The goal of Buddhism is a state of lasting, unconditional joy which we call enlightenment.
To bring us to this state, Buddhism points to lasting values in this impermanent world, and gives us valuable information about how things really are. Through understanding the law of cause and effect, using practical tools like meditation to gain insight and develop compassion and wisdom, everyone can tap into their potential to realize this ultimate goal.
We can understand that everything in the outside world is changing. Our inner world of thoughts and feelings is in the same state of constant change. When we realize that everything is impermanent and dependent on many conditions, we can focus on what truly matters.
Buddhist teachings show us that the only thing that is always present is the awareness in which all experiences and phenomena appear. This awareness is not only timeless but also inherently joyful. To experience this timeless awareness as a permanent state of mind is to be enlightened, and it is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
Buddhism inspires us to take responsibility for our own lives, by understanding cause and effect (karma). Buddha explained in great detail how we shape our future through our thoughts, words and actions. How we respond in the present, accumulates positive or negative impressions for our future state of mind.
Understanding this means we can direct our lives in a more beneficial way. Once we see how much suffering comes from simply not understanding cause and effect, we naturally develop compassion for others.
Compassion and Wisdom
In Buddhist teachings, compassion and wisdom go together. Using meditation, we gain a broader perspective on our thoughts and emotions. This enables us to stop taking things so seriously. With constant practice we concentrate less on our own problems and gain greater understanding which increases our ability to help others.
The nature of mind is fearless, joyful and compassionate. When this is experienced as a permanent state then we have reached the goal. With no confusion or disturbance in our minds, we benefit others spontaneously and effortlessly.
No religion is more important
than human happiness
– Buddha Shakyamuni
To be a Buddhist, we don’t need to wear any special clothing, change our eating habits, or give up material possessions or a social life.
It’s as simple as changing our perception – not taking the obstacles that come our way so seriously, and seeing everything around us as interesting and full of potential. By understanding the teachings and using tools like meditation we gradually change our point of view.
The Buddha’s teachings are vast and each tradition emphasizes different aspects. When it comes to living the teachings, monks, nuns, and lay people have quite different lifestyles. Diamond Way Buddhists are lay people, often with families and regular jobs, who incorporate Buddhist methods into their daily lives.
What makes you a Buddhist?
In order to become Buddhist, we need to take responsibility for our own lives, having confidence that cause and effect or karma, functions.
We need to rely on values that we can trust. Mind is the only thing that doesn’t change. It wasn’t born and cannot die. It is always and everywhere like space. Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is a fully developed state of mind and is the goal of Buddhism. As Buddhists, we make a connection with this state – we open up to it – and this we call taking refuge. We also place our confidence in the teachings (dharma) that bring us to the goal, in our friends on the way (sangha), and in our teacher (lama).
Whatever strength and insight we get on the way we use to benefit as many others as possible. This noble aspiration is known as the Bodhisattva Promise and will enable us to develop faster.
Where to start?
The easiest way is to find a Buddhist centre near you, where you can get an introduction to Buddhism and learn meditation. If you like the people and meditations in the Buddhist centre, then it makes sense to visit a lecture by a Buddhist master like Lama Ole Nydahl when they teach in your country.
Buddha was born in Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India, about 2,600 years ago. He was known as Prince Siddhartha Gautama.
Although born a prince, he realized that conditioned experiences could not provide lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After a long spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he realized the nature of mind. He achieved the state of unconditional and lasting happiness: the state of enlightenment, of buddhahood. This state of mind is free from disturbing emotions and expresses itself through fearlessness, joy and active compassion. For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught everyone who wanted to reach the same state.
Buddha’s Early Life
India at the time of the Buddha was spiritually advanced. At this time of great potential, Siddhartha Gautama, was born into the warrior caste. It was predicted that he would become either a great king or spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they tried to prevent Siddhartha from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world by surrounding him with every kind of pleasure.
At age 29, he was confronted with impermanence and suffering. On a rare outing from his luxurious palace, he saw someone desperately sick, a decrepit old man, and finally a dead person. He was very upset to realize that old age, sickness and death would come to everyone he loved. Siddhartha had no way to help them.The next morning the prince walked past a meditator who sat in deep absorption. In a flash, he realized that the perfection he had been seeking outside must be within mind itself.
In order to reach his goal, he realised he had to leave his royal responsibilities and his family. Over the next six years, he met many meditation teachers and mastered their techniques. Always he found that they showed him mind’s potential – but not mind itself. Finally, at a place called Bodhgaya, Siddhartha decided to remain in meditation until he experienced mind’s true nature and could benefit all beings. After spending six days and nights cutting through mind’s most subtle obstacles, he reached enlightenment on the full moon morning of May, a week before he turned thirty-five. At the moment of full realization, he became Buddha, the Awakened One.
After his enlightenment, he taught constantly for forty-five years. Throughout his life, Buddha encouraged his students to question his teachings and confirm them through their own experience. This non-dogmatic attitude still characterizes Buddhism today.
I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.
In his 45-year teaching career, the Buddha gave teachings to a wide variety of people. Those who came to him fell into three main groups. Buddha gave them different teachings, which can be classified into different types of Buddhism.
Theravada (The School of the Elders)
Theravada provides teachings about cause and effect (karma), as well as pacifying meditations to create distance from difficult thoughts and feelings. Following these teachings – also described as the Small Way (Sanskrit: Hinayana) – the understanding arises that thoughts and feelings are not personal. This gives us the opportunity to act in a beneficial way and accumulate positive karma.
The teachings spread mainly through countries in South-East Asia, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma. Today, the School of the Elders (Sanskrit: Theravada), is the closest example of this type of Buddhism. Their goal is liberation from all disturbances.
Mahayana (Great Way)
Mahayana teachings attract people whose primary motivation in life is to be useful to others, also known as the Bodhisattva Attitude. The teachings and meditations of the Great Way aim to gradually increase compassion and wisdom. Supporting development on this way is the understanding that the world is like a dream. Therefore, it can be changed through our thoughts, words, and actions.
These Buddhist teachings spread chiefly through northern Asia into Japan, Vietnam, China, Tibet, and Korea. For this reason, the Great Way (Sanskrit: Mahayana) schools are also known as Northern Buddhist schools. Their goal is to become not just liberated, but fully enlightened for the benefit of all. The Mahayana includes the Theravada teachings.
Vajrayana (Diamond Way)
Buddha’s teachings described as the Diamond Way (Sanskrit: Vajrayana) are about mind itself. These direct teachings that Buddha gave are for those who have the confidence that they can only perceive perfection outside because they have the same perfection inside. In Vajrayana, the Buddha is not considered a person; rather he is a mirror to our own mind. The teachings point out mind’s perfect qualities directly. They are often known as Buddhist Tantra.
When Buddhism was destroyed in its native India, these teachings survived mainly in Tibet. The Vajrayana also includes the Theravada and Mahayana teachings.