Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, was born in Nepal, at a place called Lumbini. Siddhartha Gautama was the son of the monarch of a petty Nepalese kingdom. When he was born, the sages recognized in him the marks of a ‘great man’ who had the potential to either live a sagacious life or be the emperor. He began practicing yoga (yoke) that is one of the six classic systems that constitute Hindu philosophy. Yoga is distinguished from other systems by the marvels of bodily control as well as the magical powers which are ascribed to its advanced devotees. Through the practice of yoga, Siddhartha Gautama demonstrated his great experience in disseminating knowledge about certain disciplines. He enabled his followers to achieve liberation from the delusions of sense, limitations of flesh, and pitfalls of thought. Propelling his community and in particular his congregants to realizing full union with the object of knowledge was his main concern. He also found a balance between the life of total indulgence and self-denial. When sitting under a bo tree, he meditated upon rising through a series of high states of consciousness until he would attain the enlightenment that he had been searching for. His inspirational and insightful teachings delivered many people from the world darkness. He galvanized many people who became his disciples. Siddhartha Gautama clustered them into sangha, meaning a monastic community. Through his teachings, his followers also gained the Four Noble Truths, which were instrumental in encouraging them to work hard against Dukkha (suffering) and to avoid its causes.
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In Buddhist religion, Dukkha refers to suffering. Suffering is first in the list of Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The dukkha concept was largely preached by Gautama Buddha; the founder of Buddhism. It is believed to have been his first sermon ever to be delivered, a number of weeks after his enlightenment way back in the 6th century BC. In his passionate description of Dukkha, Gautama Buddha stated that life is fundamentally painful and unpleasant in all its manifestations, and he reiterated that this reality applied to human beings, gods, animals and even souls in hell. Dukkha is believed to be caused by people’s ignorance of nature. When people failed to honor and tender nature, nature became very unforgiving.
Suffering is also caused by failure of humans to understand the essence as the creation of their supreme being. When they live, reason and behave contrary to the initial intension of the supreme being, suffering engraves them. Apart from Dukkha, other fundamental characteristics of being are anatman, which essentially means denial of everlasting soul, and anitya that signifies impermanence. Individuals are in constant suffering because they have never acknowledged that souls are everlasting. At the same time, they believe in extinction other than permanence. There are basically three types of dukkha as was described by the Buddha in some of his famous discourses. These are suffering what one hates, losing what one loves, and finally wanting and not getting what one wants. These three are said to be the consequences of existence.
Nirvana refers to the “act of extinguishing.” The Indian religious philosophy regards it as a transcendent state of being which is devoid of any form of suffering and individual phenomenal existence. It is an ultimate goal in Buddhist religion. Nirvana basically means “to become cool.” There are numerous flames of hatred, greed, lust, and ignorance in the life of a being which can only be extinguished by Nirvana. It is believed that beings ought to attain Nirvana as a way ensuring that their existence becomes endless. Buddhists believe that one day all the evils of this world will become extinguished by Nirvana and the world will become impeccable for the existence of all beings. They believe that the absence of Nirvana is what can perpetuate all kinds of social evils that disfigure the society today and make human beings suffer. They add that with the existence of Nirvana, suffering will also come to an end because the causes of suffering will be extinguished by Nirvana.
However there are distinct interpretations of Nirvana. There are certain scholars who do not regard it as an external goal; they claim that it is a person’s own innermost nature. It means that Nirvana only needs to be recognized. They consistently speak of it in terms of Buddhahood, emptiness and suchness. With persistent believes in Nirvana, all Buddhists will ensure that they live a life free from unacceptable practices which can cause suffering of a being.
This is one of the two significant branches of Buddhism. Unlike Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism is quite popular in an expansive Asian continent. It spreads in such countries as Myanmar, the former Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and others. Just like Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada emphasizes following the true practices and teachings of the Buddha. The beliefs of Theravada trace its lineage from the monastic community as well as original sangha. Sangha is believed to have been the first people who followed the Buddha. The canonical scripture of Theravada Buddhism comprises the Tipitaka which literally means three baskets. It is a great compendium of the Buddhist writings which was originally composed in the Pali language. Theravada beliefs are inclined toward doctrinal conservatism, exemplified in a cautious canonical interpretation. Following this example, Theravada Buddhism was given uncomplimentary name Hinayana, meaning Sanskrit for “Lesser Vehicle.” This name was done by the rivals of Theravada Buddhism, who referred to their own tradition as Mahayana, meaning the “Greater Vehicle.” It is also believed that the Buddhist goal of the devotee of Theravada is to either become an arhat or a sage who would have achieved Nirvana. Anyone who achieves it has become enlightened and hence will never undergo rebirth. The tradition of Mahayana usually prefers the bodhisattva figure. It helps others to attain salvation out of compassion.
According to Buddhist beliefs, Arhat means the one who is worthy and who would have reached the rightful state of Nirvana. Nirvana is a state when a person is free from any form of suffering and is therefore not expected to undergo the process of rebirth. The earliest tradition among the Buddhists recognized four stages of attaining worthiness. The arhat is the stage that presupposes that a person would undergo full emancipation during this life. It is believed that this would only be possible after coming from samsara, which is the cycle of reincarnation. Arhats have a prominent cult that covers nearly every part of the expansive Asian continent. Arhats are also believed to hold innumerable magical powers. This obliges a number of devotees to make pilgrimages to the monasteries which are dedicated to arhats. Therefore, the concept of arhat is quite important in the traditions of Theravada Buddhism as it is viewed as the ultimate goal of Buddhists. This is what changes people’s behaviors, strengthens their beliefs and determines their religious practices. This is exhibited through practice by those devotees who live in monasteries sine they are the bona fide achievers of the goal. Most significantly, the Mahayana Buddhism also recognizes that arhats would be left in this world until the next Buddha comes. Nonetheless, in Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva that has semi-divine powers can transfer their merit to others. This is the Buddhist characteristic which is usually regarded as the most superior to arhat.
Amida Buddha or Amitabha was regarded as the Buddha associated with compassion. His cult was a key to the Pure Land sects, which existed throughout East Asia and Japan. Due to him, Pure Land had achieved enlightenment or rather an awakened state called Nirvana and would have returned to earth after rebirth. The religious texts Sukhavativyuha Sutra describe Western Paradise Sutra, the prime source of Amidism. They mention the monk who was called Dharmakaya. The monk lived in ancient times. Buddha Lokesvararaja had told Dharmakaya about the great Buddhist heavens’ beauty in Buddha Lands. It is believed that the eighty preceding Buddhas resided in a Pure Land. Dharmakaya had to begin as a bodhisattva. This was a person who was on the verge of Nirvana and would decline to enter it in order to be of help to others on earth. Dharmakaya set forty eight vows to be fulfilled, which would permit him to finally reach nirvana. The eighteenth vow was meant to establish a Buddha Land which was eighty one times more sensational as compared to others. Dharmakaya had followers who devotedly chanted nembutsu. According to Buddhist teaching, nembutsu is regarded as a petition which is dedicated to Amitabha Buddha. This is the Buddha that was designated to be the first one to undergo the incarnation of Dharmakaya. Therefore, a Pure Land is the most significant and sacred dwelling place of Amida Buddha. It also serves all major religious functions among the Buddhists.
Dalai Lama was a renowned spiritual leader of Buddhists in Tibet. Formerly, he had also served as an emperor of Tibetan dynasty. Buddhists hitherto believe that Dalai Lama was a true reincarnation of Buddha. They claim that by the time Buddha died, his soul entered the newly born baby boy. Therefore, he legitimately became the new Buddha bearing the same title, Dalai Lama.
Sonam Gyatso was the pioneer Buddha responsible for formulating a title Dalai Lama. He is still considered as the Grand Lama who spent his entire life in the monastery of Drepung where he also served as a supreme leader of the sect of Gelugpa. He is highly honored because of his spiritual teachings. He was emphatic about possessing a “good heart” and living a “full life.” Through his teachings, he attracted huge crowds which listened to him. His passionate way of teaching made many of his followers succeed in spreading peace and justice.
Dalai Lama is also known for having adopted a nonviolent means of fighting against the Chinese rule in Tibet. Because of his concern for justice for all, Dalai Lama severally faulted the Chinese authorities for the criterion that they used to identify a leader that was given the title Panchen Lama. This is the second senior religious leader in Tibet. He never accepted anything that would be contrary to the Buddhist believes and contravene the conventional laws of leadership. Summarily, Dalai Lama adhered to what he preached until his demise, and his teachings are proclaimed by his followers today.
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Theravada Buddhism is one of the two major branches of Buddhism which is quite extensive in its coverage. Having similar characteristics with Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada focuses on the true practices and teachings of the Buddha. The lineage of its school is traced to the monastic community as well as the original sangha. The canon of scripture of Theravada Buddhism consists of the Tipitaka. Theravada is known to have been the only tradition among the famous schools that existed during the early years after the inception of Buddhism. Focusing on the development, organization and doctrine, this essay explains how the key elements of Buddhist teaching are practiced in Theravada Buddhism. It thoroughly demonstrates an in depth understanding of the basic Buddhist principles as well as some of the distinctive practices in Theravada Buddhism.
How the Key Elements of Buddhist Teaching Are Practiced in Theravada Buddhism
The main elements of Buddhism are anicca, which means the impermanence of beings, dukkha, which means that life is suffering, and the final element is anatta, which means not self. As pertains to anicca, Theravada Buddhism holds a belief that everything in the world is constantly changing. This entails the physical characteristics, theories, assumptions, qualities as well as human knowledge. It is believed that someone would undergo some drastic change physically, emotionally, spiritually and morally.
When it comes to dukkha, which means suffering, Theravada Buddhism denounces all cravings that cause suffering. Whatever is craved is also transitory and has the possibility to change and perish as well. Through this belief, Buddhists are committed to avoiding the tendency of labeling things as likes or dislikes, good or bad, and comfortable or satisfying. This practice is what is believed to be the main cause of suffering. Anyone who successfully gives up the tendency of labeling things in that manner is in position to free him/herself from the instincts which drive one to dukkha. They also believe that the cause of suffering, the solution as well as the implementation are all within oneself but not from outside.
Thirdly, Theravadins believe that there is no permanent essential self as all beings are composed of five aggregates. These are the physical form, the feeling or sensations, perception, mental formations and consciousness. Therefore, Buddhists usually develop and refine their minds to work and live in conformity with this phenomenon. To exhibit this through personal and direct experience, they practice vipassana. Due to it, they closely watch the perpetual change. Staunch Buddhists often deny that the individual or combined aggregates may be regarded as a permanent and independently existing soul or self. In most cases, Buddhists regard it as a mistake for anyone to perceive any lasting unity pertaining to the main elements that an individual is believed to be made of. According to the beliefs of the Buddha, self often gives rise to self-importance or craving, which eventually becomes the root cause of human suffering. He also taught others about the doctrine of anatman. This is the total denial of a permanent soul of human beings.
Numerous sensations would emerge, thus leading to craving alongside clinging to human existence. Such a condition often triggers the process of humans rejuvenating to produce a renewed birth cycle, elderliness and death. Through this chain of cause, there is a clear connection between different forms of life. In the event, what is postulated is a stream of renewed existences but not a permanent being which moves from one life to the other. In effect, Theravadins believe in being reborn without transmigration.
Theravada often encourages the act of abiding by the original instructions of the historical Buddha, whose name was Siddhartha Gautama. The doctrine of Theravada reveres the Buddha as a supremely gifted single teacher, yet mortal in comparison to the succession of transcendent beings which were postulated by Mahayana. Some scripture of Theravada listed other Buddhas, though generally the emphasis was put on the historical Buddha since any universe which bears more than one Buddha can easily shatter.
The Buddhist teachings of the historical Buddha, which are also referred to as dharma, are usually considered as being entrenched in the Tipitaka. Unlike the Mahayana, which generated additional scriptural texts (sutras) in plenty, Theravada often puts itself in confinement with the core dharma and would always emphasize the original Buddhist teachings without any digressions following the change in times. Other forms of work which are highly esteemed in Theravada include the dialogues called the Milindapanha which were written during the 2nd century ad and successfully translated as Questions of King Milinda, in 1963. The Visuddhimagga were also written in the 5th century ad and translated as Path of Purification in 1964. This work was attributed to the great Buddhist commentator called Buddhaghosa who is celebrated by the entire Buddhist community. The works are regarded as the authoritative collections by most scholars despite the supplementary revelations of dharma. For instance, Milindapanha is highly considered as canonical by the Myanmar in the Theravada.
Theravadan dharma also discusses the existence of humans as a mixture of assorted transient aspects, which also referred to as dharmas. These dharmas are categorized in overlapping groups of at least five main components which are rupa (the physical body), vedana (feelings), sanna (cognitive perception), sankhara (mental predispositions) and finally vijñana (consciousness). The twelve bases literally refer to the five sensory organs that contain five sensory fields alongside the mind and the mental perception object. Summarily, dharmas usually create a composite being that is un-unified with any atman or soul that is enduring or identity; in the strict sense, there is no self. Ostensibly, Theravadin endeavors to manipulate dharmas in order to suspend the karma action and thereby achieve nirvana.
The key elements of Buddhist teaching are practiced in Theravada Buddhism. Any person whose intension is to live a useful and meaningful life is obliged to practice them as they are taught and well expounded in Theravada. Similarly, the teachings about these key elements are quite insightful not only to the Buddhists but also to other people. They contain fruitful lessons which, if well adhered to, can change someone’s life tremendously. This is the reason why the devotees of Theravada set a goal to either enable one to become an arhat or a sage who would have achieved Nirvana. Any person who achieves it is believed to have become enlightened and therefore is not expected to undergo rebirth.