For its followers, Buddhism is more than a religion; it is a way of life. While Buddhists take vows that are similar to those taken in other religions, including the vows not to kill, lie or steal, Buddhism does not prohibit its practitioners from following other religions. Additionally, it gives its followers autonomy in choosing the depth of practice. Buddhists may individually make certain commitments -- like reciting a mantra a certain number of times or fulfilling the requests of a teacher -- but they are not required; instead, they are self-imposed. Unlike many religions, a Buddhist nun or monk may return to their vows after choosing to marry and have children without negative backlashes or bitter judgment.
Unlike monotheistic religions, Buddhism does not deify its founder, Gautama Siddhartha, but teaches the history of his life and how he came to enlightenment. Buddhism is a practical set of beliefs based on observation of the human condition. The Buddha taught that all beings suffer and wish to be free from suffering and from the root causes of suffering. Rather than being caused by external circumstances or deeds, Buddhism teaches that suffering is rooted in the state of one's mind.
Buddhists begin practice by taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha, which are the teacher, the teachings and community of fellow believers. While this concept is similar to those held by other religions -- there is a spiritual leader, a holy book and congregation -- Buddhists may additionally look to contemporary teachers and fellow believers in addition to those who have lived in the past or live in other parts of the world. The Buddhist's core practice is meditation, which is intended to calm the mind and enable the practicer to experience the state of true awareness that is free from suffering.
Reward and Punishment
Unlike religions with a formidable god who is always watching his people, Buddhism does not teach that deeds are rewarded and punished in the afterlife in heaven and hell. Rather, Buddhism teaches karma, that one's actions generate positive or negative energy and subsequent results. Human beings are believed to be more fortunate than animals as they are able to choose their actions and thus generate positive karma.
Unlike many other religions, Buddhism does not believe in a soul that is a unique entity. Instead, Buddhists recognize the reincarnation or emanation of masters or great teachers by signs associated with birth, objects the young child appears to be familiar with, or other indications throughout life. This belief in reincarnation is more of a repetition of thought patterns and the karma generated by the person in his or her previous life. Buddhists even believe that some beings who have achieved enlightenment choose to return in human form to continue to help other beings.
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