The Editors

What is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism?

Two thousand five hundred years ago, underneath the Bodhi tree in northern India, Siddhartha Gautama understood reality and became a Buddha, a ‘awake’ or ‘awakened’.

Through his deep understanding of reality, he destroyed his desire, hatred and ignorance, the chains that bound him to the round of rebirth (samsāra), and thus freed himself from all suffering, all stress, all unsatisfaction (dukkha).

Out of love for the world, the Buddha decided to teach his path to liberation. When we talk about Buddhism today, we mean this teaching, the Dhamma.

During the 45 years in which the Buddha proclaimed the Dhamma, he gained many followers. Those followers, who in turn freed themselves from suffering, formed the Sangha, the noble order of disciples.

The Core of Buddha’s Teachings

The word Dhamma has multiple meanings, such as ‘fundamental elements’, ‘representation of reality’ and ‘cosmic law’. The heart of the Dhamma is formed by the Four Noble Truths.

First, the truth that there is unsatisfactoryness. Buddhists call this unsatisfactoriness dukkha.

Dukkha is usually translated as suffering because this is often the case from the perspective of human experience, but the essence of dukkha is that there is unsatisfaction in everything.

We grab and cling to things with desire in the hope of being happy. However, everything in the world is subject to change, is impermanent, and therefore cannot give the permanent satisfaction we seek.

That is the second truth, namely that the cause of this unsatisfactoriness stems from desire.

That desire stems from our ignorance of the true nature of things. The Buddha teaches that this ignorance can be destroyed by effort.

The third truth is that there is a state of being that is completely free from unsatisfactoryness by being free from desire, hatred and ignorance, better known as Nibbāna (Sanskrit: Nirvana).

The fourth truth is the path that leads to this liberation, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. This Eightfold Path can be summarized in three trainings, the training in moral behavior, the training in concentration and the training in wisdom.

Want to know more? Then read our extensive text The 4 Noble Truths: Essence of the Dhamma.

The Buddhist Path Summarized

The three trainings form the core of the Buddhist path. To curb desire and ignorance, wisdom is needed. A prerequisite for the emergence of wisdom is concentration (samadhi).

It is concentration that makes our mind calm, pure and powerful enough to see reality as it is.

An absolute condition for gaining concentration is that we become aware of our morality and attach great importance to correct moral behavior (sīla). If we exhibit immoral behavior, it is impossible to gain concentration.

With moral behavior as a condition, concentration arises, with concentration as a condition, wisdom arises.

With wisdom you see from your own experience, in the here and now, the true nature of things, and you can let go for lasting peace and contentment, lasting happiness.

Features of Buddhism

Buddhism is characterized by the emphasis placed on one’s own effort.

The Buddha showed the path, but you have to go walk the path yourself.

The path of patience and perseverance, of continuousl trying to be mindful and kind to yourself, so that concentration can strengthen itself and a strong foundation is developed where liberating insight can manifest itself.

The path of meditation established in moral behavior so that you become a safe haven for yourself and the world.

You are the only one who can go down this path, slowly but surely, step by step. No one else can do it for you.

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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the way

Buddha, Dhp 276