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Buddhist Traditions Essay

Buddhism is an Eastern religion practiced in most Asian countries. The religion was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (the “Buddha”) in the late 6th century B.C.E. Even though Buddhism is practiced in many ways, a commonality among these ways is a drawing from the life experiences of the Buddha and his teachings. The “spirit” or “essence” of his teachings also referred to as dhamma or dharma, serve as models for the religious life. Some of the teachings of enlightenment that have been an influence of the disciples of Buddha are in regard to having an understanding of suffering and finding the end to all suffering, and on having mutual respect by having right mindfulness and right meditation and the principle of ataman. The beliefs and practice of both Karma and Dharma allow an individual to avoid ignorance and allow for mutual respect, which in return grants the individual peace and happiness.

Buddha set the stage for future Buddhist with his teachings on The Noble Eightfold Path and The Principles of Mutual Respect, which many in the world can relate to and use today. What is known about the Noble Eightfold Path? What is Mutual Respect? How can Buddhism be used and understood today?History of BuddhaThe many teachings of Buddha were not discovered until the 1st or 2nd century C.E. until the writings of Buaciha Charija (life of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa gave an account of Buddha’s life. The Buddha who was born in ca. 563 B.C.E. in Lumbini, a place in North India near the Himalayan foothills, began his teachings around Benares (at Sarnath). “His era in general was one of spiritual, intellectual, and social ferment. This was the age when the Hindu ideal of renunciation of family and social life by holy persons seeking Truth first became widespread.” (Vail, 1982).

SufferingBuddha had attained enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree (The Buddha & The Bodhi Tree, n.d). He sought to understand suffering, its cause, its end, and the path that led to its end. By the third night he found his answer which is known as the four noble truths. The first noble truth is the life means suffering (Kniermin, 2009). Human nature and the world is not perfect, therefore, inevitably those in the physical life will suffer from sickness, injury, pain, tiredness, old age, and eventually death. Humans also suffer psychologically such as sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, and depression.

The second truth is that the origin of suffering is attachment. Desire causes suffering as does the pursuit of wealth and prestige. Those that strive for fame and popularity will also suffer. The third truth is ceasing suffering through nirodha. Nirodha is to not make sensual craving and conceptual attachment. To cease suffering means to remove all cause of suffering through ones actions. To attain perfection in ridding all passions and attachments one would gain Nirvana. To have Nirvana means one no longer worries or has trouble. The fourth truth is that is a gradual path of self-improvement will end all suffering and this can be attained through the following of the Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path describes the end of suffering through the practice of mental development which was described by Siddhartha Gautama (Kniermin, 2009b). The goal is to free the individual from attachments and delusions, leading one to understand the truth of all things. The beginning and the end of the path is to have the right view. The right view is to see things as they truly are and understand karma. The first step is to know that all beings suffer and to realize that the view of the world is through thoughts and the right view yields right thoughts and actions.

Actions are usually expressed through ones attention. Having the right intentions is having a commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. The three types of right intentions are: 1. to resist desire, 2. strive to avoid feelings of anger, and 3. not think or act in a violent, cruel, or aggressive manner. Although one can have the right intentions one must make an effort. One can have the right effort by preventing unwholesome states. To attain right efforts one must have the right mindfulness. To have a clear consciousness and perceive things as they truly are.

The way one conducts oneself is to have the right speech, for words can break or save a person, make enemies or friend, create peace or start a war. Right speech is the practice of not telling lies, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh words, and abstaining from conversation that has no point. Not only is having the right words important, but having the right action. The right actions is to not take life even oneself and to abstain from robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, dishonesty, and sexual misconduct.

The way earns ones living is to have the right livelihood. One should gain wealth legally and peacefully. Some occupations that are not consider to the right livelihood would be prostitution, selling or buying of weapons, raising animals for slaughter or working in a butchery, and selling intoxicants.

The eighth principle of the path is to have right concentration. To have right concentration is to establish the mind rightly, which involves all the paths of the noble eightfold (Bhikkhu, 2001 -2009). To establish the right concentration one would use meditation. Tranquil meditation quiets the mind. To enter into right concentration one has to be alert for it can not arise on its own. Once one is able to enter into right concentration one will experience stillness, rapture, and pleasure.

Mutual RespectBuddhism teaches one to be mutually respectful of one another since it can lead one down a road of tolerance and acceptance. Mutual respect corresponds to the concept of treat others the way an individual would like to be treated in return. Mutual respect ensures that trust is present in all interactions. Mutual respect operates within the domain of practical reasoning and assists individuals seeking knowledge of what to do and how one should do it, when one wants to build or sustain democracy. However, practical reasoning principles differ from rules. The journey one follows towards understanding, respecting and trusting others winds through hills and valleys. It can be difficult to find the path and even more difficult to stay on the right path. The belief is that it takes true humility, willingness to first listen, a sober look at ones own shortcomings, and commitment over time, however, this approach will not work for everyone.

A common thread in world religions are that the teachings are to improve humanity and improve people’s ethical behavior thereby improving life on earth. An important leason is for people to learn not to be consumed with material things but to strive to have a balance between material and spiritual progress. All religions need to work together to make the world a better place. The world needs not only material progress, but also spiritual progress as well. If humans only develop spiritually and do not take care of the material side then people go hungry, and that is not very good either. There needs to be a balance. One does not have to agree with or even necessarily like a person or a religion, but it does ensure that interactions run smoothly.

Mutual respect implies recognition that all individuals are human beings together, that in fact, all beings are one. Humans are one and the same, of the same source, each reflecting another aspect of oneself. Instead of looking at differences between groups of people, or indeed between religions, a spiritually oriented person focuses upon similarities. If everyone were to do this, there would be no violence, no wars, no lack of respect for others, and no lack of self-respect.

Mutual respect is important because it transforms conflict into peace, compromise, and production. Respect creates an atmosphere that allows for progress to be made. An individual can not expect to receive respect if he or she does not first offer respect. A person is more willing to take part in understanding something if the individual believes that his or her thoughts, opinions, and feelings will be taken into consideration and respected.

Mutual respect is created when people treat others as they want to be treated. As mentioned The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” brings forth the idea that all things are connected and in relationship to one another. Mutual respect can “grow from its own process and dynamics. Be the first to accord respect, and with time, it will develop amongst all he conflicting parties” (Beyond Intractability, 2005). If one person is giving respect but not receiving it in return from the other person, conflict is likely to result and could have consequences for both sides. A balance and compromise will result in peace.

Buddhism strongly focuses on the anatman, the inner-self, and obtaining the balance of peace with both the inner-self and outer-self. Therefore, mutual respect greatly relates to the beliefs of the Buddhist religion in respect to eliminating negative energy. Conflicts and not respecting other individuals would only defeat the purpose of what one is trying to accomplish with Ataman. Buddhists also believes in karma, the consequences of one’s actions. This means that if a Buddhist were to deny respect then in return he or she would suffer the consequences of those actions. This would delay his or her progress towards complete inner and outer peace.

The Buddhist religion also discourages ignorance, or lack of knowledge, which can be a result of ignoring mutual respect. “All the problems we experience during daily life originate from ignorance and the method for eliminating ignorance is to practice Dharma” (About Buddha, 2007). Dharma is the act of protecting oneself from suffering and from problems. By practicing mutual respect an individual can avoid any unnecessary conflict or problems that would get in the way obtaining peace and happiness. “Practicing Dharma is the supreme method for improving the quality of our human life” (About Buddha, 2007). By granting mutual respect in all subject matters, an individual improves the quality of his or her life.

Buddhist SectsMutual respect is realized in many Buddhist sects. Buddha’s teachings reached far beyond the area in which he began and formed two primary divisions. The original teachings of Buddha are the Southern School, called Theravada or better known as “Way of the Elders.” Theravada is mainly taught in the Southeast Asian countries. The Northern School is referred to as Mahayana or “The Greater Vehicle,” and is comprised of countries in the North (Fisher, 2002 p. 157).

Many writings came from these sects. Those who follow the teachings of Theravada studied older writings called the Pali Canon. A collection of Buddha’s teachings, the Pali Canon was compiled after Buddha’s death by a council of five hundred monks who had studied under him. From the Southern School is the Triple Gem which is a collection of Buddha, dharma and sangha. These were used in order for one to convert to Buddhism. Meditations were also very important. One of the techniques was Vipassana meditation. The word Vipassana can be translated to mean “insight.” This was important because by developing insight helps to calm, focus and watch the mind (Fisher, 2002, p. 161).

From the Northern School, Mahayana teachings were referred to as the path of compassion and metaphysics. Though they had the respect of the Southern School, these were teachings that reached beyond those of the Pali Canon. The Mahayanists claimed these scriptures were given only to those kindhearted and enlightened beings. Those scriptures called the Mahayana sutras told of the significance of spiritual understanding. To the Mahayanists, the dharma is not only a term used in writings, but the actual source of a conversion event that makes one realize the need for enlightenment as the absolute significance of life (Fisher, 2002, p. 164).

Through the years, Buddha made his teachings in reference to the audience in which he spoke. Buddha in effect, had taught in different levels depending on the willingness of the audience to pay attention to the truth. As time proceeded, the audience changed, and the Mahayanists looked past the Pali Canon which was a teaching to help those with lower capacities to the sutra which would teach the true meaning of the dharma. New Mahayana communities were formed. They called themselves Bodhisattvas.

Bodhisattvas were dedicated to attaining enlightenment. These were teachings that expanded on those taught in the sutra. Bodhisattvas believed that not only were there special people who could gain spiritual growth; it could be obtained by the masses of people also. The goal was to achieve the enlightenment and to see in that enlightenment what you have not seen before, which is the divinity of the world (Loverade, n.d.).

In accordance with these teachings, Bodhisattvas should become enlightened and return to help others to obtain the same goal. Those returning would not experience the suffering in which others were exposed. The idea is not only to become enlightened, but also to become like Buddha himself and be an enlightened one who returns to the world.

ConclusionBuddha, born in 563 B.C.E brought teaching of enlightenment to the world. He taught that desiring brings suffering. He also taught his followers to respect other religions through an open mind and tolerance. Throughout Buddhism’s teachings and beliefs runs the undercurrent of mutual respect and enlightenment. In essence, one cannot reach enlightenment without mutual respect. By integrating the four noble truths and the eight fold path an individual will reach an understanding of anatman and the impermanence that exists in life. Illusions will end and self-centeredness will erode and an individual will eventually be free from attachments and understand the truth of all things. Once enlightenment is reached by an individual, the individual is to become like Buddha and return to the world to help others.


About Buddha (2007). About Buddha. Retrieved July 31, 2009 from http://www.aboutbuddha.orgBerzin, Alexander, (1988). The Berzin Archives. Retrieved July 31, 2009 fromhttp://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/world_today/buddhist_view_other_religions.htmlBeyond Intractability (2005). A free knowledge base on more constructive approaches todestructive conflict. Retrieved July 30, 2009 from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/respect/?nid=6573Bhikkhu, T. (2001- 2009). Right concentration. Retrieved August 3, 2009 fromhttp://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/suwat/concentration.htmlFail,L.F. (1982). Focus. Retrieved July 31, 2009 fromhttp://afe.easia.columbia.edu/japan/japanworkbook/religion/origins.htmlFisher, M.P. (2003). Living religions (5th ed.). Retrieved August 1, 2009 from UOPrEsource REL133Knierim, T. (2009a). The four noble truths. Retrieved August 2, 2009 fromhttp://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.htmlKnierim,T. (2009b). The noble eightfold path. Retrieved August 2, 2009 fromhttp://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.htmlLoverade, L. (n.d.). Five stages of consciousness in religion and the returning buddha.

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