Buddhism has been widely preached and practiced in most parts of the world, commonly present at countries of Far-East Asia. Currently, it has been listed as fourth largest religion of the world, with about 376 million followers. The history of religion has its roots to 500BC, when Siddhartha Gautama was born to a king in Northern India and then awarded with enlightenment (Robinson 2011). The four noble teachings are amongst the initial discourses of Buddha, upon which he based his further teachings as well. He said that “I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That's all I teach” (BBC Religions 2009). The essence of his four noble truths lies within these two short sentences. According to him,
- Life is a universal suffering (Dukkha)
- There are many reasons for sufferings (Samudāya)
- These sufferings can be overcame (Nirodha)
Hence Buddha has not only identified the problem and tragedies of human lives, but also provided its causes and prescription as a remedy to these sufferings. Humans undergo through every kind of circumstances in the discourse of life; there are good or bad moments, pain or pleasure, sufferings or comfort etc. All these happen to us either because of physical changes, or because of our immense attachments with matter objects which are actually impermanent. Humans can avoid such sufferings by ceasing or withdrawing from their cravings of such material objects, and by realizing that everything, including us has a temporary stance in this world and eventually we all will get vanish too. If we set ourselves free from such cravings and attachments, then we will get freedom from all worries and sufferings of life. This is recognizing the third universal truth called Nirodha. Finally, we can achieve Nirodha by Magga, which is the eightfold path described by him as a cure to all human sufferings. It is composed of right views, right intentions, right speech, and right actions along with livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Magga is also termed as “the middle way”, as it does not only comprise of teachings of asceticism, but also find a middle way between self-indulgence and self-mortification. If a person continues to follow this path, all of his worries, cravings, ignorance and sufferings will eventually disappear (Basic Buddhist Principles n.d., BBC Religions 2009).
Difference between Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism Mahayana is that school of Buddhism which is being prevalent in the areas of North and North-West Asia, comprising China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam etc, while Theravada is an original and somewhat strict from of Buddhism prevalent in Southern and South-West Asia, i.e., Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos (Indo-Chinese countries). The core teachings of both schools has been the same as both regards the four noble truths of sufferings and the eightfold path enlightenment, rejection of any supreme creator and common ideas of mindfulness, concentration, impermanence, sufferings etc. However, since Theravada Buddhism is composed of direct teachings from Buddha quoted by his students as first, second, third and fourth councils; these teachings are more intense and require enough dedication and time-consuming efforts to attain Nirvana (the enlightenment). It has its basis upon continuous meditation and requires a Buddhist to become a monk for achieving the ultimate wisdom. Hence it can be easily imagined that this school of Buddhism is conservative and strictly follows those rules and guidelines which were set by Buddha himself as a philosophy. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism is liberal up to some extent, i.e., it allows people to live a normal life with the consent of helping others and being compassionate in their modes of lives. Rather than to emphasize on a community of monks and nuns, it is being practiced amongst general public so that it would be easier for everyone to understand and adapt the teachings of Buddhism. It is more like a religion, in contrast to Theravada which is based on philosophical teachings (Young 2012, Rahula 2008).
Vajrayana Buddhism is a school that is practiced in parts of India, Tibet, Mongolia and Japan. Although being closely related with Mahayana school, the focus of Vajrayana is upon tantric literature of Buddhism. It stress upon the outcomes of following the path of Buddha so that one can become a Bodhisattva (intentions of rebirth as Buddha- Mahayana Buddhism) instead of become an Arahat (enlightenment with no intentions of re-birth as Buddha- Theravada Buddhism). Hence Vajrayana can be regarded as a modified form of Mahayana Buddhism (Religious Tolerance 2010).
Impermanence in Buddhism
Impermanence (Anicca) has acquired a great value in Buddhism. As Buddha repeatedly emphasized on the existence of sufferings, he also said that in order to get rid of these sufferings we must realize that every other thing in this world is mortal and impermanent; it is not here to stay forever. Hence we can avoid our cravings for different objects by realizing their impermanence. Each of our physical or internal organ and ultimately our body is subjected to death. Hence the phenomenon of impermanence must be understood as it is sufficient and necessary to understand the core of Buddhism, since once it is well-understood, it will leads to the understanding of four noble truths; Dukkha, Samudāya and Nirodha, which can ease the eightfold path for understanding and implementation (Young 2012).
No-self doctrine in Buddhism: How does it fit with impermanence?
Anatta (No-self), along with Dukkha and Anicca, is amongst the basic religious teachings of Buddhism. Just as one cannot deny with the truth of sufferings and impermanence of worldly objects, similarly not-self doctrine is also an existing truth. But in contrast to Dukkha and Anicca, Anatta is the most difficult one to understand and therefore there have been many misunderstandings regarding this teaching of Buddhism. It can be understood by first realizing that Buddhism emphasizes impermanence, thus there will be no question of bodily existence after death. Buddhism denies every physical phenomenon to be permanent; rather it supports the existence of mental phenomena such as consciousness, senses, thoughts, feelings etc. likewise, Buddhism does not say that our body is not ours; rather it explains that if we keep on imagining all of our body parts in our control, with no impermanence or no subjection to death, then we will suffer from grief when any of these stop working due to illness or accident. Again this will lead us to Dukkha; so the first step to avoid Dukkha is to understand the impermanence of everything, including our body and its physical parts, so that whenever a Dukkha occurs, it could be accepted as a universal truth. Buddhism however denies no-soul doctrine, clearly stating that the impermanence of self does not imply the impermanence of soul. Our body is not of course substantial, it has its significance till its end, but the soul keeps alive and is shifted to someone else, for the ultimate achievement of Nirvana (Bristol n.d., Young 2012).
Basic Buddhist Principles. (n.d). April 9, 2013.
BBC Religions. The Four Noble Truths. (November 17, 2009). Web. April 9, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/fournobletruths_1.shtml
Bristol, Dogen Sangha. Theory of No-Self. (n.d). Web. April 9, 2013.
Buddhism: Description of the Vajrayāna tradition. (April 25, 2010). Web. April 9, 2013. http://www.religioustolerance.org/budvaj.htm
Rahula. Mahayana Versus Theravada. (August 14, 2008). Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal. Web. April 9, 2013.
- Robinson. Buddhism, based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. (March 17, 2011). Web. April 9, 2013. http://www.religioustolerance.org/buddhism.htm
Young, William A. The World's Religion. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.