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GCSE Short Courses in RE Pack 3
Information sheet 1
The Enlightened One
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a religion that began in India about 2500 year ago. It grew and spread,
and today there are more than 300 million Buddhists, mainly in Asia. The countries with
the largest Buddhist populations are Sri Lanka, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Vietnam,
Thailand, Korea and Japan. Although Buddhism was born in India, it soon died out
there and has only started to revive in recent years.
Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha, a name which means ‘Enlightened
One’. The Buddha was born in about 563 BC, and died at the age of 80. He was
originally called Siddhartha Gautama, and was the son of a wealthy Hindu leader. His
name, Siddhartha, means ‘one whose aim is accomplished’. He is also known as
Sakyammi, or ‘Sage of the Sakya Tribe’. Buddhists sometimes call him Bhagavan, or
‘the Blessed One’. The Buddha lived in north-eastern India, at a time when that area of
the world was one of the great centres of intellectual and spiritual activity.
How did Buddhism begin?
Accounts of Siddhartha’s life suggests that he was a gentle and thoughtful person who
was troubled by the suffering and unhappiness in the world. The luxury and splendour
of his life as a prince were little comfort to him, as his thoughts were focused on higher
things. He wanted to understand the meaning of life and to be able to answer
questions such as:
Why do people die?
Why is there so much sadness and ugliness in the world?
How can people find happiness despite their suffering?
At the age of 29, the Buddha was driven by an inner compulsion to leave his wealthy
home and adopt the homeless, wandering life of a holy man. At that time in India, the
homeless life was seen as an appropriate way of life for people who wanted to discover
spiritual truth and reality.
Siddhartha’s search for the meaning of life lasted six years. His ‘enlightenment’ came
one day whilst sitting beneath a Bodhi tree by the River Gaya. Immersed in
contemplation, he realised that the peaceful methods of meditation and faith provided
the key to the highest levels of understanding about how to live a happy and good life.
Siddhartha had originally thought he might find the peace of mind and knowledge he
required by studying the teachings of other religions, particularly the Hindu texts. But
now he realised that enlightenment could only come from within himself. Through
deep meditation he managed to clear his mind of everything which had distracted and
confused him. He then began to work out his own ideas about spiritual truth and
reality. In this way he became the Buddha, or Enlightened One.
How did Buddhism grow?
Shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha began to teach other people about his
ideas. He soon won disciples who followed him into the homeless life and missionary
service. He founded the first community of Buddhist monks (Sangha).
Pearson Publishing, Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP
GCSE Short Courses in RE Pack 3
Information sheet 3
The Changing Self
What did the Buddha say about God?
The Buddha did not believe in any god or gods or in a human soul. He rejected the
idea that the universe is regulated by a spiritual force – a god or ultimate reality – which
exists outside and above the laws of nature and the actions of human beings. The idea
of an all-powerful, all-encompassing spirit is sometimes referred to as the Absolute. In
Christianity, the Absolute is God; in Hinduism it is Brahman. Both Christians and Hindus
believe that a part of the Absolute is manifested in each person in the form of the soul.
The soul is seen as the permanent, eternal part of the self through which a person is
connected with God or Brahman. The Buddha denied that we have a soul, and this is a
very important aspect of his teaching.
What is the soul?
The soul may be described as an imprint of God in the human person. One way of
thinking about the soul is to see it as a kind of divine message within the individual
which enables us to understand what God requires of us and how we can move closer
to him. It is as if the qualities which define God are coded and placed within the
individual as a part of our self or personality.
People who believe in the existence of the soul say that it is a constant influence on our
ideas and consciousness. It helps to shape our understanding of what is right and
wrong and how we should live. However, there are many other sources that influence
the way we think, feel, do things, and behave towards people. The ideas of a young
person today, for example, may be influenced by sources such as things they have seen
on television, what their friends say and do, discussions with their teachers, popular
notions about what is fashionable and desirable, etc. The self may at times be
overwhelmed by these other sources of influence so that a person loses touch with
what God is saying to them from within, ie through the soul.
All of the various sources that influence our ideas and consciousness, apart from the soul,
may be seen as transitory. They come and go and are constantly changing. By contrast, the
message that the soul expresses is permanent and unchanging. Religions such as
Christianity and Hinduism teach that the purpose of religious belief and practice is to
release the soul so that it becomes the dominant influence on our ideas and consciousness.
The ultimate aim is to achieve a union between the soul and God or Brahman.
What did the Buddha say about the soul?
According to the Buddha, there is no soul. There is no permanent unchanging message
within us that is constantly directing our consciousness, feelings, and thoughts towards
salvation. A person may believe that he has a strong moral sense of what is right and
wrong, for example, and he may conclude that this is God-given and unchanging, ie
part of his soul. But the Buddha says this is an illusion. In reality, our consciousness and
ideas are always changing. In order to find happiness, therefore, we must recognise that
nothing is permanent or fixed and that we constantly have to work out for ourselves how
to live a good and positive life. The Buddha says that people who believe in a
permanent self or soul are unhappy because they find it difficult to adapt to new ideas
and experiences and always want the world to be different to what it is.
Pearson Publishing, Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP
GCSE Short Courses in RE Pack 3
Information sheet 7
A Comparatively Young Religion
What is Sikhism?
Sikhism is a religion that originated in the area of north-west India known as the Punjab
at the end of the fifteenth century. It was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) whose
inspired teaching appealed to a small group of devoted followers. The word Sikh
means disciple. Male Sikhs are easily recognised by their turbans and beards. Sikh
females have un-cut hair, left loose or tied neatly in a bun at the back of the head.
“A Sikh is a man or woman who believes in God, in the Ten Gurus, in the Guru Granth
Sahib and other writings and teachings of the Gurus, in the Khalsa initiation ceremony
and who does not believe in any other religion.” (Sikh’s Official Code of Discipline.)
Where do Sikhs live today?
Worldwide, there are about 15 million Sikhs. Most still live in the north Indian state of
Punjab, but there are also many in other countries around the world. A very small
minority have converted to Sikhism from other faiths, but Sikhs do not believe in trying
to convert others, as they respect all faiths.
More than 300 000 Sikhs live in the United Kingdom, the largest community in any
country outside India. Many British Sikhs lived and worked in East Africa between 1900
and 1970. At the beginning of this century, the British needed the skills of Sikh
stonemasons and blacksmiths to build the East African railway in the countries which
are now Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Wherever Sikhs live they are united not only by their religion but also by Punjabi
culture. Sikhs follow the politics of the Punjab closely and Punjab food, music and
marriage customs are an important part of their life. Most speak Punjabi as their main
language. With Sikh women, Punjabi suits – coordinated top (kameez) and trousers
(shalwar) with shoulder drape (churni) to cover the head when necessary – are popular,
particularly for special occasions
What does Guru mean?
Guru is an important word for Sikhs. It means a spiritual guide who teaches God’s
message to humanity. Sikhs use the word for the founder of their religion, Guru Nanak,
his nine successors, and the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh book of Scriptures. The Sikh
community, continuing the faith of the tenth guru, is itself called the guru.
What do Sikhs believe?
The key beliefs of Sikhism can be expressed as:
There is only one God.
All human beings are equal.
Other faiths should be respected.
Men and women are equal.
It is good to serve others.
Pearson Publishing, Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP