Some two thousand five hundred years ago, Sakyamuni Buddha showed the deed of gaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya, India. He then spent the remainder of his life teaching others what he had learned out of compassion and concern for their welfare. The Buddha wandered India and gave teachings to whomever he would meet; according to Mahayana Buddhism, he disclosed the entire Buddhist path in three stages which are known as the 'Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma'.
Practise virtue well
Subdue your mind
These are the teachings of the Buddha
His first teaching was the Four Noble Truths which has formed the foundation of all schools of Buddhist doctrine as we know them today. The second turning of the wheel expounded the profound aspects of the path; those concerning the nature of phenomena, which are the basis for what are known as the 'Prajñaparamita Sutras'. Thirdly, he elaborated the potential to become a buddha which lies within us all, our 'buddha-nature', while presenting the teachings on the nature of phenomena in a more accessible way.
As Buddha travelled India and taught his doctrine, he adapted his teachings to suit different people's needs and capacities. Thus there is a rich variety to be found within his teachings, ranging from the simple to the profound, and from this many different schools of Buddhism have evolved in various countries. Today, these teachings are practised in Tibet, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma and other South-east Asian countries. There is a growing interest in many western countries.
Buddhism is a spiritual path firmly grounded in reason and the practice of Buddhism can be defined as falling into two categories, that of Method, and that of Wisdom. It is important to realise that these are not mutually exclusive, and indeed must be practised together in order to gain insight and inner experience. Method is the actions or activities that one will practise on the Buddhist path. The main point is refraining from hurting others, and helping wherever possible. This is something that can be appreciated by anyone.
Wisdom, here, is not a mere intellectual wisdom, it is the practice of special insight into the way things ultimately exist. This follows the principal of interdependence. All phenomena, including happiness and suffering and those who experience them do not come about without cause. Buddhism does not hold the view of an external creator. This philosophy is held by all schools and sub-schools of Buddhist thought, so that it can be said the underlying view of Buddhism is that of the interdependent nature of phenomena.
The Buddhist teachings, if practised correctly, lead to an open and peaceful state of mind for the practitioner, which will naturally have a similar effect on those around him or her. Normally, our minds are unsubdued and disturbed by emotions such as anger, attachment, pride, jealousy and want of respect. The result of an unsubdued mind is suffering and the cause is ignorance. This is not meaning ignorance in the conventional sense, but a failure to understand the true nature of phenomena.
Buddhism teaches effective methods to subdue the mind through meditation and contemplation. For example, to counter hatred we meditate on love, and as an antidote to our fundamental ignorance we study and meditate on the interdependent nature of phenomena. Changing our mistaken awareness of reality brings the mind under control and creates peace and happiness. Through training the mind in such methods we can transform the way in which we think, act and speak for the benefit not only of ourselves, but of all beings.