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Buddhism As A Philosophy And Its Modern Day Interpretation

How An Ancient Way Of Thinking Is Still Relevant Today

We all know that faith is pretty old.


It has been a part of human society for centuries and has always had a massive influence.


We've learned about ancient beliefs through all sorts of art, written explanations, etc., which has only been possible thanks to archeologists.


Because of their valiant effort, we know that we aren’t that different from our predecessors.


We now recognize that ancient humans had some sort of belief system the same way we do nowadays.


They, like us, seem to have thought of their faith as something incredibly precious.


People used to worship many gods, entities, or simply individuals with great ideas.


Although a lot of their unique history was lost through the years, some things survived.


The importance of faith is proven thanks to the many stories and artifacts connected to it and the fact we are constantly finding more.


What is fascinating is that we can still see some teachings from centuries or even millennia ago that are just as active now as they were back then.


Today though, things are a bit more different because of all the intricate forms of communication we can use.


The distribution of ideas and beliefs can happen on a global level and people are free to choose what they stand for.


What's important is that although people may have different beliefs, faith has always been a part of our lives.


We have built monuments, fought wars, and changed the earth's physical landscape as a whole because people have always been able to believe in something truly.


The power that this gives is proven by multiple seemingly impossible feats we can still survey in our present.


In this article, we focus on one specific type of belief that has survived many hardships but is still alive and still has one of the biggest numbers of followers.


Buddhism is an incredibly interesting philosophy that started centuries ago, but keeps evolving today, so without further ado, let’s see how it has evolved and how it is interpreted today!

Buddhism History


Buddhism is one of the oldest and most widespread beliefs in the world - it originated sometime between 4 and 5 BCE and it is still being practiced.


It started in ancient India with the teachings of Siddhartha Guatama or the First Buddha.


He was an Indian prince who, after realizing that other people in his country were suffering, decided to give up on his wealth and position and start a different life.


He spent a lot of years as a beggar, living like those born less lucky than him and truly understanding their problems.


Following that arduous trial, he decided to spend some time in solitude.


This gave him the possibility to reflect on both of his antipodal experiences - his life as a famous prince and that of an unknown simple man.


It was thanks to this time he spent alone that he became the teacher we now recognize him as.


After many hardships and a lot of thinking, the prince got to the conclusion that true happiness can be found neither through complete asceticism nor massive wealth, only through real balance.


The time in which he realized this is believed to be the first and only time in which a person has achieved a complete state of Nirvana.


It happened when he meditated under the Bodhi tree - a place which has been sacred for Buddhists ever since.


He knew he had to share what he learned with the world, that his revelation could and would change lives.


So he got to work.


He synthesized his ideas into teachings that the common person would understand and started sharing them with the world.


After he passed away, some of his followers started building schools and temples to preserve these teachings, which is how his philosophy spread.


The belief system of Buddhism as a whole is based on four basic concepts or truths that the first Buddha explained to his followers when he was alive.


After they started teaching others and building temples, the rest, as they say, is history.


In the 3rd century BCE, a Mauryan Indian emperor made Buddhism the state religion in India.


After a growth inside India thanks to different political and social leaders, Buddhism started gaining traction in the east and southeast part of Asia too.


It took over a big part of the continent, finding a home in the hearts of both high society and common people.


Much later, during the 19th century, scholars from the West started having an interest in Buddhism as well, and from that, it turned into a worldwide ideology.


Although Buddhism is widespread, it has had its trying times, especially in the middle of the 19th century.


One of the main reasons behind this is that many of the countries in which it was a widely practiced belief changed their governments to communist ones for a while.


During this time, Buddhism was heavily suppressed, but when the end of the 20th century came around, almost everything changed back to how it was before.


Currently, Buddhism is gaining more popularity than ever before.


In modern-day, this is the faith of many people, and while it’s separated into many different parts, the basic beliefs are the same throughout each variant.

Buddhism Beliefs


As we mentioned before, in Buddhism there are four basic beliefs, otherwise known as the Four Noble Truths.


They go in a specific order, and we will explain each one as simple as possible.


Keep in mind that they are much more extensive and complicated, and here we are only covering the basics.


#1 All Life Is Suffering


The first noble truth of Buddhism is that all life is suffering in some form.


The Buddha firstly recognized the pain in the forms of famine, disease, and death but came to the conclusion that even when we are not currently experiencing any negative aspects of life, we are still not happy.



#2 Desire Causes Suffering


The second Truth explains that the cause for a lot of the suffering is desire.


This is because humans are insatiable by nature.


We are in a constant state of wanting which can be detrimental if we aren’t strong-willed enough to fight it.


#3 Enlightenment Is Possible


Following is the third Truth - the one which says it’s possible to avoid this cycle of inevitable misery and achieve enlightenment.


Nirvana is translated to extinguishing, and it’s connected to the idea of forsaking desire and reaching a different state of mind.


Here the Buddha explains the idea that achieving this state can be done through Nirvana.


#4 The Middle Way

The final Truth is the essence of the Middle Way - the concept thought of by the first Buddha about finding true balance.


This is why his meditation under that famous tree is so important - he reached this conclusion there.


The Middle Way in essence means avoiding both indulgence and asceticism and therefore obtaining a balance in life.


The entire belief system of Buddhists is based on these four simple truths and a few other basic concepts.


For instance, they believe that people are continuously reborn in different bodies for eternity (samsara).


The only way to escape this circle is through achieving Nirvana - the state of complete balance within yourself.


This does not mean that Nirvana is synonymous with death, however.


On the contrary, it is believed that the first Buddha is still alive in a certain sense because he has achieved this constant state of complete balance and therefore does not need to be reborn.


It’s important to say that the idea of reincarnation is valid for all of earth - plants, animals, even mountains are some sort of reincarnation of their previous versions.


This is connected to the Four Noble Truths, because they are the explanations on why this is the way it is as well as advice on how to achieve a better state of mind.


Buddhists also believe in Karma - the idea that your past lives have an influence on your current one.


Therefore one should strive to live in the best way they can so that it’s easier for them in their next reincarnation.


This is why we in general, consider Buddhists more humble and appreciative of the small things in life, because they believe that doing so will have a positive influence on their future selves.


All of these core concepts of Buddhism are not only intertwined, but they also have a constant, two-sided influence on each other.


Each idea is connected to the other one, meaning that everything works together.


The entire idea of Buddhism is to give an explanation for the way the world around us works and our part in it.

Buddhism Now


It is estimated that around 500 million people practice Buddhism right now.


It is one of the most popular belief systems in Asia to this day, and a lot of countries have deemed it as their national religion.


For example 90% of the current population of Thailand is considered Buddhist, and these percentages aren’t that different in other Asian countries.


Some amazing changes have happened recently in different societies thanks to Buddhists and their popularity.


They led the famous Saffron Revolution (because of the colors of their robes) in Myanmar, which was the turning stone in a change of both their constitution and later the entire government.


Buddhism has also kept its place in one of the fastest developing modern societies - Japan.


Most Buddhist traditions are practiced and adapted in the land of the rising sun by the majority of people, regardless of the different socio-cultural landscape.


Not only that, but new variants of Buddhism ideology constantly keep emerging and gaining a following.


The popularity of this belief system has also reached the Western world.


There is a rapid increase in the number of people who convert to Buddhism all over the western hemisphere.


Some people even go to Asia, get ordained, and come back to lead or build monasteries and community centers commemorating this ideology.


This overall rise in interest means one thing - Buddhism is still relevant today.


And that makes complete sense when you look at the problems of modern-day day society.


We are surrounded by items and slogans telling us that we should desire specific things.


Be it a new perfume fragrance, a fast car or a bottle of champagne, we are constantly seeing what a person may want and encouraged to do our best to get it.


And desire is exactly what Buddha describes as the source of all suffering.


It is easy to make the connection between his teachings and our current lifestyle.


Not only that, but a lot of people admit to feeling unsatisfied after receiving everything they have ever wanted, which is often the time people start looking for answers in faith.


A different yet major reason why Buddhism is gaining popularity, specifically in the Western world, is that it is one of the few teachings that not only agrees with science - it supports it.


For example, the Dalai Lama has said that if scientists find something that proves a part of Buddhism is incorrect somehow, that part of their beliefs will be immediately changed.


Buddhists don’t support blind faith, they never have, and this is even more appreciated today than it was before.


Currently, we are experiencing a development faster than ever before, and Buddhism is one of the few belief systems which not only account for that, they encourage progress.


These and more reasons are behind why people today are still looking for answers to life’s most complicated questions in Buddhism.


Final Words


Buddhism is a teaching regarding the world and our place in it.


Although it started as a few relatively simple ideas, it has grown with the people who believe in it and have expanded on it.


Thanks to many specific variants and additions, the word Buddhism today is a blanket term for many interpretations, which all rely on the same few basic principles.


Principles that are still valid today.


Thanks to the constant expansions through the centuries, we are currently seeing a religion that has survived for thousands of years is still just as alive in the present as it was when it began.


Not only that, but Buddhism is gaining even more popularity today.


And this is not because it disagrees with modern society but the exact opposite - it supports our current knowledge and ideas and adapts with them.


Buddhism is a part of our past history as well as our future.


Its place in the modern world is better than that of most old religions, and thanks to the core principles it supports, Buddhism will likely be a part of our lives in the next few centuries as well.


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