What is Buddhism

 

Buddhism was founded by the Buddha Shakyamuni who lived in India in around the 5th/ 4th centuries before the Common Era (C.E.). Through a thorough commitment to practice he became fully enlightened at the age of 36 and then spent the next 45 years or so teaching others how to do the same.

It is a spiritual path for leaving behind the repetitive unsatisfactory experiences (in Sanskrit: Samsara) that come about when the mind is dominated by or prone to anger, clinging and ignorance. It is a spiritual path for experiencing life free of those crippling mental tendencies (in Sanskrit: Bodhi).

Over its around 2,500 years of existence it has taken on many different cultural forms and aspects. At its core it is a system for developing the social skills of unbounded love, compassion and joy and the wisdom that sees the reality of any given situation free from superstition, prejudice or bias so as to be able to act in the most beneficial way.

The Tibetan form of Buddhism is a Mahayana form of Buddhism and within that a Tantra Mahayana form of Buddhism.

What that means is that idea of the Bodhisattva - some devoted to helping others and willing to work for however long it takes to become fully enlightened so as to be able to do that in the most appropriate ways - is the inspiring heroic ideal that motivates Mahayana Buddhists.

A practitioner of Tantra Mahayana is someone who, motivated by that ideal, seeks to continuously model the attitude, understanding and behaviour of a fully enlightened being to speed up the process of becoming enlightened. This requires a strong healthy mind and sense of self in addition to the guidance of a qualified teacher as anything else has fairly clear psychological risks attached.

The Tibetan form of Mahayana Tantra Buddhism has its roots mainly in the Buddhism of late Medieval India (7th - 12th centuries C.E.), though it also has practices that have come through Central Asian, Chinese and Korean Buddhism. In Tibet four main styles of practice developed: the Nyingma, the Sakya, The Kagyu and the Geluk (which came out of the Kadam).

At the more refined end of philosophy and in the more subtle aspects of practice there are a number of differences between them but at the level of the beginner there is far more in common than not.

The Buddhist path emphasises the use of meditation as a key tool to help make the mind stronger, more gentle and wiser. Meditation in Tibetan Buddhism is not about just clearing the mind but about using the space of meditation to break the power of bad habits and develop new more beneficial ones.

The Geluk school, the source for the FPMT and Jamyang, encourages those who can to study broadly and deeply to enhance the richness of their meditation practice.

But it also recognises that such a way of practice is not for everyone and prides itself on carrying a truly vast array of practices suited to different people at different stages in their spiritual development.

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