This introduction to Buddhism is in the first place an easy and small guide to the thought processes and ideas behind buddhism. Although things such as its history, the different kinds of buddhism and a Buddhist dictionary also have their importance, I am mainly interested in showing people what buddhist ideas can mean for your life.
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Buddhism is just about anything you want it to be. To me Buddhism is "just" a philosophical guide to living a life. When we move towards certain characteristics of Buddhism which require a certain amount of belief rather than human logic (such as reincarnation) you will see why I am hesitant to follow and "believe" everything the Buddha has said. However if you wish to practice Buddhism to the fullest and try to achieve full enlightenment, you will require a little bit more devotion to Tibetan Buddhism than me. But don't let my non-believing or my personal "Buddhism Light" (or "Buddhism Zero" for the men) as I like to call it stand in your way. It's your choice, and even that can change.
The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Thruths is where every buddhist line of thought begins. It is the foundation of Buddhism. Although it may seem a bit difficult and theoretical by the looks of the Truths' names, you will soon find out how easy it is to understand. Just click on every single noble truth to learn a bit more.
1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha)
"Now this ... is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."
Hold on ! This doesn't sound like fun. Everything is suffering ? Are you sure you're talking about Buddhism (that thing with Zen and such) and not about some Emo-subculture ? Or is this just a trick to induce fear ? As we all know people who are anxious are easy to fool and will follow anything or anyone that tries to comfort them.
In my mind Dukkha should not be translated as "suffering" but rather as "disquietude" or "unsatisfactoriness", a constant state of restlessness, a barrier to happiness. What The First Truth really tries to tell us is that nothing lasts forever/everything is impermanent. Your human life won't last forever, friendships may go lost, your 14-days holiday will end (most likely in 14 days), sex can only satisfy you very temporarily, things that make you happy or unhappy or things that leave you indifferent won't last. Nothing lasts forever.
The Buddha tells us that there are three kinds of pain: Dukkha-dukkha (pain of pain: physical pain, illness, old age, death and bereavement), Viparinama-dukkha (pain of alteration/change: mismatched expectations and the fact that (happy) times won't last) and finally Sankhara-Dukkha (pain of formation: the factors constituting the human mind and skandhas).
2. Causes/Origin of Suffering (Samudaya)
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."
The First Noble truth explains us that the origin of our suffering is that nothing lasts forever. We suffer because our girl- or boyfriend left us, because we are aging and our body can't keep up with our thoughts, because we're tired of our latest gadget but can't buy a new one, because nothing seems to quiet down our hunger...
It is pretty obvious that the cause of this suffering lies within our attachment to all these things. We always want to go back to when we felt good or we always want to get rid of our bad feelings. But whatever happens there never seems to be a real solution. It's like taking a headache pill against a headache that won't ever stop (yes I know, buddhists say nothing lasts forever :)): you feel a little bit better for a few hours but it will hit you harder in the face every time.
The cause of suffering is our craving for all these things; a craving for the pill that temporarily releases us. But the craving never stops.
3. Stopping/Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha)
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it."
Again no surprises here: the cessation of suffering is only possible by ending the craving from the second Noble Truth. By recognizing our desires, such as greed and lust, we might be able to control the attachment we have built up to these desires. This however does not imply at all that we are flattening out our emotions (as we try to get rid of the feelings we have known as happy or unhappy feelings), we are just redefining them to try and find longer-lasting "true" happiness and peace of mind.
4. The Path (Marga) to the Cessation of Suffering
"Now this ... is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
This is where it really starts. While the first three Noble Truths are important to recognise what is going wrong, it is the fourth step that tries to change our entire frame of reference, our philosophy of life. So how do we stop all this craving and free the path to enlightenment and the Nirvana ? Or for less ambitious people (which includes me): where do we begin to change our life for the better ? Where do we find true happiness and inner rest ?
The Path towards the Cessation of Suffering is a list with eight steps (those buddhists really know how to organise their teachings): The Noble Eightfold path. In short, the 8 steps are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. More on this later as our introduction to buddhism continues to grow.