The Buddha’s Path to Enlightenment: The Teachings of Buddhism

The Teachings of Buddhism

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The Buddha is the Awakened One or the Enlightened One who was able to rise above sufferings and find his way to eternal peace.

He was born Siddhartha Gautama who upon attaining enlightenment became the Buddha or “the Awakened One”. Buddha’s journey to enlightenment was fraught with perils but with his determination, he was able to gain knowledge of Absolute Reality. There are two options after one becomes a Buddha, either to depart from the world or stay and do good deeds and commit good actions. The ascetic decided to live on this earth and impart his valuable knowledge to the world and his disciples. In this article, we will read how Siddharth Gautama renounced the world and disciplined himself to achieve the ultimate realization. We will also be discussing the teachings of Buddhism that he imparted through his sermons to the world that continues to be reflected on to this day. So, without any delay, let us get started!

How did Buddha Embark on his Path to Enlightenment?

Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama. A wise man, Asita predicted that Siddhartha would either become a great king or would renounce his life. His father troubled by this prediction decided to create a luxurious environment for the prince and supply him with all comfort and wealth.

However, one day during a city visit Siddhartha saw a suffering man, an old man, a dead man, and a wandering ascetic. The sights saddened him deeply and he realized that life is not free from suffering and everyone may become frail, old, and die. This shook him greatly and he decided to renounce his luxurious life at the palace and his family to choose a monastic life. He set off on his new path and learned meditation from different teachers and performed severe penances but he soon realized that neither of the methods was taking him toward the ultimate realization. Therefore, he decided to rebuild his frail body and practice moderation. He decided to follow the Middle Path which is neither severe asceticism nor severe luxuriousness. One fine day, Siddhartha sat beneath a Bodhi tree and vowed to not leave his seat until he found the path to nirvana. He experienced doubts, desire, and fear but he rose above all of them like a lotus that blooms way above the mud. With an unwavering determination of the mind, he attained enlightenment and was called the “Buddha”. The Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar which is the site of his enlightenment is now a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.

What are the Buddhist Teachings?

The Buddha imparted valuable teachings through his first sermon at Sarnath.

The Twelve-Linked Chain of Causation

The doctrine of Pratityasamutapada or the Chain of Causation has 12 links or 12 spokes in the Wheel of Dependent Origin. These twelve linked chains of causation are as follows:

Avidya- The state of being ignorant or unaware of the possibility of salvation

Samskara- Every intention or action leaves an impression or samskara that determines the form of the next existence. Samskara refers to the former life of an individual.

Vijnana- Vijnana refers to the consciousness of the mind, body, and sense organs.

Nama-rupa- Nama, and Rupa in Namarupa refer to the mental and physical aspect of a human being, both of which are considered temporal and does not represent their true identities.

Sadayatana- Sadayatana denotes the 6 sense organs that include eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and manas or the intellect.

Sparsa- Sparsa refers to “contact” or “impression” resulting from the coming together of sense organs, sense objects, and sense consciousness.

Vedana- Vedana denotes sense experience or sense consciousness that results from the interaction of the sense organs with external objects.

Trsna- Trsna or Tanha refers to greed or craving for sensual pleasures, existence, and non-existence.

Upadana- Upadana refers to the attachment that is the result of trsna and is the cause of dukkha or suffering.

Bhava- Bhava is being or the will for worldly existence

Jati- Jati refers to physical birth or rebirth within cyclic existence and the rise of mental phenomenon

Jaramarana- Jaramarana refers to death or becoming brittle.

The Three Signs of Being

Change is Constant

Everything in this universe is transitory. The impermanence of things makes one realize that life too follows the same rules. Our life on this earth is momentary just like any feeling, state of mind, or other physical objects.

Suffering is Inevitable

Suffering is inevitable for every living creature on earth. Buddha’s experience of suffering made him renounce the world. A human being has to experience suffering in this worldly life because happiness is impermanent. Although dukkha is present, one can find a way to cease it by following the path of salvation.

The “I” does not Exist

The notion of “I” doesn’t exist. A human being may identify himself with several things by anchoring himself into an “I” but these are a mere unstable and temporary collection of elements. These elements might mean form, feeling, perception, mental activities, and sense consciousness.

The Four Noble Truths

The four Noble Truths are:

1. The Noble Truth of Suffering

2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering

3. The Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering

4. The Noble Truth of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering- The Noble Eightfold Path.

The four Noble truth proposes that human beings suffer, and the suffering originates because of a huge sense of “I” or the ego. We are constantly on the hunt for pleasure and want to avoid things that cause us pain and suffering. The moment the “I” cannot attain the things it wants, it becomes disappointed or angry. Therefore, desire or the “I” is the root cause of all suffering. This can be overcome by realizing the real “I” which is the spirit of the Buddha that dwells within and is immortal. When we start realizing our real selves, all that which was not us starts falling and fading away. The way that leads to the cessation of elimination of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path was taught virtually by the Buddha in all of his discourses. These paths were not to be practiced sequentially but according to individual capacity. The primary aims of the Noble Eightfold Path are ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. These 8 factors to cease suffering are given below:

Right View/Understanding (Samma Ditthi)

There must be a right understanding of the Four Noble Truths to see the Ultimate Reality. There are two types of understanding – anubodha and pativedha. Anubodha refers to knowledge or intellectual perception of a subject whereas Pativedha is understanding things on a deeper level. The latter is about understanding the true nature of things which can be attained by removing all impurities of the mind through meditation.

Right Thought (Samma Sankappa)

Right thought develops wisdom in an individual. Right thoughts may mean developing selflessness, renunciation, love, non-violence, and the welfare of others. This path also highlights the thoughts that must not be entertained for those seeking salvation like selfishness, violence, hatred, etc.

Right Speech (Samma Vaca)

Right speech means abstaining from lies, slander, abusive language, and hurtful words. Abstaining from negative language will inculcate the power of speaking the truth and encourage friendly and benevolent words. If one cannot speak anything constructive, it is always better to maintain a “noble silence”.

Right Action (Samma Kammanta)

Right action is carrying out actions that are moral, peaceful, and honorable. We should abstain from actions that cause harm to us as well as others or are considered morally inappropriate. By following this path, we can create a beautiful and peaceful world to live in.

Right Livelihood  (Samma Ajiva)

Right livelihood is about living in such a way that will only bring good to others. To reach such an aim, one must not trade in arms or lethal weapons and not engage in any form of warfare. They must also not get involved in drinking liquor, killing animals, cheating, etc.

Right Effort (Samma Vayama)

Right effort means abstaining from unwholesome qualities like greed, anger, hatred, etc. It also involves eliminating the unwholesome qualities that have already arisen and inculcating good qualities like compassion, kindness, generosity, mindfulness, tranquillity, and equanimity. etc. The right effort also means strengthening the skillful qualities that have already arisen. One can put in the right effort by following the Middle way. Right Effort, along with the Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, comprises the mental discipline section of the Path.

Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati)

Right Mindfulness is about living in the present moment that is uncolored by thoughts of the past or future. It is about being conscious or aware of one’s mind, body, and the things that are happening outside. The right mindfulness can help us progress on the path of enlightenment and keep us away from delusion of any kind. It helps us recognize what should be done and should not be or what should be spoken and what should not be. With the right mindfulness, one can develop wisdom, clarity, contentment, and happiness.

Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi)

Right concentration means “samadhi” where you have a one-pointed and unwavering focus on a physical or a mental object. It is the wholesome concentration when an attempt is made to raise the mind to a higher, more refined state of consciousness. Concentration on the right things can help us get rid of the existence of a separate self. The levels of right concentration are known as the Four Janas or Four Dhyanas. In the first and second dhyana, well-being and tranquility take over desires and intellectual activity respectively. In the third and fourth dhyana, equanimity takes over rapture and sensations.

The Three Fires

The Three Fires or the Three Poisons in Buddhism are Moha (Delusion), Raga (Greed), and Dvesha (Aversion). These three fires are the cause of dukkha (suffering) and keep people trapped in samsara which results in rebirths. These Three poisons are represented in the Buddhist wheel of live (Bhavachakra) by the rooster, snake, and pig, which represent greed, ill will, and delusion respectively. These poisons must be discarded and replaced by non-delusion, non-attachment, and non-hatred.

Final Thought!

The teachings of Buddhism are not only for ascetics but the principles can also be followed by an ordinary householder. Life is an excellent opportunity for each one of us. We can design it the way we want. If we have the right thought, sweet speech, and the right livelihood, we can not only transform our life into something more greater and beautiful but also impact others’ lives as well. Right actions and a little mindfulness can help us achieve that.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who is called a Buddha?

The word “Buddha” is derived from the word “Budh” which means “the Awakened One”. Therefore, Buddha is a being who has awoken from the slumber of the duality of the Universe and realized that all entities are one. In other words, a Buddha is someone who experienced the Ultimate realization or is enlightened.

What are the 5 main teachings of Buddhism?

The main teachings of Buddhism or the Buddhist path to awakening are the four Noble truths which include the Noble Eightfold Path. As per the teachings, suffering is an integral part of all human life which can be overcome by realizing our true selves and by exercising the right understanding, right thoughts, right actions, right concentration, right mindfulness, right effort, right speech, and right livelihood.

Do Buddhist believe in God?

Buddhists do not believe in God but they do believe in supernatural figures that might hinder or help one progress on the path of enlightenment.

Why are the 4 Noble truths important?

The four Noble truths are important as it helps one acknowledge that although suffering is integral to life, one can overcome them by following Buddha’s teachings.

What are the two types of Buddhism?

The two types of Buddhism are Mahayana Buddhism and Hinayana Buddhism. The Mahayana sect believes in the idol worship of Buddha whereas the Hinayana sect believes that Buddha was an ordinary human being who found his way to enlightenment.

What are the main texts of Buddhism?

The main texts of Buddhism are also known as Tripitaka, which comprises Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka, and Abhidharma Pitaka.

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