Are Buddhist monks really happy?

Buddhism: information on world religion

Buddhism can seem a bit strange to Christians or Muslims. Because in this belief there is no paradise and no almighty God. Today around 360 million people profess the peaceful teaching, the history of which goes back 2500 years

Yoshi is a bit excited. What question will his master ask him? Aha, there it comes: There is a large Buddha statue in Tokyo. Why does a bird sit on it?

Hmm Yoshi frowns. The Japanese boy thinks it's pretty tricky. Until he has found an answer to that, he will certainly have to think long and hard.

At the same time in China: thinking? No, Wong doesn't have to. Zack! His leg shoots forward - it's as automatic as taking a breath. The boy jumps around and swirls his hands in the air. If there was an opponent in front of him, he would now be beaten like a bum. Wong practices kung fu until he drops every day.

Another trip, to the south, to Thailand: a gentle gift - Biaw begs - and humbly holds his bowl in front of him. Today he's back to collecting alms. The people in the area are very poor. But generous. They know that donations make you happy. One small coin after the other ends up in Biaw's jar.

Buddhism: Belief of 360 million people

It's hard to believe: As different as their day looks - Yoshi, Wong and Biaw have a lot in common. All three are Buddhist monks. You profess Buddhism, one of the great world religions, in which around 360 million people believe today. Yoshi is studying in a Zen monastery where masters like to confuse their students with puzzles. Wong lives in the famous Shaolin monastery, where monks from ancient martial arts developed their kung fu style 1500 years ago. And Biaw lives in one of the 40,000 monasteries in Thailand. For the monks there, fundraising is part of their normal job.

Buddha, aka Siddartha

Buddhism takes its name from the traveling preacher Buddha, who lived at the foot of the Himalayas long before the birth of Christ. Who was this Buddha? The experts don't know too much today. Because in more than 2000 years facts about the life of the founder of religion have mixed with flowery legends.

It seems certain that he was born as the son of a prince in the city of Lumbini, around 560 BC, and that his name was Siddhartha Gautama. Until he was 29 years old, Siddhartha is said to have lived a life of incredible luxury: During the day, servants hold white umbrellas over him to protect his noble head from the rays of the sun. He passes the time in a harem with beautiful dancers. “I had a palace for the summer, one for the winter and one for the rainy season,” the prince's son later said.

Siddartha is illuminated under a fig tree

A paradise - but Siddhartha's life takes a surprising turn: on excursions he sees an old man, a sick man and a dead man. The spoiled realizes how ephemeral his happiness is: a few more years, then he too will die! And all his gold won't help him!

Siddhartha thinks about how he can escape the misfortune. He leaves his palace and wanders around, as do many holy men in northern India at the time. He lived on alms for seven years. Fast until he looks almost like a skeleton.

Then Siddhartha suddenly recognizes the way to redemption under a fig tree! In the future, people reverently call him Buddha - that is, "the enlightened one".

What Buddha tells his listeners sounds strange to many Europeans to this day. Because some things that are taken for granted in Christianity or Islam are missing: There is no paradise. Yes, there is not even an Almighty God! Suffering plays a major role in Buddha's teaching: All life is suffering, he teaches - because it consists of illness, unhappiness and pain.

Life: no beginning and no end

Worse still: Man is forever chained to his suffering. Buddhists believe in rebirth. For them, life does not have a beginning and an end. It is more like a wheel that is constantly turning. After death, a person is born again in a new form: as a person, as an animal, as a spirit - everything is possible. He lives and dies. Lives and dies again ... And so on.

Is it possible to escape from the painful prison? Buddha shows the way to salvation: the "eightfold path" (see box). In order to improve their fate, people should obey certain rules - for example, act peacefully. Then they can come into the world as something “better” in the next life.

As a child of rich parents, for example. Those who are pious enough can even escape the eternal cycle and enter nirvana. Buddhists understand this to mean a state in which all suffering ceases.

After the Buddha's death, his gentle teaching spread throughout Asia: monks brought the religion to Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. In the north, teaching reaches huge China in the 1st century AD and jumps from there to Korea and Japan.

Monasteries are springing up everywhere, and the population is usually happy to take care of them. Because donating monks is a good deed - and brings blessings for the next life.

The eightfold path of Buddhism

Christians have received ten commandments from God, Jews even 613. Buddhists also have to observe eight rules if they want to be redeemed step by step. Buddha called these steps the eightfold path. The first step is correct thinking: Believers must realize that they improve their destinies by doing good deeds and making their destinies worse by doing bad deeds. Second, the right attitude is important: People must not be greedy, hate or deceive other living beings.

Instead, they should be kind and gentle - and speak rightly, i.e. not lie. That is the third step. The fourth step is doing the right thing. This is peaceful for Buddhists: killing and stealing are grave sins. Fifth, the believer must live rightly.

This also includes the job: All activities that harm people - such as dealing in weapons or alcohol - are reprehensible. Through right striving, the sixth step, people should fight their evil thoughts and awaken noble thoughts in themselves.

The seventh step is the right mindfulness: By consciously perceiving the moment, for example a breath, Buddhists can see how ephemeral their body is; this is a way to overcome greed, pain, and tribulation. Meditation is also very important for Buddha. This is an exercise in which people sit still and concentrate. With this the eighth step can succeed, the right immersion.

Buddhists do not impose their beliefs on anyone

In contrast to many followers of other religions, Buddhists proceed peacefully: They do not use the sword to persuade “unbelievers” to “believe correctly” - as was often the case with Christians, for example.

Instead, they accept the cults of the local population: when they come to Japan, the people there worship their ancient gods of nature. What do the Buddhist monks do? They promptly state that these Shinto deities are actually Buddha - he has just taken a different form. And the Japanese can convert to the new faith without having to change.

Because Buddhism adapts to every country, countless forms of its teachings have emerged to this day: In Thailand or Myanmar, believers adhere to Theravada Buddhism, which follows the words of Buddha very closely. There is Tantra Buddhism, in which the believers speak magic formulas.

And there are forms like Zen Buddhism, whose followers seek enlightenment by sitting still for days or painting with ink.