The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from about 566 to 486 BC. At 35, he gained insight into the true nature of existence. Until his death at age 80, Siddhartha, who is also referred to as Shakyamuni Buddha, taught the answers to humans’ inescapable problems—such as
death, old age, sickness and separation
from loved ones.
The Buddha’s teachings focus on understanding human problems through insight into the changing nature of existence. They are not based on authority, doctrines, creeds and beliefs in anything supernatural. Rather, everything is explained by causes and conditions that are continuously changing in the law of impermanence.
The teaching of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha spread throughout India, and then across the Asian continent. Buddhism flowed into China, Korea and Japan, and into Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. Now, the flow of the Dharma is reaching and permeating the thought and lives of people in the West.
The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path
The Purpose of the Buddha’s Teachings
Buddhism has spread and lasted over the many centuries because of its timeless and enduring message to the spiritual needs of human beings. The Buddha’s teaching seeks to help all beings find true peace, happiness and well-being. It does not require that we follow doctrines, beliefs or creeds, but simply encourages us to listen to the Dharma (teachings) and, if we find them to be true through our own life experiences, then to follow them.
All beings seek happiness, but we don’t always know where to find it. Actually, Buddhism teaches us that we look for it in all the wrong places. True happiness is not something we can find outside of ourselves, but it is something that we can discover within ourselves.
Buddhism and the Self
The great Zen master, Dogen, said, “To study Buddhism is to study the self.” The central focus of Buddhism is to see into oneself, not in a self-centered manner, but to reflect within oneself, instead of looking critically at others. Through such deep introspection, there arrives a profound transformation.
Dogen continued: “To study the self is to forget the self.” In other words, self-reflection leads us to see the world around us as it is -- not what we believe or hope or wish it is -- beyond our ego-centered viewpoints.
Finally, as Dogen concluded, “To forget the self is to open to others.” This insight allows us to see the great interconnectedness of all beings, animate and inanimate. It is the insight of great wisdom and compassion, the contents of enlightenment.
About Shinran Shonin
Shinran Shonin, who founded Shin Buddhism in the 1200s in Japan, lived as a monk for 20 years, but could not find enlightenment in that environment. He saw himself as being mired in his own foolishness, bound to the continued experience of difficulties. But he met a wonderful teacher named Honen. Honen taught that the Dharma could be received by anyone, whether monk or lay person. Lifestyle did not matter as much as having the right attitude in listening and receiving the teaching.
Honen taught Shinran that the Dharma is “received.” We need simply open our hearts and minds to it in gratitude.
Shinran found hope in the vow of Amida Buddha, which assures all beings of the resolution of difficulties. The assurance of Amida allows us to see our own foolishness. With a deepening awareness of our foolishness, we live with gratitude for the assurance of Amida.
Grateful appreciation to Midwest Buddhist Temple for providing this educational content. For more information about Buddhism, see our
The Shin Buddhist way
Shin Buddhism: The Path of Gratitude and Humility
Cleveland Buddhist Temple was founded in the Jodo Shinshu, or Shin, Buddhist tradition. Jodo Shinshu is the path of gratitude and humility. While other schools of Buddhism seek to “attain” or “realize” enlightenment, the Shin Buddhist path is one of simply listening and opening one’s heart to receiving it. The pursuit of enlightenment can become something like chasing after a mirage in the desert: You think you have arrived, only to find it has disappeared.
Trying to grasp at or attain enlightenment can be like trying to grab a snowflake that falls. Once you grab it, you have crushed it. But if you open your hand and allow the snow to gently fall into your hand, the snowflake becomes yours, without any effort in grasping.
Rather than pursuing enlightenment,
we simply listen to the Dharma and receive it.
Shin Buddhism does not require any particular lifestyle. You don’t have to become a monk or sit for hours in meditation. You can listen to the Dharma in your everyday life, no matter what you do or where you are.
Listening to the Dharma can mean listening to a sermon or lecture, but it can also mean listening or talking to anyone. You never know who might be your teacher of the Dharma, if you have the ears and heart to listen. A taxi driver … a bartender … even your worst enemy can be your teacher.
The Buddha taught that we live lives characterized by difficulties. These difficulties result from our inability to see things as they are. Our preferences and prejudices influence how we see and engage the world; thus we create difficulties for ourselves and others.
The resolution of difficulties through cultivating a mind that sees things as they are is the Buddha Dharma.
The true strength of life
The life of humility is the most powerful and dynamic life. In the West, we think humility means being weak or passive, but humility is the true strength of life.
We think an oak tree is tall and firm, but in a strong wind, the oak tree breaks. A willow or bamboo, however, is soft and flexible, and can bend and not break in a strong wind. A humble person is truly strong, whereas a rigid, stubborn person is actually weak.
The life of others’ sacrifices
When we begin to look at life from the perspective of a recipient, then everything in life is a gift—what we know, what we own, what we have achieved. They are all in a sense gifts, because nothing can be accomplished on one’s own. A successful businessman is successful because of his customers, because of his employees, because of others who taught him business knowledge. An Olympic gold medalist accomplishes an amazing athletic feat that would not have been possible without her coaches and teammates, family and supporters.
The Shin Buddhist way of life is the life of unending gratitude. The more one becomes grateful, the more one becomes humble. The more one becomes humble, the less one needs in life. The less one needs in life, the more one truly has.