Buddhism started in India 500 years before our era, more or less at the same time as Pythagore.
It was first revealed by the words of a man of noble origin (the son of a King or a Rajah) who devoted his life to finding the remedy for all men’s hardships and tribulations, found it, and gave it to them. So, it was a man and not a prophet who started this religion with no God, nor spirits and with no casts or classes. A very influential and philosophic way of thinking in the Middle-East and Asia; a belief for which, for once, no wars or crusades ever took place.
This doctrine was transmitted for a long time only by word of mouth before being written down, several centuries after Buddha’s death, in the texts of the Canons, divided into three “domains” (discipline, speech, dogmatic)
The Middle Voice
This is the first of Buddha’s revelations, so called, because it teaches us not to go to extremes, one being the quest for happiness (dependency on sensual pleasure, which is qualified by the Master as "vulgar"). The other is placed under the sign of humiliation (that which is "painful, undignified and has no gain").
Buddha experimented with both states, the first in his lavish youth, the other, during the long austere wanderings, before his Awakening. Neither one, nor the other, answered his quest for suspension of pain.
The 4 truths
The main reason behind the word of Buddha is the worldliness of Duhkha (imperfectly translated as ‘pain’, and which signifies sufferance, grief or even misery), this is shown in the 4 Noble Truths :
- "the noble truth that is suffering"
- "the noble truth that is the arising of suffering"
- "the noble truth that is the end of suffering"
- "the noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering"
The 5 aggregates (or composites) of the Bond
Their sum, making up the whole, are the origins of Duhkha, notion which implies hardship and disquietude :
The Matter aggregate, which corresponds to the 5 sensorial organs that are : the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body;
The Feeling aggregate, which includes all the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings that man feels with his physical and mental contacts with the outside world;
The Perception aggregate, which represents perceptions capable of recognizing physical and mental objects ;
The Mental Format aggregate, which comprises all voluntary acts, whether good or bad, better known under the name of Karma. There exists 52 mental activities ;
The Conscience aggregate, which represents the act of taking notice of an object ;
The notion of Karma was already present in the sacred writings of Hinduism in India. Buddha gave it an actual form and appearance. It is the sum of all beliefs and actions, (being as beliefs are actions) both good and bad.
Our lives are only one part of an uninterrupted chain from the beginning of time. Our physical and psychological bodies are only a combination of aggregates, which hide, in their apparent unity, a multitude of life cells, which live and die continuously. In the same way, the entity of this moment, is not the same as the one that it will be in an hour’s time … the body dissolves little by little until death.
What becomes of mental energies, which are in themselves not permanent ? They will try and take another form, find another combination of aggregates. This is nothing to do with the idea of reincarnation that we normally have, but more a tremendous energy that continues to manifest itself and which moves the world.
A Buddhist needs to make his karma beneficial by good acts for his actual and future life, being as he is never sure whether he will ever "finish" with this chain of movement.
This is the state of being free from suffering, as told in the 3rd of the 4 truths pronounced by Buddha. When the thirst for life (source of desire and pain) has been quenched, then there is Nirvana. It is difficult to exactly describe the state of Nirvana. Buddha himself, often used negative expressions like : "non-being", "non-composed", "ceasing", "quenching of thirst, desire, hate, illusion"…
Contrary to most religions that impose a Life after Death, Nirvana can be reached in one simple life. He who reaches Nirvana is free and happy. He lives for the moment without any anguish, he has no more selfish needs, and can enjoy the pleasures of life serenely without being bothered by his "ego", an ego that doesn’t exist any more. He keeps nothing for himself and is nothing but compassion, tenderness and bounty for others … He has reached the Ultimate Truth. He who has reached Nirvana is a saint, an Arhant, and at his death will reach the Parinirvana, or final awakening.
The Noble Eightfold Path
It leads all disciples to the end of suffering, for those who endeavour to follow its directives. The 8 branches of this path must of course, be undertaken simultaneously. They can be followed in everyday life, you don’t need to give up everything to pursue them :
- Viewing reality as it is ;
- Correct way of thinking ;
- Speaking in a truthful and non harmful way ;
- Acting in a non harmful way ;
- Non harmful livelihood ;
- Correct effort ;
- Awareness ;
- Correct meditation or concentration.