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What began as the response of a young man to the suffering he witnessed, which occurred centuries before Christ was born, became a global philosophy that millions of individuals would eventually model their existences after. That young man was Siddhartha Gautama, and that philosophy is Buddhism. Beyond just a way of life, Buddhism also benefitted the world through its contributions towards non-violence, generosity, unity, and culture.
First off, Buddhism created a path of non-violence that promoted peaceful reactions to problems as well as enforcing morals. Early effects of this influence include Ashoka’s bureaucracy, which he molded to fit the idea of equality. As such, he limited religious conflict and poor treatment of animals. These morals are also present in the last century, where Gandhi spoke upon Buddhist philosophy and how it fundamentally changed his mentality. Gandhi was one of the most prominent advocates of non-violence, and he personally cited his readings on the faith as the precursor to his campaign on human rights. Moreover, meditation is a key feature of Buddhism, and this contributes to the theme of non-violence since it helps an individual cleanse his or her mind of thoughts that might lead to tension and anger. The mental focus helps dispel negative actions, and those who partake in the practice can make more effective and rational decisions rather than short sighted and potentially harmful ones, either on him or herself or others.
Another major concept of Buddhism would be its approach to generosity. This notion has two parts to it. The first part is how goodwill should be done due to selfless reasons rather than for an individual’s emotional gain. In other words, be kind because it helps people, not because it gives oneself personal gratification. The second part would be the removal of oneself from the physical world. In Buddhism, it is a commonly held belief that being attached to physical belongings is what leads to desire, and likewise, dissatisfaction. When people covet and yearn for more, they become obsessed for its value, and they overlook the fact that minimalism precedes nirvana. Therefore, generosity in theory not only benefits others through donations, namely the Sangha, but it also benefits each person in achieving a purer, more down to earth view on their lives so that when it is time to move on, they are less attached to the physical world and less likely to reincarnate. One source states how embracing openhandedness is like a war on greed, but being able to overcome it and detach would ultimately lead towards enlightenment.
Next, Buddhism paved the way for more unified societies. There are countless examples of how the faith brings people together, from the more basic structures of temple communities to entire populations such as Tibet’s. Beginning with the smaller unit, monasteries were formed when monks and nuns joined together to pursue the common goal of following Buddhism. Additionally, Tibet’s unity was solidified when China decided to encroach on its freedom. When China attempted to replace the Dalai Lama, the citizens banded as one to protest it. Another angle on unity would be the elimination of the caste system. While history books depict the existences of socioeconomic segregation throughout the entire world, Buddhism’s accessibility to anyone interested in it allowed everybody, from the poorest follower to the richest royalty and partisan, to contribute to the faith’s global growth, all due to the base principle of equality. Thus, an international community exists that shares a common belief.
Furthermore, for the duration that Buddhism endured up to present day, the philosophy generated thousands of texts, each one contributing its interpretation of the ancient ideals, not to mention the millions of creations made in the honor of the Buddha. The aforementioned Ashoka the Great was one of the earliest adopters of Buddhism, and the nickname “Ashoka the Builder” arose from the fact that he erected structures in the name of his faith. From the literature to the artistic creations, Buddhism inspired the world to add to the overall culture of its believers, unique to itself. Even to this day, tributes to Buddhism still stand, the builders clearly attempting to demonstrate their devotion to their faith. All in all, the existing records of Buddhism all contribute to the world’s mix of culture.
Bringing it all together, Buddhism may have started in a lifetime long ago, but the millenniums that have since passed have not extinguished the flame of enlightenment. Despite its ancient roots, individuals today are still seeking the wisdom from its teachings. The core values of non-violence, generosity, unity, and culture are just as strong now as when they were first established, if not stronger, bolstered by years of personal experiences anecdotally refining the meanings of what it truly means to be Buddhist.
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