In our last Thai Terre blog we mentioned that most Thai people (nearly 95%) are Buddhists, and discussed the part that meditation plays in a Buddhist’s life. But what is Buddhism, and what does it mean to be a Buddhist?
Buddhism is generally described as a religion, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Buddha is not a god and, although Buddhists show respect for and venerate Buddha, they do not worship him. Buddhism is more of a way of life or a way of viewing things. But let’s start at the beginning.
Siddhartha Gautama – the man who would become known as Buddha – lived around 2500 years ago in what is now Nepal. He was a prince and had a very privileged upbringing, but became troubled by the suffering he saw in the world. At the age of 29 he left his home and his family and travelled, seeking wisdom from philosophers and holy men.
He reasoned that it was the pursuit of material desires that made people unhappy, and so for a time lived a life of poverty. But this did not bring him happiness either, so he then decided to pursue ‘the middle way’ – a life of neither luxury nor poverty.
He also sought an escape from the cycle of death and reincarnation, and one day, while sitting under a tree to meditate, he achieved this by attaining the state of nirvana – a higher state in which passion, aversion and ignorance are overcome and the practitioner enters a state of non-self. Achieving nirvana remains the ambition of modern Buddhists.