Buddhism is considered one of the major religions in the world, with approximately 470 million followers from around the world. However, some scholars, and perhaps some practitioners, do not consider Buddhism a religion at all. Because it is nontheistic, some feel it is more of a spiritual tradition or a way of life. Whether you are interested in practicing Buddhism or not, learning more about it is valuable. Several Buddhist concepts, such as karma and mindfulness, have made their way into contemporary Western culture.
How Did Buddhism Begin?
The founder of Buddhism was Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago, making Buddhism a tradition that predates Christianity by approximately 500 years. Contrary to what many non-Buddhists may mistakenly believe, "Buddha" is not a name but a title meaning "enlightened one." Many people also mistakenly think that the Buddha is worshipped as a deity. Instead, the Buddha is respected by followers and non-followers alike as a wise teacher and philosopher: an extraordinary human being, but a human nonetheless.
As a prince from a wealthy family, the Buddha was moved by the suffering of others. From the beginning, his goal was to liberate sentient beings from suffering. At first, he sought solidarity with the poor by giving up his lavish lifestyle. This failed to give him the fulfillment he sought, and he later pursued a "Middle Way" between the extremes of deprivation and indulgence.
Eventually, the Buddha gained the enlightenment he sought during meditation under a Bodhi tree following a six-year search. The insights he gained served as the basis for his teachings, known collectively as the Dharma. Buddhism books explain the Dharma in much more detail.
What Is the Basis for the Teachings of Buddhist Monks?
The most important teachings in Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths. Understanding these concepts is essential to understanding Buddhism:
- Suffering Exists: Pain, loss, sickness, and failure are all roots of suffering, but so is the impermanence of pleasure. Suffering is nearly universal.
- Suffering Has a Cause: The cause of suffering is attachment, or the desire to have possessions and exert control.
- Suffering Has an End: The end of suffering comes from letting go of all cravings or desires, overcoming attachment, and achieving complete freedom. This independent state is called Nirvana. It may take several cycles of death, living, and rebirth to achieve this state. Buddhists distinguish rebirth and reincarnation.
- The Eightfold Path Frees People From Suffering: The Eightfold Path consists of practices designed to help people overcome attachment and reach Nirvana. The best books on Buddhism explain extensively about the Eightfold Path and how to follow it.
What Is the Relationship Between Buddhism and Mindfulness?
According to Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is one of the steps along the Eightfold Path. A simple definition of the term is the ability of the mind to be aware of what is happening without interference or judgment. Mindfulness has evolved into a secular practice but remains a Buddhist specialty. Books on Buddhism and mindfulness offer more information on the connection between the two.
Why Is It Valuable To Study Buddhism?
Studying some of the best books on Buddhism has value whether you intend to practice it or not. Exploring new ideas and ways of thinking helps promote a better understanding of the world and other people and yourself. There is significant overlap between the philosophies of Buddhism and many different religions and spiritual traditions. Therefore, studying Buddhism books may give you unexpected insights into your faith practice or philosophical worldview that you might never have gained otherwise.