Buddhism - History and Characteristics.

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The religion of Buddhism was created by a man by the name of Siddhartha Gautama who is said to have been conceived by a miraculous conception "in which the future Buddha came to his mother in the form of a white elephant and entered her right side." Siddhartha was born into an affluent family; his father was a king in what is now Nepal. He was raised in a life of luxury and shielded from the poverty and suffering of the world. However, he experienced visions showing him the stark realness of the world around him, and later in life he renounced his wealth and family and become an ascetic, seeking for answers to the mysteries of life.

Siddhartha tried many ways to achieve Supreme Enlightenment, but was unable to achieve this state. Finally Siddhartha tired a middle path - one of neither self-indulgence nor self-denial, and using this method, finally learned of the truths of reality and attained Supreme Enlightenment, becoming "Buddha" and founding Buddhism.

Buddhism is "the teaching of Buddha that life is permeated with suffering caused by desire, that suffering ceases when desire ceases, and that enlightenment obtained through right conduct, wisdom, and meditation releases one from desire, suffering, and rebirth." (dictionary.com, 2004) Buddhism teaches one to be a realist, to understand that the world contains much suffering. It continues to teach ways to escape the cycle of suffering caused by karma, and teaches dharma and the four basic facts of existence. Buddhism differs from most other religions in that in most cases, Buddhists do not believe in or worship a God, although Buddha himself has now become a God-like figure to many disciples. The main goal of Buddhists is to reach nirvana, which will be discussed later in this paper.

The Four Noble Truths

Dharma is the truths of reality, and Buddha's teachings of dharma included the four basic facts of existence.

Life inevitably involves suffering (dukkha), is imperfect and unsatisfactory.

This truth is obvious to all of us. Birth causes suffering. As children, we fall and skin our knees, which causes both ourselves and our mothers suffering. We fall in and out of love and get hurt. We lose our jobs, lose our loved ones, and grow old. Almost everything in life can cause suffering. By coming to this realization, we can look beyond the suffering and be able to realize the good things that happen. We can be compassionate about things and come to an acceptance that suffering happens. As humans, we just have to deal with it and move on.

Suffering originates in our desires

This truth tells us that once we know that life contains suffering, we continue to learn that suffering is caused by our desires: desire for sensual pleasure, desire to become, and desire to get rid of. Once we can recognize our desires, then we can let them go.

Suffering will cease if all desires cease.

This third noble truth is the natural causation of attaining the second noble truth. If we recognize our desires, and let them go, then our suffering will cease. How do we do this? By mediating on these noble truths, our minds, both conscious and subconscious, can ponder our desires, the reasoning behind it, and come to terms with it, thus letting it go.

One must follow the Noble Eightfold Path to realize this state.

This last and final noble truth shows the way to attain enlightenment. The eightfold path includes right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. When followed in order, one attains peace and serenity. There is harmony between the intellect, the instinct, and the emotions (buddhanet.net, 2004).


The ultimate goal of Buddha is to reach the state of nirvana. Through reincarnation after reincarnation, once one reaches full enlightenment, they are said to enter the state of Nirvana. Nirvana can be obtained in life. Once one reaches nirvana, they know how to achieve the cessation of their desires. Suffering still occurs around them, however, they are able to handle this suffering, and understand it. The individual who has reached nirvana knows that they have not caused this suffering, and this suffering does not affect them. While this seems harsh, it is merely a balancing of emotions, of using wisdom and knowledge to assess what is happening around you.

Once one has reached nirvana in life, it is said that upon death they will reach complete nirvana. In my opinion, this is the equivalent of heaven in Christianity, except you have to work harder to attain it and instead of going to hell if you fail, you get to try again until you do achieve it. Once you die, you are not reborn, not reincarnated. You cease to exist, and can finally rest in peace. While this seems very final, it is the ultimate peace. Personally, I would much rather believe in attaining this final nirvana than believe that once I die I just am buried in the ground and that is it. The concept of heaven seems unrealistic, and by this time it would be awfully crowded. Nirvana reminds me of souls floating in the cloud, in a state of nothingness, with no worries and no cares.


Through teaching such as the Lotus Sutra and Pali Canon, the way of Buddha has spread throughout the world. It is a peaceful religion that is one of the only religions that has needed to change only slightly with time. The core teachings are still highly relevant today. In today's modern scientific world, we are taught to think and analyze the reason behind everyday occurrences, and this matches the Buddhism beliefs.


Fisher, M. P. (2003). Living religions (5th Ed.) [University of Phoenix Special Edition Series]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lexico Publishing Group, LLC (2004) www.dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com

(2004) www.buddhanet.net. Retrieved June 8, 2004 from http://www.buddhanet.net