In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to practice Buddhism.
What to do.
What not to do.
(And most important of all) how to use Buddhist practices to live a mindful and happy life.
What is Buddhism?
With over 500 million followers and being one of the oldest religions still practiced today, Buddhism has countless definitions, but there is a core set of values that can help stitch together a basic definition of what Buddhism stands for.
Essentially, Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that began over 2000 years ago, when the man who would become Buddha took his seat beneath the shade of a Bodhi tree in ancient Nepal to meditate.
It was here that this man found enlightenment, and here where Buddhism was born.
How to practice Buddhism for a mindful, peaceful and happy life
Buddhism: a religion unlike any other, teaching less about the importance of deities and spiritual laws, and more about a way of life that can transform the essence of our personhood.
Though there are various sects of Buddhism today, there is a foundational understanding that all Buddhists share in their respect for the Buddhist tenets.
But why do people practice Buddhism?
While there are a number of reasons, a main principle is in its understand that all creatures are intimately familiar with suffering, thus life should be about relieving this eternal suffering through openness and kindness.
Here is how you can practice Buddhism:
Living With the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows
1) Work to end the suffering of others
Buddhism teaches “the Four Noble Truths”, and these teach that suffering and life are intertwined.
Suffering can only ultimately be ended by breaking out of life’s cycle: birth, death, and rebirth.
We must work towards rescuing others from suffering, both mental and physical: to do this, we must reach nirvana, which is achieved by abiding by the Middle Way, or the Noble Eightfold Path.
2) Follow the Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path is your path to nirvana, the state of bliss in which suffering no longer exists. These eight lessons include:
- Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Action (The Five Precepts)
- Right Concentration, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness (Meditation)
- Right Thought, Right Understanding (Meditation, Mindfulness, and the Five Precepts)
3) Cut Ties to Desire and Need
Much of our life is dictated by our needs and wants. We may want the latest car, the shiniest car, the biggest house, but craving these material goods goes against everything Buddhism stands for.
4) Lifelong Learning
We must never believe that we have learned enough. Learning is a lifelong goal, and the more we learn, the closer we become to enlightenment.
Specifically, we must learn the dharma, and its relationship with suffering.
Living With the Five Precepts
The Five Precepts of Buddhism must be lived by to achieve a state of nirvana or enlightenment, the goal for all Buddhists.
These are different from Christianity’s Commandments; they are not rules from God, but fundamental lifelong undertakings we should live by to become the best versions of ourselves.
By following these precepts, we can better reach nirvana, and have a better life in our next rebirth.
These Five Precepts are:
- Do Not Kill: This precept applies to all living creatures, including animals and insects. This is why you will find that the most devout Buddhists live vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.
- Do Not Steal: Do not take items that are not yours. This applies to all items, including clothes, money, and food. We must also give to those who need our help, and not hoard items for ourselves.
- Do Not Abuse or Exploit: Do not abuse or exploit others, sexually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. While you do not have to practice abstinence, you should be sure that your adult partner has given you consent. Be content with what you have and the partners you have.
- Do Not Lie: The truth is of upmost importance to Buddhists. Do not lie, hide important information, and keep secrets. Be open and clear at all times.
- Do Not Use Drugs: This includes psychoactive substances, alcohol, hallucinogens, and other drugs. Anything that can alter your mind is prohibited, as it inhibits one’s mindfulness, a crucial element of Buddhism.
Living With Buddhist Practices: Karma and Dharma
Karma is a key element of a Buddhist lifestyle. It is the belief that everything that you do has a weight of “good” or “bad”, and when your life ends, your overall karma will be judged.
If your karma is positive, you will be reborn into a favorable new life; if your karma is negative, you will experience a worse life than your previous one.
The circumstances of our current life is determined by the karma of our previous life, and only through being a good person can we assure that our next life will be happier.
The difference between good actions and bad actions are the motivations we have behind those actions. Good actions are motivated by kindness, and the desire to relieve others from suffering. Bad actions are motivated by hatred, greed, and consist of acts that bring suffering upon others.
Another crucial concept in Buddhism is dharma, which is the reality of the world and your life.
Dharma changes constantly, and is altered by the way you see and interact with the world, as well as the choices you make.
You can think of dharma as the general understanding of the paths and tenants of Buddhism, or the way that you follow the Buddhist way of living.
To best incorporate dharma in your life, you must live in the moment and appreciate the life that you have. Be grateful, be thankful, and spend everyday working towards nirvana.
Meditation: The Buddhist Lifestyle
Finally, to practice Buddhism you must practice the most important daily activity to increase your mindfulness and openness: meditation.
Meditation allows one to be at one with their inner peace and suffering, and is the first step towards nirvana.
But meditation is more than just sitting in a quiet room, lost in your thoughts. Here is a quick guide to truly begin meditating:
- Find a place where you can be alone: Find a quiet area where no one will bother you. Remove yourself from distractions, such as your phone, computers, and music.
- Sit comfortably: While cross-legged is the most common position associated with meditation, it isn’t necessary. Sit in a way that is comfortable with you, one in which you can forget your body. Sit upright and relax.
- Focus on your eyes: Most people choose to close their eyes to help them find their inner peace. However, closing your eyes isn’t necessary. If you wish to keep your eyes open, try lowering your gaze, or fixate it on an object in front of you.
- Be mindful of your breathing: Focus on every breath. Concentrate on the air coming in and out of your body. Reflect on how each breath feels, on the weight of each push on your chest. Lose yourself in the moment.
- Let your thoughts flow: And finally, let your thoughts flow. Don’t try to think about one certain thing. Do your best to blank out your mind, and let it wander freely without any direction.
For at least 15 minutes per day on the first week, you should meditate in the same position and in the same room.
If you want to continue meditating, be sure to extend your meditations by 5 minutes every week, until reaching a maximum of 45 minutes.
Use a timer in the background that you can forget about to avoid the temptation of looking at a clock.
Beginning Your Journey
These are the basics of Buddhism, but of course, it takes years and decades of study and meditation to truly become familiar with one of the most ancient spiritual traditions still practiced today.
Explore Buddhism and figure it out in your own way—there’s no right or wrong, as your process depends entirely on you.
The Meaning of “Buddha”
While Buddha is the name we call the founder of Buddhism, it also has a definition in itself, translated from ancient Sanskrit as “The Awakened One”.
Because of this, the name Buddha isn’t limited to the first man to reach enlightenment.
Some Buddhists believe that anyone who achieves enlightenment can refer to themselves as a buddha, as they have reached a higher echelon of being.
They see the world without the many filters and biases of the average person, and operate on a medium unbeknownst to the rest of us.
Does Buddhism Have a God?
Buddhism has no God, rendering it neither monotheistic nor polytheistic. This is why Buddhism is less often referred to as a religion, and more accurately known as a spiritual tradition.
With no God, the original teachings of Buddhism came from the first Buddha, a Nepalese man from the 5th century BC who was known as Siddhartha Gautama.
Siddhartha dedicated his life to finding ways to lessen human suffering—everything from senseless widespread violence to personal sadness.
He spent a lifetime with gurus and sages, studying, meditating, and understanding the meaning of the self.
It was when he sat under the Bodhi tree that he began his last, long path to Enlightenment.
For 49 days, it is said that Siddhartha meditated beneath the tree, until he rose as a new, Enlightened man.
It was then that Siddhartha spread his teachings, and the tradition of Buddhism began.
What are the Branches of Buddhism?
Buddhism has several branches or schools of thoughts, from various interpretations of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.
While each type of Buddhism shares the core values of Buddhism, they do have some minor yet distinct differences. The branches of Buddhism include:
Pure Land Buddhism
Thai Forest Tradition
The two branches of Buddhism that are most prominent today are Mahayana and Theravada.
Understanding Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism
Mahayana, or “The Greater Vehicle”, believes that Enlightenment should be achieved by all, not just the monks.
In Mahayana Buddhism, a “bodhisattva”, or a holy person, assists the common folk in reaching nirvana instead of perfecting their own Enlightenment.
This branch of Buddhism puts greater emphasis on helping as many people as possible reach nirvana through social efforts.
Theravada is perhaps the most traditional branch of Buddhism, following the teachings coming directly from the ancient language of Pali.
There is an emphasis on meditation, and individuals following Theravada are urged towards becoming Enlightened beings through their own mastery of meditative practices.
The Core Values of Buddhism
To understand Buddhism simply, you must know of the three sets of core values: The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, and the Five Aggregates.
The Four Noble Truths
1. All of human existence is suffering.
2. The cause of suffering is craving.
3. The end of suffering comes with ending craving.
4. There is a path to follow which will end suffering.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right understanding is understanding the power of the Four Noble Truths.
2. Right thought is engaging in selflessness and loving kindness in your thoughts.
3. Right speech is speaking without verbal abuse, lies, hatred, or blame.
4. Right action is abstaining from murder, sexual misconduct, and theft.
5. Right livelihood is engaging in work that fulfills you and helps others.
6. Right effort is practicing the Noble Eightfold Path consistently.
7. Right mindfulness is observing the patterns of your body, mind, and the world around you without judgment.
8. Right concentration is the regular practice of meditation.
The Five Aggregates
The Five Aggregates are the five aspects of human existence, grouping together the elements that influence our perception and understanding of reality around us.
Buddhism teaches us to recognize these five aggregates to understand that they can be separated, studied, and overcome, instead of letting ourselves succumb to them together.
The five aggregates are:
- Form, the physical.
- Sensation, the sensory.
- Perception, the mental understanding of the sensory.
- Mental formation, the biases and filters shaped by our mental understanding.
- Consciousness, the awareness.
By studying the five aggregates, we are able to separate ourselves from our prejudices, our thoughts, our senses, and perceive the world from an objective and clearer understanding.
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