Buddhism 101

Buddhism 101
“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”
-Nancy Willard


Buddhism 101 is a selected collection of brief answers to basic Buddhist teachings. It is geared toward the curious and those just starting to study and practice Buddhism in their lives. The basic subjects introduced serve as a general view of the Buddha’s teachings. Come and visit us for an in-depth exploration of the Dharma.

Buddhism 101

Who was the Buddha? The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama in Nepal around 2,500 years ago. He did not claim to be a god or a prophet. He was a human being who became Enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible. His insights spread throughout Asia and have slowly found its way to the Western World.

What does the word ‘Buddha’ mean? The literal meaning is ‘awakened.’ It stands for the awakened state when one has finally woken up to the truth becoming enlightened.

What is Buddhism? According to the Buddha, the “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good and to purify one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddhas” (Dhammapada 183). This is the simplest way to describe Buddhism.

What did Buddha teach? Even though his teachings stretched over 45 years, it is all fundamentally contained within the Four Noble Truths: the existence of dissatisfaction, the cause of dissatisfaction, the cessation of dissatisfaction, and the path to liberation from dissatisfaction through the Eightfold Path. We suffer from dissatisfaction when life goes against us, our hopes are destroyed, or tragedy strikes. We can even suffer when life does go our way. Why? We fear loss of what we have gained: pleasure, wealth, family and friends.

What is the Eightfold Path? Within the Four Noble Truth is found the guide to end dissatisfaction: the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight parts of the path to liberation are grouped into three essential elements of Buddhist practice: Moral Conduct (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood); Concentration (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration); and Wisdom (Right Understanding, Right Thought). The Buddha taught the Eightfold Path to his disciples, and his directions are as clear and practical to his followers today as they were when he first gave them. It takes determination and great effort to follow this path that leads to happiness, peace and enlightenment.

What are The Five Precepts? The 5 Precepts are the most basic code of ethics for lay Buddhists. By maintaining the Precepts, one is training oneself to behave as a Buddha would behave. Having understood that killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and intoxication only lead us to harm ourselves and others now and in the future, we want to avoid these. By observing precepts, not only do we cultivate our moral strength and energy, but we also perform the highest service to our fellow beings.

Is there a God in Buddhism? Buddha does not endorse any views on creation. Rather, Buddhism emphasizes the system of causal relationships underlying the universe that constitute the natural order. No dependence on the phenomena of a supernatural reality is asserted in order to explain the behavior of matter. Based on his experience, the Buddha saw that each human being had the capacity to purify the mind, develop infinite love and compassion and perfect understanding. He shifted attention from the heavens to the heart and encouraged us to find solutions to our problems through self-understanding.

What is Karma? Karma means action, work or deed and is the law that states every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things such as inequality in the world. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at the intention behind the action and effects of the action on oneself and others.

What about meditation in Buddhism? Regardless of tradition, meditation is the principal tool through which the Buddha’s realizations become our own. The aim of meditation is to guide practitioners in returning to the life of awareness and mindfulness in order to attain the state of renunciation, purity, and enlightenment. Sitting meditation is a blossoming awareness beneath the chattering of our everyday thoughts. It is practiced by sitting quietly and remaining conscious of the body’s breath (without altering the breath in any way), and by noticing subtle changes in the mind and body.

How do you become a Buddhist? To Take Refuge in the Triple Jewels and the Five Precepts is the first step to sow the seed of Bodhi (Awakened) in your mind.

Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels (the Buddha|Dharma|and Sangha) means relying wholeheartedly on the Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha to inspire and guide us in a constructive and beneficial direction in our lives. The taking of refuge occurs deep in our hearts and isn’t dependent on doing or saying anything. However, we may wish to participate in the refuge ceremony by requesting a monk or a nun to give us formally refuge.

Taking the Five Precepts (Sila) gives us energy and strength to live a life by moral and ethical standards. Precepts are a joy, not a burden. They aren’t designed to keep us from having a good time and to make us feel deprived. The purpose of taking precepts is to give us internal strength so that we won’t act in ways that we don’t want to. Having understood that killing, stealing, selfishness, sexual misconduct, and intoxication only lead us to harm ourselves and others now and in the future, we want to avoid these. Therefore, it is said that precepts are the ornaments of the wise.

Buddhism and Vegetarian Diet? There is no firm rule because people practice in different ways and at different levels. Maintaining a vegetarian diet has become increasingly popular for several reasons, such as improving health or protecting animals and environments. Some Buddhist schools avoid eating meat as to refrain from killing sentient beings either directly or indirectly.