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The events in the life of Siddhartha Gantama Essay

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(1) a) Select, describe and explain the events in the life of Siddhartha Gantama which illustrate his religious development.

It was quite obvious that Siddhartha Gantama was destined to become a very special man before he was even born. In 563 BCE Siddhartha’s mother dreamt that a great six-tusked white elephant entered her womb and soon after she found she was pregnant. When she was walking through the woods one day she felt something unusual. As she gasped the branch of a tree Siddhartha emerged painlessly from her side. The minute Siddhartha was born he took seven steps to the north, south, east and west and said ‘In this universe, I have come to purify the confused mind of all living beings’. Some say that as he walked lotuses blossomed from behind him, fountains sprang from the ground and a rainbow appeared in the sky. These events all indicated the Buddha’s holiness.

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Asita, an astrologer read Siddhartha’s stars and it became clear that he would either become a great king or a great holy man. As a child Siddhartha became exceptionally clever, being brilliant at everything he tried.

It was when Siddhartha saw the ‘Four Sights’, a sick man, an old man and a corpse, and finally a holy man that he questioned the cause of suffering and decided to become a holy man as was predicted by Asita. He joined a group of ascetics for six years, almost starving himself to death.

One day he went to a river and a local girl, seeing how skinny he was, offered him a bowl of milk rice. Here, he realised ‘The Middle Way’. When he had lived in complete luxury, getting everything he wanted he was still unhappy. When he was an ascetic and deprived himself he could not reach enlightenment. ‘The Middle Way’ is now an important Buddhist teaching, telling us not to take things to the extreme.

Siddhartha decided that if the now empty bowl floated upstream then he would become enlightened that night and sure enough it did. So he sat under a Bodhi tree and began to meditate but just as he began to be enlightened by Maya the demon tried to prevent him from doing so. Maya made visions of falling arrows, beautiful women and other distractions but Siddhartha still maintained his state of mind. Finally Siddhartha reached enlightenment and became the Buddha.

The Buddha decided to share his knowledge with others and first went to the ascetics. When they asked for teachings the Buddha told them about the Dharma. He died after 45 years later.

(1) b) Explain the purpose and significance of the rituals and tasks undertaken by Buddhists in daily life.

A large part of Buddhism is meditation. Meditation is a way of helping to clear the mind in order to think more clearly. It also helps Right Understanding. There are many different types of meditation, and whichever a Buddhist decides to practice, she/he should do so daily.

Through each day, a Buddhist must try to maintain all of the following in the Eightfold Path in order to make any spiritual progress…

The Eightfold Path

The Way of Wisdom -prajna

1. Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths

2. Right Thought

The Way of Morality -sila

3. Right Speech -Buddhists should avoid lying, spreading gossip, speaking

harshly and chattering aimlessly.

4. Right Action

5. Right Livelihood

The Way of Mental Training -samadhi

6. Right Effort

7. Right Mindfulness

8. Right Concentration

Also, a Buddhist must follow The Five Precepts, which are basic guidelines to Right Action…

The Five Precepts

1. I undertake to refrain from harming any living thing

2. I undertake to refrain from taking what is not given

3. I undertake to refrain from the misuse of the senses

4. I undertake to refrain from wrong speech

5. I undertake to refrain from taking intoxicants which cloud the mind

If Buddhists do not abide by these they will get bad karma and will therefore be less likely to reach Nirvana; this is every Buddhist’s goal.

When Buddhists are at a temple or shrine they perform puja. First the Buddhist places his/her hands together either standing or kneeling. Then, flowers are offered which then wither and die symbolising impermanence (annica). Candles are lit symbolising enlightenment. Incense is lit to remind the worshipper of the Buddha’s teaching. Then the worshipper recites the Three Jewels (triratna) three times…

“I go for refuge in the Buddha, I go for refuge in the Dharma, I go for refuge in the Sangha”

And may meditate in front of the shrine before leaving. This ritual is not done because they are worshipping the Buddha, but because they are paying respect to him and his teachings. By thinking of the Buddha as a God, you have Wrong Understanding.

(2) Explain how living a moral life could be said to be the heart of Buddhism for lay people.

Leading a moral life is a large part of Buddhism for Lay people. Bhikkus or Bhikkunis dedicate their whole lives to Buddhism and are therefore much more likely to become enlightened. Lay people instead aim to earn merit in order to have good karma and eventually reincarnate into someone who is given the chance to become a Bhikku/Bhikkuni. A way of earning this merit is to lead a moralistic life by following Buddhist beliefs such as the Eightfold Path.

The basis of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths. A Buddhist must first not only know, but also understand and support this belief before trying to devote themselves to other aspects of the religion. Buddhists believe that all life involves suffering and dissatisfaction (dukkha), and the cause of this is desire (tanha). It seems natural to want things; we do it all the time, we seldom realise it is causing us to suffer. Complete happiness, we seem to think is when we have everything we want, but this will probably never happen. You may say that if you are wealthy, healthy and surrounded by loved ones you will enjoy life and experience no suffering.

At first, yes, it may give you great pleasure but soon it will just become routine and will take your good fortune for granted. You will become restless and find the same surroundings dull. You will soon channel all you desire into another item and will therefore never be fully happy and content and always want more. This supports the first Mark of Existence, Annica; the belief that nothing is permanent and everything is always changing. The end of suffering is Nirvana. Nirvana is the idea that your personal identity has been ‘blown out’. In Nirvana there is no suffering, desire, hatred or ignorance. Everything is peaceful. To reach Nirvana Buddhists must follow…

The Eightfold Path

The Way of Wisdom -prajna

3. Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths

4. Right Thought

The Way of Morality -sila

3. Right Speech -Buddhists should avoid lying, spreading gossip, speaking

harshly and chattering aimlessly.

4. Right Action

5. Right Livelihood

The Way of Mental Training -samadhi

6. Right Effort

7. Right Mindfulness

8. Right Concentration

All points of the Eightfold Path other than number one are about leading your life moralistically. To achieve number four of the Eightfold Path, Right Action, a Buddhist must follow…

The Five Precepts

6. I undertake to refrain from harming any living thing

7. I undertake to refrain from taking what is not given

8. I undertake to refrain from the misuse of the senses

9. I undertake to refrain from wrong speech

10. I undertake to refrain from taking intoxicants which cloud the mind

These Buddhist beliefs evolve around the thought of leading a moral life in order to avoid the Three Poisons: hatred, greed and ignorance.

Buddhists believe that all things and people are equal. This is because everybody has ‘Buddha Nature’ meaning everyone is capable of enlightenment so any form of racism or prejudice is wrong. Although, with regards to sexism, Theravada Buddhism believes that a Bhikku of one day is equal to a Bhikkuni of twenty years and women cannot become enlightened whereas Mahayanist Buddhism believe men and women are equal. Also, Buddhism is tolerant of other religions.

‘Our beliefs should not have to be shared. It is more important to have goodwill. Kindness is enough. That is my religion.’ -Dali Lama.

When born into a situation such as poverty the cause of this was probably bad karma from a past life. Buddhists born into poverty are allowed to seek wealth but only in righteous ways as opposed to theft, violence or corruption. Also, when someone is wealthy, they must not overindulge themselves but share.

With issues such as euthanasia, the Buddhist belief of ‘The Middle Way’ allows the individual to make up his or her mind as to what is the right thing to do although suffering cannot be escaped though death due to karma. Also, the first of The Five Precepts states: ‘I undertake to refrain from harming any living thing’.

Marriage is not strictly a part of Buddhism and there is no particular ceremony. It is thought by Theravadins that marriage is a distraction from becoming enlightened and the best thing you could do with your life is become a monk. Mahayanists on the other hand think that situations are your teacher and by having a strong loving relationship you are learning Metta. Divorce is allowed because you are suffering and the whole idea of Buddhism is to avoid this.

(3) If you were to become a Buddhist would you be a member of a religion?

Buddhism is commonly described as a religion though it is unique in that it does not believe in a god/gods. Also, it does not have a holy book as such, unlike Christianity, which has the Bible and Islam, the Koran. It is said by some that it is wrongly named a religion, as it is more a way of life, a ‘teaching’ or a philosophy. Some people make the mistake of thinking that Buddhists believe in the Buddha as a god. Although Buddhists may have shrines to the Buddha, he is not actually thought of as a god but a very wise enlightened teacher. When offerings are made to the Buddha, they are not made to worship him, but in order to remember his wisdom and teachings. If a Buddhist makes offerings in order to worship then they do not have ‘Right Understanding’. You cannot pray to him, only pay respect, as he is in Nirvana and can therefore not ‘hear’ you and answer your prayers as with other religions.

The dictionary definition of ‘religion’ is as follows:

1. the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship.

2. the expression of this worship.

3. a particular system of faith and worship.

4. life under monastic vows (the way of religion).

5. a thing that one is devoted to (football is their religion).

Buddhism would come under number three and perhaps number five.

Here are views of the definition of religion for the following…

“…a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate to the ultimate conditions of his existence” -R.N.Bellah

“…an enduring organisation of principles by which behaviour can be judged on some scale of merit” -Melford Spiro

“Religion is the human attitude towards a sacred order that includes within it all being-human or otherwise ie belief in a cosmos, the meaning of which both includes and transcends man.’ -Peter Berger

All these statements support Buddhism as a religion.

Aisling Knight 11.4 January 2001

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