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Buddhist Beliefs, Religious Practices and Principles
Buddhism Religious Beliefs
The Three Jewels
While it is impossible to escape one's karma or the effects caused by previous thoughts, words and deeds, it is possible to avoid the suffering that comes from it by becoming enlightened. In this way, dharma offers a refuge. Dharma, used in the sense of the Buddha's teachings, provides a raft and is thus a temporary refuge while entering and crossing the river. However, the real refuge is on the other side of the river.
Although Buddhists concur that taking refuge should be undertaken with proper motivation (complete liberation) and an understanding of the objects of refuge, the Indian scholar Atisha identified that in practice there are many different motives found for taking refuge. His idea was to use these differing motivations as a key to resolving any apparent conflicts between all the Buddha's teachings without depending upon some form of syncresis that would cause as much confusion as it attempted to alleviate.
In the 11th century, Lamp for the Path by Atisha, and in the subsequent Lamrim tradition as elaborated by Tsongkhapa, the several motives for refuge are enumerated as follows, typically introduced using the concept of the "scope" (level of motivation) of a practitioner:
Worldly scope is taking refuge to improve the lot of this life Low scope is taking refuge to gain high rebirth and avoid the low realms Middle scope is taking refuge to achieve Nirvana High scope is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood Highest scope is also sometimes included, which is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood in this life.
The Four Noble Truths
The Eightfold Path essentially consists of meditation, following the precepts, and cultivating the positive converse of the precepts (e.g. benefiting living beings is the converse of the first precept of harmlessness). The Path may also be thought of as a the way of developing sila, meaning mental and moral discipline.
The Five Precepts
The three marks of conditioned existence
Anatta (Pali; Sanskrit: anatman): In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called atman (that is, "soul" or metaphysical self), which refers to an unchanging, permanent essence conceived by virtue of existence. This concept and the related concept of Brahman, the Vedantic monistic ideal, which was regarded as an ultimate atman for all beings, were indispensable for mainstream Indian metaphysics, logic, and science; for all apparent things there had to be an underlying and persistent reality, akin to a Platonic form. The Buddha rejected all concepts of atman, emphasizing not permanence but changeability. He taught that all concepts of a substantial self were incorrect and formed in the realm of ignorance.
According to some thinkers both in the East and the West, this may imply that Buddhism is a form of nihilism or something similar. However, as thinkers like Nagarjuna have pointed out, Buddhism is not simply a rejection of the concept of existence (or of meaning, etc.) but of the hard and fast distinction between existence and nonexistence, or rather between being and nothingness. Buddhism thus has more in common with Western empiricism, pragmatism, and anti-foundationalism than it does with nihilism per se.
Anicca (Pali; Sanskrit: anitya): All things and experiences are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything is made up of parts, and is dependent on the right conditions for its existence. Everything is in flux, and so conditions are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Nothing lasts. Dukkha (Pali; Sanskrit: du?kha): because we fail to truly grasp the first two conditions, we suffer. We desire a lasting satisfaction, but look for it amongst constantly changing phenomena. We perceive a self, and act to enhance that self by pursuing pleasure, and seek to prolong pleasure when it too is fleeting. It is by realizing (not merely understanding intellectually, but making real in one's experience) the three marks of conditioned existence that one develops Praj˝a, which is the antidote to the ignorance that lies at the root of all suffering.
Other principles and practices
Central to Buddhist doctrine and practice is the law of karma and vipaka; action and its fruition, which happens within the dynamic of dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada). Actions which result in positive retribution (happiness) are defined as skillful or good, while actions that produce negative results (suffering) are called unskillful or bad actions. These actions are expressed by the way of mind, body or speech. Some actions bring instant retribution while the results of other actions may not appear until a future lifetime.
Rebirth, which is closely related to the law of karma. An action in this life may not give fruit or reaction until the next life time. This being said, action in a past life takes effect in this one, making a chain of existence. The full realization of the absence of an eternal self or soul (the doctrine of anatta (Pali; Sanskrit: anatman)) breaks this cycle of birth and death (samsara).