Basic Doctrines of Buddhism

Although there are various teachings taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, only basic and important doctrines will be explained in the following.

A. Fourfold Noble Truth

 (1) Noble Truth of Suffering
 (2) Noble Truth of Cause of Suffering
 (3) Noble Truth of the Cessation of the Cause of Suffering
 (4) Noble Truth of the Path which leads to the Cessation
   of the Cause of Suffering

B. Dependent Origination

C. Reincarnation or Transmigration

D. Perfect Tranquility or Nirvana

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A. Fourfold Noble Truth

This is the first and most fundamental teaching of the Buddha.

(1) Noble Truth of Suffering

Birth is suffering, illness is suffering, becoming old is suffering, death is suffering, separation from those one loves is suffering, presence of those one hates is suffering, not to obtain what one desires is suffering, and consequently, the existence of a human being which consists of five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness), is suffering. Ordinarily, it would seem that to love or to be loved, to be rich, or to be famous, are not suffering, but instead happy phenomena. When we realize, however, that the more we love the more we are saddened at the time of separation, we understand that to love is a cause of suffering. Again, when we realize there is no end to our desire, and there will never be complete fulfilment, we understand that to be rich and to be famous are also causes of suffering. Then what is the reason why there is only suffering in this world?

(2) Noble Truth of Cause of Suffering

Because we have such a craving desire, we suffer from worldly phenomena and existences. That is to say, this craving desire is the cause of suffering. Because we have this craving desire for pleasure, for existence, for property, etc., birth is suffering, illness is suffering, becoming old is suffering, and so on.

(3) Noble Truth of the Cessation of the Cause of Suffering

In order to be free of from the suffering of this world, it is necessary to become rid of this craving desire completely. By keeping away, by destroying, by delivering from this craving desire, one shall be able to be free from suffering, since desire is the cause of all suffering. Then how is it possible to terminate this cause of suffering?

(4) Noble Truth of the Path which leads to the Cessation of the Cause of Suffering

The Eightfold Right Path: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. By practicing all these Right Paths, one shall be able to be free from the cause of suffering, or craving desire. All defilements and passions will be completely eliminated, and all existences and phenomena will no longer be suffering. The one who has attained this state is called a Buddha.

Gautama Buddha had attained the state of Enlightenment and had become the Buddha through realization of the above Eightfold Right Path as well as the Four Noble Truths. It can be said, therefore, that these teachings of the Buddha are the most fundamental and important in Buddhism. The Buddha taught that our worldly pleasures and happiness do not possess final or ultimate values, since they are impermanent and transient. The final goal for all Buddhists is to be free from suffering caused by these temporal pleasures and happiness by realizing the impermanence of all existences and phenomena of this world, and to seek the meaning of true happiness and tranquility.
Buddhism is not a nihilistic or pessimistic religion, as is believed by many western people. It does not deny the meaning of the existences and phenomena themselves, but tries to find the true nature of existences and phenomena, and moreover pursues the real meaning of this life. When one attains the state of Enlightenment by means of the Buddha's teachings, he can see everything as it is without becoming attached, since he no longer possesses craving desire.

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B. Dependent Origination

Like the concept of God in Judaeo-Christian religions, Indian religions and philosophical systems before Buddhism were based upon the concept of the Creator or Ruler of the Universe. In contrast, Gautama Buddha explained the origination of all existences and phenomena of this world, not by any one cause, but by the theory of Dependent Origination. This theory is in sharp contrast to the theory of Creation by a certain Absolute Being as propounded in many other religions. In Buddhism, it is clearly taught that it never happens that something is originated from only one cause. That is to say, every existence or phenomenon is originated depending upon one another. It explains that every existence or phenomenon has innumerable causes, both direct or indirect, and such an interrelationship among existences and phenomena is so complicated that no one can follow it precisely. This theory of causation in Buddhism teaches that everything is either a direct or indirect cause for all others to be originated in the future. Therefore, it can be understood that there is not even a single existence or phenomenon which has nothing to do with the origination of all other phenomena.
In a positive sense, (let us call an individual "A") for example, A's parents are the direct causes for A's birth. In a negative sense, however, all the other men and women of the contemporary age who did not become A's parents are the indirect causes for the particular birth. It could be said that the same situation would have prevailed from the distant past.

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C. Reincarnation or Transmigration

In connection with the above theory of Dependent Origination as well as the theory of Causation, Buddhism teaches the concept of Reincarnation or Transmigration. Unless we remove the causes, we have to continue to be born again and again in the various world in the future, depending upon what we have done during this present lifetime. It is true that we were born as human beings in this world. According to the theory of Causation as well as Dependent Origination, this life should be the result of past behaviors accumulated by both ourselves and all others in the past worlds. Again, it should be a natural conclusion that we are destined to continue to exist even in the future worlds as the result of the behaviors accumulated in this world as well as in the past worlds. Human beings know that they were born in this world as humans. It is also natural for them to think about the life after death, since they know that they have to die some day. For those who believe that this human world is full of happiness and pleasures, this world is the very place where they wish to be born again. On the other hand, for those who realize that this world is full of suffering, this world is not the place where they wish to be born again. Gautama Buddha was a typical example of the latter group, and therefore, He taught that our goal is not to be born again in the worlds of reincarnation, but to attain Perfect Tranquility or Nirvana, by liberating ourselves from the cycle of birth and death. By practicing the Eightfold Right Path and through full understanding of the Four Noble Truths, one should be able to be liberated from continuous transmigration and cause to be born as a particular being in one of the worlds of transmigration in the next life. Therefore, although Buddhism accepted the concept of Reincarnation or Transmigration, it does not regard being born again as a particular entity as being desirable, but rather it teaches that to be completely liberated from such a cycle of birth and death, and to attain the state of Enlightenment is much more preferable.

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D. Perfect Tranquility or Nirvana

The literal meaning of Nirvana is "to blow out" (cravings and defilements) or "to extinguish" (cravings and defilements). We understand that it is possible to see everything as it is when one is completely liberated from all attachments and defilements. And it is believed that this state of Perfect Tranquility is the final goal for all Buddhists. Perfect Tranquility can be called Enlightenment; a being who is enlightened is a Buddha. We believe that Gautama Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, was the first person who reached this state of Perfect Tranquility and attained the state of Buddhahood. For all Buddhists, irrespective of denominations or schools, this state of Nirvana is the ultimate objective for which they strive.

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