Below is a summary of some of the core teachings of Buddhism. It is intended to provide a brief introduction for lay people to give you an idea of Buddhist ideology. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us or come along to one of our courses.
The Four Noble Truths
One of the Buddha’s first teachings was to outline the cyclic existence that we all experience through an explanation of the “four noble truths” of (1) suffering, (2) the cause of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering, and (4) the path to the cessation of suffering.
Through this teaching, the Buddha explained that we all experience suffering, be it physical pain, sickness, emotional stress or merely dissatisfaction with some aspect of our lives. For as long as we continue in a cyclic existence, this suffering is an inescapable part of our experience.
Secondly, the Buddha explained that the root cause of all suffering is desire. We can all relate to this in our every day lives, particularly in modern-day Western society. We are always seeking new possessions or accomplishments, believing that they will bring us happiness – If only I had that new job, then I could buy a new car and a new house – when we don’t achieve these goals, it brings us disappointment, but even if we do achieve them, we find that it only brings temporary relief, before we inevitably start to crave our next promotion or status symbol.
Thirdly, the Buddha maintained that it was possible to cease this suffering and become liberated from the cycle of desire and suffering. Fourthly, the Buddha explained that the path to cessation of suffering was to follow the principles of the Eightfold Noble Path.
The Eightfold Noble Path
The eightfold path prescribes a series of practices or principles to overcome suffering:
- Right view, or right understanding, is to understand the nature of reality through Buddhist teachings. It also requires the elimination of wrong views, such as the existence of an enduring self, as they lead to ignorance and desire.
- Right intention is a mental attitude, or commitment, to following the Buddhist path to awakening.
- Right speech is to speak truthfully and avoid abuse, gossip and untruths, to develop positive internal mental states.
- Right action is to behave peacefully and refrain from stealing, killing, sexual misconduct and ingesting intoxicants. Right action leads to the cultivation of mental calm.
- Right livelihood is to avoid occupations that cause harm, such as the exploitation of people, killing of animals or the trade in weapons or drugs.
- Right effort is to orient your mind towards the goal of liberation through the practice of meditation. This requires steady effort rather than sporadic enthusiasm.
- Right mindfulness is to develop awareness of the body and mind. Gaining awareness of thoughts, mental processes and attitudes is a precursor to gaining greater control over the mind.
- Right concentration is to focus the mind in calmly and single-pointedly to achieve advanced meditative states.
Karma and Rebirth
The teachings on karma and rebirth are among the most pervasive Buddhist concepts. Buddha taught that our current life is merely one in a beginning-less series of incarnations, which are determined by the karma generated in previous lives. It is through karma that actions give rise to corresponding affects. In this way, our current experiences, both positive and negative, are as a result of actions in previous lives, and our current actions, again both positive and negative, will affect us in future lives.
The link between karma and rebirth is extremely important. It is the accumulation of karma that will determine where a person is reborn and their status in their next life. Virtuous actions will, over time, result in rebirth in a higher realm, such as the heavenly realm, whereas non-virtuous actions will result in rebirth in a lower realm, such as the animal realm or hell realm.
However, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is not merely to cultivate good karma and avoid bad karma, but to escape a cyclical existence based on karma and rebirth altogether. As this cycle is driven by ignorance, the first step is to fully understand the causal interconnection between karma and rebirth through “Dependent Arising”.
The twelve links of dependent arising outlines the steps of cyclical existence, through the causes, conditions and affects that lead to life, death, the intermediate state and rebirth. This is a very deep subject and the below summary is only intended to give an overview, rather than a detailed teaching.
The twelve steps are:
- Ignorance – the root cause of a cyclical existence is a lack of understanding of reality, karma and the endless cycles of rebirth.
- Karmic Formation – ignorance leads to action, which generates karma, which can be positive, negative or neutral and determines one’s rebirth.
- Consciousness – action and karma condition the consciousness. Karma determines rebirth with results in a particular type of cognition.
- Name & Form – consciousness generates name (identity) and form (body). Together these constitute the physical and psychological characteristics, which are conditions from past lives.
- Six Senses – name and form generate the sense powers of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.
- Contact – is the coming together of the six senses, name and form and consciousness.
- Feeling – contact generates feeling, which has the function of discriminating between pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.
- Craving – Contact and feeling generate craving for pleasant sensations.
- Grasping – Craving leads to grasping to obtain the pleasant and void the unpleasant.
- Becoming – Grasping and attachment lead to becoming (or existence).
- Rebirth – Becoming generates rebirth. The type and circumstances of rebirth being determined by past karma.
- Old Age & Death – Birth inevitably leads to old age and ultimately death and so the cycle continues.