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Introduction to Buddhism
Teacher Resource Guide
By Kat Harrington Georgetown University East Asia National Resource Center

An Introduction to Buddhism Buddhism
is the practice of following the Buddha’s teachings with the goal of achieving ‘enlightenment’ and reaching nirvana. The core precept of Buddhism is that life is suffering brought on by humans’ attachments and desire, and that one must shed his or her attachments and be without desire in order to transcend life’s suffering. Buddhism originated nearly 2,500 years ago and is now practiced by over 400 million people worldwide.

Who is the Buddha?

The Buddha was born in the 5th Century BCE as an Indian Prince named Siddhartha Gautama. He enjoyed a lavish royal lifestyle until one day he encountered a decrepit elderly man, a diseased man, a corpse, and a hermit outside of his palace. These experiences, known as The Four Sights, opened his eyes to the suffering in the world, and he embarked on a journey, forsaking his wealth and title, to uncover life’s truths and find the path out of suffering. Siddhartha sought out the best teachers in meditation, but after learning everything he could from them, he realized that he would have to rely on himself to discover the truth about life. He turned to extreme forms of self-deprivation and endured physical hardships, such as sleeping on a bed of thorns and starvation, in the hopes that these experiences of severe suffering would lead him to the truth. After several years of practicing this extreme form of meditation, Siddhartha, who had wasted away to skin and bones, heard a group of musicians pass by playing lutes. He thought about the dynamics of the instrument and realized that if the strings of the lute were too loose, the music would be too low and quiet, but if the stings were too taught, they would snap. He applied this imagery to himself and understood that he was straining himself too far. He abandoned this practice and began to eat regularly again, knowing that he would need his strength to continue on his quest for life’s truths. He resumed his meditations under a tree, where he remained for forty-nine days. There,

Gautama Buddha imparts first teaching

Mara, the evil one, tried to tempt Siddhartha to abandon his search for the truth, but Siddhartha was not swayed and finally was able to pinpoint the truth about suffering. He came to understand that suffering is caused by people’s greed, selfishness, and ignorance. He concluded that the only path to end suffering then was to eliminate desire and seek wisdom and truth throughout one’s life. It was through this realization that Siddhartha became enlightened at the age of thirty-five. From this moment on, he was a buddha, or enlightened one. The tree under which he had sat became known as the Bodhi tree, or tree of enlightenment.

Definition: Buddhahood
The term buddha generally refers to anyone who has attained enlightenment, and buddhahood is the state of being enlightened. Siddhartha Gautama is not the only person to have achieved buddhahood, though he is considered by Buddhists to be the Supreme Buddha. Many Buddhists believe that any person can achieve buddhahood eventually.

Did you know?
The Buddha’s ear lobes are so long thanks to the heavy gold earrings he wore as a prince, which stretched them out. In Buddhist iconography, his elongated ear lobes symbolize the weight and burden of materialism.

The Eightfold Path

Right View: to see things for what they really are, without being blinded by emotions, attachments, desires, biases, ignorance, etc. Right Intention: to always resist desire and anger and to practice compassion Right Speech: to always speak the truth, to never use your words to hurt others, and to avoid unnecessary chatter Right Action: to never hurt or kill any living beings (including one’s self), lie, or partake in sexual abuse Right Livelihood: to earn one’s living by ethical means- avoiding weapons and drug dealing,...
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