Is Buddhism the Way to Enlightenment?

BhudhistBUDDHISM developed in Asia, and most adherents to it are still on that continent. But interest in Buddhist teachings has been increasing in other parts of the world in recent times. Many look to it as a way to “enlightenment.”

Buddhism is based upon the person and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as “Buddha” (meaning “Enlightened One”). Siddhartha was born into a royal family in India in the sixth century B.C.E.

While still a young man Siddhartha became disturbed over the fact that sickness, suffering, old age and death are the common lot of everyone. He determined to abandon his royal surroundings and to become a wanderer in search of truth.
For six years Gautama practiced extreme self-denial.

During this time he spoke with many teachers and philosophers but could not gain satisfying answers as to why life seemed to be so filled with unpleasantness. What would he do?

Gautama had grown up as a Hindu and was familiar with yoga, which includes exercises by mental concentration. He decided to search for the truth by means of meditation. To that end he sat down under a large fig tree called a bo tree. Here he claimed to have become enlightened, this making him a Buddha.
“Enlightenment” About What?

What was Buddha enlightened about that has attracted so many followers for centuries? To answer that question, let us consider some background information about the people of India in the sixth century B.C.E.

A scholar of Buddhist writings, Professor T. W. Rhys Davids, points out:
“The country was politically split up into little principalities, most of them governed by some petty despot, whose interests were not often the same as those of the community. . . . A convenient belief in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls satisfied the unfortunate that their woes were the natural result of their own deeds in a former birth, and, though unavoidable now, might be escaped in a future state of existence by present good conduct.[They were] hoping for a better fate in their next birth.”

Buddha himself was influenced by that belief in transmigration of souls after death. He developed a complicated philosophy based upon it. In general, Buddhists believe that rebirth can take place in five different states:

  •  in hell (there are eight hot hells, eight cold hells and other minor hells);
  •  as an animal;
  • as a “preta” (a ghost with a small mouth and big belly, tortured by hunger and thirst);
  •  as a human;
  • as a god. Of course, certain groups may list these various “states” somewhat differently.

Thus Buddha believed that all things were constantly going through a cycle, changing from one state to another. He considered nothing permanent. Buddha expressed his view of life as follows:

“Birth is suffering; decay is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering.”

Buddha’s enlightenment had to do with how to escape from the endless cycle of rebirths. How would that be possible?

By recognizing the “Four Noble Truths,” which may be summarized as follows:

  • All living is painful;
  • Suffering is due to craving or desire;
  • When desire ceases there comes a release from suffering;
  • The way to release from suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of four ethical precepts—right speech, effort, conduct and work—and four mental precepts—right views, hopes, attentiveness and contemplation.

So it is desire, in Buddha’s opinion, that links a person to the chain of rebirths. To escape from it one must extinguish all desire for things pleasing to the senses. All craving for life as we know it must be suppressed. Meditation was viewed as a means to that end.

Next Article >> Help in Solving Problems About Meditation.

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