World View: A Brief Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is one of the world’s leading religion, and it has significant influence in shaping the Asian civilisation for the past 2,500 years. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, who was born in a park in Lumbini (currently located in modern-day Nepal).

Siddhartha’s father is a wealthy and powerful Sakyan tribe leader who doted on his son. Therefore, Siddhartha led a very sheltered and pampered life within the palace where he enjoyed luxury, married a princess and had a son. Then, he did not know or understand the word suffering.

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It is only when he ventured out of the palace that he witnessed disturbing sights that he had not witnessed before. Outside the palace grounds, he saw people experiencing pain from sickness, old age and death. He also saw a holy man and one of his minders explained that the holy man renounced the world and seek the release from the human fear of death and suffering.

What Siddartha witnessed and experienced outside the palace grounds gave such a deep and profound impression on him.  Soon after, he left his tribe, wife and son to lead an ascetic life and find a way to end universal suffering. And so, for the next six years, he experimented and practised with various religious leaders as his guide. Some of the ways that he tried were so extreme that he nearly died. On the other hand, before he became an ascetic, he was so obscured by the luxurious lifestyle of the palace that he failed to see the existence of suffering. Having experienced the two extremes of indulgence and severe fasting, he then realised that spiritual liberation/understanding or enlightenment cannot be achieved by extreme means. One has to follow a balanced path, and he called this path the Middle Way.

One day, after a long session of meditation, Siddhartha managed to attain enlightenment, and he was henceforth known as the Buddha, which means, “He who is awake”. He is also sometimes referred to as Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakya clan.

The central teaching of the Buddha is known as the Four Noble Truths. These are:

  • The truth of suffering
  • The truth of the cause of suffering
  • The truth of the end of suffering
  • The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.

In simpler terms, it is merely that there suffering exist; it has a cause; it has an end; there is a way to end it. The teachings of the Buddha is collectively known as the Dhamma, and the monastic community of the Buddha is known as the sangha. The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha are known as the triple gems of Buddhism.

So there you go, a very brief introduction to Buddhism and hope it helps to widen your view of the world and enables you to appreciate your Buddhist schoolmates/teachers/friends a little better.

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