Buddhism is one of the major philosophical practices in Asia and has originated from India. Buddhism has assumed many different forms over time but the basis for each, no matter the changes people make, is the life of Buddha. Buddha – also known as the Awakened One – is the central figure of the philosophical practice or religion of Buddhism. Buddhism focuses on inner peace, philosophy, discipline, and one’s purpose in life. This descriptive essay will focus on the world’s fourth largest religion, Buddhism.

Origin of Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion or a philosophical way of life established by the Hindu prince, Siddhartha Gautama more than 2500 years ago. Siddhartha Gautama is often referred to as Buddha or the Enlightened One. Siddhartha Gautama being Buddha is one of the characteristics which differ Buddhism from other religions as Buddhists do not believe in a god who is responsible for the creation of everything.

Siddhartha Gautama was born into a wealthy family but upon witnessing the suffering of the people, he decided to commit to giving up his wealth and lavish lifestyle. Siddhartha Gautama lived a poor life but he did not feel fulfilled. Because of that, he again decided to live in the middle – instead of choosing wealth and poverty over the other. He started to live a life not depriving himself of anything but he makes sure to stay in the middle of the two extremes. Years after, Siddhartha Gautama finally achieved Enlightenment and was since known as Buddha.

To shed light on Siddhartha Gautama’s change, there is a story of him encountering the what is known to be the Four Signs. One day, as Siddhartha Gautama was exposed to life outside the place he grew up in, he encountered 4 men. The first three men that he saw comprise of an aged man, a sick man, and a dead man. As he was shielded from the trials of life by his father, the king, Siddhartha Gautama had no idea that these fates would one day befall him too and that he and everyone he knows and loves would be lost someday.

After encountering the three men and realizing that he too shall perish, he saw an ascetic man – one who practices extreme self-discipline and rids himself of indulging in anything – who is smiling. This puzzled him as all the previous men he had encountered is suffering. When Siddhartha Gautama asked the ascetic man why is he different from the previous men that he encountered, the man answered that it is due to him leading a peaceful life secluded from the world and full of compassion and reflection. It was then that Siddhartha Gautama decided to pursue a different path for his life.

After Siddhartha Gautama became the Enlightened One, he gained followers and became a teacher. His disciples had spread the philosophical teachings and beliefs across Northern India. However, it was not until the reign of Ashoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire that Buddhism was recognized as a religion and ceased to being known as a minor school of thought. And so from the land of India, Buddhism spread throughout Asia.

As Buddhism is a religion leaning towards philosophical beliefs and practices, Buddhists tend to understand things a little differently from one another. Their different interpretations of the life and teachings of Buddha gave way to new thoughts and philosophies to emerge. Although, those are still deeply rooted to Buddha and his life. Many Buddhist temples were destroyed by the Huns when they invaded India but the religion still managed to endure up to this day.

Buddhism Schools of Thought and Practices

As mentioned earlier, Buddhists have created different forms of Buddhism as they interpret Buddha’s teachings differently from one another. Given that, there are also some forms of Buddhism that have incorporated other religion’s beliefs and philosophies. Buddhism has become mixed as time passed by but what is important for Buddhists is that the essence of the teachings of Buddha is not lost and is still revered no matter what form it takes.
 The three schools of thought mentioned below adhere to the sacred beliefs and teachings of Buddha. The schools of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism all follows the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which will be discussed later.

1. Theravada Buddhism (The School of the Elders)

Theravada Buddhism is known as The School of Elders but Hinayana Buddhists refer to it as “little vehicle” practices Buddhism in accordance to the teaching of Buddha in their sacred text Tipitaka which means Three Little Baskets. They use Pali as the language in the teachings that they follow. Theravada Buddhism is highly focused on reaching individual enlightenment.

Theravada Buddhists have two forms of meditation one of which is closely related to yoga, which is a Hindu practice, and the other requires a more intense concentration. The first one involves the Theravada Buddhist meditating to isolate themselves from earthly desires in order to reach joy and the second one allows progression towards Nirvana.

Theravada Buddhism is the school of thought which follows the most traditional way of life of Buddhists out of the three. Today, Theravada Buddhism is common in the countries Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

2. Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle)

Mahayana Buddhism follows the traditional teachings of Buddha but it also deals with a system of metaphysics that helps them understand how a person can achieve Enlightenment. Unlike Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism does not purely focus on Buddha’s teachings but instead it incorporated another element into the belief. They use the language of Sanskrit in their teachings and is inclined towards reaching an essence of Enlightenment.

In Mahayana Buddhism, neither their belief in the self and Dharma exists. In their quest to reach the essence of Enlightenment, they put off Nirvana in order to help other people and let them experience the same enlightenment that they have achieved. Mahayana Buddhists put their love for all creatures above all else and are encouraged to do good deeds.

Mahayana Buddhism is the most popular school of thought being practiced up to this day. Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in the countries China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.

3. Vajrayana Buddhism (The Way of the Diamond)

Vajrayana Buddhism, also called Tibetan Buddhism, deals with the existential crisis one faces once an individual reaches their highest goal. Vajrayana Buddhism teaches that all individuals have already reached Enlightenment and only has to realize it. And so, one does not need to separate himself from earthly desires, one only needs to continue walking along the path until his earthly desires begin to dissipate.

Vajrayana Buddhism is more popular in the countries Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and northern India.

Buddhism Teachings and Beliefs

Buddhism’s ultimate goal is to attain Enlightenment or Nirvana in order to be free from reincarnation and end the cycle of suffering. This is to be done by giving up and detaching oneself to their earthly desires and extremely disciplining himself as these are the ways to achieve peace and happiness. Buddhists promote peace and is widely popular among those who desires to get in touch with their spirituality and experience peace. Buddhism has a number of teachings and beliefs that have been carried in its schools of thought.

  1. Dharma
     Dharma is Buddha’s teachings which shares that the most important virtues a man can have are: compassion, wisdom, patience, kindness, and generosity. Furthermore, Buddhists are prohibited to lie, steal, commit sexual misconduct, taking dangerous substances, and killing any living thing.
  2. Karma
     
    The doctrine of Karma states that one’s deeds will dictate what I to become of him in the future. So, if a person has committed good deeds, he can expect that the good things he did will be returned to him even on some other form. However, committing bad deeds will result to misfortunes and will cause one to stray far from achieving Enlightenment or Nirvana. According to Buddhists’ beliefs, Karma can befall a person in the life they are living at the moment or the karmic acts will be brought forth into that individual’s next life.
  3. Four Noble Truths
     The Four Noble truths explain why humans suffer and are also guiding principles which Buddhists should follow to end their suffering. The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism teaches about the truth of suffering in life, that the true cause of suffering is desire, that ending earthly desire leads to ending suffering, and once one stops ceases to have earthly desire, so shall their suffering end.
  4. Eightfold Path
    And in order to achieve what is stated in the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path is to be followed. The Eightfold Path teaches what should be done in order to achieve wisdom, ethical conduct, and proper mental discipline. It comprises of right understanding, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right source of living, right effort, right mindfulness, and right Samadhi or concentration which is the equivalent of meditation for Buddhists. Following the Eightfold path frees an individual from the endless cycle of reincarnation and suffering, which they call samsara.
     The Noble Eightfold Path should not be thought of as a set of eight sequential steps, with perfection at one step required before advancing to the next. Rather, these eight components of the path should be thought of as guiding norms of right living that should be followed more or less simultaneously, for the aim of the path is to achieve a completely integrated life of the highest order (Koller, 2007).
  5. Nirvana
     Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhists, the state that they wish to achieve. Nirvana is experienced when a person is released from samsara and thus is feeling peace and happiness as he is released from all human sufferings. It is the religious enlightenment that Buddhists are aiming for.

Buddhism, as old as it is, is an extremely complex philosophical belief or religion which inspires even those who do not believe in a divine being to learn about the ways of life that Buddhism offers. Even though the number of Buddhist followers have dwindled over the years because of Christianity and Islam, Buddhism is still considered a powerful religion simply because it holds the fourth place of being the most widely practiced religion in the world.

The beliefs and practices of Buddhism can surely influence and make people reflect upon themselves especially when they encounter the Buddhist belief in Karma. Not a single person would want every bad deed he has done in his life be given back to him, sometimes even a hundredfold worse. Apart from that, peace and happiness is one of the things human innately crave and desire for life is full of suffering.

The schools of thought and teachings of Buddhism is an interesting subject to write about in your next philosophy paper. Buddhism is considered to be a minefield when a person becomes curious in exploring oneself in search of enlightenment – which is to say peace and happiness. So, if you have ever suffered because you have no idea how to choose an excellent college essay topic, then why not give the subject of Buddhism a try and discover a culture and way of thinking that is new to you? If you still do not know how to start with your paper, then hire a professional writer from us here at CustomEssayMeister where you are reassured to receive a high quality paper that will wow your teacher.


References

History.com Editors. (2020, July 22). Buddhism. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/buddhism

Koller, J. M. (2007). Asian Philosophies. Prentice Hall.

Mark, J. J. (2020, September 25). Buddhism. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/buddhism/

The history of Buddhism (article). (n.d.). Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/early-indian-empires/a/buddhism-in-indian-culture

Tucci, G. , Kitagawa, . Joseph M. , Snellgrove, . David Llewelyn , Lopez, . Donald S. , Reynolds, . Frank E. and Nakamura, . Hajime (2020, October 30). Buddhism. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Buddhism

Vail, L. (n.d.). The Origins of Buddhism. Asia Society. https://asiasociety.org/education/origins-buddhism