The Eightfold Path means to live by eight principles:
- Right View, believing in the Four Noble Truths;
- Right Thought, having thoughts of compassion and generosity;
- Right Speech, avoiding lies, gossip, and harsh words;
- Right Action, avoiding harm to others;
- Right Livelihood, working in a job that does not abuse others;
- Right Effort, generating positive thoughts while making efforts;
- Right Mindfulness, acting in full awareness;
- Right Concentration, through meditation
Four Noble Truths
The Buddha taught his students about the Four Noble Truths of existence:
- The first truth is that life is an endless cycle of suffering——suffering in birth, in illness, in old age, in separation from loved ones, in disappointment, and in death.
- The second truth is that suffering comes from desire and craving, desire for pleasure and avoidance of pain.
- The third truth is that the end of suffering comes when you are free from desire.
- And the fourth is that to eliminate desire live by the middle path, the path that is eightfold.
Samsara, Karma & Dharma
- The Buddha explained that beings are reborn countless times in a continuing cycle of suffering called samsara.
- In order to break free of samsara, beings must purify their karma—the accumulation of their positive and negative thoughts and actions. You purify karma by following the Buddha’s middle path, which is eightfold.
- If you follow a positive and compassionate way of living—the Eightfold Path—you could awaken fully through your concentrated pure mind.
- The Buddha told students to test the Dharma—his teachings—for themselves. Dharma students, also called practitioners, must not rely only on faith in the Buddha’s words. Enlightenment comes from understanding the middle path, believing in the path, accepting the path, and practicing the path.
How to Meditate
There are many ways to meditate. Different teachers use different methods.
A simple way to begin is to sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Keep your back straight but not strained. Feel relaxed and begin breathing slowly and deeply. You may close your eyes, or keep them open slightly and fixed on a point in front of you.
Keep breathing slowly, and very deeply.
Now think of a favorite object or your favorite place. In your mind, draw that object or place as clearly as you can. Use details. Think of its shape, design, color, texture, and smell.
If your mind wanders, bring it back to your mental picture. Keep breathing slowly and deeply.
If a distracting thought comes into your mind—such as "I want a chocolate ice-cream cone with sprinkles this afternoon"—just notice that thought and bring your mind back to your design. If another thought comes, do the same.
Keep breathing slowly and deeply.
Try to meditate on your design for five minutes. If five minutes is easy, try ten. Try twenty.
Remember to stay relaxed, keep a straight back, and breathe slowly and deeply.
Women in the Sangha
Soon after the Buddha awoke in enlightenment, many men followed him to take his teachings. Some of those followers became ordained monks. These men vowed not to kill, steal, lie, take drugs or alcohol, or have sexual relations. They also lived by other vows that helped keep them free from ignorance, hatred, and desire.
Not long after the men started their sangha, or community of Buddhist seekers, women wanted to join. The Buddha’s aunt, Mahaprajapati, was determined to be allowed into the sangha by the same ordination as the monks. She had heard the Buddha say that all people are equal and that all are capable of enlightenment.
Mahaprajapati talked to the Buddha about his accepting female disciples, but the Buddha refused to allow it. He said that conditions were not yet ripe to accept women. Society could not adjust to this idea. Mahaprajapati begged the Buddha three times, but he did not change his mind.
Disappointed, Mahaprajapati returned home to tell Yashodhara the Buddha’s response. They did not give up. Mahaprajapati persuaded hundreds of women to shave their head, remove their fancy clothing and jewelry, and wear the same robes as the monks. Then they walked hundreds of miles, begging for their meals, to meet up with the Buddha again. On their way, they met Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and disciple. They asked for his help.
Ananda pleaded the case for women, and finally the Buddha agreed to accept them. He founded an order of nuns. Although they were not provided the same profound training as the monks until the twentieth century, the nuns quickly became serious and determined students.
The Five Precepts
Refrain from taking a life
Refrain from stealing, taking what is not given
Refrain from lying and unkind speech
Refrain from taking intoxicants (drugs and alcohol)
Refrain from interpersonal misconduct
Important Buddhist Concepts
1) The universe is beginningless, infinite. Buddhism has no concept of a creator being.
2) Time is not linear. Drop the idea that time is a straight line with a beginning, middle, and end. Live in the present moment.
3) Human existence is cyclical and shaped by Karma. Karma is mental and physical action, which causes a reaction, an imprint on the mind. Individual and collective karma will remain in the continuum of Mind until enlightenment.
4) Wrong View keeps us from understanding Universal Consciousness. You are not a self that is separate from others. If you are attached to your self as superior to others, you will remain in Samsara, continual suffering.
5) Emptiness means you are empty of existing as an individual self. To understand Emptiness, you must let go of your desires and preferences. See all beings with you in Universal Consciousness. Meditate on this idea. Develop loving kindness to all; develop equanimity in all actions and thoughts. When Emptiness is clear, you will depart from the cycle of suffering.
Books about Buddhism
Chodzin, Sherab, Alexandra Kohn, and Marie Cameron (Illustrator). The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales. Tricycle Press, 1998
Ranging from short Zen parables to longer folktales with dragons, goddesses, and talking animals, these tales explore Buddhist themes of compassion, humor, enlightenment, and life after death. This beautifully illustrated book is perfect for anyone interested in Buddhist ideas--and anyone who enjoys a good story.
Demi. Buddha . New York: Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1996.
Many centuries ago, a child was born to a king and queen in the land that is now India. The young prince, Siddhartha, was raised in the greatest luxury, sheltered from all pain and ugliness. But one day, Siddhartha left the palace and saw, for the first time, human suffering and death. He knew then that he must relinquish everything to discover the Truth of life. Demi's exquisite illustrations add a mystical dimension to this biography of an extraordinary spiritual leader.
Demi. Buddha Stories . New York : Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1997.
Filled with wisdom and insight, this beautiful collection of fables will continue to educate and entertain children for years to come. Demi has retold ten of the Buddha's parables and illustrated them in gold and indigo, in the tradition of the most ancient Buddhist texts.
Lee, Jeanne M. I Once Was a Monkey : Stories Buddha Told . New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999.
Known as Jatakas, or birth stories, these six fables are those Buddha originally told to his disciples when occasion arose to illustrate his teachings. Each retelling features animal characters and an incarnation of the Buddha from an earlier life, usually as an animal himself. From the tale of the clever monkey outwitting a crocodile to that of a bird and turtle rescuing a friend, these amusing parables embody some of the central tenets of Buddha's philosophy.
Martin, Rafe. The Hungry Tigress : Buddhist Myths, Legends, and Jataka Tales. Yellow Moon Press, 1999.
Rafe Martin brings together a fascinating array of stories from the Buddhist tradition. These stories include legends of the historical Buddha's birth, life, and enlightenment as well as traditional Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha in his former births, often appearing in animal form. In many of these seemingly simple tales, wise animals teach humans important lessons about the central Buddhist principles of wisdom, heroic action, nonviolence and compassion. From the familiar legend of the Buddha's enlightenment, to the title story of a tenderhearted prince who offers his body to a starving tigress and her cubs, to a twentieth-century tale based on the heroic act of a World War II pilot, these stories are imbued with deep interest in the natural world and empathy for all things living.
Reference Books for Young Readers:
Langley , Myrtle and David Pickering. Religion. (Eyewitness Books.) New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
Photographed in full color. Explore the fascinating practices, the sacred rituals, and the important role religion plays in cultures around the world. From the relationship between gods and nature in Greece to the goddess festivals in India to the emergence of the Christian community in America, this stunning book offers a wonderful overview of the world's major religions
Meredith, Susan and Nicolas Hewetson. The Usborne Book of World Religions (World Religions Series) EDC Publications, 2000.
Osborne, Mary Pope. One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
Bestselling children's author Mary Pope Osborne presents an accessible and elegantly crafted volume that introduces young readers to the world's seven major religions. Six short, readable chapters--perfectly targeted to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders--detail the history, beliefs, and practices of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.
(Bibliography compiled by Chelle Rudelson)