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The new path which he discovered was the Middle Way, the Eightfold Path, which subsequently became part of his teaching. By following this path his wisdom grew into its fullest power, and he became the Buddha. As a man Prince Gotama, by his own will, love, and wisdom, attained Buddhahood—the highest possible state of perfection—and he taught his followers to believe that they might do the same. Any man, within himself, possesses the power to make himself good, wise, and happy. All the teachings of the Buddha can be summed up in one word: Dhamma.

It means truth, that which really is. It also means law, the law which exists in a man's own heart and mind. It is the principle of righteousness. Therefore the Buddha appeals to man to be noble, pure, and charitable not in order to please any Supreme Deity, but in order to be true to the highest in himself. Dhamma, this law of righteousness, exists not only in a man's heart and mind, it exists in the universe also. All the universe is an embodiment and revelation of Dhamma.

When the moon rises and sets, the rains come, the crops grow, the seasons change, it, is because of Dhamma, for Dhamma is the law of the universe which makes matter act in the ways revealed by our studies of natural science.

If a man will live by Dhamma, he will escape misery and come to Nirvana, the final release from all suffering. It is not by any kind of prayer, nor by any ceremonies, nor by any appeal to a God, that a man will discover the Dhamma which will lead him to his goal. He will discover it in only one way—by developing his own character. This development comes only through control of the mind and purification of the emotions.


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Until a man stills the storm in his heart, until he extends his loving-kindness to all beings, he will not be able to take even the first step toward his goal. Thus Buddhism is not a religion at all, in the sense in which the word is commonly understood. It is not a system of faith or worship.

In Buddhism, there is no such thing as belief in a body of dogma which must be taken on faith, such as belief in a Supreme Being, a creator of the universe, the reality of an immortal soul, a personal savior, or archangels who are supposed to carry out the will of the Supreme Deity. Buddhism begins as a search for truth.

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The Buddha taught that we should believe only that which is true in the light of our own experience, that which conforms to reason and is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings. Men must rely on themselves. Even though he may "take refuge in Buddha,'' the expression used when a man pledges himself to live a righteous life, he must not fall victim to a blind faith that the Buddha can save him. The Buddha can point out the path, but he cannot walk it for us. The truth which the Buddhist sees when he looks around him is the truth of cause and effect.

Every action, no matter how insignificant, produces an effect; every effect in its turn becomes a, cause and produces still further effects.

Awakened One

It is meaningless to inquire for a First Cause. A First Cause is inconceivable; rather, cause and effect are cyclical, and this universe when it dies and falls apart will give rise to another universe, just as this one was formed from the dispersed matter of a previous universe. The origin of the universe, like that of every individual person or thing in it, is dependent on the chain of previous causes, which goes on and on in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This is the principle of dependent origination. What of the soul?

The Buddha taught that there is no soul or self, and he used the metaphor of the cart. If you take away the wheels and axles, the floorboards and sides, the shafts, and all the other parts of the cart, what remains? Nothing but the conception of a cart, which will be the same when a new cart is built. So the uninterrupted process of psychophysical phenomena moves from life to life. Each life passes instantaneously in death to a new life, and the new life is the effect of the causes in the old life. A candle flame at this instant is different from the flame that burned an instant ago, yet the flame is continuous.

Thus in the chain of interdependent causation all phenomenal existence is constantly changing. The elements combine and recombine with no underlying substance, or soul, to give them permanence. This is the Wheel of Life. The main cause of the restlessness, the suffering, which is the lot of beings turning on the Wheel of Life, is craving or selfish desire for existence, and it is this desire which sets the life force in motion.

Desire is manifested in action. This action is in reality volition or will power, which is responsible for the creation of being. It is called karma in Sanskrit, but in the Pali language, which the Buddha spoke and in which all the Buddhist scriptures were written, it is softened to kamma. In this universe in which nothing is permanent all change is governed by kamma or the kammic force. Kamma means action. In its general sense, kamma means all good and bad actions.

Kamma refers to all kinds of intentional actions whether mental, verbal, or physical, that is, all thoughts, words, and deeds. During his career he visited his hometown, met his father, his foster mother and even his son, who joined the Sangha along with other members of the Shakya clan. Upali, another disciple of the Buddha, joined the Sangha around this time: he was a Shakya and regarded as the most competent monk in matters of monastic discipline. Ananda, a cousin of the Buddha, also became a monk; he accompanied the Buddha during the last stage of his life and persuaded him to admit women into the Sangha, thus establishing the Bhikkhuni Sangha , the female Buddhist monastic community.

During his career, some kings and other rulers are described as followers of the Buddha. The last days of the Buddha are described in detail in an ancient text named Mahaparinirvana Sutra. We are told that the Buddha visited Vaishali, where he fell ill and nearly died. Some accounts say that here the Buddha delivered his last sermon. After recovering, the Buddha travelled to Kushinagar. On his way, he accepted a meal from a smith named Cunda, which made him sick and led to his death.

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Once he reached Kushinagar, he encouraged his disciples to continue their activity one last time and he finally passed away. The original biography of the Buddha has been merged with many legendary accounts and myths. The legend says, for example, that Maya did not have sexual intercourse with Suddhodana; the Buddha entered into the womb of Maya through her right side in the shape of a white elephant. The fate of the child was anticipated: a group of priests predicted that Siddhartha would become either a powerful monarch or a Buddha. Suddhodana knew this prophecy, so he did his best to prevent Siddhartha from witnessing any form of human suffering, keeping his son inside the palace all the time.

As Siddhartha was approaching his enlightenment while meditating, a devil named Mara tried to stop him, but in the end Mara was defeated. This particular moment is often represented in art: the Buddha seated in meditation, one hand on his lap, the other pendant in a gesture known as earth-witness, which represents unshakability or steadfastness when being subject to the demons' temptations. Miracles stories were also introduced into the biography of the Buddha.

Who is the Buddha?

The following example aims to highlight the courtesy of the Buddha:. The Buddha must cross the desert at midday. The gods, from their thirty-three circles, each throws down a parasol to him. The Buddha, not wishing to offend any of the gods, multiplies himself into thirty-three Buddhas, so that each of the gods sees, from above, a Buddha protected by the parasol which he threw him. The early Buddhist community attempted to demonstrate that what the Buddha taught was nothing new, but rather that he rediscovered a timeless truth. Therefore, a number of claims entered the Buddhist literature to support this view, including the doctrine of the existence of past Buddhas.

This allowed the Buddhists to claim an authority similar to that of some rival schools such as the Vedic and Jain traditions, both of which supported their authority by claiming to be originated a long time ago. Buddhist literature also presents stories about the previous reincarnations of Siddhartha Gautama. A well known example is the popular story where prince Mahasattva who is actually the Buddha during one of his previous lives inspired by compassion, selflessness, and generosity, offers his body as food to a starving tigress to prevent the tigress from eating her new born cubs, and he dies devoured by the cat.

The image of the Buddha meditating under a tree is as important in Buddhism as the image of Jesus Christ on the cross is to most Christians. What is the meaning of nirvana? What does it mean that Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment thus becoming the Buddha awakened? The precise nature of the buddhahood is debated by various schools. The process itself along with its outcome are also part of the meaning of nirvana: becoming extinguished, blowing out, calming down.

The religious use of the word nirvana seems to be earlier than Buddhism itself and may have been introduced into Buddhism along with many other religious elements associated with the sramanas movements. The concept of nirvana is also present in Jainism and in different Hindu sects; its precise meaning varies, but it revolves around the idea of a state of bliss and liberation from individuality and the suffering of the cycle of birth and death.

In Buddhism, the concept of nirvana was taken in different directions according to the different schools. The main reason for these differences has to do with the fact that early Buddhist texts do not provide a clear systematic scholarly definition of nirvana but rather, they express its meaning using metaphors and other ambiguous means. After this, one is no longer subject to the cycle of death and rebirth.

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A more naturalistic view suggests that nirvana is the culmination of a long process of personal discipline and self-cultivation. The meaning of the teachings and message of the Buddha is also a controversial topic. Some Buddhist schools say that its core is non-violence, others say compassion, some others say it is freedom from rebirth. There are also scholars who claim that the Buddha was looking to restore the pre-Vedic Indian religion, which was buried under centuries of distortion and dead ceremonials.

Some of these ideas, whether the true core of the message of the Buddha or not, are not original to Buddhism. Non-violence and compassion was one of the pillars of Jainism long after the times of the Buddha, while freedom from rebirth is presented in the Upanishads also before the time of the Buddha. The one aspect of the message of the Buddha which seems original is humanism: the insight that human beings are ultimately responsible for their fate and that no supernatural forces, no magic rituals, and no gods can be held accountable for our actions.

The idea that there are no gods and that the material world is all there is, was already held by some materialistic schools in India, particularly by the Charvaka school, so in this sense it might not seem an original insight. But the approach of these schools was largely atheist, since they all denied the existence of supernatural entities. Both the theistic approach of the Vedic religion and the atheistic approach of the materialistic schools rest ultimately on the same conviction: both hold that we can know whether or not the gods actually exist; one is certain of their existence, the other is certain they do not exist.

The Buddha claimed the impossibility of human knowledge of arriving to definite answers regarding this matter, so his view was an agnostic one, suspending judgement and saying that no sufficient grounds exist either for affirmation or for denial. This idea is so strong in Buddhism that even today in some of the Buddhist branches who have incorporated supernatural entities into their traditions, the role of human choice and responsibility remains supreme, far above the deeds of the supernatural. It would be historically incorrect to say that Siddhartha Gautama saw himself as a religious leader or that he consciously set out to start a new religious movement.

He considered himself a teacher who rejected the ways of traditional Hindu religious orthodoxy and offered his followers a different path. He considered the many Vedic rites and ceremonies to be pointless and abusive and he was also against the caste system, stressing the equality among all people. It seems ironic that a man whose career was largely based on believing and teaching the oneness of mankind and the equality among people, ended up being worshipped and elevated to the status of a god by some of his followers. As strange as this may sound, this is what happened in some Buddhist circles, particularly in India.

The Buddha, originally considered a human being wise and extraordinary, but only a man , gradually entered into the pantheon of the Hindu gods and came to be regarded as one of the many manifestations of the god Vishnu. Mindfulness Clear and Radiant. The Blissful Mind. Why Buddhism? Living a Meaningful Life. What is the Sangha?

Going for Refuge. The Meaning of the Dharma. The Compassionate Mind. The Meaning of Spiritual Community.