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Buddhism

Buddhism’s teachings eschew the notion of an omnipotent god or gods. There is no divine ruler who decides the fate of the individual. In Buddhism, life is not a series of free choices, but rather each person’s life is controlled by the karma he or she accumulated in previous lives. It is solely the action of the individual that determines the course of his or her life, and no god can change the effects once humankind has created the causes. Evil conduct cannot be forgiven and must reap its own punishment, while righteous deeds will reap their due rewards.

Buddhists believe that the fortunate, rich, or powerful obtain their status from a position of superior karma, while the poor and suffering have been cursed with their fate as a result of indiscretions in a previous existence. A person who is rich, powerful, or influential is obviously so because of a meritorious past life. His superior karma earns him the right and privilege of deference.

Fundamental to Buddhism is the belief in the Four Noble Truths, discovered by the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment:

  • all life is suffering
  • all suffering has a cause in cravings or desire
  • the suffering can be overcome by eliminating the desire
  • the desire can be overcome by following the Eightfold Path

This eight-step recipe for success includes right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The first two principles of the Eightfold Path concern motivation, the next three address moral code, and the last three concern man’s mind for right ends. Salvation occurs when the individual recognizes these eight truths and follows their guidelines to destroy desire, thereby breaking the train of reincarnation. The end result is enlightenment and entrance into a state of nirvana—the ultimate aim.

This Eightfold Path is also known as the Middle Way, as it avoids extremes of behavior. An adherent does not have to live an austere life, nor should he or she move to the high-end scale of sensuality.

As a result of their belief in karma and reincarnation, Buddhists refuse to assign moral shame to the actions of an individual. Life is nonjudgmental, and Buddhists neither fear nor look forward to an eternity in heaven or hell. Thus most Buddhists feel free to behave without guilt, as judgment in their next life will be based on their actions and not on religious dogma.

Buddhism, unlike Christianity, refuses to answer many of the basic questions about the meaning of life, such as human origins or final disposition. Life is seen as an impermanent condition filled with contradictory forces that demand no explanation and which are experienced with little attempt at rationalization. Buddhists are largely left alone to determine their own value systems and levels of morality.

To speed their path to nirvana by reducing their number of rebirths, Buddhists will make merit by feeding monks, giving donations to temples, and making regular appearances at temples for worship. Making merit is an intrinsic part of Buddhist social behavior.

Buddhists do not keep any particular dav of the week for religious observation in the way that followers of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism do. Nor do they celebrate mass or any other type of liturgy presided over by a priest or other religious leader, although they attend discourses of Buddhism given by abbots and will often seek counsel with a monk or nun to discuss life’s problems.
 

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