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Buddhism is a set of teachings that can be described as relgious. Some Buddhists claim that Buddhism is not a religion; many say it is a body of philosophies influenced by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or the Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhism started around 5th century BC with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. There are two main types of Buddhism, Mahayana tradition (followed in China, Korea and Japan), or 'the Great Vehicle', and Theravada, followed in many parts of Southeast Asia. Most Buddhists do not believe in, or do not focus on the existence of, a God. Others, however, are deistic, believing in gods but ones not to be worshipped. Such gods are usually subject to the existence of karma and suffering, and these 'gods' often also die. In these sects these are not supreme creator gods like those in Abrahamic religion, but they are gods nonetheless. Not all Buddhists are atheists or agnostics, but the majority are.


Central Beliefs

Though Buddhism has a huge variety of sects and schools of thought, many individual beliefs can be singled out as universal; these are chiefly the doctrines which Siddhartha Gautama taught in Northern India around 500 BC. Central to Buddhist doctrine is the 'Three Universal Truths', which are Anicca, or the belief that everything in existence is impermanent, in a constant state of change, and that nothing can possibly remain the same; Anatta, the denial of a 'soul', or atman, and the belief that there is no permanent self; and Dukkha, which can be translated variously as 'suffering', 'sorrow' or 'discontentment', and essentially means an emptiness generated by attachment to the material world (often caused by a denial of anicca and a life of doomed attempts to force permanence in the world). The way to avoid or purge Dukkha, Buddhists believe, is to accept the truth of anicca and anatta and understanding the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths

Siddhartha Gautama, or the Shakyamuni Buddha, taught that in life there exists Dukkha, which is in essence sorrow/suffering, that is caused by desire and it can be brought to cessation by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths are: 1. There is suffering, or dukkha. 2. There is a cause of suffering — craving or attachment. 3. There is the possibility of cessation of suffering. 4. There is a way leading to the cessation of suffering — the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

For Buddhists, The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to ease suffering. Because of the Right Livelihood part of The Eightfold Path, many Buddhists are vegetarian or vegan, though this is not a requirement.

1. Right Speech— speaking in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way, and abstaining from idle gossip. 2. Right Actions— Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm (especially causing death) 3. Right Livelihood— Ensuring that one's way of livelihood does not harm in any way oneself or others, directly or indirectly 4. Right Effort— making an effort to improve oneself 5. Right Mindfulness/Awareness— Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness 6. Right Concentration/Meditation— Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion. 7. Right Understanding— Understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. 8. Right Thoughts— Change in the pattern of thinking angling toward enlightenment

Karma, Rebirth and Reincarnation

As the vast majority of Buddhists do not believe in an immortal soul, the terms 'Karma' and 'Reincarnation' cannot be used in the Hindu sense. In this sense 'karma' is defined as the sum total of all actions taken in life, which judges what the atman (soul) will reincarnate as- good deeds will lead to good reincarnations. In Buddhism, karma is the belief that actions taken influence one's existence, and that immoral actions, while not subject to divine retribution, will lead to suffering for all involved. Thus intentionally creating suffering will lead to more suffering, and this is why actions in Buddhism can be described as 'immoral' without a belief in any gods.

Unlike Hinduism, rebirth is not considered to be a complete regeneration for the consciousness, or soul; instead, the reborn being is 'not the same, nor another' of the dead person. This is expressed in the dialogues of King Milinda as the transformation of milk into curds, butter and finally ghee, but it has been interpreted in various ways. A common belief among Buddhists and a central doctrine among Dharmists asserts that the dead being's 'life' is distributed, not in one body or one consciousness but instead among many.

See also

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