These Buddhism facts will clear up a few misconceptions regarding Buddhism beliefs. The first fact of Buddhism is to understand is that
there are two main traditions or schools of Buddhism. These are the Theravada and the Mahayana. Some consider the Vajrayana tradition to be the third school, but it is also sometimes considered an offshoot of the Mahayana school.
The Theravada tradition means 'the way of the elders'. This tradition is found primarily in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. The Mahayana tradition means 'the greater vehicle'. It is primarily found in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and so on. The Vajrayana tradition is the Buddhism of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
Much of Buddhism depends on the culture of the country. 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 over the years have incorporated cultural beliefs into Buddhist beliefs.
Another important aspect of understanding Buddhism is knowing these different traditions exist and that there are differences between them in their practices. When someone states certain Buddhism facts they may or may not be correct because they may only be referring to one tradition and not another. It is important to differentiate the tradition when talking in these terms.
Typically though, the core beliefs of the Four Noble Truths are the same throughout the various Buddhist traditions. 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 thus the enjoyment of his dharma teachings.
- Buddhism comes from the word Buddha, referring to Gautama Buddha in Sanskrit. Or Gotama Buddha in Pali.
- The word Buddha is both a Sanskrit and Pali word meaning awakened one.
- Buddhism started around 520 BCE with the Buddha's awakening and subsequent decision to teach that which he awakened to which is called the Dhamma in Pali or the Dharma in Sanskrit.
- There are approximately 360 million Buddhists, possibly more, 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.
- Siddhartha Gautama was born sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Most likely around 563 BCE. This is not a certainty but an approximation. Some scholars believe it to be even later, possibly as late as 480 BCE. Some as early as 623 BCE, but most don't believe this date.
- Siddhartha Gautama, in Sanskrit, is sometimes spelled Siddhattha Gotama. It depends on whether or not it is being spelled in the Pali or Sanskrit language.
- Siddhartha was of Indian descent from the area called the Sakya or Shakya Republic in Northeast India. He was born in Lumbini, what is now known as Nepal.
- He was born into a wealthy family. This is often one of the most misguided and embellished Buddhism facts in that legend sometimes refers to the Buddha's father as a great king. He was not a great king. The Sakya Republic paid homage to the great kingdom of Kosala.
- In actuality, his father was the elected head of a small republic called Sakya. Sakya was under the control of a larger kingdom called Kosala. The ruler of Kosala was the overlord of Sakya.
- Gotama or Gautama is the name of his clan, Siddhattha or Siddhartha, 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.
- The major Buddhist divisions are Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada means the 'way of the elders'. Mahayana means 'greater vehicle'. Mahayana is the later or 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.
- The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Buddha refers to Sakyamuni or Gautama Buddha but also to the fact that the 'Buddha Nature' is attainable by all.
- Dharma is the teaching of Gautama Buddha, but also Dharma can refer to the nature of the universe at a personal level, as in 'What is your Dharma?'
- The Sangha consists of 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.
- 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. Buddhists generally don't believe in a creator God.
- 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.
- 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. With certainty, the Buddha believed in rebirth or reincarnation.
- 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.
- 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. It is also believed that good actions now equate to good rebirths.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. These beliefs also relate to that with good karma now, a good future rebirth is possible.
- Ego, Buddhism believes in the fact that there is no real self. That is, the self is sort of an ego generated illusion. A helpful way to realize this is through meditation and understanding the five aggregates of Buddhism.
- 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.
- 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. Thus, more of a dissatisfaction.
- 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. His teachings are to remove life suffering. Most people construct illusions to cover up the truth of suffering in their life.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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