Aspects and Tenets of Buddhism

What Is Buddhism?

Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva at the National Museum, Delhi, India. CC Hyougushi at Flickr.com.

Buddhism is the religion of the followers of Gautama Buddha (Sakayamuni). It is an offshoot of Hinduism with many variations in practices and belief, including vegetarianism, in some, but not all branches. Like Hinduism, Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world with probably more than 3.5 million adherents. Common threads of Buddhism include the 3 jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha 'community'), and the goal of nirvana.

Following the 8-fold path can lead to enlightenment and nirvana.

The Buddha:

Buddha was a legendary prince (or the son of a nobleman), who founded a major world religion (c. the 5th century B.C.). The word buddha is Sanskrit for 'awakened one'.

Dharma:

Dharma is a Sanskrit word and concept with different meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In Buddhism, Dharma is a "truth" which is held in high regard as one of the 3 jewels. The other 2 jewels are the Buddha and the Sangha 'community'.

Nirvana:

Nirvana is spiritual enlightenment and release from human suffering, lust, and anger.

8-Fold Path:

One way to nirvana is to follow the 8-fold path. All 8 paths contribute to and show the "right" way. The 8-fold path is one of the Buddha's 4 noble Truths.

The 4 Noble Truths:

The 4 Noble Truths deal with eliminating duhkha 'suffering'.

Bodhi:

Bodhi is 'enlightenment'. It is also the name of the tree under which the Buddha meditated when he achieved enlightenment, although the Bodhi tree is also called the Bo tree.

Buddha Iconography:

The hanging lobes of the Buddha are supposed to represent wisdom, but originally they probably showed the Buddha's ears weighed down with earrings.

The Spread of Buddhism - From the Mauryan to the Gupta Empire:

After Buddha died, his followers enhanced the story of his life and his teachings.

The number of his followers also increased, spreading throughout northern India and establishing monasteries where they went.

Emperor Ashoka (3rd century B.C.) inscribed Buddhist ideas on his famous pillars and send Buddhist missionaries to various parts of his empire. He also sent them to the king of Sri Lanka, where Buddhism became the state religion, and the teachings of the form of Buddhism known as Theravada Buddhism were later written down in the Pali language.

Between the fall of the Mauryan Empire and the next (Gupta) empire, Buddhism spread along the trade routes of Central Asia and into China and diversified. [See the Silk Road.]

Great monasteries (Mahaviharas) grew important, especially as universities, during the Gupta Dynasty.

Sources

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  • "Buddhas and Bodhisats," by B. A. de V. Bailey. Parnassus, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Feb., 1940), pp. 26-30+51.
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  • "Buddhism" A Dictionary of Asian Mythology. David Leeming. Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Dharma. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 17, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9030214
  • Indian philosophy. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 18, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-61575
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  • "Nirvana" A Dictionary of Asian Mythology. David Leeming. Oxford University Press, 2001.