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Home > History of religion > Buddhism > Main theme of Buddhism
Main theme of Buddhism
The four pillars of Karma-Samsara-jnana-mukti are most clearly defined and accepted by Buddhism. The doctrine of Yoga was not only adopted, but was perfected by Buddhism. The practice of tantra is largely Buddhist.

In the oldest Hinayana school, silence is maintained about the existence of God. The whole subject-matter was treated as a metaphysical heresy . buddhaTowards the end, it was felt in Mahayana Buddhism, that some sort of theistic worship is desirable for the masses. Hence, the doctrine of trikaya Buddha was introduced, namely, Rupakaya (historical), Sambhogakaya (heavenly God) and Dharmakaya (an embodiment of dharma). The worship of Bodhisattvas also became prevalent. However, theoretically Buddhism remains atheistic. The last words of the Master were appo dipo bhava (Be a light unto yourself: and seek your salvation with diligence). A follower of Buddha, himself becomes a Buddha and does not worship Buddha or any super-natural power.

The distinctive feature of Buddhism is that everything is momentary, life is painful (sarvam dukham dukham) and there is soullessness (anatmavada).

It has three vows to be taken for being initiated into Buddhism.
  • I seek refuge in the Buddha (Buddham Sharanam gachchami).

  • I seek refuge in dharma (Dharmarn Sharanam Gachchyami)
  • I seek refuge in Samgha.(Sangham Sharanam Gachchyami).


  • Reason is accepted as the sole guide in matters of religion, and not any authority of any scripture.

    buddhaBuddha is reported to have said that his teaching has to be carefully weighed and reasoned out, and then and then alone has to be accepted, "not because it is a report, not because it is a tradition, not because it is said in the past nor because it is suitable, nor because your preceptor is a recluse, but if you your-self understand that this is so meritorious and blameless, and when accepted, it is for benefit and happiness, then you may accept it".

    Buddhism never had any caste distinction. Lord Buddha was totally opposed to caste and has given very sound reason for its rejection.

    The four noble truths (catvari aryct satyani) most systematically sum up the whole teaching of Buddhism.

    Attainment of Nirvana is the highest end of life that has both affirmative and negative interpretation.

    Buddhism is termed middle path, for it avoids the extremes of both asceticism and worldliness.

    Without becoming a bhikshu (renunciation in a monastery), nirvana cannot be attained. There is no moksa possible for a householder.

    The three steps of Shlia, Samodhi and Pi`aJna epitomize the religious striving of a Buddhist.
    Lord Buddha taught in the language of Pali, which was the local language of his native place. This distinguishes Buddhism from Hinduism. Later on when many important Brahmins were converted into Buddhism, Sanskrit was adopted as the language of Buddhism.

    The most successful missionary religion of India, which is now an international religion, is Buddhism.

    Buddhism evolved its doctrine and practice for about 1500 years in India. It was also the most significant movement from the time of the Buddha up to 1200 AD. Naturally it has become vast and complex religious system. One can study it for himself to convince oneself about its vastness.

    Buddhism is based on three philosophical tenets:
    Momentariness,
    Universal suffering and
    Soul-less-ness.

    Perhaps, the doctrine of momentariness is most fundamental doctrine, which also means that nothing in the world and jiva can be regarded as substantial. Nothing has any permanent nature of its own (nis-svabhava). As such everything is in flux. From this it follows that every pleasant moment is bound to die out. No reliance can be made on things in constant change. Hence, pain is inevitable in relation to evanescent things if we set our heart on things. Soul too has no permanent self, but is a stream of ever-flowing mental events.

    From the viewpoint of practice, leading to nirvana (cessation of suffering), there are the three jewels (triratna) of Shfla, Samadhi and Prcjna. Through Shlla or moral discipline one has to prepare oneself for attaining ninana. Then there is the next step where Shila is carried further into Samadhi. However, Samadhi can yield only temporary relief. The seeker, even when Samadhi is complete, has to return to this miserable world. As such Shila and Samadhi are perfected into Prajna in which there is sorrow but not of the jivan-mukta, but of the world.

    The whole teaching of Buddhism is included in the doctrine of four noble Truths.
    The Four Noble Truths (chatvari arya satyani) are:
    There is suffering.
    There is the cause of suffering.
    There is the cessation of suffering.
    There is the path leading to suffering.
    There is suffering: Indian religious systems are soteriological. They are interested in the practical result of the riddance of suffering. No Indian religious thought has denied the existence of suffering, and, the consequent need for release from this suffering. Buddhism gives reason for this suffering in terms of its doctrine of momentariness and non-substantiality of things. But Buddhism is concerned with the task of getting away from it. It does not encourage people to think about the first origin of evil or suffering. Any attempt at knowing the first cause of suffering, is a metaphysical here say for Buddhism. This advice has been tacitly followed by other Indian religious systems. This doctrine of suffering has been epitomized as `jara-marana` (old age and death).

    Twelve links of Dependent Origination (Dvadasa-Nidana): Nothing can take place without a cause so if there is suffering there has to be a cause for it. This doctrine is known as praMya-Samutpada, which means this exists, therefore that exists. A chain of twelve links explain the miserableness of earthly existence.

    From past lives
    Ignorance (avidya)
    The Gestalt (Sarftghata) of body, speech and thought, transmitted to us through our former lives. This is known as Saniskara.
    Consciousness (Vijnana)
    Name and Form (Nama-rupa)
    Six doors of sense-organs (sadayatana)
    (Five traditional sense organs and mind)

    Relating to present existence
    Contact (Indriya-Vastu-Sampark).
    Sensations as a result of this contact. It also includes feeling (Vedana).
    Cravings for pleasures of senses (Trsna).
    Grasping or clinging to trsna.
    Desire to be born (bhava) on account of (Trsna)
    Pertaining to future birth
    Birth (jati).
    Jara-marana (old age and death)

    It is said that bhava i.e., the desire to be born is the father and trsna is the mother of our present existence. If there were no trsna, then there will be no bhava. Hence, both the Upanishads and Buddhism aimed at realizing a state of desirelessness. That life is suffering is also the theme of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes:

    "I envy those who are dead and gone; they are better off than those who are still alive. But better off than either are those who have never been born. "

    In the Greek mythology of King Midas Lord Mercury said:
    "0 Children of misfortune and chance! Why should I tell you what is best for you, that is, not to be, not to exist and not to be born."

    The cessation of suffering is called Nirvana. Nirvana literally means `blown out` as a flame is blown out. This is the final aim of human striving. Nirvana is a state without pain, without desire and without any prospect of rebirth. Perhaps it can be described as a permanent state, which is wholly indescribable, because it is completely transcendental. The nature of nirvana is the most controversial issue in Buddhism.

    Path to the cessation of suffering (Dukha NirodhaMargo): As there is nirvana which was attained by Lord Buddha himself, so there must be a path which leads one to one`s final destiny of nirvana. Before embarking on the path, the seeker must fully understand the doctrine of momentariness, dependent chain of causation, (praMya-Samutpada) and anatmavada (Soullessness). After being fully mentally convinced of these principles, the seeker has to undergo the eight fold path:
    Right Views,
    Right resolve,
    Right speech,
    Right conduct,
    Right livelihood,
    Right effort,
    Right mindfulness,
    Right concentration.

    These steps when analysed fall into three inter-related stages of path:
    Morality (Shila)
    Right speech (Samyagvak)
    Right conduct (Samyak-Karmantal)
    Right living (Samyagajiva)

    Samadhi
    Right effort (Samyagvyayama)
    Right mindfulness (Samyak-smrti)
    Right concentration (Samyak-Samadhi)

    Prajna (Wisdom)
    Right resolve (Samyak-Sarnkalpa)
    Right View (Samyagdristi).

    Avidya (omnescience) is the state in which the mind is distorted, intellect is befogged and the in most being of man is soiled. Hence the will of man has to be purified, and, man has to be oriented in the right direction (Samadhi) and finally ahamkara (egoity) has to be destroyed by reaching the state of Prajna.

    monk Samadhi means training the whok mind and developing deep insight into the essentials of Buddhist teaching, concerning pratitya-Samutpuda, Shlla and Prajm. It is said to have been analysed into Sam-a-dhi which means synthesis of body-mind- will. The very aim of Samadhi is to have one`s ego dissolved. This is possible in stages.

    In the first stage of Samadhi, the mind is withdrawn from impurities of passion, attachment and there is withdrawal from all tempting objects of the world. Here there is a good deal of thinking and reasoning concerning the teaching of Buddhism.

    In the second stage reasoning ends and a deep conviction into Buddhist teachings arises. Here gross bodily sensations tend to become subtle. In the third trance there is happiness and tranquillity of mind. Lastly, there is neither pleasure nor pain. There is the Uppeksha-bhuva i.e., complete indifference and serenity.

    In the later development of Buddhism eight stages have been mentioned. In Tantra, the eightfold riddhis-siddhis (attainments) have been described.

    PRAJNA One finds that in the state of Samadhi, towards the final stage ego is lost. The centre of pleasure-pain is lost in upeksha-bhuva. But this complete indifference lasts as long as samadhi. On returning to the ordinary world, the seeker finds himself in the world again, even when his attitude to the world gets detached. But to reach the state of feelinglessness, the seeker has to practise prajna. In this state, pain in the toe or in any part of the body is felt, but is not owned.
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