Human beings, perhaps above all else, are storytellers. Humans value their stories highly and have extensive traditions of passing down the most captivating and popular stories through the generations. One such story that has lasted the test of time is the story of Buddha. His life and teaching grew into a philosophy and/or religion called Buddhism. There is a substantial quantity of writings on Buddha regarding his extended existential dialogues with disciples and colleagues. Buddha, is some ways similarly to the Ancient Greeks, saw the utility in discussion as a way to address and solve dilemmas of the human condition. Of the various aspects that construct Buddhism, the paper will focus only ethics, the nature of self, ultimate reality, and death. While all of these are aspects of Buddhism, they are all connected by their perspective and how one should integrate these ideas into one's everyday existence and over the course of one's entire lifetime.
Before he became the leader and symbol for a religion, even before he was called Buddha, he was a man. Siddhattha (or Siddhartha) Gotama is believed to have been born over 2,500 years ago. His father, Suddhodana, was a king, making Siddhartha a prince. In May of 623 B.C., Queen Mahamaya gave birth to her son under a tree while traveling from Kapilavattha to Devadaha, where by the custom, she would give birth at her ancestral home. (Piyadassi, The Buddha, 1982) The Buddha was born beneath a tree and it is underneath a tree that he later, as an adult, comes upon enlightenment, as the ancient story goes. The ideas and philosophy that Buddha came upon as a result of his grand epiphany include conceptions of death, the nature of self, a code of ethics and what ultimate reality is. Abiding by these ideas and practicing the ideas of Buddha, ultimately lead to Nirvana. Buddha developed these ideas as means for others to alleviate their suffering and achieve a state of contentment, inner peace, bliss, and no rebirth.
Several days after his birth, Buddha's father, the king, summoned several wise men to select a name for the child. They named him Siddhartha, "which means one whose purpose has been achieved." (Piyadassi, The Buddha, 1982) Siddhartha's mother died a few days after his naming ceremony. Just as everyone else, Buddha suffered grave personal loss. He Siddhartha's father provided him with a luxurious lifestyle as grew into manhood. After witnessing the suffering of others as well as connecting with that suffering, Siddhartha renounced his life as a prince, referred to as "The Great Renunciation." (Piyadassi, The Buddha, 1982) Siddhartha was age 29 at the time of his renunciation. He cut his hair; he discarded his royal robes; he abandoned his wife, his newborn son, the crown, and all that came with his royal position. He donned the robe of a humble hermit and sought solitude in the forest. It is at this point that Siddhartha commenced seeking
…an answer to the riddle of life, seeking not a palliative, but a true way out of suffering -- to perfect enlightenment and Nibbana. His quest for the supreme security from bondage -- Nibbana (Nirvana) -- had begun. This was the great renunciation, the greatest adventure known to humanity. (Piyadassi, The Buddha, 1982)
Thus, the story of Buddha is in a way a story about balance and about trading one kind of wealth for another kind of wealth, or the realization of what real wealth is. This is a valuable concept in a 21st century consumer-based, materialist society (and world). He was a great and wealthy prince, bored with the trappings of his class. He renounces his life and endeavors upon the adventure of a lifetime. Along the way, he makes discoveries about himself, the world, and the nature of existence, among other topics. With a pure and humble spirit, he fulfills his namesake and achieves the goal he set out to accomplish: discover and achieve Nirvana. Buddha goes on to spread his teachings peacefully through robust dialogue and through experiential learning. His teachings and adventures are so powerful, inspirational, and true for so many people that religions form across Asia based on his life.
A central concept of Buddhism and Buddhist ethics is the concept of compassion. Buddhism calls for Buddhists to think and act like a Buddha, effectively, to live as he did, perhaps literally, but certainly metaphorically or figuratively, adapting the fundamental Buddhist principles to one's environment and time period. As mentioned throughout this paper, a central topic in Buddhism is suffering. Living and acting with compassion combats suffering of which there is endless supply in the world, during Buddha's time as well as in the present.
Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one's self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse. (BDEA, Buddhist Ethics, 2012)
Therefore, as part of the Buddhist doctrine regarding ethics, one must be thoughtful and considerate of one's actions. Reckless actions cause suffering, lack compassion, and lack ethical consideration. Buddha knew as well as anyone else that the world is imperfect and we all must do the best we can with what we have access to. This does not mean there is no place in the world for ethics or for compassion. In fact, if the world practiced more compassion and adhered to a set of ethics, we would experience a worldwide decrease in suffering, no matter if we were Buddhists or not.
Wandering the Earth and studying from great masters, sages & everyday people, Buddha sought clarity of mind and freedom from suffering. Ultimately cleansing his mind of impurities through meditation and breathing, he attained Supreme Enlightenment at age thirty-five while sitting beneath a Bodhi tree. (Piyadassi, 1982,-Page 19) Piyadassi contends that
The Buddha never claimed to be a savior who tried to save 'souls' by means of a revealed religion. Through his own perseverance and understanding he proved that infinite potentialities are latent in man and that it must be man's endeavour to develop and unfold these possibilities. He proved by his own experience that deliverance and enlightenment lie fully within man's range of effort. (Piyadassi, 1982,-Page 21)
Buddha, never purported to be a savior or supernatural being/God, only a man who discovered personal and universal truths sharing them with whomever was open to listening. That is all any of us can be, according to the Buddhist philosophy. The best we can do is understand the nature of self, the nature of the world, practice compassion, and attempt to achieve lofty goals such as ultimate reality and Nirvana. As with most religions, though many Buddhists contend that Buddhism is not a religion, but rather a philosophy or lifestyle practice, there are guidelines or tips on how to conduct oneself so as to achieve such lofty goals.
Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the "Five Precepts." These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on 'mind' and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. (BDEA, Buddhist Ethics, 2012)
The concept of death in Buddhism is another thing that lacks permanence. Buddha teaches that all things are ephemeral; as the old adage goes, "Nothing lasts forever." Buddha teaches this a way to comfort those who have anxiety about possessions during life as well as those who fear death. In Buddhism, death is yet another aspect of life reminding us in a very direct manner, that nothing is permanent, except for maybe the spirit. We learn this as our bodies are ephemeral and return to the Earth from which all life sprang and continues to spring. In a way, the Buddhist belief regarding death is quite similar to a concept in physics called the Law of Conservation of Energy. Though it is a quite extensive topic, the basic gist of this law is that matter is neither created, nor destroyed and once matter is created, it cannot be destroyed. It only changes forms.
To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need…