What Are the Main Buddhist Beliefs? Find Out Here

Buddhism is the third most popular religion in the world. Unlike Christianity and Islam, this religion is nontheistic, which means it has no god.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Buddha and is more similar to a philosophy than religion. It is believed that Buddha lived between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. Buddhists refer to him as “enlightened” teacher, whose main goal was to help sentient beings by eliminating craving and ignorance. There are several branches of Buddhism today, but all of them share the same set beliefs and truths.

Core Beliefs

The core beliefs of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths. They explain the nature of suffering sentient beings face during their lives (dukkha), its causes, and explain how to overcome said suffering.

In simple terms, the Four Noble Truths can be explained like this:

1. Dukkha.

Suffering exists and it’s almost universal. It has many causes and can come in many forms. Three aspects of dukkha are:
i. Obvious suffering (illness, aging, dying).
ii. Anxiety experienced when one tries to hold onto things in the ever-changing word.
iii. Dissatisfaction experienced by everyone (all forms of life) due to the fact that they are constantly changing and therefore have no defined inner core.

2. Samudaya.
Suffering has a cause. This concept is often referred to as “craving conditioned by ignorance”. On the basest level, the cause of dukkha is ignorance of the true nature of things.

3. Nirodha.
It’s possible to stop suffering. A sentient being can cease the cycle of suffering by reaching Nirvana. At this point, the mind becomes completely free of craving and desires.

4. Magga.
To end suffering one must follow the Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

According to Buddha’s teachings, the Eightfold Path consists of eight factors that can lead you to the end of suffering if developed together. These factors are separated in three categories, wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration. All of them are interconnected and one can cease dukkha only by following all these eight guides at the same time.

I. Right view.
One must see reality as it really is and understand the Four Noble Truths.

II. Right intention.
Your intentions must be noble. Thinking right will allow you to follow the right path in life.

III. Right speech.
When you speak, you must say the truth and not be hurtful. Gossiping is viewed to be the same as harsh and abusive speech, so you should avoid it as well.

IV. Right action.
Your actions, like your thoughts and words, must be noble and non-hurtful. Note that Buddhism doesn’t endorse any kind of violence, regardless of whether it’s aimed towards a human being, animal, or plant. Simply not hurting anyone and anything is not enough as you should seek to commit actions that actively help other beings and the environment.

V. Right livelihood.
Learn to support yourself without harming others, and this includes nature in general. Both your work and lifestyle must be non-hurtful towards other forms of life.

VI. Right effort.
You need to make an effort to grow and improve yourself by following the Eightfold Path and leading a life of deep harmony with all beings. Encourage good thoughts and discourage evil and hurtful thoughts.

VII. Right mindfulness.
When your consciousness becomes clear, you gain awareness, which allows you to see the true nature of things. You need to be aware of every part of your mind and body and be free of any craving or aversion.

VIII. Right concentration.
Meditate to achieve the state of mind that leads to self-awareness. Continuous practice of meditation is the way to reach Nirvana.

The Four Stages Of Enlightenment

Everyday Life of a Buddhist Monk

One of the basic principles of Buddhism is renouncing desires and wants to end the suffering caused by them. Buddhist monks embrace this belief wholeheartedly, so their lives are all about simplicity. Practicing any religion requires a great amount of dedication and focus, and every monk develops these traits over the course of his or her life by adhering to strict rules of conduct and observing rituals.

An average day of a Buddhist monk starts around 4-5 am (depending on the temple). One of the monks gives a wakeup call by hitting a gong, which is one of the essential elements of every Buddhist temple. The morning starts with prayer and meditation. These traditions differ greatly from temple to temple because there are many branches of Buddhism and each has its own nuances. Some of the monks walk around the towns or villages that surround the temple after observing their morning rituals. They accept food offered to them by local people.

Once all the morning rituals and prayers are concluded, the monks eat breakfast. The foods vary depending on the season, locale, and the traditions of each particular group of monks. Buddhist monks eat twice a day, and some of the practitioners consume food only once daily. Regardless of the type of Buddhism practiced in the temple, the monks there aren’t allowed to eat solid food after midday and until the sunrise of the following day. If they have two meals, the second is a light lunch just before 12 o’clock.

After lunch, the monks start performing their daily duties. Every day they care for the temple’s grounds and tend to gardens. Education in the ways of Buddhism and other important teachings are also a part of the daily rituals. For hundreds of years, monks were considered to be the most well-educated people. Even up to this day, some parents prefer sending their children to receive education in temples instead of schools.

Here’s an interesting chat with a Thai Buddhist monk. This gives you an insight into their lives and outlook on a few important life-topics.

Exercise and Meditation For Monks

Monks exercise their bodies and minds equally, and each temple has its unique style of martial arts, incorporated in the daily routine of the local monks. The elder teach the younger and offer guidance to laymen who can come assist with tending the temple grounds.

Everything the Buddhist monks do, they do for the sake of others and not themselves. When they pray, they pray for the world as a whole. When they study and meditate, they aim to obtain knowledge that can be used to help others. They help each other reach enlightenment and offer their services to laymen who come to the temple or seek their guidance otherwise.

Taking care of others is one of the basic principles of a monk’s life. To always put the others’ needs before oneself is a pillar of the Buddhist system of beliefs as a whole, so the daily rituals of every monk can be changed depending on the situation. Whenever they are needed, they go and perform their duties, trying to help everyone around them.

A monk’s day ends similar to the way it starts, with a prayer and meditation. Buddhist monks meditate for several hours daily to progress on their spiritual path and reach the enlightenment.

Buddhist Lent – An Introduction

Buddhist Lent at Jedi Sao Lung Temple. Photo: Mr.Peerapong Prasutr
Buddhist Lent at Jedi Sao Lung Temple. Photo: Mr.Peerapong Prasutr

Buddhist lent, or as it should correctly be called Vassa, is an annual 3-month Buddhist retreat initiated by Buddha himself. The main principle of this practice is the fact that monks have to remain stationary in their monasteries during this time. This tradition goes back to the times when Buddha and his disciples were roaming India, spreading the teachings that will eventually evolve to become the third most widespread religion in the world.

Vassa literally means “rains retreat”. It’s called this way because it’s observed during the monsoon season in India. It starts on the day of the waning moon of the 8th lunar month (usually July) and ends on the day of the full moon of the 11th lunar month (October).

Some Buddhist monks keep a full moon vigil during the night before the first day of Vassa. On this day, called Asalha Puja, laypeople bring various kinds of offerings to the temples. They may stay to listen for sermons and prepare for their own special way of observing Vassa.

Despite the fact that Vassa is often called Buddhist lent, these two traditions are vastly different. Unlike Christians, Buddhist monks aren’t obliged to practice any specific rituals and follow strict rules of asceticism during Vassa. This Buddhist tradition was born because monks used to be wanderers during the times of Buddha. As there were no monasteries 25 centuries ago, they went about spreading their teachings on foot, which was extremely dangerous in a country that had monsoons. It was not only the risk of traveling during the time of floods that made monks choose to be stationary, they were also afraid of harming innocent lives. Rainwater flowing down the roads brought tiny animals, such as leeches and worms, that could be squished underfoot. As it’s a great taboo in Buddhism to harm any living creature, including plants, monks ceased their travels to make sure they didn’t accidentally kill an innocent.

How Buddhist Monasteries Were Born

When Buddha just started the tradition of observing Vassa, monks had no special places where they could dwell during this retreat. They stayed in villages or nobles’ houses and taught people there. Older monks also used this time to teach train young disciples.

Eventually, one of the laypeople who embraced Buddha’s teachings built a complex that became the first Buddhist monastery. His name was Anathapindika, and today, those who study Buddhism learn that many of Buddha’s sermons were delivered “in the Jeta Grove, in Anathapindika’s monastery”.

What Do Monks Do during Buddhist Lent?

As I’ve mentioned before, there is no uniform tradition to observing Lent. Considering how many “shades” of Buddhism there are today, it’s not surprising that monks in different monasteries have their own special rituals. In the majority of cases, this time is dedicated to deep meditation practices and learning as well as teaching the younger monks.

Laypeople can observe Vassa as well. Many of them commit to this practice by giving up some indulgence (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.). Buddha himself accentuated the importance of living in harmony with each other during this period.

As far as religious practices go, Lent is extremely non-restrictive, which is another thing that differs it from Christian lent. Even though monks are supposed to stay stationary during this time, they are allowed to interact with laypeople and even leave the monastery for up to a week. At the end of the 3-month retreat, monks gather and share their experiences, telling the others of their achievements and failings during Lent. Congratulations, encouragements, and reprimands are delivered by other monks whenever they are necessary.