Byline: Lyndia Grant, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Dalai Lama's visit this week to Washington to receive a human rights award is drawing considerable attention to one of Buddhism's central ideas - the issue of human suffering. Buddhism seeks to offer the solution to human suffering by teaching that through Buddhist practice, one can overcome the sufferings involved with daily living, old age, sickness and death.
It helps one awaken his life force in such a way that he is not defeated through the sufferings of life. Instead, the believer can create value.
Buddhism started in India about 500 B.C. It is considered a religion by some and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 26 centuries ago in what is now Nepal and northeastern India. He came to be called the Buddha, which means awakened one. This title was not thrust upon him until after he experienced a profound realization of the nature of life, death and existence. In English, the Buddha was said to be enlightened, although in Sanskrit it is bodhi, awakened.
In the remaining years of his life, Buddha traveled and taught. However, he didn't teach people what he realized when he became enlightened. Instead, he taught people how to realize enlightenment for themselves. He taught that awakening comes through one's own direct experience, not through beliefs and dogmas.
In the centuries following the Buddha's life, Buddhism spread throughout Asia to become one of the dominant religions of the continent. Estimates of the number of Buddhists in the world today vary widely - in part because many Asians observe more than one religion and because it is hard to know how many people are practicing Buddhism in Communist nations like China. The most common estimate is 350 million people. This large population makes Buddhism the fourth largest of the world's religions.
Buddhism is so different from other religions that some people question whether it is a religion at all. For example, the central focus of most religions is God, or gods. But Buddhism is nontheistic. The Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment.
Buddhism has spread from India to China, Japan to Southeast Asia, said Bill Aiken, the U.S. vice general director of Soka Gakkai International. "It arrived in the United States in the late 19th century through the Asian immigrants who worked in the sugar cane and pineapple plantations of Hawaii, or on building the railroads in the West.
Buddhism remained little known outside of those ethnic communities until the 1960s, when the laws restricting Asian immigration were finally lifted. After that act was passed, the door was opened for many Asians to come to America, and then larger numbers, many bringing with them their Buddhist religion, he said.
Buddhism is a path to waking up, or being enlightened, to a reality that is not consciously perceived by most of us. In most schools of Buddhism, it is understood that enlightenment and nirvana (a profound state of peace and happiness) cannot be conceptualized or explained with words. They must be intimately experienced to be understood. Merely believing in enlightenment and nirvana is pointless.
In Buddhism, all doctrines are provisional and are judged by their skillfulness. The Sanskrit word for this is upaya, or skillful means. Any doctrine or practice that enables realization is a upaya. Whether the doctrine is factual or not is not the point.
The immigrant communities and many other Americans have found Buddhism to be a very valuable philosophy in life. They have found very good techniques to find stability as a person and open up compassion. It cultivates their inner lives. Mr. Aiken was attracted to Buddhism because of his desire to build up his inner self during the '60s. Buddhism is not distinct to any particular class or race. All …