One of the Buddha's most significant teachings is that everyone is different, and hence each individual's path to enlightenment is unique. For this reason, Buddhists acknowledge that they must take inspiration from a variety of sources to complete their individual journey to Nirvana. Belief in the concept of enlightenment is therefore important within Buddhism with different branches and schools giving varying emphasis to the many teachings of Buddha and his close followers, while some believe in Bodhisattvas, from whom they take motivation, all believe in shaping their individual effort to achieve enlightenment. Throughout this essay, the Buddha's teachings on belief and enlightenment, how the four Noble Truths and Buddhist practices relate to belief and enlightenment, and the positions of the two major branches of Buddhism - Theravada and Mahayana - will all be analysed to determine the role of belief in Buddhism, and hence prove or disprove the above comments on enlightenment and belief for Buddhists.
Enlightenment or _Nirvana_ is a supreme state; free from suffering, individual existence and all worldly concerns; such as greed, hate and ignorance. It is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists, breaking the otherwise endless cycle of death and rebirth known as samsara. Theravada Buddhism ("Doctrine of the Elders") teaches that by refraining from all kinds of evil, purifying the mind and having a deep thirst for knowledge, "… a Theravada Buddhist can reach the state of perfection and enter Nirvana." (Oracle ThinkQuest, 2012) This knowledge comes almost entirely from the Tipitaka, meaning "three baskets". This collection of scriptures contains slightly different versions between the two schools, but is considered to comprise of the most accurate accounts of the Buddha and his close disciples. It is important to note that Theravada Buddhists believe that due to the requirements for enlightenment, monks and nuns are significantly more likely to achieve Nirvana than lay people who should therefore focus on gaining good karma enabling them to be a monk or nun in their next rebirth. Mahayana Buddhism has a variety of scriptures, many of which have been written by high ranking monks since the time of the Buddha, in order to keep the teachings up to date with the culture of the period. Notably, they also believe that all people have the capability to become enlightened. Apart from the different scripture emphasis, Mahayana Buddism is significantly diverse to Theravada due to the belief in multiple Buddhas and Boddhisattvas. Boddhisattvas are people of deep compassion who are said to delay entering Nirvana in order to help guide others to enlightenment. As such, Mahayana Buddhism adds to the Theravadan definition of Nirvana being the absence of self-centeredness (and therefore the absence of suffering) and the state of spiritual perfection, displayed by total compassion and concern for others. Two well-known Buddhist quotes which summarise the Buddha's position on beliefs and enlightenment are:
"Don't blindly believe what I say. Don't believe me because others convince you of my words. Don't believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don't rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don't infer or be deceived by appearances."
"Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good."
The above quotes help explain why Buddhists dislike teachings being referred to as beliefs. The first quote highlights the need for scepticism when reading the teachings. The second quote goes further by explaining the individuality of Nirvana, and the idea that not all teachings apply to everyone. Because followers of Buddhism are encouraged to challenge ideas presented and ascertain their own understanding of the major...
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