Buddhism is a living spiritual tradition started in India some 2500 years ago by a man called Siddartha Gauttama. He became known as the Buddha – meaning “Awakened One” – a person who has seen reality directly, without any delusion or bias.
The teachings of the Buddha (called Dharma) quickly spread and he gathered a spiritual community (called a Sangha). Buddhism was transmitted from its home country into southern Asia including Burma and Sri-Lanka. Eastwards to Japan and Korea. Northwards into the Himalayan kingdoms such as Bhutan, China and Tibet.
During the last 150 years Buddhism has spread to the west and is now beginning the process of transformation necessary for adoption into western culture.
Wherever Buddhism has spread it has taken on a local flavour, adapting to many cultures. At the same time, despite taking many diverse forms, at heart it always maintains the core insights and teachings transmitted by the Buddha himself.
Buddhism strongly emphasises the importance of personal experience over dogma. The Buddhas teachings are sometimes described as being like a finger pointing to the moon. We are encouraged to see the moon for ourselves and not become attached to the finger. While a very important pointer, the teachings are not an end in themselves.
Buddhism is sometimes described as a non-theistic religion. Perhaps it is best described as a spiritual path – a journey leading to a deeper experience of what it means to be truly human. The Buddhist path is often divided into three stages: ethics, meditation and wisdom.
Ethical practice is not about trying to be good. It is a method to help us prevent causing harm to ourselves and others. It provides a stable lifestyle on which a meditation practice can be built.
Meditation is a means to calming our minds and allowing us to reflect deeply on the nature of human experience. We can reflect on the preciousness of human life, the impermanence of conditioned things and the nature of our heart/mind.
Wisdom is the fruit of the Buddhist path. The direct seeing of things as they really are. Through the practice of meditation and reflection we start to notice insights beginning to arise. Slowly, we gain confidence in these insights and trust them. With the help of a qualified teacher we can begin the process of stabilising our insights in our daily lives.