Interfaith Insights and Inspiration
Interfaith Insights & Inspirations is a monthly series from the Ford Interfaith. The timing of this publication is intended to precede the main Buddhist annual observance of Vesak Day. The actual observance varies depending on culture, geography, and tradition. In 2015 the observances range from May 3 to June 4.
For more information about Vesak, try these links:
Enjoy the following interesting details written by the Ford Buddhist Group about the world’s fourth largest religion!
“The Buddha” was born as Siddhartha Gautama about 563 B.C. in modern-day Nepal. He grew up secluded as a prince in his father’s palace where he had every luxury at his command. According to the customs of the time, he married his princess cousin at age 16. While his father the king kept him secluded in the palace, he eventually took excursions where he saw that old age, sickness, and death are unavoidable characteristics of life. He then decided to find the solution to this universal suffering. At age 29, soon after the birth of his only child, he left his life of luxury and became an ascetic (comfort-denier).
For six years he wandered about as an ascetic — meeting religious teachers and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices. Not satisfied with the results, he went his own way, abandoning all traditional religions and their methods. On the full moon day of the month of Vesak (May), Gautama attained enlightenment and henceforth was called “The Buddha,” which means “The Enlightened One.” After enlightenment, he taught his first discourse to five ascetic colleagues. For the rest of his life until age 80, he taught all classes of men and women and gained a large following.
The Buddha did not claim to be anything other than a human being, pure and simple. He attributed all of his realization, attainments, and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence.
FOUNDATIONS OF BUDDHISM
The “Four Noble Truths” are the foundation of Buddhism:
1. Dukkha (means difficult to endure; commonly translated as suffering)
2. The cause of suffering (attachment leading to craving)
3. The cessation of suffering
4. The path to the cessation of suffering
The first three noble truths represent the philosophy of Buddhism: Dukkha should be understood; the cause (craving) should be let go of; and the cessation should be realized. The fourth truth represents the ethics of Buddhism — the path that should be cultivated. This path is called the “Noble Eightfold Path”:
1. Right understanding
2. Right thoughts
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
The first two are grouped as wisdom, the next four as morality, and the last two as concentration.
All Buddhists revere the Tripitaka, which comes in three volumes:
1. Discourses (Sutta) — teachings of Buddha
2. Discipline (Vinaya) — hundreds of rules for monks and nuns
3. Higher Teachings (Abhidamma) — analysis of mind and matter
Buddhism has three main sects:
1. Theravada — follows original Buddhism closely (practiced in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma)
2. Mahayana — coalesced 1st century A.D. (practiced in Japan, Korea, Mongolia)
3. Vajrayana — coalesced 5th century (practiced mostly in Tibet)
The foundations of Buddhism presented above are common to all three sects.
Today Buddhism is found in (listed by descending adherence) Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, and in parts of India. It is gaining in popularity in western countries. Estimates of the worldwide Buddhist population vary from 350 to 500 million.
Shrines will exist in a Buddhist home and at the temple; often a statue of Buddha will be found. The four holiest sites to Buddhists today are where Buddha was born, enlightened, first taught, and died (all in India or Nepal). At one of these sites a 500-foot Buddha is currently being planned.
VISAKHA PUJA (or Vesak)
Occurring on the full moon in May, Visakha Puja means “Buddha Day” and is Buddhism’s holiest day. The purpose is to celebrate the birth, life, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Buddhists spend the day by observing precepts, meditating, and listening to sermons. In the evening they hold candlelight processions, illuminate decorations large and small, and continue celebrations late into the night.