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Buddhism Essays and Homework
1.      Does the story of Siddhartha Guatama, particularly in the years before he became the Buddha, ring true? Is it legend or hearsay? Does it matter?

I find the story of how Siddharta Gautama was conceived, and dreams about the elephant penetrating his mother's womb, difficult to accept on a literal level, much the same as that of Mary being a virgin and conceiving Jesus.  Yet, I think there is a danger that we may criticise unfairly by using our mundane ideas of what is real and what is fantasy rather than opening our minds to other dimensions of reality.

However, I do believe the story of his privileged and protected young life to be true.  I have several times visited the sights in Nepal where His father's Kingdom was based, as well as His birthplace, Lumbini, and Bodhgaya.  I have personally seen that even today in India and Nepal it is quite possible for those coming from a certain "background" to avoid the sights of poverty and suffering. I also have personal experience of training in the British military with Princes of various countries. Some of them found the training almost unbearably tough, not because they were weak, ill-disciplined, or lacked determination, but because they had been so cosseted that  they had never had to lift a finger for anything.  Again, from my personal experience, I had a bachelor colleague in Nepal who had over 35 house-staff, just to look after him alone!  If this is all possible in the 21st century, and it is, then I have no difficult believing in how Siddharta's father "protected Him from the sights of the realities of life.

2.      What does enlightenment mean to you?

I think that this is a surprisingly difficult question.  I have been a Buddhist for over 23 years and yet my ideas of enlightenment are not solid.  I do think that "enlightenment" is a state of seeing the true reality of existence, the inter-dependence, connectedness, emptiness, and our own true nature.  However why I feel that my own views do not provide a solid answer is because over the years I think that perhaps we can have periods of an enlightened stage, maybe even "flashes" of clarity, but this does not necessarily mean that we have achieved a completely enlightened stage.  This rather strays into the third question. 

3.      Do you believe that enlightenment is possible? Is there more than one way to be enlightened? If so, what?

Yes, certainly enlightenment is possible.  I am not sure of the clarity of the second part of the question.  This could be asking if there are different types or levels or enlightenment, or the wording could refer to different paths to reach an enlightened stage.  If the question means the former, then I would answer that I think true and complete enlightenment is one state, regardless of religious background - it is the true understanding and experience of the reality of existence.  However, as I said in answer to the second question, I do think that there can be glimpses of enlightenment, a flash of understanding, but without that then leading to a completely enlightened state.   If the question is referring to the latter interpretation:  I believe that there is certainly not only one way to be enlightened, and such a state of can be reached through different religious practices and teachings.  In my opinion, there is a danger to reach a certain level and then believe "that's it - now I understand" and then not push further, deeper, to reach that TRUE level of enlightenment, and it is this which leads different religions to come into conflict.  If we reach a level of knowledge of our own religious background and we achieve some state beyond the mundane, there is a danger in thinking that this is therefore THE WAY, at the exclusion of all others.  This is not true enlightenment.  I believe that true enlightenment goes beyond this, beyond the teachings of one religious teacher or scripture - they are very important signposts to lead us along the path, of that I have no doubt, but the path continues until all this falls away.  So, in answering this question I believe there to be many ways to reach enlightenment.

Mark D Vickers

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