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McKenna: World History
Name: _________________________________________________ Date: ___________________________
How did Buddhism begin?
About 2500 years ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama began
to question his sheltered, luxurious life in a palace in India. He left
the palace and saw four sights: a sick man, an old man, a dead man
and a monk. These sights are said to have shown him that even a
prince cannot escape illness, suffering and death. The sight of the
monk told Siddhartha to leave his life as a prince and become a
wandering holy man, seeking the answers to questions like "Why
must people suffer?" "What is the cause of suffering?" Siddhartha
spent many years praying, meditating, and fasting until he finally
understood the basic truths of life. With that understanding,
Siddhartha believed he had achieved his goals – full comprehension
of the situations of life and freedom from needless suffering. He
was given the title of Buddha, which means “Enlightened One,”
and began to preach the ultimate goal of Buddhism, which became
known as enlightenment, or nirvana.
What did Buddha teach?
As part of his path to enlightenment, Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths, essential
thoughts or beliefs about life which he then taught to the people for the next 45 years.
Four Noble Truths
Human life is full of suffering, pain, and sorrow.
The cause of suffering is greed/desire.
There is an end to suffering.
The way to end suffering is to follow the Eightfold Path.
Buddha then taught people not to worship him as a god. He said they should take responsibility
for their own lives and actions in order to reach their own state of enlightenment. He taught that
the Eightfold Path, or essential actions of life, was the way to achieve enlightenment. The
Eightfold Path meant not leading a life of luxury and indulgence but also not one of too much
fasting and hardship. There are eight guides for following the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
Right understanding and viewpoint (based on the Four Noble Truths).
Right values and attitude (compassion rather than selfishness).
Right speech (don't tell lies, avoid harsh, abusive speech, avoid gossip).
Right action (help others, live honestly, don't harm living things, take care of the
Right work (do something useful, avoid jobs which harm others).
Right effort (encourage good, helpful thoughts, discourage unwholesome destructive
Right mindfulness (be aware of what you feel, think and do).
Right meditation (calm mind, practice meditation which leads to nirvana).
McKenna: World History
What is meditation?
Meditation is an essential practice to most Buddhists. Buddhists look within themselves for the
truth and understanding of Buddha's teachings. They seek enlightenment, or nirvana, this way.
Where are Buddha's words written down?
After Buddha died, his teachings were gradually written down from what people remembered.
The Tripitaka, or “Three Baskets of Wisdom,” is a collection of Buddha's sayings, his thoughts
about them, and rules for Buddhists monks.
If Buddhism began in India, why is it all over some many eastern countries?
There are over 500 million Buddhists today. After Buddha's death, some of his followers had
differences of opinion, which eventually led to their breaking away and forming separate kinds of
Buddhism. There are two main types, Theravada, which spread to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand,
Cambodia and Laos, and Mahayana which spread to Nepal, Viet Nam, China, Korea and Japan.
Although Buddhism still thrives in many parts of Asia, it eventually declined in India.
The Five Precepts
Even though each form of Buddhism took on its own identity, all Buddhists follow a set of
guidelines for daily life called the Five Precepts. These are:
Do not harm or kill living things.
Do not take things unless they are freely given.
Lead a decent life.
Do not speak unkindly or tell lies.
Do not abuse drugs or drink alcohol.
Reincarnation: Buddhists, like Hindus, believe in reincarnation, which means rebirth of the soul.
Comprehension Questions
1. What are the main beliefs of Buddhism?
2. Is Buddha a god?
3. Explain enlightenment in your own words.
4. Explain the connection between the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path?
5. How did Buddhism spread?
6. Where is Buddhism mainly found today?