Buddhism is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "The Buddha" (the Awakened One), who was born in what is today Nepal, around 2500 years ago.
While tens of thousands of scriptures attributed to the Buddha and his disciples have been handed from teacher to student throughout the intervening centuries, the message of Buddhism can be distilled into this simple advice from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama:
"Help others. If you cannot help them, at least do not harm others."
His Holiness has repeatedly emphasised the practice of kindness and compassion as being the key to Buddhism. We can develop these qualities by studying the mind: seeing the problems caused by anger, desire and narrow-mindedness, and the benefits of practising patience, contentment and wisdom.
Thus Buddhism is essentially a process of transforming the mind from negative to positive, beneficial states.
Those wishing to formally enter the Buddhst path undergo a ceremony in which they take refuge in the Three Jewels or Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the community of Buddhists, particularly ordained practitioners).
Statement of Universal Buddhism
In addition to taking refuge in the Triple Gem, Buddhism is qualified by the following fourteen fundamental tenets, drafted more than 100 years ago as a statement of Universal Buddhism by masters of the main East Asian Buddhist traditions:
- Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards members of the animal kingdom.
- The Universe functions according to Natural Law (dharma).
- The truths upon which the Dharma is founded are scientific. They have, we believe, been taught in successive ages (kalpas), or prehistoric epochs, by certain fully illuminated beings defined as human Buddhas (manushi-buddha).
- The fourth World Teacher (shastara) of the present age was Buddha Sakyamuni, who was born in a noble family of the Sakya clan, in India about 2500 years ago. He is an historical personage, and his personal name was Siddhartha Gautama.
- Sakyamuni taught that primordial Ignorance (avidya) produces Desire-to-be (trishna), unsatisfied Desire is the cause of life, and life results in old age, disease and death, i.e., Suffering (dukkha). To overcome Suffering, therefore, it is necessary to escape the Cycle of life and death; to escape the Cycle of life and death, it is necessary to extinguish Desire; and to extinguish Desire, it is necessary to destroy Ignorance.
- Ignorance fosters rebirth on the Wheel of Necessity. When Ignorance is destroyed, the unsatisfactoriness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished.
- The dispersion of Ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing Altruism of Conduct, development of Wisdom, and Non-attachment for the transitory objects of ego-grasping.
- Attaining Great Awakening (maha-bodhi), the Buddha Sakyamuni realized four profound insights: namely,
– that all created phenomena are impermanent;
– that due to the mutable impermanence of phenomena, all created phenomena must result eventually only in suffering;
– that there is no independent absolute 'I'; and
– that the seeker of Truth can transcend created existence and attain, through spiritual practice and mystical contemplation, a supreme state of peace called Nirvana.
- Sakyamuni thus taught four Holy Truths (arya-satya), viz.
– Worldly-existence is Suffering.
– The Cause of Suffering is Desire.
– The cessation of Desire results in the end of Suffering.
– Cessation is obtained by following the eightfold Spiritual Path (arya-marga); viz., Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
- Right Contemplation leads to spiritual Awakening, or in other words the awakening of the Buddha-nature which is latent in every being.
- The essense of Dharma, as summed up by the Buddha himself, is: To avoid evil,To do good, To purify the Mind.
- The Universe functions according to a natural law of causation known as 'Karma.' The wholesome and unwholesome actions of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present life. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.
- The obstacles to the attainment of good Karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, viz., Kill not, Steal not, indulge not in Harmful Sexual Conduct, Lie not, and do not Intoxicate oneself with stupefying drugs or liquor. Five other precepts, which need not be here enumerated, should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release of suffering and rebirth.
- The Dharma discourages dogmatic credulity. Buddha Sakyamuni taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any scripture, or affirmed by any tradition, unless it accord with reason.
Feeling that there was a need for a basic statement upon which all Buddhists throughout the world generally agree, this document was drafted in 1889. The signatories (between 1891 and 1894) of this document include the following: Ven Sri Sumangala; Ven. Dhammarakhita, Ven. Yatawatte, Ven. Maligawe Suriyagoda Sonuttara; and Ven. Vibhavi Subhuti of Waskaduwa, Ven. Gunamegu Vinilankara, the patriarch of the Vihara of Cittagong, the supreme patriarch Sanada Seiko; Ven. patriarch Harutani Shinsho; Ven. patriarch Shaku Genyu; Ven. Sun-nyo; Ven. patriarch Fukuda Nichiyo; Ven. patriarch Takehana Hakuyo; Ven. Kira Ki-ko ; the patriarch and venerable master Kono Rioshan ; Ven. Ito Qanshyu, Ven. patriarch Hsien Ming; Ven. Wang Tse Yu; Ven. Kang Fu An, venerable Jetsundamba Khutukhu, Ven. Lama Euzon Pakshi; Ven. Khambo Sonam Djigshitov; and other heads of monasteries throughout Buryatia and Kalmykia. Ven. Bandido Khambo Lama Ngawang Lobzang Dorjieff, Ven. Gyalwa Tubten Gyamtso, the XIIIth Dalai Lama of Tibet. We present this document as an excellent statement of the basic principles of Buddhist doctrine, universally accepted by all schools. (Sourced from wikipedia)