Many people believe that a powerful spirit made the world and everything in it.
When people pray they ask this spirit for help and love.
Groups of people share what they believe.
These groups are called religions.
There are different groups and different ways of believing.
Buddhism is one religion or faith.
The people who follow it are called Buddhists.
Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha, who founded the religion in the 6th century BC. The Buddhist places of prayer are called temples or shrines. In Thailand the temples are known as 'wats'.
Incense sticks burn in temples. People place them in large containers when they go to a temple. The sweet smoke carries their prayers to heaven.
More than 2500 years ago in southern Nepal an Indian prince called Siddhartha Gautama lived a life of great luxury. One day the prince went outside his palace walls and saw, for the first time, how people suffered poverty, old age, and disease. He left his life of luxury and wealth and went travelling to find the cause of all the suffering. After many years of travel, experiences and observations, he found enlightenment, or true happiness. Siddhartha Gautama became known as the Buddha, or 'The Enlightened One' or 'Awakened One', someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and is free from faults.
It is said that the Buddha was sitting under a bodhi tree when he achieved perfect enlightenment. Many temples have a bodhi tree planted in the courtyard, and there are many pictures of the Buddha sitting under one while meditating or teaching.
The Buddha's teachings were that suffering comes from greed and selfishness, and that if people stopped trying to own or control things, they would be happy. The end of all suffering he called Nirvana. People are reincarnated, this means they are re -born after death into a different life, and during many lives they become better people and eventually reach Nirvana.
Buddhism is the main religion for people in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma. There are many and Buddhists in China, Japan, and in Vietnam also. Each of these countries has a particular style of picture or statue of Buddha. Buddhists respect all living things, including insects. They don't eat meat. They believe that you do good things and good things will happen to you.
After the Buddha died, what people remembered of his teachings was written down, in a collection known as the Ripitaka, or The Three Baskets.
Buddhist monks and nuns meditate, and teach the beliefs of Buddha. Some live in groups, in places known as monasteries. They live a life of simplicity and prayer. Monks wear saffron, yellow or ochre coloured robes, the nuns wear white robes. This is because the Buddha taught the first monks and nuns to make their robes from old cloth that had been thrown away. They trimmed off the unusable, ragged or badly stained parts, washed the cloth and then dyed it by boiling it with plants and spices such as saffron or turmeric, which gave the cloth a yellowish-orange colour. Today they do not have to do this, as all cloth for their robes is donated.
Monasteries consist of a number of buildings, including temples, dormitories, and libraries. Many have a dome-like building called a stupa. In Tibet it is called a chorten and in Thailand a chedi. Sometimes they are called pagodas, although a pagoda is a building that may not be a holy place.
A stupa represents the Buddha’s body, speech and mind, and every part shows the path to enlightenment. A stupa need not be part of a monastery or temple, but may be built alone.
There are different kinds of stupa:
- Some contain some of the ashes of Buddha or his close followers, or some object of theirs.
- Some are built to celebrate some special event in Buddha’s life.
- Some are built to symbolise some particular part of Buddhist beliefs
- Some are built so that people can make special visits to pray.
However, whatever they are called in different countries, and for whatever particular purpose they are build, all stupas contain a treasury of special objects, to give the stupa a strong energy.
The stupa is also to remind us of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space:
- the square base of a stupa represents earth.
- the dome (sometimes called the vase) shape represents water.
- the spire represents fire.
- the lotus parasol and crescent moon represent air.
- the sun overhead represents space.
A very large stupa is being built near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Watch the stages of building it :
Did you know?
The lotus is regarded as a special plant: its roots are in the mud, and its stems grow through the murky water, become tall as they reach towards the sunlight, where buds and beautiful flowers rise above the water's surface.
For Buddhists, this is illustrates how their lives start in darkness and ignorance and rise until they reach the beautiful sunshine of enlightenment.