Today Buddhism is considered a major religion, over its 2500 year history it has created successful civilizations and has provided purpose in the lives of many millions of people around the world. It is furthermore a leading world religion in terms of adherents (300 million), socio-cultural influence and geographical distribution.
Although it safe to say that Buddhism is predominantly an Eastern ideology it has been embraced by Western society. New Age ideology is one way Western society has embraced Eastern ideology, and they same can be seen for Hinduism. With reference to Hinduism, it is clearly imminent that both Hinduism and Buddhism have striking parallels and similarities in their ideologies. This is most noticeable in the way that both religions teach certain things such as Maya (the illusory nature of the world), and Samsara (the cycle of reincarnation), Karma (cause-and-effect ethics). For the Buddhist the ultimate goal in this life is to achieve “enlightenment”, this is hugely similar to New Age ideology that has borrowed much of Eastern religious principles and methods of practice.
But who was the founder of Buddhism? The founder of Buddhism was Siddhartha Guatama. Guatama was born into Indian royalty around the year 600 BC. He was lucky to have been afforded the liberty to embrace a luxurious way of life, and was said to have existed within a ‘bubble’, in other words he had a lack of exposure to the happenings of the external world outside of his bubble. It is too said that he was well looked after by his parents. His parents never forced religious belief onto him, and he was also protected from much pain and suffering found within the world. One day Guatama had visions of an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse. His fourth vision was of a peaceful ascetic monk (a person who denies luxury and comfort). As of seeing this monks peaceful state he decided to become like this man, the monk was a true inspiration to Guatama. As a result of this experience he chose to abandon his current life of wealth and affluence with the goal in mind to pursue enlightenment, thus followed much intense meditation, and he was soon to become a influential leader among his peers. This path led Guatama to perform a significant act as he “indulged” himself with one bowl of rice after which he then proceeded sit underneath a fig tree, (of which is named the Bodhi tree) to meditate until he either reached “enlightenment” or he died trying. After a day and a night of fruitful experience of immense effort and temptation he had himself achieved “enlightenment”, and as a result of such an manifestation he was then to be known as “Buddha” or “enlightened one.” With this experience and with his influence growing he then took the liberty to commence teaching his fellow monks, and as a result five of his peers were to become his first disciples.
As a result of his experiences Guatama knew that true enlightenment was not derived from luxurious self-indulgence and self-mortification. Due to these beliefs he then discovered the “Four Noble Truths”: 1 – To live is to suffer (Dukha) 2 – Suffering is caused by desire (Tanha) 3 – One can eliminate suffering by eliminating all attachments 4 – This is achieved by following the noble eightfold path According to the teaching of the “eightfold path” it followed by having the right: 1) view, 2) intention 3) speech 4) action 5) livelihood (by being a monk) 6) effort (properly direct energies) 7) mindfulness (meditation) 8) concentration (focus). The Buddha’s teachings were collected into the Tripitaka or also known as the “three baskets.”
Again such teachings overlap with that of teachings found in Hinduism, most notably in the form of reincarnation, Maya, karma, and an affinity to understand reality as being pantheistic in its orientation. Buddhism also forwards an intricate doctrine of deities and exalted beings. In likeliness to that of Hinduism, Buddhism is tough to pin down regarding its view of God. Some facets of Buddhism could justifiably be called atheistic whilst other facets could more appropriately be called pantheistic, and still others theistic such as the Pure Land Buddhism. However Classical Buddhism tends to be silent on the reality of an ultimate being and is therefore considered atheistic.
Modern day Buddhism is quite diverse and it could best be divided into two large and varied categories, this would be that of the Mahayana (large vessel) and that of the Theravada (small vessel) It is best said that the Theravada category refers to those who achieve ultimate enlightenment and as reserved for monks. On the other hard the Mahayana refers to enlightenment of non-monks but rather ordinary practicing people. Furthermore, these categories go even deeper into themselves; such branches include the Nichiren, Tendai, Vajrayana, Shingon, Pure Land, Ryobu, and the Zen among others. Buddhism is a hugely broad ideology and just as hard to pin down as is New Age religion and Hinduism.
The Buddha never considered himself to be a god as well as any type of divine being, but he rather referred to himself as a “way shower” for his peers and others. Unknowingly to the Buddha he was exalted to god status by some of his followers after his death, although not by all of his followers. Due to Guatama influence Buddhism had become a major influence in India after his death. As a result just three hundred years later the Buddhist religion had encompassed most of Asia. The scriptures and sayings attributed to the Buddha were written about four hundred years after his death. Where in Christianity sin has resulted in death Buddhism rather understands sin to be a result of ignorance. While sin is understood as moral error the context in which “good” and “evil” are understood is amoral. Karma is understood as natures balance and is not personally enforced. Nature is not moral and as a result karma is not a moral code, and sin is not ultimately immoral. Thus we can best say, according to Buddhist ideology, that our error is not a moral issue since it is ultimately an impersonal mistake, not an interpersonal violation.
For the Buddhist, sin is more similar to a misstep than a transgression against that of a holy God. Since the Buddhist ideology asserts that sin is an impersonal and fixable error Buddhism is therefore seen not to agree with the doctrine of depravity. According to what is evident in Buddhist ideology there is no need for a savior in any form to rescue people from sin, as is the case in Christianity. In the Buddhist existence there is only ethical living and meditative appeals to exalted beings for the hope of perhaps achieving enlightenment as well as the ultimate Nirvana. Due to that of karma being hugely significant in the Buddhist existence it believed that an individual will have to endure repeated reincarnation in order to pay off his vast accumulation of karmic debt. In the Buddhism ideology reality is deemed impersonal and non-relational, thus is not loving. The Buddhist also has a unique belief on how the world came into being and who or what made the world. It is understood by the Buddhist that there is no beginning and no end to the world but rather an endless and continual cycle of birth and death. It is also taught in the Buddhist faith that people do not have souls as the individual self or ego is an illusion.