Buddhism – Concept, beliefs, founder, history and reincarnation

We explain what Buddhism is, its main beliefs, history and founder. Also, the belief in reincarnation in Buddhism.

Buddhism proposes a universal conception and a method to aspire to transcendence.

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world, endowed with around 530 million adherents in different countries, especially in East and Southeast Asia. Its name comes from the nickname of its founder, Siddhartha Gautama (6th-5th centuries BC), better known as Buddha (“the awakened one”).

Belonging to the family of dharmic religions, Buddhism is considered a non-theistic faith, that is: It is a religion of Indian origin and does not propose the existence of any specific God, but rather a universal conception and a method to aspire to transcendence. For this last reason, it is regarded more as a philosophical doctrine than as an organized religion.

Three different traditions are known within Buddhism, the differences of which lie in the interpretation of the path to liberation proposed by the Buddhist method, as well as the importance they give to ancient texts and other complementary teachings and practices. These traditions or schools are:

  • Buddhism Theravada (“Way of the Elders”), heir to early Buddhism and the teachings preserved in the Pali Canon, the only surviving Buddhist canon.
  • Buddhism Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”), the majority tradition today (around 53% of the followers of Buddhism), more modern with respect to the Theravada, and which in turn includes a different set of schools of its own.
  • Buddhism Vajrayana (“Vehicle of Lightning”), an extension of Mahayana Buddhism that subscribes to the so-called “Buddhist tantras” or “secret mantras” and that seeks to complement its beliefs with the upaya (“Skillful means”), independent Indian adepts.

Finally, Buddhism consider Sanskrit as his liturgical language, although it also takes into account texts in Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Although its faithful tend to organize themselves in communities (“shangas”) and meet in pagodas, stupas, viharas and wats (different types of architecture depending on the geographical region), the doctrine of Buddhism is lax enough to be practiced in other settings, as in more and more many western countries.

History of Buddhism

The origin of Buddhism dates back to Indian religious thought of the first millennium BC, a period of enormous cultural and philosophical wealth in the region. Many of the doctrines later preached by Siddhartha Gautama emerged at that time, although there is no credible record or universally accepted opinion among scholars as to how much of Buddhism, proper, already existed at that time.

The religion it began to exist, properly speaking, between centuries V and IV a. C., and it spread throughout India throughout this last century, especially during the reign of the Mauria Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BC), since the latter practiced and defended it publicly.

Thanks to its local success, Buddhism soon spread to the geographies of Sri Lanka and Central Asia, benefiting from trade through the Silk Road, partly thanks to its adoption by the Kushan Empire, whose territories were extended, in centuries I and III d. C., from present-day Tajikistan to the Caspian Sea, and from present-day Afghanistan to the Ganges River valley.

Buddhism flourished under numerous empires in India, such as the Gupta period (IV-VI centuries), the Harsavardana empire (V-VI centuries) or the Pala empire (VIII-XI centuries), and during that joint period of time its four main aspects of thought: Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha and Pramana.

However, Buddhism began at the same time a slow decline in favor of Hinduism, which was accentuated by Islamic invasions and the Muslim conquest of India (10th to 12th centuries), and it soon lost much of its traditional territory in Asia.

Partly thanks to European colonial interest in Asia, from the 19th century Buddhism began to penetrate the West, where he found not a few converts, especially in the twentieth century, when Western culture entered a philosophical impasse.

But in that same century, Buddhism suffered significant losses in Asia, the result of World War II, the Taiping Rebellion and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as the intense communist repression of traditional religions in North Korea, Vietnam, Tibet and Mongolia. , in the middle and end of the 20th century.

Founder of Buddhism

founding buddhism buddha Siddhartha Gautama
Siddhartha left his aristocratic family to devote himself to meditation.

Buddhism is based on the traditional Indian dharmic teachings, but especially on the methods of seeking enlightenment that it proposed the ascetic and mendicant preacher Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 BC), nicknamed “The Buddha” or “The awakened one”.

It is said that Siddharta was born into an aristocratic family, in the former republic of Sakia, and that upon realizing the sufferings that common people lived, he abandoned his social status and privileges to lead a life dedicated to meditation and asceticism. , until the day he finally found his way to spiritual awakening.

Opposing the traditional Brahmanic practices of India, the now Gautama Buddha preached his methods based on mindfulness, ethical training and meditation dhyana, to its growing community of followers of both sexes, both religious and lay practitioners.

The path proposed by Buddha was between sensual indulgence and strict asceticism, which constituted a path of its own amidst the local traditions of the time.

However, unlike theistic religions, such as Christianity or Islam, Buddhism did not propose the deification of Buddha, nor his kinship with God, but rather proposed the methods and beliefs of Gautama as the royal path to enlightenment of the spirit. .

Main beliefs

The main beliefs of Buddhism can be summarized as follows:

  • Buddhism does not recognize any supreme God or deity, but rather focuses on achieving spiritual enlightenment, that is, the state of nirvana, through which the human being accesses infinite peace and wisdom.
  • The path to enlightenment must be forged by one’s own hand, through meditation, wisdom and morals, thus avoiding selfishness, self-indulgence, at the same time as suffering and sacrifice. But above all, avoiding desire.
  • Souls are immersed in an eternal cycle of death and reincarnation, understood as an eternal wheel that turns incessantly, and from which it can only escape through spiritual enlightenment.

The path to enlightenment consists of Four Noble Truths discovered by Buddha, What are they:

  • The suffering (dukkha) exists and is universal, since life is imperfect.
  • Suffering has its origin in desire (trsna).
  • Suffering can be extinguished when its cause ceases, that is, by quenching desire and embracing nirvana.
  • There is a noble eightfold path (of eight steps) to achieve nirvana.

Reincarnation in Buddhism

According to Buddhist doctrine, human beings are in a constant state of existential suffering, whose origin is none other than desire, desire or attachment. Both dissatisfaction, loss, illness, death or old age become forms of suffering due to the attachment we feel for things, for people, for the fact of possessing.

Said state of eternal suffering is named Samsara, and it would be equivalent to hell: all souls are trapped in the eternal wheel of reincarnations, ascending towards higher forms of existence or descending towards more crude and basic forms, depending on their moral and spiritual behavior in life.

The only way to interrupt this eternal circuit of suffering is to reach nirvana., escaping reincarnation and thus finding infinite peace.

Symbols of Buddhism

buddhism symbol wheel of dharma dharma chakra
The Dharma wheel is one of the “eight auspicious signs.”

The “wheel of dharma” (dharma chakra), represented as a kind of maritime rudder, is one of the symbols of the dharma, that is, of law or religion, both in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. It is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of this oriental tradition, whose eight points symbolize the eightfold path proposed by Buddha.

It is known worldwide as the Buddhist symbol, and is part of the “eight auspicious signs” (Ashta mangala) representing the different religions from the Indian dharmic tradition.

Holy book of buddhism

Like many other religions, Buddhism is the result of a powerful oral tradition of ancient times, since Buddha’s own words were passed down by his followers by heart, and not through written. The first Buddhist chants are thought to have been written in Sri Lanka some four centuries after the Buddha’s death, and were part of countless versions that claimed to be the true words of the enlightened one.

However, unlike theistic religions, there is no single canon of foundational texts in Buddhism and its traditions, and no consensus on how surviving texts should be interpreted. Nevertheless, The Theravada Buddhist side takes as its main canon the Pali Canon (Pali Tipitaka), the oldest known Buddhist canonical works in any Indo-Aryan language.

For its part, the Chinese Buddhist canon encompasses more than 2,000 different texts spread over 55 volumes, and the Tibetan canon more than 1100 texts signed by Buddha and more than 3,400 from Buddhist sages of the Tibetan tradition.