What Is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a fresh approach to life.

It may not be helpful to think of it as a religion although there are transformational and transcendental aspects to it. And because of these aspects it is often called a way of wisdom. Buddhism also has ethical teachings such as regarding others as more important than yourself.

Buddhism is a contemplative tradition and a way of life that began in India 2,600 years ago when a 33-year-old spiritual seeker had an awakening after years of various yoga and meditation practices. The main gift that Buddha gave to us is the discovery that the path to wisdom is in meditation, not just thinking.

Therefore, the main practice of Buddhism is meditation, a sitting discipline that focuses the mind, quiets the mind and brings an experience of peace, happiness and insight. At least that’s part of the experience of Buddhist meditators. There is a saying in Tibet: no meditation, no Buddhism.

Another part of meditation experience is connecting with your inner life, including uncovering hidden or buried parts of your psychological being that are difficult or painful to recognize, acknowledge and work with. From this it is obvious that Buddhism is a path of wholeness – a journey in life that can awaken your mind and heart while uncovering obstacles that block your natural contentment, happiness, wisdom, authenticity and compassion. It all depends, of course, on your personal motivation –what do your really want in your life?

Besides silent meditation there is also an aspect of prayer to living Buddhism. For example, one recites, chants, or contemplates aspiration prayers like, “May all beings be happy.” This particular wish may be deepened by recitations until you really feel in your heart, beyond the words, that you really want all sentient beings to be happy and free from suffering. That particular quotation is part of a very basic, famous and universal prayer in Buddhism called the Four Immeasurables:

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering
May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering
May they dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice

Besides aspirations, reflection and the contemplative aspects there is also a psychological aspect to practical Buddhist living that has to do with emotions, and working with emotions. We all know the whole range of emotions can have a disturbing, disruptive and destructive effect in our life and in our relationships. However, the view here is to not regard emotions as bad or something you have to get rid of, but to welcome them as a working basis of energy and color, and for acknowledging universal needs. In other words, you can use their power for getting to know more deeply and more satisfyingly who and what you are. There are specific ways to do this and perhaps this is the subtle and gradual transformation aspect of the Buddhist path mentioned above.

Finally, there is the ego-centered aspect of our Western materialistic life culture that Buddhism offers a clear, firm, steady and uncompromising grip on. The ego that rises in our mind as “I”, me and mine increases self-clinging, thrives on narrow-mindedness and pain, and clouds over the transcendent aspect that opens us to our radiant warm heart –our natural innate wakefulness, boundless love, compassion, empathic presence and inherent wisdom.

In this regard, we can say that Buddhism is a personal (subjective) study of the mind in all its aspects including thoughts, beliefs, behavior, confusion, motivation, aspirations, suffering, emotions, etc. –leading to a gradual realization and awakening of our innate true nature.

This concludes a brief introduction to Buddhism. Later on I will explore how we can discover the relationship between Nonviolent Communication (an effective communication method and practice of emotional awareness founded by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg) for the maturing of Buddhism the West. It is my intention to help plant the universal buddhadharma in North American soil.

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