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Buddhist Ethics

Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world and has been for almost 2,500 years, although it does not always appear to be a typical religion. It differs from other religions in that Buddhism is not based on the belief in a divine power, such as Christianity or Islam. Buddhism is more a way of life and a learning process than a set of divine commands. This essay will define, describe, and analyze the ethics of the Buddhist religion. It will present the reader with the basic principles and truths of Buddhism.

It will begin with information on the origin of Buddhism and some details on the life of its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Also it will explain the beliefs and moral behaviors of Buddhists. Siddhartha Gautama, later known in his life as the Buddha, meaning the Enlightened or Awakened One, was born around 563 B. C. E. He was born and raised in what is now known as Nepal, near the Himalayan Mountains. He belonged to Sakya tribe and his father ruled a small kingdom.

He married his cousin, Yasodhara at nineteen, and she later gave birth to a son whom they called Rahula. Being raised in the palace, Prince Siddhartha was sheltered from the cruelty of the outside world. His father made sure that Siddhartha would grow up without ever seeing or experiencing suffering. When Siddhartha Gautama finally was exposed to the world outside the palace in his twenties, he saw for the first time the poverty, sickness, and misery that others had to face, which he had been shielded from him for so long.

After seeing these sights he could not go back to his happy existence behind the palace while so many others suffered. Prince Siddhartha left his home and family and became a wandering beggar in search of answers (Mitchell 5). One night he sat down beneath a tree and decided not to move until he knew the answers to life. It was there that he became enlightened when he realized that life’s suffering is caused by one’s attempt to hold on to things that are impermanent. He saw that nothing is constant and the only way to relieve the suffering from loss is to eliminate one’s desires.

At the core of Buddhism lies its four noble truths: life is suffering; desire causes suffering; ending desire ends suffering; following the Noble Eightfold Path ends desire. The Noble Eightfold Path is as follows: Right Belief, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation (Mitchell 41). According to the Buddha, life is suffering because one becomes attached to things that are impermanent. To be happy one needs to accept the fact that everything changes and that change cannot be stopped.

Attachments originate from the fiction of a stable, permanent, and real self (Mitchell 126). The idea that there is no separate, individual self is called anatman. Samsara, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, is another major feature of Buddhism. Until a person wakes up and sees the world as it truly is they will be forced to be reborn again and again until they become enlightened. When one becomes enlightened they no longer see the people and things in the world as separate. What appears as the multiplicity or the manyness of things and people is an illusion (Mitchell 41).

The ultimate goal is for one to realize the truth and free them self from the wheel of Samsara and reach Nirvana, or Bliss. Since there is no individual self, everyone one is interconnected. Nothing stands alone; nothing is or can be separate from anything else (Mitchell 419). This brings up a very important feature of Buddhist ethics, the law of karma. Karma is the belief that whatever one does to others will come back to them. This is why Buddhists live peaceful live styles and do not harm other living beings.

Since no one is separate and all people are interrelated, it is important for one to love others as one loves them self. But the Buddha did not mean, love, as most people think of it in a romantic context. Here [the] Buddha meant no dependent attachment to a person or object through whom one hopes to find his longings satisfied, but an unlimited self-giving compassion flowing freely toward all creatures that live (Burtt 46). Buddhism, like any other religion, has a set of moral behaviors to guide one in making judgements in their life. These are known as the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

They are: 1] Do not be bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology [2] Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth [3] Do not force othersto adopt your views [4] Do not avoid contact with suffering [5] Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure [6] Do not maintain anger or hatred [7] Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings [8] Do not utter words that can create discord [9] Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people [10] Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gainor transform your community into a political party [11] Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature [12] Do not kill [13] Possess nothing that should belong to others [14] Do not mistreat your body (PHI 220 Handout) These fourteen precepts are useful to help guide one down the Noble Eightfold Path.

Buddhism is very unique among the world’s major religions. It lacks many features that are found in other religions, such as: ritual worship; a set definition of the divine power in the universe; and a list of divine commands that must be followed. In many other religions truth is dictated from a divine power. But in Buddhism knowing must happen intuitively (Mitchell 42). One of the greatest aspects of Buddhism is that it does not matter what religion one belongs to, they can still practice Buddhist ethics.

Although I am skeptical on the subject of Samsara, I believe most Buddhist beliefs to be true. Desire is the cause of suffering. If one led a perfect life they would free them self from the ever-hungry monster of desire, though I am sorry to say I don’t feel ready to give up my desires so I am still in a state of suffering. I also believe in the law of karma, but my opinion differs because I feel that one’s actions will come back to them in this life, not the next. Even if one never gets hurt in return for the hurt he causes another; he still must live with the guilt. I believe Buddhist ethics to be very valuable to study. If more people showed compassion and developed positive karma, the world would be a much better place.

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