Although less than 1% of the Indian population subscribes to the Buddhist faith, it is the fourth largest religion in the world. The name “Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, who lived between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE (Before our Common Era). He was a teacher who was known for his ability to see beyond convention and explore other possibilities, his insights extended into the otherwise unknown.

Theravada is one stream of Buddhism and is the oldest of the two; the other being Mahayana. Although there are definite trends regarding the distribution of these two streams within India, they are generally spread throughout the entire world.

There are various principles that are integral to Buddhism. These include, but are not exclusively:

1. Karma is the law of cause and effect. It is the belief that there is a definite cycle of suffering and rebirth and that good and bad deeds produce fruitage, whether it is in this life or the next. By avoiding doing, thinking and believing what is bad, the individual ensures a happy life now and after death. All of the actions undertaken by anyone depend on the state of
Image of Buddhist mural, near temple in Sarnath, Varanasi, India. (where the Buddha preached his first sermon)
Buddhist mural, near temple in Sarnath, Varanasi, India.
(where the Buddha preached his first sermon)
their minds, their decisions. Therefore, an unwholesome mind will produce bad thoughts. In most subsidiaries of Buddhism, there is no forgiveness for a bad karma as it is a universal element that cannot be interfered with. However, there are a few Mahayana branches that allow for forgiveness (usually by means of mantras or special texts).

2. The theory of rebirth refers to a series of consecutive lifetimes, each of which is brought about by the new birth of the person and ended by their death, only to be repeated. What the person is reincarnated as depends on the karma they have displayed and earned. Buddhists do not believe in an undying soul as they do not believe in the concept of the ‘self’. Each rebirth occurs in one of five realms, which are again divided into 31 planes (e.g. humans, animals, a being in hell, lower deities like demons, higher deities like angels, etc...).

3. The Four Noble Truths refer to suffering and the resolution thereof. These four truths are that 1) everybody’s life has suffering as part of it, 2) suffering is caused by a craving for good or a craving for bad not to happen, 3) the human being will stop suffering when that craving stops, which can only be achieved by controlling it and getting rid of the delusions of these cravings and 4) only the directives of Buddha can help people to achieve this release from cravings.

4. The Noble Eightfold Path refers to the fourth of the Noble Truths and is Buddha’s pathway to liberation from cravings and the ultimate achievement of the elimination of cravings. They include principles of viewing reality as it is, being truthful, not living in a way that is harmful to one’s self or others and making a continual effort to improve.

5. The Middle Way refers to the Buddhist ideals of not resorting to extremism.

These are only a select few of the pillars of Buddhism. There are many actions that accompany the faith, including meditation, yoga, and so forth. As with many other religions where true faith is involved, Buddhism transcends definition. However, one of the defining features of this religion from an outsider’s perspective is its followers’ refusal to judge others and their respect for god-given life, whether animal or human. These are principles that should be incorporated into every faith as they apply universal ideals.

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