Monday, June 27, 2022

Buddhism is a philosophy

| June 9, 2022 1:00 AM

In this series on minority religions, Tuesday’s column perused some of the bizarre. Today takes us more mainstream.

Albert Einstein had this to say of Buddhism:

"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal god, avoids dogmas and theology. It covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."

Buddhism is the world's fourth largest religion, with more than 520 million adherents worldwide. They comprise about 1% of Americans.

Buddhism began with Indian prince-turned-monk Siddhartha Gautama about 500 B.C., a man who abandoned his throne, family, and riches to see the suffering in the world and develop a philosophy to improve it. The title “Buddha” means “one who has awakened.”

Not all Buddhists consider Buddhism a religion, saying it’s more of a philosophy for living — especially here in the U.S. Most around the world do practice it as a religion with hierarchies of leaders (headed by the 14th Dalai Lama) and religious practices.

Buddhism forbids neither approach.

Like Jesus, Buddha never wrote his teachings, but in his case, his students penned his words contemporaneously during his lifetime — five centuries before Jesus was born. Since then, Buddhist scholars have written outlining its varying beliefs and practices — the most popular of course being the current Dalai Lama’s many coauthored bestsellers.

One key to understanding Buddhism, and the root of much of its misunderstanding, is the lack of hero worship. Buddha himself said to his student, “Do not follow me,” emphasizing that worship of another was not the path to enlightenment. Buddhists believe enlightenment is found only within oneself, and the journey is individual. Other religions are generally not considered wrong, but simply as different paths to potential enlightenment.

The Buddhist path involves four “noble truths,” put simply:

• Dukkha: Suffering is universal.

• Samudaya: The cause of suffering is desire (to have or control things or people).

• Nirodha and Magga: Suffering ceases by letting go of desires.

To best gain wisdom and self-awareness or mindfulness, Buddhists believe one must meditate and increase acts of kindness. Mindfulness leads to identifying truth, self-knowledge, and the release of negative thinking and suffering. There is also the concept of karma — that every act has an effect on self and others. There is no heaven or hell in Buddhism, but one can attain nirvana — a state of liberation from suffering.

As Buddhism developed over the centuries, other beliefs and practices were introduced by its followers, which vary by country/culture. Among these is the idea of reincarnation — something Buddha didn’t mention. Buddhists who believe in reincarnation believe the body taken in the next life depends upon the knowledge and enlightenment gained in the preceding one.

On that measure, next time I’ll probably come back as a pea plant.

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Sholeh Patrick is an attorney and columnist for the Hagadone News Network who wouldn’t mind the simple life of a pea plant. Email

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