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Buddhism

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High in the mountains of the Himalayas chants ring out from the Tibetan monastery. For most this is a dream-like vacation to a far away land. For some of the people who live in Tibet and India this is everyday life as a Buddhist. Buddhism revolves around a strict code of daily rituals and meditations. To an outsider they can seem mystical or even odd, but these are the paths to enlightenment and spiritual salvation. Throughout the centuries, Buddhism has evolved into a major religion in Asia and other parts of the world.

The mystical roots of Buddhism can be traced back to the first century BCE. Buddhism began with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. When Siddhartha was born he was noticed as having "the 32 auspicious signs of an enlightened one" (Clark and Brown 3). His father, fearing Siddhartha would shun his inheritance, confined him to the walls of the palace, never allowing his son to experience want or suffering. However, Siddhartha on several occasions ventured outside the confines of the palace. On one of his visits into the city "he saw an ascetic begging for alms in the city square. It was then that he realized that there was meaning beyond physical existence" (Clark and Brown 3). Siddhartha then gave up his possessions to search for enlightenment. He discovers that by following the path of moderation, one can become enlightened (Clark and Brown 3). And so, he attained Buddhahood. Afterwards Buddha, the name given to an enlightened one, travels through India "preaching and educating others about the middle path" (Clark and Brown 3). From this, Buddhism was born.

The religion of Buddhism is not entirely in a sphere of its own. In fact, it combines several influences born in and around the Asian continent. The first religious influence is Taoism. Taoism embraces the belief in the fluid like spirit that flows throughout everyone and everything. The primary belief of Taoists is that the universe is in constant change.

Taoists believe that nature and the earth is constantly in flux. Simply, the only

constant in the world is change. When individuals learn that growth and movement are natural and necessary, they can become balanced (Clark and Brown 7).

Taoism teaches self-control and the importance of meditation in searching for enlightenment.

The second influence is Confucianism. "Put simply, Confucianism is the quest for order" (Clark and Brown 8). Although it teaches the balance of family with society, Confucianism is more of a political ideology. In Asia, it concerns the division of property among citizens.

Lastly, among others, is Zen. This is the most important of Buddhist practice. Zen is more a ritual than a "written in stone" doctrine. The rituals deal with meditation and the path to enlightenment. "Zen Buddhism...is the basic practice of meditation in order to reach peace within ones self" (Clark and Brown 8). For most Buddhists it is Zen that leads the way to enlightenment. The practice involves reflecting upon one's self and meditating in order to reach spiritual salvation, or Nirvana, the highest level of spiritual peace.

Buddhist practice can generally be divided into two sects, the Mahayana and the Theravada. The Theravada sect, the eldest, is commonly referred to as the "tradition of the elderly" (Hansen 4). The basic belief is that your "station" in life is directly related to the spiritual state of your soul. According to the beliefs, "enlightenment is reserved for a select group of religious figures and scholars" (Clark and Brown 5). As can be expected, the Theravada sect is less common. Followers of the Theravada are more commonly found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma (Hansen 4).

The second sect, the Mahayana, is the youngest one. It is commonly referred to as the Greater Vehicle. Mahayana differs in that it subscribes to the belief that all people can attain enlightenment through the help of a teacher. Members of the Mahayana hold "to the notion of group salvation, as opposed to individual accomplishment" (Clark and Brown 4). The Mahayana sect is more prevalent in Buddhist communities, and far more practiced than the Theravada.

The main difference between the two sects is how they interpret the texts. The Mahayana views the texts more liberally, emphasizing an equal chance for all humans to achieve enlightenment (Clark and Brown 4).

The way to enlightenment involves many rituals and practices. "Tibetan Buddhist tools for awakening also promote relaxation and healing" (Dharma Haven 1). Meditation is key to Buddhists. Before one can attain enlightenment, one must gain what is known as the four circles. The first circle is called the Fire of Wisdom. It is the outermost circle and "consists of the purifying fire" (Hansen 2). The second circle is called the Vajra circle. It is symbolized as the diamond circle, expressing one's fearlessness and strength. The third circle is the Tombs. This circle consists

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