This week I would like to revisit the basics of Buddhism. It is often said that we forget what we learn in order to make room for new knowledge. Now whether this is true or not is debatable but lets face it – we are human and we can and do forget. so lets begin with the many forms of Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism is the oldest and most conservative branch of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists adhere strictly to the Pali Canon – the earliest written texts of the Buddha’s teachings as their authority for understanding his teachings. They emphasize the Buddha’s claim that he was an ordinary man, not a god. Like Buddha, they believe divine beings may exist but cannot help us. They believe rigorous self-effort is required to attain nirvana, and the path is a demanding one for the individual, who must abandon worldly living and desires.

For this reason, it is primarily the monks, who choose to devote their entire lives to following Buddha’s teachings and withdraw from normal life, that reach nirvana. Because attaining nirvana is so difficult and unlikely for the average person, most Theravada Buddhists spend their efforts on making merit that will ensure favorable karma and a better rebirth. This branch of Buddhism is prominent in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.

Theravada Buddhism emphasises attaining self-liberation through one’s own efforts. Meditation and concentration are vital elements of the way to enlightenment. within this framework the ideal road is to dedicate oneself to full-time monastic life. The values of Theravada Buddhism have modern appeal to those of us who do not go off to become honorable monks and I feel its values, like many buddhist traditions do crossover both in practice and to everyday life and actions.

Everything I have personally learned along my path has taught me to loosen my attachment to all things (shared value regardless of branch). This includes shared concepts such as the bodhisattva and arhat (someone who has attained liberation). I have found these concepts useful when they help free me from clinging or help me help others. They become harmful when they become something I/we cling to. When I loosen my grip on such concepts and definitions, I find I am more prone to let other things go and move forward of my own accord.There really is no need to see myself, or others, through these definitions and instead, focus on non-attachment and the wish that all beings may be free of suffering.

Peace and Love, Jim

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