People hold various definition and perception with regard to Buddhism and its components. It becomes challenging over the decades to exactly define Buddhism since it cannot be classified as a religion, code of ethics, a philosophy or even as way of life. This ambiguity surrounding the concept of Buddhism shall be explored and all the tents of Buddhism discussed. The research shall as well critique and appreciate various aspects in relation to Buddhism.
Buddhism in general consideration and purposes of this research paper shall be considered as a religion. The concept of Buddhism was introduced by Buddha and the teaching has been transformed to another new level approximately four centuries even after the death of Buddha. According to Szczygiel (2014), the only monk who had thorough knowledge with Buddha’s teaching was too arrogant and proud to disseminate the information to the general masses. However, those other monks in existence had little knowledge and mastery of Buddha’s teachings; hence, they were of less use as far as Buddhism is concerned. These challenges led to grave mistakes and distortions with regard to cascading down of Buddha’s teaching way before they were written down. The complexity surrounding Buddhism was further complicated by the fact that, by the time Buddhism was written down in manuscripts, there were more than twenty schools of thoughts formed all with an aim of explaining and exploring the concept of Buddhism. It is worth noting that the initial writings of Buddhism were written in Pali language (Damien 11). However, the original writing of Buddhism was composed of Sanskrit and Pali languages although Buddha never spoke in either of the languages. Among the two languages and accounts of Buddhism, scholars have considered and approved the version written in Pali language as the closest version representing the teaching of Buddhism. Therefore, Pali canon was generally adopted as reference for Buddha teachings although patched together over various generations (Szczygiel 12).
It is worth noting the religious as well as cultural backdrops against which the concept of Buddhism was formed and developed to what it is today. Majority of Buddhist texts are formed and composed in Hindu cosmology, which tightly regarded them as supreme and unique. Buddhism was highly dependent on Hindu cultures like reincarnation; beliefs in angels and gods as well as karma have been immensely profound. The influence of Hindu culture in Buddhism has provided the latter with dogmatic rudiments, which has formed the core to Buddhist teachings over the years. This intertwining of various teachings regarded as Buddhism may not necessarily be absolute. Therefore, it is hard and not clear to point exactly what Buddha said. Despite being embedded closely, Buddhism beliefs distinctively vary from what Hinduism is concerned with. As noted by Watts (1999);
“The crucial issue wherein Buddhism differs from Hinduism is that is doesn’t say who you are… Buddhism is not interested in concepts; it is interested in direct experience only (Damien 15).”
Buddhism School of Thoughts
Today, there are only two universally recognized schools of thoughts, which include Mahayana and Theravada. The most strict and idea form of Buddhism is considered to be inclined to Theravada which mean “the way of elders.” Majority of countries in South Asia, Cambodia and Thailand are considered inclined to this school of Buddhism. Universally, the Buddhism of monks is highly associated with Theravada. In this school of Buddhism, the detachment from world desires is highly emphasized, practiced and respected. It was Theravada monks who advocated the presentation of Buddhism in Pali language and strictly to be followed.
On the other hand, Mahayana is the form of Buddhism that is practiced in Japan, Northern India, China and Tibet and generally means “great vehicle.” Mahayana is not strict as Theravada and they usually challenge the strictness of the latter where they mostly associate themselves with the world. Mahayana advocates both interactions with the material world as well as helping people towards achieving ideal human status. Mahayana school of Buddhism has generally subscribed to the version of Buddhism presented in Sanskrit language. As earlier stated, there are various nuances in existence within the numerous sects of Buddhism. For instance, despite the Mahayana strictly following the Sanskrit version of Buddhism, Tibetan and Zen school of thoughts subscribe more to Pali canon as the ultimate guide towards Buddha’s teachings as opposed to Sanskrit canons (Damien 24).
Forms and Types of Buddhism
As earlier discussed, Buddhism is widely practiced in Asian hemisphere where many subscribe to this form of religion. However, those who subscribe to Buddhism in the West have described themselves as agnostic, as secular or even atheist Buddhists. Those in the West consider religions from the Far East (Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism) as not necessarily requiring a certain system of beliefs. They differ firmly from other religions like Christianity, which requires strict adherence to certain rules and commandments. As noted by Watts (1999),
“Their objective is not ideas or doctrines, but rather a method for the transformation of consciousness, and our sensation of self.”
Buddhism strongly recommends inward consultation for inspiration and wisdom rather than outside explaining why they detach their activities from material world. In addition, Buddha used to advice his followers that his teachings (Dharma) are like a finger pointing out to the moon. He advised them not to mistake his finger with the moon (Szczygiel 16).
There are four truths that are envisioned in Buddha’s teachings and form a central reference to Buddhism. The four noble truths are more considered as injunctions compelling and individual towards performing an action rather than claiming to be disbelieved or believed. The interpretation offered towards the four noble truths directs an individual towards minimizing sufferings in their daily lives. The four truths commonly referred as four holy truths are interpreted as holy sufferings, which are considered holy and ought to be persevered. When an individual embraces the deep suffering the four truths offer and provide support and guidance (Damien 47).
The first holy truth is described as suffering (dukkha) in Buddhism. It is because of this truth that many westerners describe Buddhism as a melancholic religion because of its doctrine of dukkha, which translates to “life is suffering.” However, Buddhism regards suffering as a collective human experience. The second truth is the samudaya, which means the cause or origin of suffering. This is composed of an elusive desire that drives human beings to develop passion, which leads to unwholesome actions. These elusive desires in Buddhism are commonly known as Klesas, which are egocentric view, ignorance, self-attachment and arrogance.
Cessation (nirodha) is the third holy truth of suffering that form the hopeful path due to the teachings of acknowledging suffering as well as learning how to lessen it. The third truth is regarded as advocating the possibility of healing among faithful. Lastly, path (marga) is regarded as the fourth holy truth that culminates to cessation (nirodha) associated with suffering. The eight-fold path involves various aspects in a Buddhists life, which include right meditation, right view, right mindfulness, right thinking, right effort, right speech, right livelihood and right action. Therefore, when one possesses the right view, it is presupposed that an individual thoroughly understands the four holy truths (Damien 53).
conclusion, Buddhism may not be regarded as a religion since it does not
envisage the existence of God. However, it recognizes and acknowledges the
existence of supernatural powers and beings like spirits and gods. Nonetheless,
it is regarded as one of the most ethical religion that emphasizes on doctrinal
issues that ought to be followed. Despite belonging to diverse school of
Buddhism, they denounce use of violence in achieving their objectives and any
form of violence is considered incomprehensible. In my interactions with
Buddhists, I have observed their strict observation of the law. They also
believe that their doctrinal inclination should be adopted universally. With
issues of separation between Theravada and Mahayana, many Buddhists as per my
observations are against such set up. They advocate and acknowledge the need to
merge the two extreme ends for unison and comprehensive global agenda to be
achieved. Finally, the regard of
Buddhism in the Western world does not go down well with Buddhists in the large
Asian region. I observed that many Buddhists are not comfortable with the
regard they receive in the Western world. Although many considered the interactions
of material world as essential, considerable control and restrain is
Damien, Keown. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1996. Print.
Szczygiel, Pamela. A Buddhist-Informed Conceptual Framework for Approaching Difficult Emotions in Psychotherapy (Dissertation). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. 2014. Print.