It is better to travel well than to arrive.
What is Buddhism? I hope by the end of this article you will have a clearer understanding about what Buddhism is. But more importantly I hope that you’ll understand how Buddhism can help you achieve greeter success and piece in your life without struggling with attachment.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, or at least a brief overview of Buddhism I want to draw your attention to the Zen koan that made up the second part of my title.
A koan is a fundamental part of Japanese Zen Buddhism in which a story, dialogue, statement or question that seems nonsensical cannot be understood through rational thought. As such, the meditating upon such a koan can offer insight through intuition or lateral thinking.
Perhaps the most common koan that many of us have heard is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
I’m not going to answer that one for you, it is for you to determine. But my koan “how I killed the Buddha and got away with murder” I will answer for you. But first, let us come full circle and understand what Buddhism is all about.
Buddhism for me might be something different than for you. If you’d like to explore an understanding of Buddhism as well as the major Buddhist sects, I highly recommend Buddhism for Dummies. This will give you a great start from which to explore deeper aspects of Buddhism if you so choose.
I am not a Buddhist. Though I do appreciate many of the teachings and insights offered by Buddhism.
Buddhism is an Eastern religion that was founded around 2,500 years ago. Predating Christianity it was founded by Siddhartha Gautama who was a rich Nepalese prince.
As an aside, a great book worth reading that has some Buddhist undertones is the Herman Hesse novel Siddhartha.
Anyway, Siddhartha who originally trained under the Yogic tradition, which was quite ascetic, decided to abandon such practice and instead spent some time meditating on the meaning of life under a bodhi tree. They called it a bodhi tree when in fact it was a fig tree.
The word bodhi means enlightenment or awakened and is a Sanskrit word. Because Siddhartha became enlightened or awakened underneath this fig tree, it became known as the bodhi tree or tree of enlightenment.
He was apparently around 35 years old when this happened and at that time became known as Buddha or enlightened one.
He became enlightened, at least in my opinion, to some extent because he came to understand the 4 Noble Truths which are the major tenets or teachings of Buddhism.
These 4 Noble Truths are: 1. Life means suffering. 2. The origin of suffering is attachment. 3. The ending of suffering is attainable and 4. The path to ending suffering is the Eightfold Path.
So we need to understand the Eightfold Path too. The Eightfold Path is a roadmap about how we should conduct ourselves if we are seekers in search of enlightenment and awakening. This Eightfold Path is actually like an instruction manual upon which you can learn to conduct your life so that you avoid and eventually eradicate suffering and become enlightened.
Sounds easy but it’s not. Here is the Eightfold Path:
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
For a more detailed explanation you can follow that link up above.
But as an example, Right Action would encompass things that we are familiar with and which might appear in the Ten Commandments. So Right Action is about not stealing, killing, committing adultery and all those sorts of things.
It really is a great way of learning how to conduct oneself in life.
Like all of the great religions, Buddhism can be distilled down to The Golden Rule. The Golden Rule you might recall is “do unto others as you would have done unto you”.
The Golden Rule can be traced in one way or another to ancient Babylon as far back as 1780 BCE. Confucius has been quoted as mentioning something similar to The Golden Rule way back at around 500 BCE in China.
One of the other important aspects of Buddhism that is worth mentioning is the idea of karma.
Karma as a doctrine of Buddhism has been extensively debated and discussed. It is perhaps one of the hardest aspects of Buddhism and for that matter Eastern Philosophy for us to understand.
The basic idea is that karma is a moral law of causation. Merriam Webster defines karma thusly: the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.
Not very helpful.Oxford Dictionaries defines karma as: the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. (informal) good or bad luck, viewed as resulting from one’s actions.
This is better. I understand karma like this and I hope it helps you understand it better. As you sow so shall you reap.
If you sow apple seeds you’ll get pleasant sweet apple fruit to eat. If you sow hemlock seeds you’ll get poisonous hemlock to eat.
Basically, every action that we take has an equal and opposite reaction. The idea is to do good deeds to build good rewards so that we can become reborn in next lives at more advantageous positions – not necessarily material – so that we can attain enlightenment.
That my evolving and awakening spiritual bodhisattvas is Buddhism in a nutshell.
So now I’ll answer the Zen koan I gave you at the beginning of this article. I couldn’t have killed the Buddha as he’s been dead for around 2,500 years. But I did get away with murder.
I have gotten away with murder by killing the idea that Buddhists can be omnivorous if they want.
It is true that many Buddhists eat meat and perhaps the Buddha ate meat on some occasions as well, though I have my doubts about that. An enlightened soul witnessing the murder of a sentient being could never eat of that flesh unless upon pain of death.
We always like to hear good things about our bad habits and so myths like the fact that Buddha died of eating rancid meat still get propagated about. When in fact it was a wild mushroom he ate.
Nevertheless, we speculate 2,500 years later what the Buddha did or did not eat.
The more important question is what would he eat under current conditions and in modern times. I am very certain his diet would be one of plants. More importantly, if you choose to practice Buddhism then living by Right Action is not to cause or to have caused the suffering and death of sentient beings.
No matter how you dice it, there is no room for flesh foods on a Buddhist’s plate or alms bowl.
That is my position and I stand by it. It is better to go without than to dine on the death of living beans… so says this bodhisattva!