These Buddhism facts will clear up a few misconceptions regarding Buddhism beliefs. These are some of the facts that I initially found confusing.
Much of Buddhism depends on the tradition. That is, Tibetan Buddhism will have somewhat differing beliefs of, say, Zen Buddhism, or Thai Buddhism. The reason is that many of the countries that Buddhism has spread to have changed the teachings somewhat based on cultural beliefs. These cultural beliefs vary greatly. As a result so do the Buddhist traditions.
When someone states certain Buddhism facts they may or may not be correct because they may only be referring to one tradition and not really know it. One person may be knowledgeable in, or learning of, say, Tibetan Buddhism but not Zen Buddhism and as a result be misguided.
Typically though, the core beliefs of the Four Noble Truths are the same. The Buddha taught not to blindly believe his words or the words of others. He taught to question and find out through direct experience. This is excellent advice and why I enjoy his teachings.
1) Buddhism comes from the word Buddha, referring to Buddha Shakyamuni. This is also spelled Sakyamuni. It refers to the 'Sage of Sakya'.
2) The word Buddha is both a Sanskrit and Pali word meaning awakened one.
3) Buddhism started around 520 BCE. Of course, this refers to the period of time after Sakyamuni attained enlightenment and started teaching. The true date of his birth isn't ascertained with certainty. It is believed to be around 563 BCE.
4) There are approximately 360 million Buddhists making Buddhism the fourth largest religion in the world. Buddhism is spreading into the West and, as a result, taking on cultural differences there as it did elsewhere.
5) Siddhartha Gautama was born approximately 563 BCE. Most claims of his birth are around this time. This is not a certainty but an approximation.
6) Siddhartha Gautama is sometimes spelled Siddhatta Gotama, also Siddhatha Gotama. Really, it depends on whether or not it is being spelled in Pali or Sanskrit.
7) Siddhartha was a citizen of Indian descent from the area called Sakya or sometimes spelled Shakya in Northeast India. The area is now known as Nepal.
8) He was born into a wealthy family. This, to me, is one of the most misguided and embellished Buddhism facts. In actuality, his father was the elected head of Sakya. Sakya was under the control of a larger kingdom called Kosala. The ruler of Kosala was the overlord of Sakya.
9) Gotama is the name of his clan, Siddhatta his given or first name. Another embellishment is that he was of the warrior caste. He was of the farmer caste that took up arms as required. So, sort of the warrior class, that he was somewhat warrior trained.
10) The major divisions are Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada means the 'way of the elders'. Mahayana means 'greater vehicle'. Mahayana is the newer division. Theravada is the older division. The split began long ago. There were monks that opposed any deviation from the Buddha's teachings. These were and are the Theravada monks. There were monks that believed the teachings should evolve from what the Buddha taught. These are the Mahayana monks.
Buddhism Facts Regarding the Three Jewels
11) The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Buddha refers to Sakyamuni but also to the fact that the 'Buddha Nature' is attainable by all.
Dharma is the teachings of Sakyamuni, but also Dharma can refer to the nature of the universe at a personal level, as in 'What is your Dharma?'
Sangha are the monks that follow the dharma. This has grown to be laypeople as well. Sangha is important because interaction with others, relationships, etc are important. This is because we are all interdependent on each other. No one stands alone. Buddha Sakyamuni realized this long ago.
12) Do Buddhists believe in God? Some do and some don't. Most don't believe that God interferes in any way with your life. In other words, you are in charge and you determine your own state of happiness based on the reality of existence.
Many Buddhists believe in Devas. Devas are magical like beings that exist at a different level then humans. Not all Buddhist traditions believe in Devas.
13) Do Buddhists believe in reincarnation? Some do and some don't. Some interpret reincarnation as the birth and death of oneself as you experience life and ultimately change. Some consider the wheel of samsara, also known as the wheel of suffering, is the cycle of life and death. That is, constant changing between joy and suffering.
Some believe that reincarnation happens regularly. In Tibetan Buddhism it is believed that masters reincarnate regularly. Some believe that the personality does not reincarnate but that only the essence of the individual reincarnates.
14) What is karma? Karma is often misunderstood. It isn't necessarily 'if you do good things good things will happen to you'. It is more that you are in control of your destiny by doing the right thing. As a result, you are more likely to experience the fruit of your good actions.
The same for bad karma. If you do bad things it isn't necessarily that you will have bad things happen to you. It is just more likely that you will have something bad happen to you. In fact, many perceived benefits could happen to someone who does not practice virtue.
15) The right thing is following the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. This path leads to a realization of how things really are and a major result of this is the release of unease in your life. In particular mindfulness, intention and speech are very important.
16) Buddhism beliefs include the fact that salvation is attained right here, right now. That is, in your life now, the release from dis-ease (suffering) and the attainment of true joy (nirvana, enlightenment) is possible. None of this has to wait until you die and go to heaven or elsewhere.
17) Ego, Buddhism believes in the fact that there is no real self. That is, the self is an ego generated illusion. A helpful way to realize this is through meditation.
18) Impermanence, often talked about in Buddhism because it is a fact. The reality is that all things and sentient beings are impermanent. All things that have arisen will also experience cessation. This includes an emotion you may feel such as anger or jealousy. It also includes birth and death.
19) Suffering is one of the more popular Buddhism facts discussed. It is derived or translated from the Pali word dukkha. It is said, that dukkha is better translated as unease or off kilter.
At any rate, it is easily understood how unease is the human condition for all of us, Buddhist or not, at both a personal level and a societal level. You can learn to no longer suffer through the Dharma. It is possible to accept things for what they are and feel joy even when the conditions that cause suffering exist.
Suffering is often misunderstood regarding Buddhism beliefs. Many associate Buddhism as a religion that believes all of life is only suffering. What the Buddha realized was that life contains suffering. Not that life is only suffering. Most people construct illusions to cover up the truth of suffering in their life.
20) Enlightenment is another one of those Buddhism facts that is often discussed, sought after, yet rarely understood or attained. Through the path of Buddhism, enlightenment can be realized, usually in steps. You can gain a major positive shift in your disposition. While this shift is not total enlightenment or awakening it is towards this actuality.
21) Pali and Sanskrit are two confusing Buddhism facts at first for beginners because they are often used. Fortunately they are easily deciphered from one another.
22) Pali is an ancient language of India which is a variation of Sanskrit, also an ancient language. Pali is the language of the Buddhist Scripture which is called the Pali Canon.
23) Sanskrit is an ancient language of India. Many of the religious scriptures such as the Upanishads have been recorded in this script. Example: The Pali word Dhamma is Dharma in Sanskrit.
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