Buddhism 101

You cannot visit Bhutan without being touched by Buddhism. While in Bhutan I was afforded the distinct pleasure of meeting with Mynak Tulku a High Priest incarnate Lama and former Director of the National Library of Bhutan. His holiness gave me a high level overview of Buddhism that I thought I would share here. Please bear in mind that what follows is a rough outline.

In Bhutan, Mahayana Buddhism is practiced. Mahayana, Hinayana and Tantrayana are three types of Buddhism that spread along a northern route from India (the birthplace of Buddhism) while Theravada is a type of Buddhism that spread along a southern route from India. Theravada Buddhism eventually ended up in Japan where Zen Buddhism developed. All the various Buddhist practices, however, come down to one event and one man: Buddha.

Buddha, also referred to as Sakyamuni, was born Gautama Siddhartha, an Indian prince over 2,000 years ago. Siddhartha’s father was told when his son was born that his son would either be a great warrior or a spiritual leader. His father wanted Siddhartha to take over the kingdom and so locked up his son on the palatial grounds, giving him anything his heart could desire.

Siddhartha, however, could see beyond the gates. At the age of 29, this prince saw the four great signs: death, birth, old age and sickness. He also saw that many were trying to escape these four events, but it was not possible. He saw that the moment you are born, you start your progression to death. The Indian prince pondered this and wondered, what is the cause? Is there any way to escape it?

He finally left the royal compound to find the answers. He wandered for six years in search of the Truth. After meditating and living on very little food, he discovered it was not necessary to torture yourself to get something or somewhere and hit upon the middle approach. He didn’t have to live the life of a wealthy royal nor did he have to live the life of an ascetic. His understanding was his enlightenment. In the moment he discovered this, he became Buddha, or the awakened one.

When Buddha became enlightened, he was asked to give his first teaching. It is called the Four Noble Truths. There are as follows:

1. There is suffering in this world. As long as you have a physical body you have suffering and therefore you cannot be 100% happy.

2. There is a cause of this suffering. This cause is mainly our desire for things to be other than they actually are. Not all suffer the same. Someone’s suffering can be the happiness of another. Ultimately, our ignorance creates the cause and maintains the cycle of rebirth (at least until we are released – see below).

3. Cessation. If there is a cause, suffering can be stopped. The key is to stop our delusions and attachments.

4. There is a path that leads to Cessation. The path is via reflection and meditation and it is called the 8 fold path.

a. Right understanding
b. Right thought
c. Right speech
d. Right action
e. Right livelihood
f. Right effort
g. Right mindfulness
h. Right concentration

By right it is meant not harmful to others but gives you satisfaction.

One of the central philosophies of Buddhism is the middle approach. Buddha is thought to be within everyone and everyone has the potential to become Buddha but one must work to achieve that outcome. The keys are to be kind-hearted and to have a good approach. As his holiness described to me, Buddhism is a religion with reason. Before you do anything, he said, you have to think of the other side. “You is more than me because I am only one,” he summarized.

Buddhism also does not emphasize conversion. As his holiness analogized, thirst can be quenched by many different types of drinks. Buddhism teaches that one’s faith should be based on wisdom and it must be examined and tested. Buddhism, itself, must be looked at in three different ways: as a religion, a philosophy and a science.

Mahayana Buddhism, the type of Buddhism practiced in Bhutan, is called the universal responsibility. This branch of Buddhism believes in cultivating love and compassion towards others. Mahayana Buddhists think that if one thinks only of one’s self, one will not find peace. This practice recommends praying not for yourself but for all living beings, and as a part of all living beings, you will benefit. Practice of the six perfections will help you to become Buddha under the tenets of Mahayana Buddhism:

1. Generosity
2. Moral discipline
3. Patience
4. Effort
5. Concentration
6. Wisdom

The practice ultimately is so that we are released and reach a state of Nirvana. Alas, most of us are attached to our egos and that is why we keep coming back to this world. We become Buddha and reach Nirvana when we can overcome the three poisons: desire, anger, and ignorance.

Along the way, there are ten things practicing Buddhists must refrain from:
1. Killing
2. Stealing
3. Inappropriate sexual activity
4. Lying
5. Engaging in gossip
6. Cursing
7. Sowing discord
8. Envy
9. Malice
10. Wrong view

His holiness said the path to enlightenment is much like that of the lotus. The lotus is born in a pond in muddy water, but as it grows and reaches the top in bloom, there is not a speck of dirt on it.