Many people have misconceptions about Buddhism. Here are some facts most people seem to get wrong.
1) Siddhartha Gautama never traveled outside of India but his teachings did. Siddhartha Gautama was a spiritual teacher in Ancient India who founded Buddhism. It is important to remember that he was a Vedic Brahman (Hindu by today’s standards) so many of his ideas were originally part of the ancient traditional religions of the local historical period. He is believed to have lived from around 563 BCE to around 483 BCE as he is believed to have died at 80 years old. He traveled and taught along the Ganges River Valley starting near his home, near what is now Nepal.
2) He is sometimes called Shakyamuni Buddha, or the Prince of the Shakyas (“Sage of the ÅšÄÂÂ kyas”), because of Ssakya Mountain Range which was his father’s (King Suddhodana) kingdom. He was born a prince but chose to become a holy man. He was raised in wealth and shielded from the outside world but became curious about what people’s lives outside the palace might be like. Many legends surround his birth, but all that is actually known is that his mother was supposed to have died in childbirth or soon (days) afterwards. His father had been warned shortly after his birth that he would become a great military leader or a great spiritual leader. His father, the king, had his own ideas of what was proper for Siddhartha, but, at around 29 years old, with the help his charioteer, he escaped the palace walls and ventured outside to find out what life was like for other people. He witnessed the effects of old age, sickness, and saw a corpse, making him aware of death. Finally, he saw an ascetic. Siddharha’s charioteer explained that the ascetic was one who had renounced the world and sought release from fear of death and suffering.
3) Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha in order to end the suffering (dissatisfaction) of all human beings. He realized the fact that we are all impermanent and decided to go on a spiritual quest for enlightenment. He studied with all the best teachers of religion and philosophy that he could find at the time and learned how to meditate but decided that somehow wasn’t enough for him.
4) The Middle Way: He still had much to learn and turned to the ascetics of the time to follow but in time discovered that the extremes that they endured weren’t working for him. He followed their ways of self inflicting pain and enduring it, fasting until he was weak, and holding his breath. This didn’t satisfy him as he decided this was just another ego inflating method of self-gratification, proving one’s self through self-abuse. He decided to turn from their strict abeyance to rules about starving one’s self and eating unclean things, as he realized he would need strength to continue his quest, so he developed what is known as “the middle way”. When his disciples saw that he wasn’t following the way they thought necessary, they decided to leave him. He left and decided to sit under a sacred fig tree until he had discovered the answer. The tree was what was considered a sacred fig tree near Bodh Gaya, the tree being named later, the Bodhi Tree. From Wikipedia * “…The Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo (from the Sinhalese Bo), was a large and very old Sacred Fig tree (Ficus religiosa) in Bodh Gaya (about 100 km (62 mi) from Patna in the Indian state of Bihar), under which SiddhÄÂ rtha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, is said to have achieved enlightenment, or Bodhi….”
5) His Awakening: In his deep state of meditation (samadhi) for several days he became enlightened and when he rose from his deep meditation, he declared that he had some answers to the questions he had sought. He imparted the wisdom of the four noble truths and the eightfold path which come in order for a reason. Without the previous, the rest would be impossible to attain. 6)The Four Noble Truths
1) Suffering (dukkha) does exist. (All humans suffer during birth, pain, sickness, and death.
2) The cause of suffering is desire. We all have desires that are either selfish or unrealistic. This is considered “delusional”.
3) There is a way to reach cessation of suffering.
4) The cessation of suffering comes through practicing the eightfold path. (Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path.)
7) The Eightfold Path
1) Right View } Wisdom
2) Right Intention } Wisdom
3) Right Speech } Ethical Conduct
4) Right Action } Ethical Conduct
5) Right Livelihood } Ethical Conduct
6) Right Effort } Mental Development
7) Right Mindfulness } Mental Development
8) Right Concentration/Meditation } Mental Development
8) Buddhist Principles: By striving towards the right thing one lessens selfish desire, therefore reaching a state of happiness internally that is not dependent on conditional circumstances. Mindfulness in all things is a key ingredient. If one understands that any tangible thing that we desire is impermanent and ceases to be “attached” to these things that we cannot keep, then one becomes more at peace. We can not become attached to any views since we will become passionate about this and when circumstances change, our view will no longer be important or pertinent.
9) Buddhism is not a self help program: Beware of those who call themselves a master or try to sell you “enlightenment”. There are many books and centers out there which try to use words like enlightenment” that is something that actually has to be attained personally, it can’t be given or taught in a paint by the numbers program that promises some things. First, the word enlightenment is not used in any of the texts from Siddhartha Gautama was concerned that people might rush into this without understanding and this would lead to repeating traditional ceremonies without understanding, which will lead to disappointment because of the lack of benefit from practice. Do not come to an understanding of Buddhism lightly or quickly, take your time and be sure. This will take investigation. Investigate completely, any facets that you don’t understand until it makes sense. Also, practice with others and a good teacher are the best method of learning.
10) Buddhism IS A RELIGION: It disturbs some Buddhists that some people feel that Buddhism is just a philosophy. Some people feel there has to be a main book or one religious deity to worship in order for a religion to be real. Most modern practitioners of Buddhism see that all religions are filled with mythology and they understand that most deities and mythological objects in Buddhism are analogies for science and nature or our own mental make up that early man could not explain. Some practitioners, especially in Asia, still believe in the physical existence of some of these objects and deities. We have to remember that early Buddhist teachings came from Siddhartha Gautama in India, who was a Vedic Brahman. It then traveled across Asia to China where it adapted to Confucianism, which relied strongly on Filial Piety. It then traveled through to Japan, where it adapted to Shinto, which is still practiced side by side with Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism was created to adapt to all other learning. Siddhartha Gautama likened it to “a raft to get to the other side” in a parable he taught. “The Parable of The Raft ” When speaking to his followers Gautama Buddha said, “When you come to a river and the current is too fast to allow you to swim across and there is no bridge then you might decide to build a raft. If after crossing the river you would have some choices as to what to do with the raft. a) You could tie it to the bank to be used by someone else later. b) You could set it afloat for someone else to find. c) You could say to yourself, “What a wonderful raft”, and then pick it up and carry it around on top of your head from now on. Which would be proper use of the raft? Buddhism is practiced in most countries around the world, although Buddhists make up only about 7% of the world’s religious population. Only a few modern Buddhist sects use an evangelical approach, trying to convert everyone around them. Most Buddhists refrain from trying to propagate their religion to anyone who doesn’t seek it. From the Order of Interbeing:(Vietnamese Buddhism order founded by Thich Nhat Hanh) “…Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through practicing deeply and engaging in compassionate dialogue….”