What is Buddhism?
According to our Karma Kagyu tradition, Buddhism can be seen as a set of tools that enable one to see things as they really are, here and now. Buddhism has no dogmas and allows everything to be questioned. Buddha’s teachings aim at the full development and freedom of body, speech and mind.
Who was Buddha?
Buddha was born in the republic of Shakya at the foot of the Himalaya mountains about 2560 years ago. He was born into a royal family of a highly developed culture. The young prince enjoyed extremely privileged circumstances and while he was growing up, he knew only pleasure. Leaving his palace for the first time at the age of twenty-nine, his world was turned upside down. Over three consecutive days he saw a very sick person, somebody old and someone who had died. Upon recognition of the inevitability of old age, sickness, death and the impermanence of everything, he became deeply troubled. The next morning, he passed a Yogi in deep meditation and their minds met. Inspired by this, the prince then left his home and family and wandered the country in search of teachings that could overcome death and suffering. He studied with various teachers, but none of them could lead him to his ultimate goal. At the age of 35, after six years of deep meditation, he realized the true nature of mind and was enlightened. He became awakened to the essence of all things: the all-knowing space that makes everything possible, its radiant clarity that playfully expresses mind’s richness and its limitless love that obstructs nothing. For the next 45 years the Buddha taught the methods to reach the goal of enlightenment to thousands of gifted students.
Is Buddhism a Philosophy, Psychology or Religion?
Lama Ole Nydahl often relates that Buddhism can be regarded as a philosophy insofar as its teachings represent a complete and logical view, but it is not just a philosophy. Philosophy can explain things on the formal level of words and ideas, whereas the Buddha’s teachings work with one’s totality. While both philosophy and Buddhist practice lead to clarity of thought, only the latter can lead to permanent transformations because it gives the practical key to inner and outer events experienced everyday.
Because of the ability of its teachings to transform those who practice them, some people consider Buddhism to be a kind of psychology. The varying schools of psychology all try to help people to be neither a burden on society nor to have too many personal difficulties. While both psychology and Buddhism can change people, the latter is for the already healthy. It can be said that Buddhism starts where psychology stops. Diamond Way Buddhism becomes relevant from the point where people are already stable, where they experience space as blissful and not threatening. From this level the teachings develop the limitless courage, joy and love, which are mind’s inherent wealth.
Applying the teachings to one’s life will raise a deep confidence in their skillfulness giving all situations the taste of meaning and growth. Once the awareness of the conditioned nature of all things grows, fixed concepts will fall away and the perfect qualities of body, speech and mind will naturally appear. The end result of practice – full enlightenment or Buddhahood – surpasses the intellectual or therapeutic goals of both philosophy and psychology, it is a state of perfection beyond concepts.
Combining the logical view and the transformative power of methods to obtain lasting and beyond personal mental states, Buddhism is a 2500 year old religion of experience.
What are the basic points of Buddhism?
There are four basic thoughts that give a lasting meaning to one's life. The first thing that one must appreciate is the very rare and marvelous chance to be able to meet with enlightened teachings, and to be able to work with and learn from them. All beings want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Even an ant will crawl very far to avoid being killed, and human beings will go to all lengths in order to feel good. So, meeting with teachings that bring lasting happiness is very important.
After this, we understand we will not always have this chance. Whatever was born, will die, whatever came together will fall apart, and whatever appeared will disappear. Our time is limited. It is certain that our lives will end, but we do not know when. So recognizing that we have this chance now and actually wanting to use it is also something extremely valuable.
The third thing we understand is that the world is goverened by cause and effect and that our present actions, words and thoughts will become our future. Whether we realize it or not, everything we do, say or think leaves impressions both inside ourselves and outside in the world. These impressions will later return to us. Negative impressions especially will manifest as suffering or unpleasant situations in the future unless we use meditations that dissolve them.
Finally, we recognize the fact that there is no alternative to using the teachings. Enlightenment is highest joy. There is nothing more fulfilling and total than this state of oneness with all things, all times, all beings, and all directions. Also, how will we benefit others if we are confused and suffering ourselves?
So considering these four factors gives the basis for Buddhist practice and meditation. In contrast, however, if we cling to our ordinary values we cannot avoid suffering. If we keep thinking ‘I am my body’ and ‘These things are mine’, old age, sickness, death and loss will be exceedingly unpleasant. Nobody can avoid pain by saying: ‘This stuff with enlightenment is too difficult for me’, because if we were born, we’ll surely die. There is no greater purpose in life than to find values which permanently overcome suffering and death. The benefits of enlightenment are therefore immeasurable for both oneself and all other beings.
Are there different types of Buddhism?
According to the Tibetan teachings, Buddha gave instructions to three main types of people. Those who wanted to avoid suffering received information about cause and effect. Those who wanted to do more for others were given instructions on compassion and wisdom. Where people had a strong trust in their own and others’ Buddha-nature, he shared the direct view of mind called the Great Seal (‘Chagchen’ in Tibetan, ‘Mahamudra’ in Sanskrit). The first one of these levels is called the ‘Small Way’ or ‘Theravada’, the second one the ‘Great Way’ or ‘Mahayana’ and the third the ‘Diamond Way’ or ‘Vajrayana’.