Exploring the depth of Buddhism : four noble truths, Karma, Nirvana…

The Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world, being a very influential religion worldwide. The Buddhism was first originated in India, therefore, being classified as an Indian religion. Although Buddhism originated in India, it rapidly spread around Asia, now being one of the most dominating and influential religion in Asia. The Buddhism is immensely associated with the state of being awakened about the human nature. This process is obtained and trained mostly through meditation, which is a distinct feature about Buddhism compared to other religions. The Buddhism is rather a self-mentoring and self-recognizing about the nature of human lives and the surroundings. The Buddhism encompasses the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, which means the ‘awakened one’. In addition, the Buddha was recognized by his followers as an awakened teacher who was fully aware of, what is known as the Buddhists philosophy or beliefs, a cycle of suffering and rebirth. In other words, the Buddhism greatly elaborates on the belief about nothingness, death and afterlife.

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There are various branches in Buddhism but there are two main branches; Theravada, meaning the school of elders, and Mahayana, meaning the great vehicle. Moreover, there are four very important features about Buddhism; the four noble truth, karma, nirvana and Mahayana. The purpose of this paper is to explore the Buddhism in depth, about its origins and various beliefs. In particular, it will be based on the four noble truths, karma, nirvana and Mahayana, the major branches in Buddhism.

The most fundamental thoughts and beliefs in Buddhism are greatly based on the four noble truths. Especially in the Mahayana Buddhism, the fourth truths are the essential concepts to the path. The four noble truths are the formulation of his understanding of the nature of suffering. Since his beliefs and teachings were mostly about suffering and nirvana, it was the most advanced and fundamental principle in Buddhism. The significance of his belief is that he did not view negatively about suffering but acknowledged it. The followings are the four noble truths.

1. Life means suffering

2. The origin of suffering is attachment

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

As the Buddha puts an emphasis on the understanding of suffering, it is very important to recognize the importance of these noble truths. The first truth is basically about the human nature being painful for their entire lifetime. The beginning of life, birth, is the start of suffering as the pregnancy is extremely painful. As we live along, we age and get older, which is also suffering. Moreover, humans are very vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and illness, which is also suffering. However, on top of all these sufferings, the most painful and long-lasting suffer is probably death. The death of the parents, friends, lovers and even children lead people to great pain for a long time. Therefore, the first noble truth that the life is suffering describes well about the human nature.

The second truth suggests that the suffering is caused by attachment. In Buddhist point of attachment is mostly greed, egotism and unnecessary desire. According to this truth, the desire for attachment would only result in misery and suffer. Moreover, this truth also gives the idea that everything is impermanent, meaning that in any realm of human nature they cannot possess eternal happiness. Everything changes, death exists and desire will only lead to misery and suffer.

The third truth is related to the second truth. Since the suffering is caused by attachment, the cure for suffering is to vanish the attachments. This is simply to abolish the cause of suffering, abolishing the source of pain. In other words, by being free from all worries, troubles and greediness, the cessation of suffering can be attained. This state of mind is called nirvana, which will be dealt in more detail later on this essay. The nirvana will only be comprehensible to those who have attained it.

The fourth truth is the extended thought about third truth, which talks about the path to end the suffering, a gradual path of self-improvement. There are two extremes, indulgence and asceticism, which the two ends lead to the end of a cycle, rebirth. Therefore, the main point of this truth is to avoid the extremes in favor of a life of moderation, nonviolence and compassion. Therefore, Buddhism is the ‘middle way’.

Another important feature about Buddhism is karma, any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical. The karma is every volitional action of individuals, whether those are good or bad. The exception made in their case is because they are delivered from both good and evil; they have eradicated ignorance and craving, the roots of Karma. Buddha says “All living beings have actions as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states” (deBary, p417). This is the main idea of karma, that the will makes the difference between good and bad. In each life, a soul is punished or rewarded based on its past actions, or karma, from the current life as well as earlier lives. Karma isn’t due to god’s judgment over a person’s behavior. The way Buddhist accepts is somewhat different from the way the ordinary people perceive. The Buddhists understand ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in terms of how selfless and pure the person is, rather than simply caring for other people or being nice. Buddhists believe that “the greatest achievement is selflessness”(deBary, p493), showing how Buddhists perceive goodness. In addition, since karma is not a god or a supernatural force, it can be controlled by strong will. This state of mind, karma, can be cured by meditation, as the “greateset mediation is a mind that lets go”(deBary, p495).

Another important fact is that Karma is not only believed in Buddhism, but also in Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and many other religious groups. Because Karma is categorized as being the chain of cause and effect, Buddhists perceive karma as motives behind an action. Therefore, in order to make a difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ action, you will still need to have a pure intention, which can only be obtained in the empty state.

In Buddhism, there is a state that the Buddhists desire to acquire, perhaps their ultimate goal in their lives. When karma is a willful action of individuals, nirvana is the state that Buddhists desire to acquire. Nirvana is the state of being free from all the suffering and sadness. It is a central concept in Buddhism, a spiritual state of having no sorrow and anger. Buddha says that “Nirvana is the highest happiness”(deBary, p494) , extinguishing ignorance, hatred and suffering. The Buddha also referred Nirvana as “the state of deathlessness” having an increasing control over the generation of karma. Since Buddha had overcome all these complexes and sufferings through meditation and achieved nirvana, his mental health was perfect. Also, that he was very much aware of appreciating the pureness, in which people are initially born with and try to obtain.

Therefore, the Buddhists refer to this state as ‘enlightenment’. In order to achieve this peace, individuals practice and meditate endlessly to empty their minds as much as possible. Also, this highest spiritual state is derived from the cessation of the desires and greed. Once the state of Nirvana is achieved, you can fully escape the cycle of karma and achieve parinirvana, nirvana in the afterlife. Parinirvana is the final nirvana that you eventually obtain endless peace in your life for the rest of your cycle of life.

The Buddhism relates lots of their religious beliefs to afterlife. For example, they believe that when you commit lots of malevolent actions that you will have to pay off for those actions, perhaps in afterlife. Also, when you are constantly experiencing misfortune, Buddhists will say that you are paying off what you have committed in the past life. Moreover, another famous belief that Buddhists have is that in order to have a relationship with a person, you need have an extremely strong bond with that person from the past life. Meaning that past life and after life is somehow related, in terms of relationships.

The Mahayana is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism, which was believed to be first founded in India. It is generally believed in the East Asia, including Korea, Mongolia, China and Japan. The Mahayana is majorly taught in Buddhists schools. People who strongly believe in Mahayana usually think that the state of nirvana can be achieved in a single lifetime, and it can be accomplished even by a layperson.

The Mahayanists puts an emphasis on the individual enlightenment. In a different point view, they strive to liberate from the cycle of birth and death, the ultimate source of suffering. Once Buddhists are set free from all the pain, suffering and troubles, they eventually reach the bliss of Nirvana. Another important feature about Mahayana is that they believe in universalism, which is the belief that everyone can become a Buddha (deBary, p502). This is an abstract belief but the theory is that at some point, you will become a Buddha as you obtain more and more selflessness.

Moreover, the Mahayanists also believe that ‘compassion to help sentient beings reach enlightenment: become a bodhisattva, both human and seemingly godlike, yourself. We can see that the Mahayanists generally believed in ordinary people, perhaps Buddhists, could eventually reach a state of mind that can become Buddha, which can be governed by compassion and individual enlightenment. Once you recognize the sentient beings, you will be drawn closer to the Nirvana, the ideal and ultimate peace in Buddhism. Therefore, the Mahayanists also believe in reaching a state where they could extinguish their own individual existence in Nirvana.

In conclusion, we have explored the Buddhism, its various supporting beliefs and the origin of those branches of Buddhism. It seemed that Buddhists majorly desire to achieve the peaceful and empty state of mind, regardless of what branch they strongly believed. For example, there were extremely keen to acquire the Nirvana, the ultimate peace in life, no longer being entangled in suffering and pain. Most of the suffering comes from the cycle of death and attachment. However, the cessation of those attachments is the way to overcome the pain and achieve nirvana. This controlling of mind is also associated with Karma, which is the willful action. Therefore, the Karma differentiates the state of mind, which will cause the individual’s life to branch in different directions. The Mahayana is a powerful branch in Buddhism, which emphasizes individual enlightenment. In a nut shell, the ultimate motto of Buddhism is to achieve the state of nothingness, understanding the cycle of suffering, the karmic cycle and the cycle of rebirth and death. By exploring the Buddhism, I figured that Buddhism is more associated with individuals’ attainment, rather than simply worshiping the supernatural beings or gods.