1. What is the understanding of the nature of god that is characteristic of this religion?
While many people believe Buddha is a type of god, according to most Buddhists this is not true. The Theravadhians, who claim to be the original Buddhists, are certain that Buddha claimed he did not want to be seen as a god. Terry Lovat, author of Studies in Religion states, ‘(The Theravadhians) even claim that the Buddha explicitly told his followers not to believe in any gods. If they believe in gods, so they claim he said, then the people would spend all their time concentrating on the gods. Instead, they must concentrate on themselves and on overcoming their own selfish ways. This is the only way to rid the world of suffering and to find inner peace, said the Buddha.’ According to this version, the Buddha actually saw belief in a god as bad for the religion he was trying to set up.
Instead of having a god for his followers, Buddha wanted them to model their lives on Maitri or Metta in Pali (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) and in reward for doing this finally to achieve Nirvana, approximately the equivalent of a the Buddhist heaven. He achieved this by implementing the Eightfold path. (See next section) Buddha plays the part of a role model and thus encourages his followers to meditate on life and live according to the Eightfold path. Because there is no god in Buddhism, there is no need for prayer and instead, Buddhists meditate on how they can become better people and as a result, bring them closer to their intention of reaching Nirvana.
The teachings of Buddha are passed down through the Dharma, which holds the Buddhist Teachings.
2. What are the teachings on the purpose of human life? Right behaviour in the Buddhist religion is determined by the Four Noble Truths and The Five Precepts. These are steps which create guidelines in how to act and live life. Expectations for behaviour of Buddhists are encapsulated by The Eightfold path, by which everyone is expected to live by.
The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering, both physical and physiological. This is not a pessimistic outlook; it is rather that Buddhism explains how to evade suffering and how to be truly happy. The Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. In other words getting what is wanted does not guarantee happiness, which leads to physical suffering because, in the Buddhist religion, it causes rebirth. The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. If useless craving is given up, and each day is lived one at a time, more time and energy is able to be spent on helping others. This is Nirvana. The Fourth and final Noble Truth is that the Noble Eight fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
Concisely, the Eightfold Path is being moral according to eight approaches in the way a person should act, focussing the mind on being fully aware of thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and developing compassion for others.
In Buddhism, the ultimate objective is enlightenment and/or liberation from Samsara and to reach Nirvana. Buddhists reach Nirvana after liberation of self, which is the responsibility of the individual. One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practices Vipassana (Insight) meditation diligently and attains purity of mind.
3. What are two significant rituals within this religion? In Buddhism there are several significant rituals two of these include; Tod Kratin and Visakha Puja. Most Buddhist ceremonies are analogous, in that, they practice essentially the same ceremonies.
Tod Kratin lasts for thirty days, from Ok Phanasa (the end of the Buddhist ‘Lent’) through to the full moon of the twelfth lunar month. This ritual originates from the time of Buddha. It was meant to teach monks humility and show then how to cut, sew and dye their robes for themselves. The finished robes were then offered to the members of the company deemed most suitable. The purpose of this ritual is still relevant today, however it has evolved dramatically into a grand celebration where hundreds and thousands of people join in the making of the robes. This generally takes place at the monastery. As well as this, events which are described in Visakha Puja take place during the day also.
Visakha Puja falls on the full moon of the sixth month of the lunar year. (Somewhere in the middle of May) It is one of the most important days and most widely celebrated days as it is the day Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died. All three of these significant events fell on the same day. This event is usually celebrated with people arriving early in the morning carrying silver or gold bowls filled with food to give to the monks. At breakfast, the people are blessed by the monks and many return to their houses. Others stay and meditate with the monks for the rest of the day, until nightfall when the monks light candles and lead a procession around the main temple building three times, to pay their respect to Buddha. This signifies the end of the celebrations.