The Buddhist faith includes a complex system of beliefs that reach back to Buddhism's founder Siddhartha Guatama. He became the Buddha after becoming enlightened, coming to the conclusion that desire leads to suffering and that the world suffered from an overall lack of compassion. From that point on, Guatama tried to help others liberate themselves from suffering -- an effort that set an altruistic tone for his Buddhist followers to come.
The Buddhist faith emphasizes the principle of Karma, or the good or bad actions a person takes during a lifetime. Good actions include serving others via generosity and compassionate help, while bad actions include lying, stealing or killing. If a person has good Karma throughout a lifetime, then she can expect to be "reborn" in what is referred to as the cycle of rebirth, as either a god or demigod. Practicing good Karma could also lead to a person's attaining Nirvana -- complete enlightenment and liberation from suffering -- or a Bodhisattva, someone dedicated to helping others attain Nirvana.
While some schools of Buddhism focus primarily on the monastic life of repeating prayers, performing rituals and meditation, others, such as the school of Tibetan Buddhism, concentrate more on the quality of compassion and serving others. The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist and a renowned spiritual leader not just for Tibetans but for Buddhists worldwide, says that many illnesses could be cured via the medicine of love and compassion. He adds that while love and compassion tend to flourish within individual families, they do not extend enough to greater social spheres in public life.
A key to practicing compassion is living a life that is overall more cooperative than competitive. The Dalai Lama asserts that the development of human society must be based entirely on people helping each other, and not just on pursuing material interests, such as a career or dream house. He further says that, overall, the world has become so engrossed in materialism that, without even knowing it, we have neglected to foster the most basic human needs of love, kindness, cooperation and caring. The solution, then, is cultivating empathy -- or a genuine understanding of someone else's pain -- and a sense of responsibility toward others.
This spirit of helping others can also be seen in the Buddhist role of "Bodhisattva," mentioned earlier, in which a person has been enlightened and has the ability to reach Nirvana but holds back in order to help others. The Bodhisattva's only goal is to achieve enlightenment in order to help others achieve it. To become a Bodhisattva, a person must perfect generosity, virtue, patience, perseverance, meditation and wisdom in daily living.
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