Buddhism traces its roots back to the Buddha, a yogi who lived more than 2,500 years ago in northern India. The Buddha discovered a way to live that radically transformed people's lives, starting with his own. His revolutionary insights have withstood the test of time and his methods can still transform lives as they did in ancient India. The Buddha taught mindfulness, kindness, and compassion. Buddhism, the family of religions that evolved from the Buddha's teachings, is one of the great ethical systems for the benefit of humanity.
While Buddhism may be considered a nontheistic religion, it transcends religious belief into practical experience. You don't believe in Buddhism, you practice Buddhism. In fact, you don't even need to be a “Buddhist” to practice “Buddhism.” You just have to sit down and meditate.
At a time when yoga enjoyed widespread popularity, the Buddha was a prodigious yogi. He mastered the yogas of his day and then founded a way that could go beyond all suffering. This way also goes beyond words and needs to be experienced for yourself. The good news is that is available right here, right now.
Jane Hirshfield, in the PBS documentary The Buddha, offers an explanation of the Buddha's teachings in seven words: “Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.” This is a nice condensing of millions of words attributed to the Buddha in the Pali Canon. “Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.” Got that?!
Buddhism is flourishing in the West. It seems to offer a much-needed antidote to the stresses of modern life. It provides a way to renovate your relationship to uncertainty. It provides a way to renovate your relationship to want. Christians and Jews alike practice aspects of Buddhism while retaining their own traditions and marking their own holidays. From celebrities to the clerk at the gas station convenience store, this vibrant religion is capturing the hearts and minds of many. Buddhism carries within its belly the power to transform individuals, societies, and the world. It is a practice of interior and exterior revolution.
Western soil is changing the face of Buddhism, as did China, Japan, and Tibet in earlier centuries. Buddhism is not a fixed doctrine, but a fluid set of ideas and practices. Wherever you are reading this book right now, chances are there is a Buddhist practice center nearby. After reading this book, you might want to visit one of these centers and try it out for yourself.
Once exotic and Eastern, Buddhism is now a common section at your local Borders or independent bookstore. Hundreds of titles are published each year, many by Wisdom Publications, a nonprofit press devoted to transmission of the dharma — the collected wisdom of the Buddha. Buddhism is also in the news: the Dalia Lama's struggle for Tibet; political unrest in Sri Lanka and Burma; Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.
If you are hounded by a sense of lack, dissatisfaction, or are caught up in a web of suffering, Buddhism has something to offer you. If you are concerned about the state of the world and want to engage in conscious social action, Buddhism has something to offer you. Buddhism has much to offer many, and it may be just what the world needs now to save it from itself.
The Buddha embarked on an adventure to discover his true nature and the true nature of the world. He relied on nothing but his own experiences and invited everyone else to do the same. And now you, too, are invited to have an encounter with the truth and see what Buddhism is all about. It just might surprise you.