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Buddhism
   
Overview
 
  • Buddhism originated with the enlightenment and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (563-480 BC)
  • Rejected the notion that only a few could attain enlightenment (this was essentially a rejection of the caste system and the authority of the Brahmin and Vedas)
  • Rejected belief that one could rely on gods for salvation
  • Discouraged metaphysical speculation
Central Concepts
The pivotal values/core concepts of all Buddhism are summed up in the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught:
  1. Life is suffering
  2. Suffering comes from self-centered desire
  3. If one overcomes self-centered desire, suffering ends
  4. One can overcome self-centered desire by following the Eight Fold Path (the Buddha's basic teachings).

 

Branches of Buddhism:

While embraced many paths to the goal of release from samsara, Buddhism divided into many branches, each claiming to be the best (or only way) to nirvana.

  • Theravada (way of the elders)
  • Mahayana (the greater way)
  • Vajrayana (the diamond way)

The following chart illustrates the main differences between Theravada and Mahayana.

THERAVADA
MAHAYANA
Human beings are emancipated through self-effort, without supernatural aid
Human aspirations are supported by divine powers and the grace they bestow.
Key virtue:  wisdom
Key virtue: compassion
Attainment requires constant commitment, and is primarily for monks and nuns
Religious practice is relevant to life in the world, and therefore to lay people
Ideal:  the Arahat who remains in nirvana after death.
Ideal: the bodhisattva.
Buddha : supreme teacher.
Buddha a savior.
Minimizes metaphysics
Elaborates metaphysics.
Minimizes ritual
Emphasizes ritual
Practice centers on meditation
Includes petitionary prayer
Vajrayana is a unique form of Buddhism that evolved in Tibet.
  • Uses ritual, visualization and symbols to reach enlightenment in a very short period of time.
  • Spiritual leaders (lamas) are believed to reincarnate themselves for the sake of others.
  • Dalai Lama is considered to be the 14th incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion.