Buddhism

The teachings of Siddhartha Gotama

Buddhism was founded over 2,500 years ago by the scholar Siddhartha Gautama. Today over 500 million believers around the world follow him and his teachings on the path to enlightenment, and the number is growing. Because although the cradle of Buddhism was in India and it was able to establish itself throughout much of Southeast and East Asia, it has also become more and more popular in western countries in recent decades.

 

Buddhism is not only seen as a religion, but as a lifestyle that should lead to more happiness and satisfaction. The focus is on the “four noble wisdoms” and the “eightfold path” that are intended to help find the way to enlightenment and so escape the never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

 

Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand and 93 percent of Thais are Buddhists, almost 90% of them following the Theravada school.

Who was Siddharta Gautama?

His face - or the face, which was created from old portraits of Siddhartha Gautama, is probably not unknown to most of us. Most people know the Buddha figures which can be found smiling peacefully with crossed legs and open palms almost everywhere in Asia, but who was Siddhartha actually, and what made him found a new religion?

 

According to legend, Siddhartha Gautama was born in 539 BC as a prince of a small territory which today lies on the Indian-Nepalese border. He lived in a grand palace and had access to every worldly comfort one could imagine, but the years passed, the clearer it became to Siddhartha that wealth and possessions did not bring true happiness. He was looking for something different, a new meaning in life and so he set out on a journey at the age of 29 and visited famous religious scholars, monks and philosophers to gain an insight into the secrets of happiness, but he did not find there what he was looking for. Siddhartha wandered throughout northern India for six years until he finally experienced "enlightenment" at the age of 35. The legend tells that Siddhartha Gautama sat in the shade of a tree on the bank of the Indian river Neranjara and was absorbed in deep meditation. In this state, enlightenment came to him, the answer to all questions and with it the desire to share this knowledge with everyone.

 

Siddhartha Gautama, who was given the name “Buddha” from then on and spent the next 45 years of his life spreading his teachings. According to the Buddha, the four noble wisdoms and the eightfold path are the way to happiness if one is willing to fully engage with them.

Buddhism in Thailand is practiced in daily life.
Buddhism in Thailand is practiced in daily life.

The four noble truths and the eightfold path

If you want to understand Buddhism, the four noble truths are actually sufficient. At its center are the "sufferings": How do they arise, what are their causes and how can they be alleviated or let go completely? The eightfold path, on the other hand, can be understood as instructions on how to get to salvation and thus to ultimate happiness.

 

In simple form the Truths are:

  • All living beings experience suffering in their lives
  • The suffering is caused desire, greed, delusion and hatred
  • Only when you eliminate these causes can you overcome suffering
  • To conquer suffering, you must follow the eightfold path

 

The noble eightfold path teaches us to think and act morally and to be clear about our own actions at all times. This state of clarity can and should be achieved through profound meditation. The path also gives rise to five basic principles that every devout Buddhist should adhere to

  • One should not take the life of any living creature
  • One should not take possession of something that belongs to someone else
  • One shouldn't lie or break promises
  • One should stay away from alcohol and drugs as they obscure the clarity of the mind
  • One should be faithful to one’s partner

The different schools of Buddhism

There are three main streams of Buddhism: Hinayana Buddhism ("small vehicle"), Mahayana Buddhism ("large vehicle"), and Vajrayana, which is often mistakenly known in the West as Lamaism.

The Hinayana stream focuses on the person who strives to be perfect achieve that goal. Today only the Theravada form (the “doctrine of the elders”), which almost 90% of Thais adhere to, still exists.

The teaching of Theravada refers exclusively to those monks who have heard and recorded the words of the Buddha themselves, the oldest extant scriptures of Buddhism. It is particularly common in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

 

Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism share the same core beliefs and devotion to the life and teaching of Buddha, but they do have some differences. Theravada Buddhism is associated with South East Asia and is perhaps closer to the original Indian form of Buddhism. As Mahayana Buddhism spread north through Tibet and China, it took on more local customs.

 

The Mahayana branch also focuses on spreading this teaching. They refer not only to the original material, but also to various older "sutras", scriptures written in Sanskrit. Zen Buddhism, which is quite popular in Europe today, developed from the Mahayana school.

 

Last, but not least, there is the Vajrayana ("diamond vehicle"), which is actually part of the Mahayana school. It is often also known as Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism. Here, not only is the Buddha's philosophical thoughts drawn back, but the path to enlightenment is accelerated through tantric exercises, mantras and various secret rituals.

Buddhism in Thailand

Buddhism is an essential element in Thai society. The countless temples and Buddha statues command the greatest respect in Thailand, as do Buddhist monks. During your stay in Thailand you should always keep this in mind and behave respectfully in temple complexes.

Buddhism in Thailand
Buddhism in Thailand

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