What Is Buddhism?

In this post I describe ‘Buddhism’ as a religion of self-help. The teachings traditionally ascribed to Siddhattha Gotama, the historical Buddha, are concerned primarily with ending existential angst and attaining liberation from the endless and painful cycle of death and rebirth. The Buddha claimed not to be a God or a saviour, just a man who had attained liberation by his own efforts and was able therefore to point the way for us to do the same…

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‘Buddhism’ could be described as a religion of self-help.

Dharma Wheel

Dharma Wheel

The teachings traditionally ascribed to Siddhattha Gotama, the historical Buddha, are concerned primarily with ending existential angst and attaining liberation from the endless and painful cycle of death and rebirth. This ‘suffering’, he said, was endured by all who had yet to realise the ultimate truth. The Buddha claimed not to be a God or a saviour, just a man who had attained liberation by his own efforts and was able therefore to point the way for us to do the same.

Buddha

Buddha

Moreover, the Buddha famously insisted that his teachings (dhamma or dharma) were not to be believed but verified through practice and observation. Obviously this does require the aspirant to have some initial faith or confidence that the effort of practicing the advice will be worth it in the long run, but this is entirely different from the sort of naive faith that is demanded by the theistic religions (i.e. belief in a supreme creator being and strict observance of sacred rules or commandments supposedly given by the alleged creator). And while the Buddha appears to have acknowledged the existence of angelic beings (devas) and other realms of existence, it’s interesting to note that he wouldn’t be drawn on the question of how and when the universe was created or by whom, arguing that such questions are unanswerable, irrelevant to The Goal, and lead only to more suffering.

My own experience is that Buddhists generally are more interested in the quality and practicalities of the teachings and in whether or not they actually do have a positive and beneficial impact. They are less interested in who said what, or when. Buddhism doesn’t always fit comfortably with modern scientific thinking, but nevertheless it’s empirical. Certainly, it’s impossible to prove or refute the central claims of Buddhism just by reading about them or debating them.

See also Dhamma for an explanation of the Buddha’s main teachings.

Image Credits

‘Dharma Wheel’ – Freewebs.com

‘Buddha’ – Image-maker / source unknown)



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