What is Buddhism All About?

What is Buddhism all about? By way of introduction, I’d like to impart upon you one of the primary Buddhist teachings, the Four Noble Truths. These teachings are purported to be the very first teachings given by the Buddha. They are significant because they give us a simple path toward liberation, or freedom. They represent the awakening and liberation of the Buddha, and of the potential for all of us to reach the same liberation (nirvana) or freedom as him. So, what is Buddhism all about? Read on…

The Four Noble Truths are a conceptual framework that appears in the Pali Canon and early Sanskrit Buddhist teachings. These teachings provide a conceptual framework for introducing and explaining Buddhist thought which has to be personally understood and experienced. 

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. “Suffering” or unsatisfactoriness, is an innate characteristic of existence for all of us.
  2. The origin or arising of suffering is caused by our cravings, desires, attachments.
  3. The ending, cessation or confinement of suffering can be ended or contained by letting go of these attachments, cravings and desires.
  4. There is a path out of suffering, a marga, called the Noble Eightfold Path. 

Sounds pretty simple, right? Because the Buddhist teachings make so much common sense and can be applied to our daily lives, I have never considered Buddhism to be a “religion” per se. Most don’t. Those who do may not understand Buddha’s “prescription” for living a life free from self-induced suffering or perhaps may not have studied the Buddhist concepts to understand Buddha’s teachings. 

Practically the whole teaching of the Budda, to which he devoted 45 years of his life, deals in some way or another with this path. He explained it in different ways and in different words to different people, according to the state of their development and their capacity to understand and follow him. But the essence of all of Buddha’s discourses or dharma talks, is found in the noble eightfold path. 

Over the next eight weeks, I’d like to walk you through the Noble Eightfold Path and give you some practical guidance, suggestions and practical tips and guidance for you to incorporate these practices into your daily life.

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of:

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration

Right Thought

Right Understanding

For starters, it is important to note that when we say “right” we are not referring tour customary judgment of right and wrong. Also of note is that the path is not linear. Each step is incorporated into the  other. I will not be delivering these steps to you in any particular order for you to follow but instead, they are to be developed more or less simultaneously at your individual capacity. However, each is linked together and each helps cultivate the  others. 

These eight factors are designed to promote and perfect the three essential training and discipline of Buddhism; namely, q) ethical conduct, or sila, b) mental discipline or samadhi, and c) wisdom, or panna

It will be more helpful for you and promote better understanding of the eight parts of the path if we group them and explain them according to these three disciplines.

Ethical Conduct (sila) is built upon the conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings, on which the Buddha’s teaching is based. The Buddha gave his teachings “for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.”

According to Buddhism, two qualities should be developed equally: compassion (karuna) on one side, and wisdom (panna) on the other. In this context, compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance and our emotional side and qualities of the heart. Wisdom would naturally then stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind. 

If we only develop the emotional, neglecting the intellectual, we may become a good-hearted fool; while if we only develop the intellectual side and neglect the emotional side, we might turn into a hard-hearted intellect with no feeling for others.

Therefore, we need to develop both equally which is the aim of the Buddhist way of life. Wisdom and compassion are inseparably linked together. 

So let’s begin with ethical conduct, or sila, which is based on love and compassion. There are three factors of the Noble Eightfold Path under this umbrella: Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. 

In my next installment in this eight-part series, I will begin with our investigation of Right Speech