Buddha 101

I’m not an authority on Buddha or Buddhism. I’m merely a fan who discovered Buddhism in 1998. I realize when someone takes the first steps toward a new subject there’s lots of questions. I’ve been there, asked that. Buddhism influenced me and because of that I’d like to share my experiences with you. The first questions you may have are, “Who is Buddha and what is Buddhism?”

Those questions get several replies depending on who you ask. One source I trust is the author and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The first paragraph of Hanh’s book, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” opens with, “Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do.”

Buddha was the nickname of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was born in an area which may have been part of India or Tibet at that time but is now known as Lumbini, Nepal over 2550 years ago. Buddha was a warrior prince and heir to the throne.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Old Path White Clouds” details the Buddha’s life. Siddhartha’s mother died during childbirth and he was raised by his aunt. All his life Siddhartha was kind and compassionate, so it was no surprise that at an early age he excelled in religious studies. Buddha saw the religion and social practices of his time as flawed. He didn’t approve of the religious and social caste system because he knew everyone was created equal.

In his teens Siddhartha met a kindred spirit, a princess and social activist named Yasodhara. Siddhartha and Yasodhara fell in love, eventually married and had a son named Rahula. Siddhartha’s desire to help others was so strong that he felt that no matter how much money or fame he had, he still couldn’t do enough for his family and the world. So, at the age of 29, he set off to become a monk and vowed to return home after he discovered how to ease people’s minds from emotional or psychological suffering.

At 35, the aesthetic monk, Siddhartha Gautama, became enlightened meditating under a tree. Later that day he fainted from hunger and lack of water. A girl, carrying food offerings, on her way to a temple found fainted Gautama on the road. She recognized Siddhartha as a monk and gave him a bowl of milk to drink. She and her friends helped Gautama recover his health. As a reward, according to “Old Path White Clouds,” Siddhartha taught the children what he discovered. That was his first, true Dharma teaching. The children were so impressed by his compassionate words that they gave Siddhartha the nickname “Buddha,” which was a local word that meant “Awakened.” Siddhartha liked the name and introduced himself from then on as Buddha.

Buddha taught his Dharma philosophy for forty five years.

Eventually, Buddha went back home to his wife and son and they joined him in his Dharma movement. His teachings enlightened loved ones, friends, kings, reformed criminals and still influence people today.

So, what exactly did Buddha teach? Hanh writes in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” on the first page in chapter one, that Buddha said, “I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering.”

Buddha taught the idea of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which can be found in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” in chapter three. The first Noble Truth is suffering. The second Noble Truth is the creation or arising of suffering. The third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering. The fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path, or as Hanh wrote in chapter 3, “the path that leads to refraining from doing the things that leads us to suffering.” The eight practices are: “Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.”

Those teachings were labeled as the Buddha Dharma or as we say in the West, Buddhism. So, to recap, Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama and Buddhism is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the implementation of the Eightfold Path.

This article scratched the surface of Buddha and Buddhism. To learn more please peruse Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” and “Old Path White Clouds.” The edition of “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching” referenced in this article was published in 1999 by Broadway Books, a division of Random House Inc., NY NY.

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