Buddhism – The Basics

Who was the Buddha?

Buddhism is a path that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama. Born a Prince in Lumbini around 563BCE, he left the palace and his life of luxury at the young age of 29, to seek the answers to why we suffer, die and then are born again to suffer again, in an endless cycle called Samsara. After much searching and practicing with the holy men of his time, he finally found the way to Nirvana (enlightenment) at the age of 35. From this moment, was called Shakyamuni Buddha, ‘Shakyamuni’ meaning ‘Sage of the Shakya clan’ and ‘Buddha’ meaning ‘The Awakened One’.

What is Buddhism? What is the Dharma?

What we call ‘Buddhism’ is also known as ‘Dharma’. The word Dharma has many meanings; ‘law’, ‘way’, ‘that which is established’, and in Buddhism it refers specifically to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Buddhism basics; 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path

All Buddhist teachings are based around these essential teachings; the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path.

The 4 Noble Truths are;
1. The Truth of Suffering
2. The origins of Suffering
3. The cessation of Suffering
4. The path that leads to the cessation of Suffering – That is the 8 Fold Path

The 8 Fold Path is;
1. Right View
2. Right Resolve
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness (meditation)
8. Right Concentration (meditation)

Contained within these seemingly basic lists are the foundational teachings of Buddhism. These teachings can be found in the Suttas/Sutras (the words of the Buddha) and the Shastras (commentaries by eminent monks/nuns, also known as the Abhidharma). The Vinaya contains the vows of a Buddhist that also help shape our morals and ethics. These three together are known as the Tripitaka (Three Baskets)

What is Mahayana Buddhism?

As Buddhism grew and spread, new ideas, practices and texts began to emerge. Although not one single group, the Mahayana (meaning ‘Great/large Vehicle) movement grew and spread to become the dominant form of Buddhism. There are many different ‘schools’ or ‘branches’ of Mahayana Buddhism, however they all share a common philosophy; that ALL living beings have Buddha-nature and therefore, all beings are capable of achieving enlightenment and out of compassion, we aspire to help all sentient beings achieve their potential. This is known as Bodhicitta (achieving enlightenment for the sake of all beings), and the Bodhisattva Path is the best way to achieve this.

What is a Bodhisattva?

Put simply, a Bodhisattva is a person who practices the Dharma for the sake of all beings. There are many levels of Bodhisattva, some have already achieved enlightenment but have made a vow to not enter final Nirvana until all sentient beings have achieved enlightenment. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is arguably the most famous Bodhisattva. As Mahayana Buddhists we take the Bodhisattva Vows and emulate these great beings.

Tendai Buddhism

Tendai Buddhism is a Mahayana school of Buddhism that was first founded in China, before spreading to Japan. The school we follow here in England is the Japanese Branch of Tendai Buddhism. Click here for more information