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Buddhism is the religion of about one eighth of the world's people (Gaer 27). Buddhism is the name for a complex system of beliefs developed around the teachings of a single man. The Buddha, whose name was Siddhartha Gautama, lived 2,500 years ago in India. There are now dozens of different schools of Buddhist philosophy throughout Asia. These schools, or sects, have different writings and languages and have grown up in different cultures. There is no one single "Bible" of Buddhism, but all Buddhists share some basic beliefs.
Buddhism is a Western word. The religion is known in the East as the Buddha-Dharma, or the teachings of the Buddha (Kelen 10). These teachings, based on his personal experience of Enlightenment, or Awakening, form the foundation of Buddhism. For every Buddhist the religion is both a discipline and a body of beliefs: that is, Buddhists share beliefs about the nature of the world and how to act within it. Budh in the Indian Sanskrit language means "to wake up, to know." Buddha means "the Awakened or Enlightened One," and all Buddhist teachings try to share the Buddha's experience of awakening to truth.
Having led an “indulgent life as a young man,” (Stryk 15) Siddhartha Gautama decided to pursue “a course of bitter self-denial“(Stryk 18). Yet he felt that this brought him no closer to the truth he sought than the rich life he had led. One day he felt close to reaching his truth, and he sat down under a tree now known as the Bo tree. There he attained the bliss and knowledge he had been seeking. Legend has it that, though tempted by evil demons, he sat quietly under the tree for 49 days. This became known as the Immovable Spot.
Once Siddhartha Gautama was awakened to the truth about life, he became the Buddha and devoted his life to sharing his teachings with others. Preaching at first to only five followers, he soon founded an order of monks. For 45 years he gave public teachings and private counseling for his disciples. He died in about 480 BC at the age of 80.
Although he could have chosen to sit happily under a tree forever, “the Buddha wanted to make his inspiration about the nature of life available to others for their betterment” (Rice 25). He worked his experience into a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths, and these truths are the basis of all schools of Buddhism.
The first truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery, or dukkha. The second truth is that this suffering has a cause tanha, or selfish craving and personal desire. The third is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The fourth truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path.
Buddhists all believe in the idea of "no-self," that people make a mistake when they identify too strongly with their own personal existence in any one life. To the follower of the Buddha, life goes on and on in many reincarnations or rebirths. This wheel of rebirth, known...