Introduction to Buddhism

Welcome to Liberty Buddhism. Our journey towards enlightenment begins with the understanding that everything is interconnected. Everything is impermanent and interdependent. If you try to point out the essence of any “thing,” you will find that there is none.

Take fire for instance. Fire is impermanent. It is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. It requires heat, fuel, oxygen, and a chain reaction. The flame is the visible portion of the fire. Depending on the substances alight, and any impurities outside, the color of the flame and the fire’s intensity will be different.

Similarly, look at a human. Humans are impermanent. Most of the cells in our bodies are different from year to year. While some cells last longer than others, they all eventually die. Like every fire, every human is unique. Even though twins share the same genetic code, their genes are expressed differently based on environmental factors and life experiences (epigenetics). The human body is composed of water, carbon, trace elements, various cells, bacteria, archaea, methanogens, etc. Do you control your gut bacteria? Do you control your breathing? Who is the you that does these things? Who controls them when you’re asleep?

Buddhism is meant to help conscious beings overcome suffering and achieve Nirvana, which is liberation from Samsara. Samsara is defined as the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ordinary beings’ grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. Samsara arises out of avidya (ignorance) and is characterized by dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction).

In the Buddhist view, liberation from samsara is possible by following the Buddhist path. The Buddha is reputed to have said: “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.”

In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Noble Eightfold Path, or the Buddhist Path.

Mahāyāna Buddhism encourages everyone to become bodhisattvas and to take the bodhisattva vows. Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for a being with bodhi (enlightenment). A bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. A bodhisattva is one of the four sublime states a human can achieve in life (the others being an arhat, buddha or pratyekabuddha). With the bodhisattva vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings by following the bodhisattva path.

Words alone cannot convey the richness of Buddhism. That requires experiencing life in the present. The main method for experiencing and understanding the present moment is meditation.

While focused meditation is important and beneficial, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is Nirvana – the extinguishing of the fires that cause suffering. The term ‘Enlightenment’ has been used to refer to various different Buddhist concepts, such as bodhi, prajna, kensho, satori and buddhahood.

Bodhi is a Theravada term. It literally means “awakening” and “understanding”. Someone who is awakened has gained insight into the workings of the mind which keeps us imprisoned in craving, suffering and rebirth, and has also gained insight into the way that leads to Nirvana, the liberation of oneself from this imprisonment.

Prajna is a Mahayana term. It refers to insight into our true nature, which according to Madhyamaka is empty of a personal essence in the stream of experience. But it also refers to the Tathāgata-garbha or Buddha-nature, the essential basic-consciousness beyond the stream of experience.

In Zen, kensho means “seeing into one’s true nature”. Satori is often used interchangeably with kensho, but refers to the experience of kensho.

Buddhahood is the attainment of full awakening and becoming a Buddha. According to the Tibetan Thubten Yeshe, enlightenment means full awakening – buddhahood. The ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, attained when all limitations have been removed from the mind and one’s positive potential has been completely and perfectly realized. It is a state characterized by infinite compassion, wisdom and skill.

Nirvana then is a perpetual enlightenment. It means being fully present during each present moment.

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