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Breaking Down Buddhism From the Perspective of Cultural Anthropology

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Culture Anthropology- Buddhism

Buddhism is a unique religion that is divided into a number of traditions. These traditions share a set of common fundamental beliefs and principals. To break it down easily, I’ll focus on some of the primary beliefs including the origins of man and the world, death, how to live and treat others, heaven and hell, and things Buddhism preaches against.

Regarding the original of the world, it is believed in Buddhism that the beginning of this world cannot be grasped mentally within our minds. It falls accordingly with the theory of Bertrand Russell claiming that ‘There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts.’ Buddhists believe the world and the sun and stars were not created by a higher being or Buddha or that the world was created at a certain time, rather they believe that the world has been created millions of times every second and will continue to do so.

Human life in Buddhism is regarded very highly, and it’s concept of origin interconnects with the origin of the world. It is believed that humans originated during the beginning of the current kalpa time period and were deva-like beings reborn from the deva-realm. A deva refers to a type of non-human being who share god-like characteristics like being more powerful and being able to live longer. It is believed that humans then turned into beings that shone in their own light and travelled in the air without requiring any sustenance. Over time, humans began to acquire a taste for physical foods and became heavier in weight and lost their ability to shine, they then acquired differences in their appearance and divided into two different sexes.

In Buddhism, death is simply part of recurring cycle. One of the most fundamental beliefs in Buddhism is called reincarnation, the concept that people are reborn after dying. An individual is said to repeat the cycle many times; this cycle includes birth, living, death, and rebirth. However, it is also stated that there is a difference between rebirth and reincarnation. In reincarnation, the individual recurs repeatedly where as in rebirth, the individual might not return to Earth as the same being ever again. After going through repeated cycles, a person loses their attachment to desires within themselves and attains Nirvana. This is a state of freedom from suffering.

Buddhism lifestyle is described as daily living with simplicity, peace, wisdom, and gratitude. Buddhists pride themselves on being self-content and peaceful, and this is done through faith, devotion, and practise. Through daily practise, the lifestyle will take care of itself. Living a good life according to Buddhism is dedication towards being more humble and more compassionate. Furthermore, Buddhism also declares that everyone should live united and in harmony with one another. To achieve the highest level of enlightenment, one should literally care for others wellbeing more than their own. This also doesn’t just apply to your family or loved ones, you should spread this compassion with all those around you, even people you may consider “enemies”.

According to Buddhism belief, Hell is just another realm amongst the other 30 planes or states of existence. An individual can be sent to the realm of Hell beneath the surface of the ocean if he had exceeding greed or hate in his past life, but he will only remain there temporarily until he has developed himself. Buddhism believes there is no reason to permanently punish an individual for their human weaknesses. Similarly, Heaven is for those who deserve extra pleasure and peace for a temporary period of time. The regular human realm is considered a mix of Heaven and Hell, as individuals face both pleasure and suffering and become accustomed to the true nature of life.

There are five precepts in Buddhism which are basically rules and guidelines that should be followed. However, committing an act that is considered unethical doesn’t result in a punishment from God but rather a sign to the individual that he or she should avoid the act or deed in the future. The five precepts include avoiding taking the life of other beings, avoiding taking things that are not given, avoiding engaging in sexual misconduct, refraining from false speech, abstaining from substances that cause intoxication. These guidelines are common in various religions and are meant to better the character of an individual.

Historians have agreed that Buddhism originated in northern India in the 5th century B.C.E. The religion began with Siddhartha Gotama who is referred to as Buddha. Siddhartha was a prince who had witnessed suffering and pain in the world and wanted to find a solution to it. Through a great amount of meditation and analysis, he had successfully attained an enlightened state of being and was therefore released from the suffering of the world. Upon his death, he was freed of the cycle of rebirth. His major teachings are summarized in the Four Noble Truths, which formed the basis of his first sermon after successfully attaining enlightenment. As he went along preaching the knowledge, small groups of monks began to form in villages and towns in India. Soon, the monks travelled all over the world to preach the knowledge and a wave of conversion began. Today, there are approximately 350 million Buddhists around the world.

There have been multiple forms of controversy of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that has received a negative response and criticism because favours males over female monks, and makes the females seem inferior. Also, there have been a number of acts of violence committed by Buddhists with religious, political, and socio-cultural motivations. However, it is one of the religions least associated with violence. Furthermore, Fredrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who claimed Buddhism to be a life negating philosophy that seeks to escape the reality of the world and all of its suffering. He referred to the religion as a mere act of nihilism. In response, it was made clear that Buddhism does not state the entire world is suffering, it simply points out that the world is flawed and imperfect and a Buddhist lifestyle purifies an individual.

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