Buddhism – The Short Version

Since Buddhism is prominent in Vietnam, we thought it would be helpful to give an overview of the religion.

What is Buddhism? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as answering who, what, when, where, why, and how. Buddhism might be easier to define if it weren’t for its many varying sects. In fact, it’s been said of Buddhism that, like Hinduism, it has developed into more of a family of religions than a single, central one. It is often mixed, matched, and meshed with other beliefs, making it hard to pin some people as Buddhists at all.

So in an attempt to stay out of the weeds, we’ll focus on the basics.

Buddhism was begun by Siddhartha Gautama in India around 500 B.C. Siddhartha became know as the Buddha (“enlightened one”) after supposedly spending seven days meditating under a fig tree. This was the birth of his religious philosophy.

One of Buddhism’s main doctrines consists of the Four Noble Truths. They are…

  1. The existence of suffering
  2. The cause of suffering – craving pleasure
  3. The ending of suffering – extinguishing the craving
  4. The ending of all pain (extinguishing the craving) through the Eightfold Path.

Here is the Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Views
  2. Right Resolve
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Behavior
  5. Right Occupation
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Contemplation
  8. Right Meditation

In all this, the goal is nirvana. The idea of nirvana is difficult to define. It literally means “blowing out,” which is obviously vague. But essentially, though probably an oversimplification, nirvana is the painless state achieved when one is able to detach from desire. It is an escape from reincarnation, which occurs because of one’s desire to live. It is, in a way, an unknown heaven of nothingness. Until one attains nirvana, he is subject to the “natural causation” of karma, in which the good and bad done in his former life is said to determine the favorable or unfavorable circumstances he faces in his present one, and so on.

Mahayana Buddhism is the most prevalent form in Vietnam, where it is often mixed with animism. Its main difference from the traditional Theravada form is its emphasis on compassion and community with others, as well as its view of the Buddha as a savior rather than merely a saint.

All in all, the complexities and variants of Buddhism do not easily lend themselves to writing at all, much less in a blog post this short. May God reveal Buddhism as the hopeless pursuit of death that it is as he reveals his Son, Jesus, to be the way to eternal life. Jesus suffered so that our suffering could one day end, not in senseless oblivion, but in overflowing delight in him.

* Information for this post was gathered from Handbook of Today’s Religions, by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, pp. 304-324.