“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
An overview of Buddhism
With approximately 376 million follower’s worldwide Buddhism is the fourth largest religion on earth and is over 2 500 years old. The religion, often referred to as a philosophy of life, surrounds the idea of personal spiritual development. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana which is the ultimate goal in their path to enlightenment and can be described as liberation, the act of setting someone free of oppression. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice of mortality, meditation and wisdom. To achieve Enlightenment you must follow the eightfold path. They believe existence is endless as individuals are reincarnated. While some religions in the world require its followers to visit a temple in order to be able to worship, Buddhism allows you to worship at home or at a temple. But ultimately, how does Buddhism help achieve happiness in life? The journey to attain a deeper form of happiness requires an unflinching look into the face of a reality where all life is seen as suffering or mental dysfunction. It is through such an engagement with one’s self, the world and reality that one is able to achieve a transcendent happiness. Well-being and happiness are attainable through proper knowledge and practice in everyday life.
What is the meaning and purpose of life from the Buddhist perspective?
Buddhists believe that life is both endless and subject to impermanence (Annica), suffering (Dukkha) and uncertainty (Anatta). These states are recognised as the signs of existence. However, the primary purpose of the religion is to end suffering. Life is impermanent as no state lasts forever and our mistaken belief that things can last is the ultimate cause of our suffering. The Buddhist religion is not centred around a relationship between a god and humanity. The purpose of life for a Buddhist is to achieve happiness, so by achieving a mental state where you can detach from all the passions, needs and wants of life, you free yourself and achieve a state of transcendent bliss and well-being. Buddha did not deny that there are things in life that give joy but pointed out that none of them last and our attachment to them only causes more suffering, and all his teachings were focused on this problem and its solution. Buddhism teaches the importance of recognising the impermanence of all things and freeing oneself from attachment to them. These teachings are expressed best in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which together form the foundation of belief known as Buddhism. The four noble truths are, the truth of suffering (dukkha), the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya), the truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha), the truth of the path that frees us from suffering. A really simple way to understand the noble eightfold path is it is basically having the right understanding, thought, speech, conduct, means of making a living, mental attitude and effort, mindfulness and concentration (meditation). To put that all simply Buddhism teaches us to live kindly. Live compassionately. Live without desire and be happy. That is the true meaning of life in Buddhism.
What would Buddhists claim be a ‘good life’?
While Buddhism tends to be recognised as being pessimistic as it teaches us that what we would usually describe as happiness is unattainable, it really is optimistic in the sense that true happiness is attainable provided we view things as they are and remove our desire. Buddhism seeks to capture different dimensions of happiness and through this lay the components of a good life. Buddhism aims to transform one’s doleful existence. From everything I have learnt about Buddhism throughout this assessment, I believe that Buddhists would describe a good life as seeking and finding true happiness. They sacrifice so much of what non-Buddhist people would see as important in having a good life, mainly material possession, in order to attain actual happiness. They claim that a good life, while pain is unavoidable, minimises the amount of activities you might take part in or possessions you might own that give material happiness, so you do not suffer does not last. I think this is a very intriguing outlook as it challenges societal views of a good life.