Buddhism is a way of life and living which says something important about the world of today just as it did more than 2,500 years ago when it was first taught by Siddhattha Gotama. It is the way of depending upon oneself. Buddhism does not rest on blind faith but on scientific investigation, on logic, and on reason. It encourages the questioning mind, and it encourages seekers after the highest truth.
The Buddha asked his followers to test the truthfulness of his teaching in the light of their own experience and judgment. When he to some people who doubted him in northeastern India, he advised them not to accept anything on the strength of rumor, simple agreement with one’s own tradition, ideas formed ahead of time, the fact that a person is pleasing to us, rational argument, nor upon the idea, “The monk is our teacher.” On the contrary, he said, “Whatever things are good, whatever things are true, whatever things lead to your own good, these things should you accept, these things should you do.”
Buddhism is not, exactly speaking, a religion at all, as it is not a system of faith and worship owing devotion to any supernatural being. It is a path that guides a seeker through “right” (in the sense of “complete,” “skilful,” “wholesome”) living and thinking to the goal of the highest understanding and deliverance from all “suffering.”
Though flowers, incense, and candles may be offered before pictures or images of the Buddha, he is not worshipped as a god. He was an extraordinary human being, who once said, “He honors me best who practices my teaching best.” Great emphasis is laid on the importance of meditation, which leads to self-discipline, self-control, and Enlightenment. Man follows the way of the Buddhism by his own efforts alone and does not rely on any external power at all. The true Buddhist is full of joy and hope. He follows a teaching which leads to his spiritual freedom, and he recognizes that through his own efforts alone he can reach his goal.
The Buddha. A prince of the warrior class in Aryan society named Siddhattha Gotama who had given up and left his family came down from the lower hills of the Himalaya Mountains to north-central India. After studying and refusing to accept the philosophical systems that were then being taught, he reached Enlightenment by his own efforts: he become the Buddha, the “Enlightened One.” Modern writers of history agree that this happened in or about 525 B.C. at Bodh-Gaya in Bihar, a state in northeastern India. From there Gotama journeyed to Varanasi where, at the time of the full moon in July, he gave his famous first discourse and thus “set in motion the Wheel of the Law.” He worked without ceaselessly for the good and happiness of the many and passed away at the age of eighty, leaving no one to take over for him but encouraging his followers to consider the Dhamma as their teacher.
The Buddha’s Teaching. The teachings (Dhamma) of the Buddha have come to be known as Buddhism, and at one time they were in full force throughout Asia. During twenty-five centuries, Buddhism has combined with the traditional beliefs and religions of many lands, making them more valuable because of the purity of its philosophy. Thus in modern times there about four hundred million Buddhists in the world, found mainly in India, China, Taiwan, Siberia, Japan, Tibet, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore, with large groups in Western countries, especially England, France, West Germany and the United States.
Beginning his first discourse, the Buddha asked his followers to avoid the extremes of sensual desire and self-mortification (punishing oneself). He said, “Sensual desire is low, common, and improper, not noble, and unprofitable; and self-mortification is painful, not noble, and unprofitable.” He said this because sensual desire slows down one’s spiritual progress, and self-mortification weakens one’s power of understanding.
The Buddha himself put into practice both these extremes before his Enlightenment, the first when he was a prince in his father’s house before he gave up and left the world, the second as an ascetic in the forest before his Enlightenment. Hence he realized their uselessness and discovered that only overcoming oneself in moderation leads to the highest goal of nibbana or nirvana, that is, Enlightenment.