Introduction to Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy that originated in India around the sixth century B.C.E. It derived largely from the teachings of Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama). Shakyamuni dedicated his life to finding the means to liberate people from the universal sufferings of life and develop spiritual strength.
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy that originated in India around the sixth century B.C.E. It derived largely from the teachings of Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama). Shakyamuni dedicated his life to finding the means to liberate people from the universal sufferings of life and develop spiritual strength. His teachings were later compiled into scriptures (often called “sutras”) and numerous schools of Buddhism were founded to teach those sutras. After Shakyamuni’s death, his teachings spread from Northern Asia through Central and Southeast Asia and to China, Korea and Japan. The religion has played a significant role in Asian culture ever since. In the 20th century, Buddhism spread to the West. Today, an estimated 350 million people practice Buddhism around the world. It is the world’s fourth largest religion.
The Basic Teachings
Buddhism includes a variety of beliefs and encompasses different schools. The major schools of Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism. While each of these schools has its own distinct set of practices, some also incorporate teachings from other schools and branches. Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called Lamaism) developed in Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas in the 7th century C.E. Tibetan Buddhism incorporates various philosophies (Madhyamika, Yogacara, Tantra, Theravadin and shamanistic elements from indigenous religions) and is distinguished by its vast number of deities and reincarnated lamas, who continue to teach and interpret the scriptures.
Theravada Buddhists strive to become arhats, or perfected saints who have attained enlightenment and nirvana. Mahayana Buddhists, on the other hand, hope to become bodhisattvas, saints who have become enlightened but who unselfishly delay nirvana to help others attain it as well, as the Buddha did. Mahayana Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.
No matter the school, Buddhism involves three main paths (sometimes called practices): renunciation, transformation and self-liberation. In Buddhist terminology, the path of renunciation is called Sutra; transformation is called Tantra; and self-liberation is called Dzogchen. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, featured in the film, teaches all three paths and considers them to be alternative and compatible approaches rather than conflicting methods.
Photo caption: Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his family
» Brown, Waka Takahashi. “Introduction to Buddhism.” Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education.
» Dong Hung Temple.
» Fan, Maureen. “In China, A Different Brand of Buddhism.” The Washington Post, February 19, 2009.
» PBS. The Buddha Blog.
» Slate. “Who are the Tibetan Lamas?“
» Namkhai Norbu, Chögyal. The Three Paths of Liberation.