You should be aware by now that there are two
main branches of Buddhism. Theravada (which means "way of the elders") is
the non-theistic branch that emphasizes the need for each individual to
save himself through following the Eight-fold path. The other branch
of Buddhism is known as Mahayana. Mahayana( meaning "greater
vehicle") is theistic and emphasizes the bodhisattva as the ideal. Each
branch developed its own notions about salvation.
There is no such thing as a permanent self. This is the doctrine of an-atta:
the “not self.” What we perceive to be a unique, enduring self or personality
is merely an abstraction of a complex of energies and activities that are
constantly changing and “becoming.”
| The Human
Problem: The Buddha stated the human problem in what became known
as the Four Noble Truths:
Life is suffering (dukkha): “birth is
painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful,
sorrow, lamentation, dejection and despair are painful.”
Suffering originates from our desires. Desire
is known as tanha- a selfish-craving for things to stay as they are.
This desire can never be fulfilled, because everything is temporary and
transient (anicca). Even the self/soul is impermanent (the
doctrine of anatta.
Suffering ceases when desire ceases. When the
illusion of permanence is ended, ultimate reality/nirvana is revealed.
Suffering ends by following the Eightfold Path.
In some ways, the Four Noble truths restate the
problem of karma-samsara in Hinduism. It assumes a rebirth based on
one's karma. Since life is suffering, rebirth only prolongs
The Cure: The
Buddha set forth the idea that the cause of karma lies in selfish
craving. This desire for permanence is at odds with the reality that
nothing is permanent; not even what we perceive to the the self is truly
permanent. Selfishness is thus rooted in ignorance of the nature of
The cure or solution to suffering is
thus to extinguish desire by overcoming ignorance. This is done by following the Eightfold path.
By following this path one is able to see the impermanence of all things, and can thus
overcome desire, craving and attachment to ideals, pleasure, wealth or power. One thus become an
one (a Buddha) and is liberated from birth, death and rebirth. Note that there
is both a this world and other world nature to this kind of salvation. It
involves the wholeness by living in the present according to the Eightfold path.
Following this path brings enlightenment which is experienced here and now. One
enters Nirvana at death. Nirvana, however, is extremely difficult to
describe. It is not "heaven" in the Christian or Islamic sense. The
name actually suggests an "extinguishing" of desires. It is a state of
| Type of
salvation: Theravada Buddhism fits generally into the category of
cosmic expansion. Enlightenment and Nirvana are attained when one
reaches a higher consciousness that pierces through one's