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Buddhist approach to life, death and salvation

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Buddhism approaches life and living in a quite different way from the Judaic, Christian or Muslim traditions. This introduction seeks to clarify the Buddhist approach to the way the world is and works, and how human beings can best deal with life and its challenges. It analyses the Buddhist approach logically step by step, arriving at the reasons why the Buddha settled on the Four Noble Truths as a sane and rational analysis of the human condition. The Noble Eightfold Path, the doctrine of anatta and the spread of Buddhism which results from this analysis are the subject of a second discussion in this Library.

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This provides an explanation for the Buddhist way of dealing with the fundamental religious principles for approaching life and the afterlife, through the application key Buddhist concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. It sets out the explanation fully in clear, concise language and in detail (2300 words). It starts with the Buddha himself and goes on to explain how he found the solutions he was to offer the world and why they were attractive as ways to live life and approach death and the afterlife.

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This discussion seeks to clarify, for students unfamiliar with eastern philosophies, some of the issues which separate Buddhism from the western tradition.

We are told that Gautama Siddhartha, the man who became known as the Buddha, subjected the human condition to a rational, dispassionate analysis. The Buddha was reputed to have lived around the sixth century BCE, which incidentally puts him round the same time as some of the greatest thinkers from the ancient world, whether Greek, Indian or Chinese. He subjected himself and the experiences of those around him to this ruthless investigation; ruthless not in the sense of being cruel and heartless, but in the sense that he applied a clear and unshakeable logic to human beings; their psychology and place in the world.

Before looking at what the Buddha was trying to do, what was he not trying to accomplish? Firstly, he was not trying to analyse the world in terms of a theology, which means he was not trying to get people to believe that there was the sort of god up there somewhere who could grant favours or even be thanked when all was going well. He lived at a time when the brahmins dominated the Hindu religion, and they claimed that they could intercede for ordinary people with the gods.

This was not the kind of religious idea that appealed to the Buddha. He was much more concerned with principles that would give people some control of their own destiny through their own actions. That is why he subjected the world to this type of an analysis, and why in the end his ideas dealt fairly and directly with the issues confronting humanity, and what human beings could do by their own efforts to find contentment. He was not interested in anything that would take responsibility away from individuals for their own lives and actions. He wanted people to accept what they could understand, and not rely on blind faith. The only faith he asked people to have was in themselves and in their capacity to improve their level of contentment with this life.

His analysis is about living life and finding genuine happiness in this world - because he believed that truly contented people had little to fear that anyone else could do to them.

The first idea that he put forward was that the essential characteristic of existence was what he called dukkha, a word that is usually translated as suffering. The essential characteristic of the human condition is suffering. Is that a reasonable proposition?

You could start by taking a fairly close look at the world today, with the overwhelming proportion of its six billion overcrowded people getting too little too eat, having little shelter and few medical facilities. You could look at the planet groaning under the stress of the seething mass of humanity that is just about out of control. You could see the wars going on, the sufferings of humans, animals and other creatures, and you would find it undeniable that misery and degradation is all around. Where it does not seem to be the dominant characteristic, that part of the globe is the exception on the planet rather than the rule. People are born amidst suffering, and die in that state. Just by being in the world today, we cause vast ...

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