Buddhism is the second largest religion in Asia after Hinduism. Being also a philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, Buddhism is based on numerous teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, who lived between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Buddhists recognize his enlightenment (‘bodhi’) achieved by entering a deep state of meditation and during which Buddha has achieved a total and direct realization of the truth. Exactly Buddha’s Enlightenment is the source of the majority of Buddhist teachings and practices and the proof that any human being (not a god) can directly perceive the true nature of reality through one’s own efforts. It is the source of endless inspirations for every Buddhist and a sacred dream and aim of all Buddha’s followers.
The early texts provide somewhat different accounts of Buddha’s biography. The major evidence suggests that Gautama was born on the periphery, taught by famous religious teachers of the day, and not finding the answer on how to permanently end suffering attempted an extreme asceticism, underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. Not finding any solution again, he chose the so-called Middle Way approach between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification – meditation. At the age of 35, he has finally completed his spiritual quest under a sacred fig tree (later to be known as the Bodhi tree, or ‘tree of Enlightenment’): During his intensive forty-nine-day meditation, Gautama has achieved the complete and unshakeable state of full enlightenment and so had become the Buddha (“One who is fully awake”). Some important factors around Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment state were finding a suitable place for meditation (the Bodhi Tree), conquering all distractions (the same as Jesus Christ, Buddha was being tempted by demons and evil forces), and, factually, attaining enlightenment. After this, Buddha gathered followers, instituted a monastic order, and spent the rest of his life travelling and teaching the path of awakening he discovered.
Before discussing the teaching of Buddhism, it is important to fully understand what a state enlightenment is. Difficult to determine or properly describe, enlightenment refers to the state of having a direct insight into the nature of reality and into truth. Achieved through Buddhist meditation, enlightenment is a dynamic state of an innate wisdom with its basic nature allowing the mind staying quieted and focused and concentration strengthened. This means, it is far not about an intellectual knowledge, visions, or supernatural experiences, but about wisdom of another kind. Enlightenment releases from negative feelings and experiences like ignorance, worries, sorrow and unhappiness, and allows one enjoying pure being and seeing things as they actually are. It is ‘the hearts release’ or nirvana and can be achieved both in one’s life and after death. All Buddha’s followers practice to and strive for achieving the state of enlightenment. At that, the faith is considered the primary condition to enter the sea of Buddha’s teachings.
Buddha’s enlightenment had happened in three stages allowing him to realize the ultimate truth of reality unfolded like a lotus. The first one is calm thinking and a state of removal from everyday consciousness and reality. The second stage is detachment from the chatter of mind and entering the state of exalted rapture. Finally, the third stage is reaching ever purer joy and the final level of consciousness. This last stage makes the mind absolutely peaceful and clear enabling its direct perception into reality. The enlightenment had happened also on three different levels: of a Buddha, of a bodhisattva (a “wisdom-being”), and of an ordinary person. Shunryu Suzuki in his Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind defines enlightenment as “nothing special. … You may say ‘universal nature’ or ‘Buddha nature’ or ‘enlightenment.’ You may call it by many names, but for the person who has it, it is nothing, and it is something.” And this characteristic of an ‘ordinary mystery’ is maybe the most valuable about Buddha’s enlightenment.
Today, the entire Buddhist tradition exists in order to try and share Buddha’s insight with others. The following principles, or primary/basic teachings, which are fixed in Tipitaka (the preliminary body of Buddhist teachings, analogous to the Old Testament in Christianity) and are shared by all schools of Buddhism, were revealed to Buddha during his enlightenment: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Precepts. These teachings explicate the Buddhist doctrines of suffering, the five aggregates of being, refusing the self, ethics, karma, rebirth, enlightenment and Nirvana.
The most basic Buddhist teachings, the Four Noble Truths give start to the spiritual path of this religion and encompass all Buddha’s knowledge. They present the knowledge and understanding of the self, of karma and rebirth, and of enlightenment and Nirvana. These four are: (1) there is suffering in life; (2) the causes of suffering can be known; (3) suffering can be brought to an end by removing its cause; (4) the Eightfold path is the way to end suffering.
The Eightfold Path, logically, includes eight points to cure the suffering of life. These are: (1) right understanding, (2) right intention, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) right concentration. Right understanding refers to the Four Truths about suffering, the fact about changing nature of everything, and the fact about illusive nature of the self. Right intention is about giving up everything wrong and undertaking only good things/deeds as well as abandoning and cultivating the corresponding thoughts along with the deeds. Right speech refers to telling only the truth, avoiding negative statements, impolite and abusive language, babbles and gossiping, etc. as well as practicing kindly, meaningful, harmonious and necessary speech exclusively. Right action includes morally right, peaceful and honorable conduct and avoidance of causing suffering. Right livelihood means living in a right way, without doing any harm to humans, animals and whatsoever, including making of weapons, etc. Right effort refers to fostering good and preventing evil as well as constant self-improvement. Right mindfulness is about wakefulness. It refers to intentional awareness development and fostering right attention. Right concentration is mainly about practicing Buddhist meditation. These eight truth points aim at cultivating wisdom, ethical behavior, and mental discipline. They also are the key way of resolving all possible questions about life, death and oneself and the live guidelines for every Buddhist.
The Precepts can be paralleled to Ten Commandments of Christianity. There are five of them: (1) do not kill but practice love; (2) do not steal but practice giving; (3) do not indulge in sexual misconduct but practice contentment; (4) do not tell lies but practice truthfulness and open-mindedness; and (5) practice awareness and mental clarity.
In addition, Buddha’s enlightenment is about understanding the fact that religious (and any) beliefs should not be taken as such. Buddhist doctrine asserts that one should not believe in something because he/she has heard of it, because there are long-lasting traditions, because it is spoken or written somewhere (e.g. in Bible) or popular, because it is taught so, etc. On contrary, one should believe because he/she has found the reasons to believe and has decided to choose and fully accept this particular way of living.
Mysterious and wonderful, philosophic and deep, Buddha’s enlightenment can and should be compared to the perfect way of meditation popular at the East. No other religion suggest similar way of perceiving the truth and the reality as well as says it is available for every ordinary person who has faith and who is willing to strive for this perfect state of consciousness. Buddha’s revelation and teachings which he has received during his enlightenment makes him special, but he is a more close person (not really God factually) to his followers than any other god in any other world’s religion. In contrast to all other religions, Buddhism enlightenment experience is to figure out, to realize, to understand, to attain wisdom, and not to get the ready doctrines from the Bible, Koran, etc. Buddhism calls to strive for at least partial enlightenment – to meditate in order to have at least some enlightenment experience. This is the core of this religion; this makes it democratic and very close to each of its followers. Because it is not after enlightenment that the true meaning is attained – it is during the enlightenment
An ordinary example of a raining weather can help explain Buddha’s teachings in simple words. Today it is raining – this is Buddha’s teaching because he is everywhere. Religion is absolute and independent of somebody’s perspective or interpretation; religion is everywhere. Buddhism says there should not be any particular teaching. Instead, people should see teaching in every moment of life, in their very existence – this is Buddha’s major teaching; this is what he was enlightened about. His enlightenment is not only the source of Buddhist teachings – it illustrates the absence of a personal God present in Christianity, Judaism and Islam and the philosophic nature of faith which asserts that God is present everywhere in the world and in the human soul and at the same time transcends the world and the nature.