Jose Drost-Lopez

The Story of Buddhism

In Religions and spirituality, Stories on November 12, 2011 at 11:56 pm

This is the first of a series of posts on Buddhism and psychology, based on my PsychTalk interview on the same topic. Without further ado, let’s start off with a story:

Buddhism began with a prince born in a small kingdom in the Northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent. This prince was named Siddhārtha Gautama. In the traditional account, he grew up with little knowledge of religions or of the suffering in the world. His marriage was arranged at 16 and he had a son, named Rahul. At the age of 29 he finally ventured away from palace, and he was surprised to meet a very old man. His charioteer explained to him that everyone ages until death. Siddharta made more trips into town, leading him to face a diseased man, a corpse, and a begging holy man. Dissatisfied with his wealthy lifestyle and searching for meaning, he left his life as a prince to live the simple, stoic life of an ascetic. He studied under two hermits, and then joined five companions to practice extreme self-deprivation. After a period of eating only a leaf or a nut a day, he collapsed in a river while washing himself. He almost drowned. This spurred him to reconsider his path. He decided to continue meditating but to reject extremes of deprivation or indulgence. His companions disagreed, viewing him as undisciplined, so they left him. Siddharta, now 35 years old, sat alone under a fig tree, vowing not to leave until he found truth. On his 49th day in this meditative journey, he is said to have attained the highest state of enlightenment, known as Nirvana. Soon he embarked on a journey to share his teachings, which collectively came to be known as the Dharma. After his death at the age of 80, his followers passed down his teachings by oral tradition for four centuries until they were gradually written down in the first century before Christ. The first set of Buddhist scriptures was composed in northern India and is known as the Pali Canon. The Pali Canon underlies the oldest school of Buddhism known as Theravada. A separate array of texts developed in southern India became the focus of a second school known as Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism had more mystical and devotional aspects but the same basic goals of enlightened awareness and of liberation from suffering. It became more popular than Theravada and spread East across the vast Asian continent, where it split into Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian forms. Skipping forward to today, Buddhism in all its forms is the fourth largest religion in the world after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. One of the most public Buddhist figures is the 14thDalai Lama, who leads the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama takes a deep interest in science, especially neuroscience. And for that reason he’s a great segue for my main topic: the intersections of neuropsychology and Buddhism

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