Siddhartha Gautama, son of King Suddhodana Gautama, a raja of the Shakya clan in India, was born around 563 B.C. He was shielded from all suffering until he escaped his protectors and observed suffering. This event changed his perspective and caused him to leave his wife and child to search the world for enlightenment. Through meditation he finally reached complete enlightenment. This he passed on to his followers as his teachings, called the dharma.
The goal of Buddhism is to escape samsara, or the cycle of rebirths, reincarnation, transmigration. Reincarnation is necessary because one must eliminate his karma, or the negative balance between one's good deeds and bad deeds that determines one's state in the next life. Buddhism's idea of reincarnation is different from that of Hinduism, because Buddhism teaches that the individual soul or "self" is not reborn, but only "karmic matter" or the elements that comprises an individual, but completely rearranged, "much as a chariot is a name for a certain grouping of parts that can be rearranged to be something else while still comprising the same parts."
Escape is made by understanding the Four Noble Truths, also called Pativedhana, or "the wisdom of realization":
- (1) The Universality of Suffering
- (2) The Origin of Suffering
- (3) The Overcoming of Suffering
- (4) The Way Leading to the Suppression of Suffering
Once one understands the Four Noble Truths, he can then dedicate himself to following the Noble Eightfold Path (Marga):
- (1) Right Views (Understanding)
- (2) Right Aspirations (Ambition)
- (3) Right Speech (Communication)
- (4) Right Conduct (Action)
- (5) Right Livelihood (Vocation)
- (6) Right Effort (Endeavor)
- (7) Right Mindfulness (Mental Self-Control)
- (8) Right Concentration (Deep Meditation)
One escapes samsara and reaches Nirvana, where he is freed forever from all the anxieties, fears, and desires of ordinary life, and freed from the eternal round of decay, suffering, and death. One experiences liberation, inward peace, strength, insight, truth, and the joy of complete oneness with reality. After death, the one who has reached Nirvana is totally annihilated. This completes the re-absorption of the individual soul with the Universal Soul, "like a candle flame being blown out."
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead,
he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not
resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently
instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change
of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26