Buddhism is a philosophy, a way of life or a religion. The religion of the awakened one. One of the three great world religions. If was founded by the historical Bud-dha Sakyamuni over 25 centuries ago. Sakyamuni expounded the four Noble Truths as the core of his teaching, which he had recognized in the moment of his enlightenment. He had shown people how to live wisely and happily and his teach-ings soon spread from India throughout Asia, and beyond. The name Buddhism comes from the word “budhi” which means ‘to wake up’ and thus Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening. Therefore, the real definition of Buddhism is Noble Truth. The Buddha did not teach from theories. He always taught from a practical standpoint based on His understanding, His enlightenment, and His realization of the Truth. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man named Sid-dhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 36. Buddhism is now older than 2,500 years old and has more than 800 million fol-lowers world wide (including Chinese followers in Mainland China). People in the West had heard of the Buddha and his teaching as early as the thirteenth century when Marco Polo (1254-1324), the Italian traveler who explored Asia, wrote ac-counts on Buddhism in his book, “Travels of Marco Polo”. From the eighteenth cen-tury onwards, Buddhist text were brought to Europe and translated into Eng-lish, French and German. Until a hundred years ago, Buddhism was mainly an Asian philosophy but increasingly it is gaining adherents in Europe and America. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Alan Bennett, an Englishman, went to Burma to become a Buddhist monk. He was renamed Ananda Metteya. He re-turned to Britain in 1908. He was the first British person to become a Buddhist monk. He taught Dharma in Britain. Since then, Buddhist monks and nuns from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, China and other Buddhist countries in Asia have come to the West, particularly over the last seventy years. Many of these teachers have kept to their original customs while others have adapted to some extent to meet the de-mands of living in a western society. In recent years, there has been a marked growth of interest in Buddhism in Europe. The membership of existing so-cieties has increased and many new Buddhist centers have been established. Their mem-bers include large numbers of professionals and scholars. Today, Brit-ain alone has over 140 Buddhist centers found in most major cities.
The word philosophy comes from two words ‘philo’ which means ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ which means ‘wisdom’. So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both meanings describing Buddhism perfectly. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop loving kindness and compassion so that we can become (be like) a true friend to all beings. So Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a philosophy. It is the supreme philosophy. In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal family in northern India. He grew up in wealth and luxury but soon found that worldly comfort and security do not guarantee real happiness. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around, so He resolved to find the key to human happiness. When he was 29 he left his wife and child and his Royal Palace and set off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of the day to learn from them. They taught him much but none really knew the cause of human suf-ferings and afflictions and how it could be overcome. Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards, he was called the Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years in which time he traveled all over northern India teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and pa-tience were legendary and he made hundreds of thousands of followers. In his eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he finally passed away in-to nirvana.
It couldn’t have been an easy thing for the Buddha to leave his family. He must have worried and hesitated for a long time before he finally left. There were two choices, dedicating himself to his family or dedicating himself to the whole world. In the end, his great compassion made him give himself to the whole world. And the whole world still benefits from his sacrifice. This was perhaps the most signifi-cant sacrifice ever made. Even though the Buddha is dead but 2,500 years later his teachings still help and save a lot of people, his example still inspires people, his words still continue to change lives. Only a Buddha could have such power centu-ries after his death. The Buddha did not claim that he was a god, the child of god or even the messenger from a god. He was simply a man who perfected him-self and taught that if we followed his example, we could perfect ourselves also. He never asked his followers to worship him as a god. In fact, He prohibited his follow-ers to praise him as a god. He told his followers that he could not give favors to those who worship him with personal expectations or calamities to those who don’t worship him. He asked his followers to respect him as students respect their teach-er. He also reminded his followers to worship a statue of the Buddha to re-mind ourselves to try to develop peace and love within ourselves. The perfume of incense reminds us of the pervading influence of virtue, the lamp reminds us of the light of knowledge and the followers which soon fade and die, remind us of im-permanence. When we bow, we express our gratitude to the Buddha for what his teachings have given us. This is the core nature of Buddhist worship. A lot of peo-ple have misunderstood the meaning of “worship” in Buddhism, even sincere Bud-dhists. Buddhists do not believe that the Buddha is a god, so in no way they could possibly believe that a piece of wood or metal is a god. In Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha is used to symbolize human perfection. The statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension in Buddhist teaching, the fact that Buddhism is man-centered, not god-centered, that we must look within not without to find perfection and understanding. So in no way one can say that Buddhists worship god or idols. In fact, a long time ago, when primitive man found himself in a dan-gerous and hostile situations, the fear of wild animals, of not being able to find enough food, of diseases, and of natural calamities or phenomena such as storms, hurricanes, volcanoes, thunder, and lightning, etc. He found no security in his sur-roundings and he had no ability to explain those phenomena, therefore, he created the idea of gods in order to give him comfort in good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. They believed that god arranged everything. Generations after generations, man continues to follow his ancestors in a so-called “faith in god” without any further thinkings. Some says they in believe in god because god responds to their prayers when they feel fear or frustration. Some say they believe in god because their parents and grandpar-ents believed in god. Some others say that they prefer to go to church than to temple because those who go to churches seem richer and more honorable than those who go to temples.
The Buddha taught us to try to recognize truth, so we can understand our fear, to lessen our desires, to eliminate our selfishness, and to calmly and courageously ac-cept things we cannot change. He replaced fear, not with blindly and irrational be-lief but with rational understanding which corresponds to the truth. Furthermore, Buddhists do not believe in god because there does not seem to be any concrete evi-dence to support this idea. Who can answer questions on god? Who is god? Is god masculine or feminine or neuter? Who can provide ample evidence with real, con-crete, substantial or irrefutable facts to prove the existence of god? So far, no one can. Buddhists suspend judgment until such evidence is forthcoming. Be-sides, such belief in god is not necessary for a really meaningful and happy life. If you be-lieve that god make your life meaningful and happy, so be it. But remem-ber, more than two-thirds of the world do not believe in god and who can say that they don’t have a meaningful and happy life? And who dare to say that those who believe in god, all have a meaningful and happy life? If you believe that god help you over-come disabilities and difficulties, so be it. But Buddhists do not accept the theologi-cal concept of salvation. In the contrary, based on the Buddha’s own expe-rience, he showed us that each human being had the capacity to purify the body and the mind, develop infinitive love and compassion and perfect understanding. He shifted the gods and heavens to the self-heart and encouraged us to find solu-tion to our problems through self-understanding. Finally, such myths of god and creation con-cept has been superseded by scientific facts. Science has explained the origin of the universe completely without recourse to the god-idea.
Buddhism is a phiosophy that teaches people to live a happy life. It’s also a reli-gion that teaches people to end the cycle of birth and death. The main teachings of the Buddha focus on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path. They are called “Noble” because they enoble one who understand them and they are called “Truths” because they correspond with reality. Buddhists neither believe in nega-tive thoughts nor do they believe in pessimistic ideas. In the contrary, Bud-dhists believe in facts, irrefutable facts, facts that all know, that all have aimed to experi-ence and that all are striving to reach. Those who believe in god or gods usually claim that before an individual is created, he does not exist, then he comes into be-ing through the will of a god. He lives his life and then according to what he be-lieves during his life, he either goes to eternal heaven or eternal hell. Some be-lieve that they come into being at conception due to natural causes, live and then die or cease to exist, that’s it! Buddhism does not accept either of these concepts. Accord-ing to the first explanation, if there exists a so-called almighty god who cre-ates all beings with all his loving kindness and compassion, it is difficult to explain why so many people are born with the most dreadful deformities, or why so many people are born in poverty and hunger. It is nonsense and unjust for those who must fall into eternal hells because they do not believe and submit themselves to such a so-called almighty god. The second explanation is more reasonable, but it still leaves several unanswered questions. Yes, conception due to natural causes, but how can a phenomenon so amazingly complex as consciousness develop from the simple meet-ing of two cells, the egg and the sperm? Buddhism agrees on natural causes; how-ever, it offers more satisfactory explanation of where man came from and where he is going after his death. When we die, the mind, with all the tendencies, prefer-ences, abilities and characteristics that have been devel-oped and conditioned in this life, re-establishes itself in a fertilized egg. Thus the individual grows, is re-born and develops a personality conditioned by the mental characteristics that have been carried over by the new environment. The personal-ity will change and be modified by conscious effort and conditioning factors like education, parential influ-ence and society and once again at death, re-establish it-self in a new fertilized egg. This process of dying and being reborn will continue until the conditions that cause it, craving and ignorance, cease. When they do, in-stead of being reborn, the mind attains a state called Nirvana and this is the ulti-mate goal of Buddhism.