|Gandharan Buddhist scroll, 1st century AD (British Library Or. 14915, 30v)|
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is arguably more a philosophical outlook, or spiritual tradition, more than a "religion." [It is a path of practice, a set of instructions to seeing for oneself, to developing serenity and compassion, gaining liberating insight, and glimpsing nirvana.]
It does not believe in a supreme deity and does not look for a relationship between humanity and God. It centers on the search for enlightenment (bodhi) through the practice and development of virtue (sila), meditation, and wisdom, taking a "middle way" through life.
Compassion, and a regard for the interconnected nature of life, is central.
Buddhism dates back [at least] 2,600 years to when Siddhartha Gautama, or "the Buddha," achieved enlightenment under a sacred fig tree. There are two main surviving sects, Theravada [the Teaching of the historical Buddha's direct disciples, the Elder or theras] and Mahayana ["Great Vehicle"] Buddhism, and many smaller ones, splinter groups from Mahayana.
There are an estimated 300-500 million Buddhists worldwide [not counting more than 1 billion living in officially atheist China], including around 150,000 in Britain.
|Bamiyan, Afghanistan, near Kapil'/Kabul|
Eventually he moderated this lifestyle of severe deprivation and found the "Middle Way" avoiding extremes of luxury and austerity. Sitting beneath a Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), according to tradition, he achieved a profound understanding of the cycle of death and rebirth by emerging from profound absorption (jhana, dhyana) meditation then immediately practicing insight meditation (vipassana), contemplating the question, "Where does this present suffering (unsatisfactory state) have its origin?" He saw the links of causation called Dependent Origination, which led him to the realization that our state now has its causes and conditions in past karma, past lives, and present responses to the results of those actions. He saw his past lives, understood the causes of misery -- craving, aversion, and most of all delusion (wrong view, confusion, ignorance). The light of wisdom dawned on him. Through his great enlightenment, that of a supremely self-awakened buddha rather than a disciple, Siddhartha became the Buddha, the fully "Awakened One."
The Buddha taught for 45 years, providing his disciples and hearers with many sutras (discourses) and detailed explanations. The recitation of these formalized sutras -- traditional teachings or sermons first written in Buddhist Sanskrit -- is an important part of Buddhist devotional and practical observances.
- [Note: a chakra-vartin is a world monarch, but here in a spiritual warrior sense rather than an ordinary warrior sense, highly esteemed by the Buddha's caste, the kshtriyas or warrior nobles. So in a sense the prediction at his birth came to pass, and his father's wish to have a son become ruler of the world in a mundane sense failed. But his father and a considerable portion of his clan benefited from the Buddha's teachings and gained ordination and enlightenment].
Band-e-Amir National Park, Bamiyan, Afghanistan (TripAdvisor)
What do the Gandharan scrolls say?