The Path of Awakening

In the sixth century BCE, a prince of India named Siddhartha GautamaSiddhartha Gautama, a prince of India in the 6th century BCE, came to be called the Buddha, the “awakened one,” after his enlightenment at the age of thirty-six. He spent the remainder of his life giving spiritual guidance to an ever-growing body of d... is said to have given up his throne, left behind his family and his palace, and set out into the forest to seek answers to the haunting questions of suffering, disease, old age, and death. Through this ardent search and his deep meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo..., he gained great insight. He became known as the BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther..., an honorific title meaning the “Enlightened One” or the “Awakened One,” and is considered by many to be one of the archetypal spiritual pathfinders of history.

Within his own lifetime, the Buddha attracted a considerable following in India with his understanding of the suffering of living beings and his teachings about overcoming suffering through moral living, meditation, and insight into reality. Some followed him in the path of renunciation and became monksA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... and nunsA nun is a woman who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully or.... Others remained as laity, learning from the Buddha’sBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... teachings, honoring the Buddha, and supporting the monasticA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... community. While BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... has its roots in India, reverence for the Buddha and adherence to his teachings spread throughout Asia, and today the entire world. Buddhism can thus be considered a universal religion in that it is not specifically tied to a particular people or land.

There are currently two major streams of the Buddhist tradition: the TheravadaTheravada, literally “the way of the elders,” was one of the eighteen earliest sub-schools of Buddhism. Today, the term designates the various traditions of Buddhism most prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although these traditions differ in i... tradition of South and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos; and the MahayanaMahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view o... tradition of China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The VajrayanaVajrayana emerged in the 7th century CE as a subset of Mahayana sometimes seen as the third major stream of Buddhism. This tradition is most prominent in Tibet and its surrounding regions, although forms of it are found in China and Japan. Vajrayana, lite... tradition of Tibet, a subset of Mahayana, is large enough that it is sometimes recognized as a third major stream. While these streams are distinct, they are not entirely separate and have continually interacted in Asia. Today, in the early 21st century, all are flowing and mingling in America.


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