When people think of religion, they usually think of a spiritual path involving a diety, as in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This isn’t true of Buddhism, which was founded by an Indian prince, Gautama Siddhartha, over 2500 years ago. He made no claim to being a deity or worshipping one. His father, the king, had shielded him from scenes of poverty, illness and death when he was a boy, but he discovered the painful realities of human suffering when he traveled through his father’s kingdom on his own. The discovery led him to abandon his riches as a young man to travel the world in search of a way to relieve the suffering of others.
Basis of Buddhism
Siddhartha’s quest for compassion, happiness and the meaning of life took long years of his own privation and suffering. When he finally believed he had attained enlightenment, he began to teach others about his spiritual path. By then people were calling him “Buddha” (“Enlightened One”). The Buddha claimed no supernatural powers. He claimed only to have found a way of life based on loving kindness that brought peace and contentment. Every follower, he taught, may follow this path but each must live by his or her own inner lights.
Buddhists believe that most of our problems and suffering arise from confused, negative states of mind. Happiness and good fortune arise from love, compassion and wisdom. Following this path is why many Buddhists are vegetarians; they don’t believe in taking life unnecessarily. When conflicts arise, Buddhists believe in peaceful, nonviolent resolutions. They don’t argue, fight about their beliefs, or try to convert others. They accept people as they are, striving only to understand them and treat them with loving kindness.
Respect for All Life
Buddhists treasure life, no matter what form it comes in. Elephants, whales, dogs and other forms of life have spirits that must be honored just as the human spirit is. Some Buddhist monks, when they walk in the forest, sweep the path before them so as not to crush any insects. Most Buddhists don’t go that far, but they respect the motives of the monks. Even plants are driven to survive. Who’s to tell where the line is drawn?
Meditation is at the heart of Buddhist life. It involves turning the mind away from rational thinking and resting in the process of breathing and the knowledge that one’s heart keeps beating faithfully . The meditator can quiet his or her ambitious, judging, or anxious thoughts and rest at the simplest energy level.
The Buddhist path of peace and loving kindness has as much meaning today as it did in ancient India. As Geshe Kelsang, Tibetan Buddhist monk, wrote in his book Eight Steps to Happiness, “Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha…Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions.”