Buddhism is a spiritual tradition and way of life that originated in what is now Nepal over 2,500 years ago. Today there are different communities of Buddhism and while they all have slightly different practices, they all follow the same basic path and adhere to the same teachings. One of the main principles of Buddhism is that suffering affects all beings, but that you can bring about an end to suffering for yourself and others by living a life of kindness, generosity and openness.
The basis of Buddhist teachings is something called “The Four Noble Truths,” which rest on the idea that suffering is part of life but can be ended by breaking the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. From the four truths come the four great bodhisattva vows, which are a path that can help you end suffering. The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. The first bodhisattva vow is the vow to save living beings from suffering. In Buddhism, suffering refers to the physical and mental suffering of all human beings. The key to ending suffering is attaining nirvana, which can be achieved by living according to the noble eightfold path (also known as the middle way).
The two essential things at the heart of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths can be understood as the belief behind Buddhism, and the Noble Eightfold Path is the discipline and practices behind that belief. Living according to the eightfold path includes: righteous speech, action and livelihood. The key to following these three elements involves living by the five principles. Sincere effort, mindfulness and concentration, which can be achieved through meditation. Righteous understanding and righteous thoughts, what follows when you meditate, pay attention, and live according to the five principles.
The second noble truth is realizing the cause of suffering, which stems from craving, ignorance, and the craving for pleasure and material goods. The corresponding bodhisattva vow includes the vow to end craving and longing. Buddhists do not believe that suffering and cravings can be easily ended. Instead, this is an endeavor that spans many lifetimes, but you can do your part by following the noble eightfold path.
The third noble truth is the understanding that suffering can end, and this applies to suffering in life as well as in spiritual terms. The answer to the end of suffering is learning, enlightenment and action. The vow corresponding to the third noble truth is to learn about the Dharma and how it affects suffering.
The fourth truth in Buddhism has to do with the path leading to the cessation of suffering, which was the Buddha’s path. Suffering ends when one finds enlightenment and nirvana, which means the end of suffering. To attain nirvana you must strive to live your life according to the noble eightfold path.
The five principles in Buddhism are not commandments, but rather intentions that you should strive for. The first principle, which involves abstaining from killing living beings, applies to all creatures, including humans, animals, and insects. Positively, this principle means being kind and loving other creatures. For many Buddhists, this principle also encompasses a general philosophy of nonviolence, which is why many Buddhists are vegetarians or vegans. Unlike religions, which say that if you don’t follow the rules and laws of the religion, you will be punished, Buddhism focuses on the consequences of your actions in this life and the next.
The second principle is to refrain from taking things that are not yours or that are not given to you. Again, this is not something to be taken as a command, but rather as something you must want to exercise. Free will and choice are very important principles in Buddhism. This principle means that you should not steal from friends, neighbors, family, strangers, or businesses, and it applies to money, food, clothing, and other things. On the other hand, this principle also implies that you should strive to be generous, open, and honest. Give instead of taking and help others whenever you can. You can donate your money to charity, do volunteer work, raise money and attention for various good causes, and when possible donate money or gifts.
Another important view in Buddhism is exploitation and practicing Buddhists should not exploit themselves or others. This includes sexual, mental, emotional and physical exploitation. Buddhism does not mean that you have to be teetotal, but it does mean that you should be aware of your actions. If you are sexually active, it should only be between consenting adults. Traditionally, Buddhist teachings have also stated that a person should not have sex with a partner who is married or engaged. Instead of sexual misconduct, strive for simplicity and contentment with what you have.
Truth, study and inquiry are also important concepts in Buddhism, which is why it is important that people refrain from false speech. This means that you should not tell lies or untruths, nor should you hide things from others. Instead of lying and keeping secrets, focus on being open, clear, and honest with yourself and others.
The fifth principle, avoiding substances that confuse the mind, relates to the Buddhist principle of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something you should cultivate in your daily life, and this means being clear and aware of your actions, feelings, and behaviors. The problem with mind-altering substances is that they confuse the mind, make you forget what’s important, make you lose focus, and can contribute to actions and thoughts that you later regret. Mind-altering substances include drugs, hallucinogens, and alcohol, but other psychoactive substances such as caffeine could also be included.
Karma means action, and much of Buddhist philosophy places importance on the consequences of your actions. The thought is that good deeds are motivated by generosity and compassion. These actions create a sense of well-being in you and others, and happy outcomes as a consequence. To bring more good deeds into your life, you can help people who need help, volunteer for people who need you, teach others things you’ve learned, and be kind to people and animals. Buddhists believe that life is a cycle of life, death, reincarnation and rebirth. Your actions have consequences in this life, but they can also have an impact on other lives.
Unlike good deeds, bad deeds are fueled by greed and hatred and lead to painful results. In particular, bad deeds prevent you from breaking out of the cycle of life, death and rebirth, which means that if you cause suffering to others, your suffering will continue. Bad deeds are things like being selfish or greedy and not helping other people.
The Dharma is another important thought in the Buddhist teachings as it describes the true reality of your life and the world. However, Dharma is not static and unchanging; you can change reality by changing your perception, by making different choices and choosing the right actions. The term Dharma also describes the path and teachings of Buddhism in general, so it can be viewed as the way you live your life. To practice Dharma in your everyday life, be as grateful as possible for the things you have, for your life, and enjoy your life. You can show your gratitude through prayer, through offerings, and by working towards enlightenment.
Meditation is one of the most important practices in Buddhism because it provides insight, stillness, a calm mind, a temporary respite from suffering, inner peace, and supports you on the path to enlightenment. In order to meditate properly, it is important to find a quiet place where you can focus on your practice. A bedroom or other spare room is a good place. Turn off your phone, TV, music, and all other distractions.
Sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor if that is comfortable for you. If not, try kneeling or sitting in a chair. Once you find a comfortable position, sit up straight, keep your head straight, and relax your back and shoulders. Place your hands palms down on your thighs or clasp them in your lap.
You can close your eyes or leave them partially or fully open. Find a position that is comfortable and conducive to your meditation, especially in the beginning. If you want to keep your eyes fully or partially open, look down and focus on something a few feet in front of you.
One of the most important things about meditation is focusing on your breathing. You don’t necessarily have to breathe in a specific way, but you should focus on how the air moves in and out of your body. Focusing on the breath is important because it helps you focus on the present moment without focusing your mind on anything else. Meditation is also about being mindful and present. Focusing on your inhalation and exhalation is a great way to center yourself and be present in the moment.
One of the main goals of meditation is to clear your mind and find peace. At first, let your thoughts come and go without focusing on them. When you find yourself preoccupied with a particular thought, bring your focus back to your breathing. Do this for about 15 minutes a day for the first week. Then add five minutes each week to your sessions. Aim to meditate for 45 minutes each day. Set an alarm so you know when to stop your exercise.
As you study, you may come across Buddhist terms with different spellings. This is because there are different forms of Buddhism and the scriptures were written in different languages. The Mahayana texts were written in Sanskrit, the Theravada texts in Pali.