Buddhism

Buddhism brings meaning to the lives of over 500 million adherents. [1] It is a religion, but might also be called a dharma by Buddhists themselves. Dharma signifies behaviors and that follow cosmic law and order.
 
Scholars consider Buddhism to be in two major branches: Theravada and Mahayana.
 
Theravada - The ultimate goal is to achieve the divine state of Nirvana by following the Noble Eightfold Path, escaping from the cycle of suffering and rebirth. This branch has a huge following in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. [2]
 
Mahayana - Found throughout East Asia, Mahayana also includes Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren, Shingon, and Tendai Buddhism. The ultimate goal is to attain Buddhahood and continue the cycle of rebirth, helping other sentient beings reach awakening. [3]
 
Buddhism originates in India and follows the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.  Buddha, moved by the suffering of humanity, meditated in a numbers of ways during his young life, eventually famously sitting in meditation under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, attaining enlightenment and discovering the Eightfold Path.
 
A core tenet of all forms of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths:
  1. Dukkha - Life is a state of craving and clinging to impermanence. It is unsatisfactory and painful.
  2. The craving and clinging produces karma, which traps us in a cycle of rebirth and renewed dissatisfaction.
  3. One can stop this cycle of craving, karma, and rebirth, attaining Nirvana.
  4. The path to liberation from dukkha is following the Noble Eightfold Path, restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.
 
The Noble Eightfold Path - Also known as the Middle Path or Middle Way, it is followed by Buddhist schools of thought other than Mahayana.
  1. Right View:  To see and to understand things as they really are and to realize the Four Noble Truths. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
  2. Right Resolve:  While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental selfimprovement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
  3. Right Speech:  Words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
  4. Right Action:  Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others.
  5. Right Livelihood:  Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. Harmlessness, and essentially states that Buddhist practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm to other living beings or systems. Such occupations include “trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating drinks, poisons, killing animals, [and] cheating”, among others. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided. 
  6. Right Effort:  Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness
  7. Right Mindfulness:  Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Refers to the practice of keeping the mind alert to phenomena as they are affecting the body and mind. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualization in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
  8. Right Concentration:  Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.
 
 
Mahayana Buddhists follow six Paramitas (perfections, to cross over). They are as follows:
 
  1. Dana Paramita:  perfection of giving; primarily to monks, nuns and the Buddhist monastic establishment dependent on the alms and gifts of the lay householders, in return for generating religious merit;  some texts recommend ritually transferring the merit so accumulated for better rebirth to someone else.
  2. Sila Paramita:  perfection of morality; it outlines ethical behaviour for both the laity and the Mahayana monastic community; this list is similar to Śīla in the Eightfold Path (i.e. Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood)
  3. Ksanti Paramita:  perfection of patience, willingness to endure hardship
  4. Virya Paramita:  perfection of vigour; this is similar to Right Effort in the Eightfold Path
  5. Dhyana Paramita:  perfection of meditation; this is similar to Right Concentration in the Eightfold Path
  6. Prajna Paramita:  perfection of insight (wisdom), awakening to the characteristics of existence such as karma, rebirths, impermanence, no-self, dependent origination and emptiness;  this is complete acceptance of the Buddha teaching, then conviction, followed by ultimate realization that "dharmas are non-arising"
 
Six Realms of rebirth - Samsara, the beginning-less cycle of death and rebirth, occurs in 6 realms: 3 upper and 3 lower, the upper being the gods' realm, demi-gods' realm, and humans' realm, the lower being animal, hungry ghost, and hellish. [4]

Links

Quiet Mountain: Click on "teachings" or "resources" for a VERY full collection of online Buddhism resources.
Accesstoinsight.org: An explanation and collection of resources on Theravada Buddhism, the prevailing religion in Southeast Asia.
Journal of Global Buddhism: "An open access, peer reviewed scholarly journal established to promote the study of the globalization of Buddhism, both historical and contemporary, and its transnational and transcontinental interrelatedness. We publish research articles, special issues (special focus sections), discussions, critical notes, review essays and book reviews.
Tricycle: Online publication for the much-beloved by westerners Buddhist magazine.
Buddhanet: probably the best-stocked library of Buddhism information online
Dalailama.com: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's personal website!
Lionsroar: The site's tagline says it all: Buddhist Wisdom for our time.
BuddhistChannel.tv: Buddhist News.
urbandharma.org: A focus specifically on Buddhism in America
Pemachodronfoundation.org: a widely respected buddhist teacher, Pema has loads of lectures and books. We highly recommend Comfortable with Uncertainty.
Plumvillage.com: one of the most widely known Zen master's, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness practice center in southwest France. This site has many helpful resources.
Buddha Doodles: charming art pieces influenced by Buddhist thought
Zen Pencils: Fun Buddhism-inspired comics
Dharma Seed: Freely offering Western Buddhist Vipassana teaching.
What Freedom Really Means and How Zen Can Help Us Cultivate Our Character: An article from Brain Pickings about D.T. Suzuki, the root of Zen Buddhism for the Western World.

Books

What the Buddha Taught: A comprehensive and compact account of the Buddha's teachings.
Buddhist Scriptures: the name of this book is a misnomer, as there is no central writing in Buddhism like the Bible of Quran. Nevertheless, it's a valuable collection of writing considered holy by different Buddhists.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: One of the modern Zen classics, and a great look at the fascinating Japanese take on Buddhism.
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: written by a Sri Lankan monk, and though by some to be the best introduction to Buddhism for westerners.
Real Happiness: A New York Times bestseller and guide to starting a meditation practice.
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as taught by Goenka: Goenka, the most beloved modern teacher of Vipassana who recently passed, gives a lasting and reliable meditation technique through Vipassana. 
In the Buddha's Words - An anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon: Again, a presumptuous title, as claims that any recorded text are straight from the Buddha's mouth, but this is a substantial volume of holy Buddhist texts organized for the learner.

One of the modern Zen classics, and a great look at the fascinating practice of Zen Buddhism.

Written by a Sri Lankan monk, and thought by some to be the best introduction to Buddhism for westerners.

New York Times bestseller and guide to starting a meditation practice.

The masterpiece of D.T. Suzuki, who lit a fire of interest in Alan Watts about Zen Buddhism.


Exactly as it sounds, perfect for the visual learner.

Goenka, the most beloved modern teacher of Vipassana who recently passed, gives a lasting and reliable meditation technique through Vipassana.

An anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon: Again, a presumptuous title, as claims that any recorded text are straight from the Buddha's mouth, but this is a substantial volume of holy Buddhist texts organized for the learner.

The Dalai Lama writes a widely applicable book that will help anyone digging into meditation.


Videos

What is Buddhism: A simple 3-minute summary.
The Buddha Documentary: a very gracefully-made documentary about Buddhism in general. Full of charming imagery and very informative. ~2 hrs 45 min.
Dhammapada: Sayings of the Buddha audio
Buddhism Lectures by David Eckel, Boston University: a 24-part lecture series from a class about Buddhism at Boston University. Lots of depth here from a very expert western scholar on Buddhism.
What is Buddhism Lecture by Bub-Ryun Su-Neem: a 9-part subtitled lecture on buddhism by a Zen monk.
Dalai Lama lecture on a meaningful life at Stanford: A great lecture and a really fascinating, long question/answer session filled with moral dilemmas and intelligent wonderings. 1hr 30min
S.N. Goenka - Dhamma Discourses: these are the lectures still presented around the world today at Vipassana meditation courses, which are free to all and 10 days of silent meditation and learning. These videos are for watching one each day, while devoting the days to meditation.

References:
  1. Pew Research Center"Global Religious Landscape: Buddhists". Pew Research Center.
  2. Gethin 1998, pp. 27–28, 73–74.
  3. Powers, John (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Rev. ed.). Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. pp. 392–3, 415.
  4. Buswell & Gimello 1992, pp. 7–8, 83–84.