Monday, October 15, 2007

Hinduism and Buddhism

Right around the time I started college I became interested in evaluating different religions. Not necessarily picking one to follow, but I've always been interested in what motivates people to do what they do, and their religion is a huge factor. In my Human Geography class, we're studying the sub-continent of South Asia. India and a few surrounding countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh.

We've been studying everything from the physical geography of the land to climate change, cultural diversity and political tensions between the countries. Today was the first day we talked about Buddha. For the last decade or so I've been intrigued by Buddha, because he seems like a happy, peaceful person or God (I wasn't sure which he was).

Let me back-track a little. During the last few weeks of the course, we've discussed the typical India village culture and how Hinduism plays its role. There are distinct differences between the India culture and our culture in the U.S., but there are also quite a few similarities. The big differences have to do with dharma, karma, the caste system and the afterlife.

Dharma is your duty. If your father is a priest, you are expected to follow in his steps and become a priest. If you do your dharma, you obtain good karma, and eventually stop having to come back to this world in through the reincarnation circle. If you don't do your dharma, you get bad karma, and then return to this world in a lower setting. In the case of our priest son, if he decides to be a barber instead of a priest, he might return in his next life as a lower human (priests are at the top of the caste system), or even an animal or plant.

One of the most popular stories in India is the Bhagavad-Gita. The story is of a warrior-ruler Arjuna and Lord Krisna (an avatar of Vishnu). The climax of the 18 chapter story is when Arjuna and Krisna are surveying the battlefield before the actual battle. Arjuna sees faces of friends and family on both sides of the field, and believes that no good will happen from this war. He physically and mentally breaks down, and doesn't want to fight anymore.

Lord Krisna tells him that because he is the warrior, it is his dharma to fight--so fight he must. Krisna tells Arjuna that he is only in his current position by way of fulfilling his dharma in previous lives, and must continue to fulfill his dharma in this life. The thing that finally pulls Arjuna together is when Krisna tells Arjuna that 'you cannot kill that which can't be killed, for the soul is not slain when the body is slain. The soul is immortal.' Arjuna goes on to fight, and wins the war.

Now I don't know about you, but I see some similarities between dharma, karma, and what happens in the U.S. The geography professor tries his best to distinguish the two, but when it comes to corporate America, if you get in with the right people, and do what they tell you to do; you'll make good money, get promoted, and lead a "successful" life. If you question authority and don't follow orders, you'll be on your way out the door in a hurry!

But, didn't Ghandi question authority? And what about Buddha?

Well, we learned a bit about Buddha today. Siddartha Guatama, better known as Buddha, is thought to have been born around the year 536 BCE. He was born into the Shakya, a clan ruled by his father in the foothills of the Himalayas, which is now southern Nepal. His youth was spent in wealth and luxury, and he was being groomed to take over his father's kingdom.

To prevent Siddartha from other worldly pursuits, his father lavished him with every possible want or need. He was married to a beautiful young woman and together they had a son. Whenever Siddartha left the palace grounds, his father would send palace guards ahead to make sure nothing unpleasant distracted his son.

This is where the Four Passing Sights occur. Buddha eventually sees four things that trouble him. Old age, sickness and death. These troubled Siddartha because while he enjoyed all the comforts of the world, here people were growing old and weak, living in pain with sickness, and even dying. The fourth sight Siddartha saw was a monk, whose happy tranquilty--without any worldly goods--confused Siddartha.

Finally, when he was 29 (again, not sure how people know this, but I'll just pass on the info), he bid his sleeping wife and son a silent farewell, and made his way to the forest. He chopped off his hair and wore common clothing, and began what is known as "The Great Departure" or "Great Going Forth."

For the first five years, Siddartha found no peace. He went so far as to try living on one bean a day. He nearly died, but was saved by a group of five monks. At age 35, he came to Bodh Gaya ("Place of Enlightenment"), and sat under a fig tree--where he resolved not to rise until he had solved the riddle of life.

While meditating under the Bo-tree, Mara (Lord of Death) tried to lure Buddha into abandoning his goal by using confusion, gaiety, pride, lust, delight and pining--but none were successful. Mara made other attempts at harming the Buddha physically, but Siddartha could not be harmed, as he had completely dissolved his temporal identity. Nothing Mara did could distract Buddha. Mara left, and Siddartha had become the Buddha (the Enlightened One). Buddha continued to sit under the Bo tree for seven days, enjoying his enlightened state. After that week, he arose and walked about Deer Park, where he again met the five monks who saved him in the forest. The monks were amazed to find that not only had Siddartha continued with his path towards enlightenment, but Siddartha now claimed to have found enlightenment! The five monks listened intently to what Buddha had to say, and those five monks became Buddha's first disciples.

What did Buddha have to say?

Buddha came to the realization that the only way to find inner peace is to practice moderation in all things. A life of self-indulgence was unworthy and fit for only the worldly, but also a life of self mortification was equally useless--Buddha had experienced both.

From this views on moderation came The Four Noble Truths.

1) The Noble Truth of Suffering
We all suffer. From birth we suffer. Sickness is painful, disease, hardships, death of family members, unmet desires and separation from pleasantries are painful.

2) The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering
Craving. Craving to be loved, to be satisfied both presently and in the future. The origin of suffering is the ignorance or refusal to see things how they truly are.

3) The Noble Truth Concerning the Destruction of Suffering
Stop craving, pretty much.

4) The Noble Truth Concerning the Way Which Leads to the Destruction of Suffering
The Noble Eightfold Path:
The Right Views (Free from Delusion)
The Right Aspirations (Worthy and Intelligent)
The Right Speech (Kind and Truthful)
The Right Behavior (The Ten Precepts)
The Right Livelihood (Do not harm any living thing)
The Right Effort (Self Training)
The Right Thoughts (Self-Control)
The Right Concentration (Contemplation)

I could go on further, to how there are different sects of Buddhism, like any other religion, but I think I'll stop here. Some of the concepts outlined in Buddha's teaching really strike a cord with me. I agree with most of the Noble Eightfold Path, but the Ten precepts I have issue with. No drinking, no lying? What about everything in moderation?! I may have to start up my own sect called "Christian's Buddhism" where the drinking precept is re-worded as "No heavy drinking" and the lying part is "No lying to hurt people, but you can still tell your friends that their baby is cute, even if it is not. And you can bluff at poker."



Blogger staceyface said...

this was all really I've had some interest in buddhism off and on throughout the years. I don't like to practice anything, but I've always enjoyed many of the texts, especially those of buddhist author thich nhat han.

but! the only reason I'm commenting, other than to say thanks for reminding me of my interest is...

"..but the Ten precepts I have issue with. No drinking, no lying? What about everything in moderation?!"


12:18 PM  

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