To understand the basic principles of Buddhism, it is not necessary to believe in heaven or hell or to chant mantras. The aim of the Buddha was simply to show mankind how to live without turmoil and in harmony with all living creatures by following The Middle Way between the extremes of over-indulgence and self-denial. To this end he introduced the Eight-Fold Path and the Ten Precepts, as well as the Four Noble Truths. While monks must practice all the precepts, the lay Buddhist (if he is to be called Buddhist) is expected to follow the five main precepts.
Buddhist principles are based on the basic idea of cause and effect, also known in eastern philosophy as karma. According to this law every intention, thought and action has a consequence that equals the energy invested in it. From good deeds come good results. Leading a disciplined life can ensure that suffering is kept to a minimum. The calm mind that comes from a disciplined life leads down the path of spirituality to the goal of all human life – self realization, or what the Buddhists call Nirvana.
The Buddhist philosophy and way of life is laid out in the Three Jewels, the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Fold Path and the Five Precepts. The first three doctrines are pursued by those who either adopt a monastic life or are involved in a deep philosophical interpretation of Buddhism.
The Philosophy of Buddhism
The Buddha presented his philosophy in the Four Noble Truths:
Life is suffering: Disease, death and emotional pain are inevitable.
Attachment causes suffering: An attempt to derive happiness from things that have shape and form results in suffering because these are not permanent.
To cure suffering, free yourself from attachment: The cause of suffering is attachment, so make attempts to free yourself from attachment.
The eightfold path will show you the way out of suffering: The Buddha taught practical ways to end suffering through eight pursuits – right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right view, right intention, right mindfulness, and right effort.
The Five Precepts are what a lay Buddhist is expected to follow in day-to-day living.
The Five Main Precepts
Refrain from killing: In order to live harmoniously with all living creatures and create positive instead of negative vibrations, the Buddhist must be vegetarian. This is necessary for the growth of compassion.
Refrain from stealing: In order to be free of guilt, and not cause pain to others, Buddhists must not take anything that is not freely given.
Refrain from sexual misconduct: The Buddha taught his disciples that sexual desire is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment, and the most difficult to overcome. Sexual misconduct is forbidden.
Refrain from lying: To tell a lie is to deny the truth, and a Buddhist centers his life around truth – whether it is the truth of his spiritual path, the truth about himself, or the truth of the universe. Denial of the truth leads to confusion, guilt and disharmony.
Refrain from drugs and alcohol: If we are to clearly see the truth, and gain an accurate perception of life and reality, our minds must be free from the delusion and fuzziness caused by alcohol and drugs. An alert mind is capable of controlling actions efficiently and directing them along virtuous paths.
Buddhism affords believers an oasis where they can regain equilibrium by following the Middle Way. Buddhism enables people to look at life anew and stop blaming God, the universe, and others for their plight. They are the creators of their own worlds. Once they can grasp this great truth, life becomes a joyful journey.