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Buddha and his Teachings

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical person of Buddha, was born according to tradition, in the year 543 AD in the city of Lumpini, which is today on the north eastern Nepalese border. He was the son of a prince belonging to the warrior aristocracy of the Shakyas. He grew up in his father’s court, well protected, carefree and secluded from the rest of the world. Educated to be the successor of his father, Prince Siddhartha married at an early age. His future way of life seemed to be predetermined by luxury and comfort.

One night his destiny was changed by four fateful meetings:
On a trip outside the palace  he came across one after another, a sick person, an old man, a funeral and a monk. By the sight of sickness, old age, death and wisdom, he was terribly shocked, and decided to search for a way of redemption from the suffering in the world
After 13 years of marriage and shortly after the birth of his son Rahulah he left the palace and wealth in order to follow a  mahayana Brahmannastic order.
For several years Gautama wandered bald-headed through northern India as a monk. When he realized that only by living an ascetic life, could he discover the right way through meditation.  

After seven years of physical and mental self discipline, he reached “enlightenment” (bodhi) during a full moon night in May sitting under a Bodhi tree.
Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha, the enlightened, the awakened. The law which creates the cycle of life and death was revealed to him. With this realization Buddha broke through this cycle of immense suffering for all people and reached the state of “cessation of all sufferings” - the key to enter Nirvana. Buddha was longing for death immediately after his enlightenment in order to go to Nirvana.

However, he realized that he could not leave all the people alone in their misery, but he must show them the path to  freedom from all the sufferings in the world.
He preached for the first time in the Gazelle Park near Benares (now known as Varanasi) in front of his first five disciples, who followed him as monks and who founded the Buddhist monastic order called sangha. There he presented his teachings (dharma). The eightfold wheel of his doctrine (cakrah) began to turn.
The basis and the principle of Dharma are “The Four Noble Truth”:
1. The Noble Truth of the existence of suffering (dukkha) - Everything in the world is connected with suffering, even joy and happiness, because these are as well as the whole human existence, subjected to impermanence.

2. The Noble Truth of the cause of suffering (samudhaya) - suffering is caused by human greed, the desire for happiness, lust and possessions.

3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha) - Mankind has to realize that the end of their greed is also the end of their suffering.

4. The Noble Truth of The Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering (magga) - This path is the “Noble Eightfold Path”: right knowledge, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right attentiveness and right concentration. Only those who follow this path can attain higher and better forms of existence in the wheel of rebirth (samsara) and finally will reach the highest spiritual goal, nirvana.
Nirvana means the complete extinction of all human emotions, a state of complete lack of desire. Only when all emotions and desires are gone, inner peace and equanimity is able to expand. A person who has reached Nirvana, is free from existential cravings and will leave the cycle of rebirth because there are absolutely no more reasons for another life.
It is a long and burdensome path to reach that state, but still everybody can take it. It is said that Buddha himself lived through many rebirths until he became the enlightened one.
It is every believer‘s own choice to make one step forward in the cycle of rebirth by leading a life according to the Dharma.
However, the lawfulness of rebirth has to be realized, which means that everybody is responsible for his current life form and as well for his destiny in the next life to come. Everything is determined by kharma. Kharma is a generic term for all good and bad deeds (thoughts are deeds as well), that a person does during his entire life - a kind of ethic conditioning.
The cycle of rebirth in Buddhism - in opposite to Hinduism without  “something” that continues in the next life, without “I”, without a “transmigration of the soul” - only depends on Kharma, which determines the prospective life form. There are many possibilities to gain merits by good deeds according to the “Noble Eightfold Path” in order to reach to a higher life form in the future and by a decrease in the number of rebirth's to reach closer to Nirvana.

Ordination of monks
To become a monk counts as the highest rating. Those people who temporally follow strict disciplines (vinaya) in  monasteries gain high merits as well. Anybody can do good deeds such as to offer food for the monks at sunrise, to help financially or physically when a temple is being built, to put effort in keeping the basic rules in Buddhist life or to pay attention to the “Four heavenly attitudes”: infinite friendliness, infinite compassion, infinite joy, infinite equanimity.
If somebody adopts these disciplines or strives for them, he will be free from his own selfish desires and emotions.  The “I” which just depends on the identity you give, will lose its influence and open up the way for a life of inner peace and wisdom.

Buddha himself did not call himself God or claimed any god-like worship. He called himself the one who shows the path – He was not the path, because the path is hidden in everybody. When Buddha died at the age of 80 and entered into Nirvana, he admonished his disciples forcefully, never to choose a leader. His teachings have to be always recognized as the highest authority.
These doctrines were handed down by oral tradition for about 400 years and only in the second century before Christ, were they  written down in Pali, the official language. These texts are called sutras. They form the Theravada, the original teaching of Buddhism or the “teachings of the old people“. They are the basis of the teachings of the “lesser vehicle“(hiragana) that only transports to Nirvana the one who surrenders to the strict laws of monk hood according to the example of Buddha. This form of Buddhism has especially developed in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka; that is why it is also called “southern Buddhism”.

Asoke Pillar -- Chiang Mai 
However, there are many more followers now in Mahayana Buddhism, which was already developed in the first century BC. It is also called “greater vehicle”. Here the teaching of Buddha is interpreted more generously, so that many people can reach their goal to cross the ocean of suffering - and not only the few chosen ones. There are the Bodhisattvas, aspirants to Buddhaship, who have decided out of compassion for everybody, to stay in the world in spite of their own redemption and to support the people in their suffering.
By only worshiping the Bodhisattvas, who can share their unlimited supply of merits with those who ask for, the path to Nirvana is already opened up. Mahayana Buddhism has mainly spread out in China, Japan and Korea. For this reason, it is also called “Northern Buddhism”.
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