I have used some statements or quotes to introduce Buddhism in the simplest way, as these statements carry the mainstays of its ideology and will thus, be easier to appreciate.
In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.
Buddhism is a consciously directed journey on the path towards a rise above suffering. The achiever of this is called the Buddha -– meaning ‘the enlightened one’. It does not lay down the path. It suggests how to make the journey, what to look for, and assures that the journey indeed is a tough, demanding one.
Buddhism is not a doctrine to which one can convert one’s belief system and follow it unquestioningly. It is a truth to be realized by an individual in his own way and not via any prescribed, ‘sworn-upon’ method. Any rules, if at all, are meant to assist the people in earnestly striving for and attaining Buddhism.
There is no text endorsed by Gautama Buddha that lays down what Buddhism means, what it should mean, and what is the definite way to becoming a Buddha. Any knowledge related to this comes from the objective information (obviously difficult to get) about the life of Gautama Buddha and his recommendations to the people who expressed a desire to attain the knowledge that he had gained.
‘Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.’ Dhammapada
What makes Buddhism interesting and different from most other ‘consolidated bodies of belief or faith’, and religions, is that the path was discovered by a man as ordinary as any of us. There is nothing divine about him – he became divine by his actions and Buddhism assures it is possible for everyone to attain the same divinity. Gautama Buddha was a man who decided one day to seriously pursue the answers to the questions that deeply intrigued him. The main question that Gautama Buddha was on the search for was the cause and cessation of human suffering. He’d seen it a part of every life. Everyone suffered in one way or the other, and for one reason or another. Gautama Buddha was profoundly disturbed to see misery pervading human life and wanted to understand the reasons for humans’ subjectivity by it and how to discontinue that.
He tried to find his answers by trying different methods of what he thought would lead him to them. He became a pupil of well-known sages of his time, mastered different forms of meditation, and tried self-abjugation. He tried controlling his breath, holding it after inhaling till it felt the air would split his head, followed by reducing his diet to bare minimum that made his body extremely wasted. When all these attempts caused nothing but extreme stress to his health, he realized that hurting one’s body is no use in gaining knowledge of the life and the world here and beyond. He learnt that path to knowledge need not be a dismal and joyless one. He thus, graduated from these methods.
Then he did what he incidentally had done once a few years ago as an adolescent one evening in his father’s kingdom’s crop fields – solitary peaceful simple meditation -- a comfortable feather-like dive into the depth of the mind. Gautama Buddha attempted to revisit this meditation again after all the tried and popular methods had failed. And this proved to be the right thing to do. He successfully re-experienced the contentment and tranquility, reaching the depths of his consciousness. Thus, meditating for a long time, he consciously directed his mind to the questions he had set about to understand.
Eventually he did reach his answers. He succeed in realizing that there is a cycle of suffering and there are causes for it. Realization of the main factors that characterized all human life and having found a way to master them, he felt an obvious freedom from the web of suffering that held its tentacles on human life. He could no longer be enslaved by it. He now well understood that to rise above the entrapment of suffering, is an ability that gives anyone an exalting feeling as you break free of the sense-desire influences, undergo a complete annihilation of the sense of ego-self, the cessation of self-consciousness, and a freedom of the soul. As he became the Buddha, he shared this with other seekers and thence came Buddhism and the followers, rather seekers, of it. One is not a follower of Buddhism but a seeker of it.
The four truths that Gautama Buddha propounded are that: Suffering is universal; It is caused by desire. Suffering can be uprooted if desire is uprooted. That can be done by following the famous Eight Fold Path which includes: Right Understanding, Right Motives, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation.
This spans the intellectual, moral and contemplative, thus helping one to live a holistic good life.
The life of Gautama Buddha is at the same time an example and the message of Buddhism. The consciousness with which Gautama Buddha realized the answers to his questions, inspiring others to set on to the path, was a very self-directed act and this autonomy of choosing the path to one’s chosen destination is important to Buddhism. It is one’s own conscious act, one’s own conscious intentions and one’s own conscious actions that take one where one wants to reach. This democratic sense also pervades into its opinion of ‘karma’ (explain later as a part of ‘dependent origination’) – which incidentally is an Upanishadic one. It is the individual who decides his actions and his life.
Buddhism is a path towards knowledge and living with the knowledge that life does not exist without suffering and one must rise above it to live successfully with it. One must break the shackles of the cycle of desire, temptation, temporariness, disappointment, because these lead to suffering. It is as simple as it is difficult to realize. Buddhism requires active attentive realization of this. It does not recognize second-hand experiences.
Chanting of prayers cannot take you there, nor can ritual self-mortification nor can trance-like passive prescriptive meditation. You must walk the path yourself. And in this very sense and by allowing every human the agency to define and carve out his own life, Buddhism is accessible to everyone who really want it and thus is very democratic in nature.
Some accounts claim Gautama Buddha to have proscribed his followers from sex, which I find difficult to believe for the obvious folly and impracticality of its abandonment, and also if it were true, I’m afraid it wouldn’t leave Buddhism as democratic as Gautama Buddha wanted it to be, nor would this stand together with Gautama Buddha’s support of ‘living with the truth’.
Vast emptiness, nothing holy:
Buddhism does not see human beings as pre-formed, unchanging, objective absolutes. It sees a human being as a constantly developing whole of his karma, habits, memories, experiences. An individual is ever-moving, just like the entire cosmos. Everything is moving in a constant journey, a wheel turning on its own and no grand being is doing it with some pre-determined plan. There is no divine being who is observing us from heavens. It is just us and our actions, and causes of those actions which lead to further actions – everything is a result of circumstances.
We do not need God to achieve salvation, peace and happiness. We can and must do it ourselves. This is one of the cardinal truths central to Buddhism and is popularly called ‘dependent origination’ (‘pratityasamutpada’): all phenomena are constantly in an interdependent web of cause and effect. This interdependence can also be seen in Gautama Buddha’s explanation of causes and conquering of suffering, and actions that can be undertaken to affect nirvana. In the same sense, the ‘shoonyata’ concept of Buddhism is a result of dependent origination, wherein every thing’s meaning is dependent on other things as well that cause it or are caused by it.
Buddhism is about a human being’s moral and spiritual awakening. One has to recognize it on his own and practice positive actions and strengthen himself to rise above the victimization of the sense-desire trap.
Buddhism is to be experienced, not to be learnt from any text. Gautama Buddha never wanted it to be canonized. Hence, he never authorized any attempt to record his teachings or his life in a written form because he wanted his experience (and the same path for everybody else) to remain democratic, un-supernatural, very human, nothing divine. This freedom from the constraints of rules and systems is one of the mainstays of Buddhism.
It literally means ‘blowing out’. In Buddhism it means ‘the blowing out of the ego-self’.
Gautama Buddha is said to have explained the concept of a non-existent ego-self in this way: The ‘I’ is an ever-shifting, changing consequence of the ‘skandhas’ that make up our mind-body complex – mind, feelings, perceptions, intentions, and consciousness. Their inter-relationship keeps changing, and not one of these forms the absolute ultimate ‘self’ on its own. Hence, the ‘I’ is transient and impenetrable. This is also referred to as ‘shoonyata’ where every thing in itself is empty, and devoid of independent identity or existence. And this is Buddhism. Every meditation, every effort is towards this.
A person goes beyond existence and non-existence after nirvana. The Dhammapada says of it:
"He has completed his voyage, he has gone beyond sorrow. The fetters of life have fallen from him, and he lives in full freedom.’ About Nirvana, Gautama Buddha is said to have said that it is, ‘the unborn, the unageing, the unailing, deathless, sorrowless, undefiled supreme surcease of bondage."
Observations – Buddhism is very realistic because it refuses to worry about the unseen, the divine (the may be/the may-not-be), and only talks about the human life. It is truly ‘personal’ in nature — Buddhism does not demand any external form of ritual to be exercised, and this helps maintain its essence. By its dependent origination concept, it suggests that good leads to good, thus encouraging responsible and well-intended actions. By giving the agency for his life to every human, it is most truly autonomous and very efficiently lays the foundations of allowing the human spirit to flourish and exercise itself.