm to self or others. Shouldn’t kill, steal, lie, or exploit others in any way
(5) Nobel Livelihood
Having an occupation that is consistent with the values of the Buddhist philosophy
(6) Good Effort
Conscious thought, directing energy in a positive way to work with good intention on wholesome endeavors
(7) Right Mindfulness
An awareness of the surrounding environment and the way it influences peace of mind
(8) Focused Concentration
Focusing the mind on positive, wholesome thoughts. Meditation that eventually leads to enlightenment