Buddhism is believed to have originated about 2500 years ago, near 500 BC in on the border of Nepal and India. Its founder, Gautama Buddha (Prince Siddhartha) was raised in a well-to-do family and lived surrounded by excess. Though raised in this way, Siddhartha was not convinced of the true value of these material items. After seeing the “four sights” sent by the gods, Siddhartha “born a prince and raised in luxury, renounced the world at the age of 29 to search for an ultimate solution to the problem of the suffering innate in the human condition.” (“Buddhism,” 2013). His goal would become the principle of the Buddhist religion finding the way to total liberation from suffering. Often described as a nontheistic religion, the Buddhists to do not pray to or believe in a God as a creator. The goal of the Buddhists, known as Nirvana, is to attain enlightenment and to be released from the cycle or rebirth and death. The foundations for the Buddhists teachings, the Four Noble Truths were prescribed at the very first sermon: 1.Life involves suffering, dissatisfaction and distress.
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2.Suffering is caused by craving, rooted in ignorance.
3.Suffering will cease when craving ceases.
4.There is a way to realize this state: the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold path is a systematic approach that Buddhists subscribe to in order to remove themselves from suffering and achieve ultimate liberation. This path offers ways for Buddhists to purify the mind and live a happy life. Buddhism has nothing to do with “salvation” by a creator, rather, the only goal is to attain this state of Nirvana. By letting go of desires, cravings and attachments, and dispelling ignorance, the Buddhists believe Nirvana is a reachable goal. “The five basic moral precepts, undertaken by members of monastic orders and the laity, are to refrain from taking life, stealing, acting unchastely, speaking falsely, and drinking intoxicants.” “Buddhism,” 2013). Buddhists also do not worship in the way many other religions do. Although they do have places where they gather and spread the teachings, such as monasteries, nunneries, temples and pagodas, the Buddhists pay homage to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. In today’s world, Buddhists in most countries share similar practices on a daily basis. Acts like group and individual meditation, reciting mantras, giving to the poor, yoga, and helping others in ways that confirm compassion are kindness are commonplace in most Buddhist’s lives. In the West, Theravadin teachers make frequent visits from Southeast Asia and Europe to conduct retreats to train and spread the teachings of the Buddha. As Buddhism has evolved into different variations throughout the world, many of its rituals and festivals are no longer celebrated in the same way. During the festival of Vesak in Sri Lanka, thousands of insects, birds and other animals are released into the wild to show the unwillingness of the Buddhists to unwillingly imprison or torture any being. In early April, the Japanese Buddhists celebrate Hana Matsuri (Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday) to coincide with the bloom of cherry blossoms. Parades showcase images of the baby Buddha and children wear traditional Japanese clothing while carrying cherry blossoms. The celebration highlights the noble greatness and peaceful missions of Shakyamuni Buddha. Hinduism is “unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in syncretism with the religious and cultural movements of the Indian subcontinent.” (“Hinduism,” 2013). Although the founder of Hinduism is unknown, the Vedas are collectively revered as the foundational spiritual text that drives the Hindu religion. The Vedas weren’t written down until the middle of the 1st millennium BC, but according to tradition, the Vedas were heard orally as far back as 8000 BC. The Vedas are not believed by the Hindu to be the work of humans, rather they have been revealed to the mortals by the eternal. The core spiritual beliefs in the Hindu religion include the authority of the Vedas as the sacred text, the existence of a reincarnated soul and the law of karma that determines our destiny in this life and in the next. In the Hindu religion, there is not just one purpose to life, but four: 1.Dharma – fulfilling one’s purpose
2.Artha – prosperity
3.Kama – desire, sexuality, enjoyment
4.Moksha – enlightenment
The ultimate goal is to break the cycle of birth, death and reincarnation and attain liberation and salvation through enlightenment after which Moksha is reached. Hindu worship is not confined to any one place and many carry out worship at home. Hindus commonly conduct pujas in shrines in three
different location: in temples, in the home, and outdoor public spaces. Hindus believe that enough care and attention is not shown to a temple’s images, the deity will abandon it. In order to ensure enough care, priests live at the temple and take care of the deities. Priests perform puja several times a day at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. For many Hindus, visiting temple every day or on a consistent schedule is not required, and many devout believers worship in their home. The main focus of puja is not congregational worship but the believer’s offerings regardless of where it takes place. The spiritual life of many Hindus today centers around devotion to God (perceived as Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) or several gods. Some more philosophically-minded Hindus ignore the idea of the deity and seek self-realization through deep meditation. Others focus solely on carrying out their lives in a moral and just way. As Hinduism continues to grow globally, and gurus continue to export the Hindu message, there are areas of the world where different practices have become dominant. In the 1960’s ISKCON, the Internal Society for Krishna Consciousness arrived in the United States spreading the Hindu movement west. Living in temple communities, newly initiated Hindus would meditate, worship and chant with the aim of reaching spiritual happiness. In Great Britain, devotees have converted a mansion into an ISKCON temple where Indian immigrants can also congregate and together celebrate major holidays. More traditionally in Nepal, Hindus will pick one favorite deity to worship on a daily basis while giving due respect to multitudes of others. Nepal has a variety of festivals and they are dedicated to dozens of deities and are participated in by Hindus and Buddhists alike. Hinduism and Buddhism share a variety of characteristics and yet remain completely distinct in the way each is followed. Both Hindus and Buddhists believe in karma, “a natural, impersonal law of moral cause and effect and has no connection with the idea of a supreme power that decrees punishment or forgiveness of sins.” (“karma,” 2013). Hindus and Buddhists both share a view of spiritual transcendence and a quest for enlightenment achieved through similar mediums like prayer, meditation, or chanting. The goal or mantra “of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism is precisely to transcend this level of human existence.” (Nayak, 1997).
Also, where Christians do not believe in idol worship, both Hindus and Buddhists use shrines or idols as focal points when praying or meditating. These two religions are also very different. Buddhists aspire to be like Buddha rather than worship him and Hindus worship one or several gods. While both believe in reincarnation, Hindus believe in a hierarchy of animals, plants and humans where Buddhists believe all beings are equal. Hindus hope to achieve salvation while Buddhists simply want to attain Nirvana.
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