The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from about 566 to 486 BC. At 35, he gained insight into the true nature of existence. Until his death at age 80, Siddhartha, who is also referred to as Shakyamuni Buddha, taught the answers to humans’ inescapable problems—such as
death, old age, sickness and separation
from loved ones.
The Buddha’s teachings focus on understanding human problems through insight into the changing nature of existence. They are not based on authority, doctrines, creeds and beliefs in anything supernatural. Rather, everything is explained by causes and conditions that are continuously changing in the law of impermanence.
The teaching of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha spread throughout India, and then across the Asian continent. Buddhism flowed into China, Korea and Japan, and into Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. Now, the flow of the Dharma is reaching and permeating the thought and lives of people in the West.
The Four Noble Truths and Eight-fold Path
The Purpose of the Buddha’s Teachings
Buddhism has spread and lasted over the many centuries because of its timeless and enduring message to the spiritual needs of human beings. The Buddha’s teaching seeks to help all beings find true peace, happiness and well-being. It does not require that we follow doctrines, beliefs or creeds, but simply encourages us to listen to the Dharma (teachings) and, if we find them to be true through our own life experiences, then to follow them.
All beings seek happiness, but we don’t always know where to find it. Actually, Buddhism teaches us that we look for it in all the wrong places. True happiness is not something we can find outside of ourselves, but it is something that we can discover within ourselves.
Buddhism and the Self
The great Zen master, Dogen, said, “To study Buddhism is to study the self.” The central focus of Buddhism is to see into oneself, not in a self-centered manner, but to reflect within oneself, instead of looking critically at others. Through such deep introspection, there arrives a profound transformation.
Dogen continued: “To study the self is to forget the self.” In other words, self-reflection leads us to see the world around us as it is -- not what we believe or hope or wish it is -- beyond our ego-centered viewpoints.
Finally, as Dogen concluded, “To forget the self is to open to others.” This insight allows us to see the great interconnectedness of all beings, animate and inanimate. It is the insight of great wisdom and compassion, the contents of enlightenment.
About Shinran Shonin
Shinran Shonin, who founded Shin Buddhism in the 1200s in Japan, lived as a monk for 20 years, but could not find enlightenment in that environment. He saw himself as being mired in his own foolishness, bound to the continued experience of difficulties. But he met a wonderful teacher named Honen. Honen taught that the Dharma could be received by anyone, whether monk or lay person. Lifestyle did not matter as much as having the right attitude in listening and receiving the teaching.
Honen taught Shinran that the Dharma is “received.” We need simply open our hearts and minds to it in gratitude.
Shinran found hope in the vow of Amida Buddha, which assures all beings of the resolution of difficulties. The assurance of Amida allows us to see our own foolishness. With a deepening awareness of our foolishness, we live with gratitude for the assurance of Amida.