Tag Archives: spirituality

THE ESSENCE OF HINDUISM

[This article was compiled by Vinaire in 1995 from the authoritative introduction and translations of Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester.]

To understand the essence of Hinduism one must look at the oldest Hindu scriptures, called the Vedas. All orthodox Hindus recognize in them the origin of their faith and its highest written authority. The word Veda means, “to look, or to know.”

Who wrote the Vedas no one knows nor, with any accuracy, when they were written. The sages and seers whose insight they embody remain wholly in the background, impersonal as the truth they stood for, their individual lives lost forever, and even their names.

The Vedas are four in number: RikSamaYajur, and Atharva. Each of these is divided into two parts consisting of the rites and the philosophy. The part containing religious philosophy is called the Upanishads. The Upanishads must be understood for anyone to have any concept of Hinduism. The word Upanishad means, “sitting near devotedly.”

Any subsequent scripture must be in agreement with Vedas if it is to be regarded as valid. It may expand upon them, it may develop them, and still be recognized, but it may not contradict them. They are to the Hindu, as nearly as any human document can be, the expression of divine truth. At the same time it would be a mistake to suppose that his allegiance to their authority is slavish or blind.

If the Hindu considers Vedas the word of God, it is because he believes their truth to be verifiable, immediately at any moment, in his own personal experience. If he found on due examination that it was not so verifiable, he would reject it. If he found that any part of it was not so verifiable, he would reject that. And in this position, he would tell you, the scriptures uphold him, for the basis of all truth is mindfulness.

The real study, say the Vedas, is not the study of them but the study of that “by which we realize the changeless.” In other words, the real study in religion is first-hand experience of God.

The basic concepts of Hinduism are introduced here through some key excerpts borrowed from Katha Upanishad. This Upanishad starts out with the following statement.

“When a man dies, there is this doubt: Some say, he is; others say, he is not… Subtle is the truth regarding it, not easy to understand.”

The explanation of the truth is then attempted as follows.

“Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to men. The wise, having examined both, distinguish the one from the other. The wise prefer the good to the pleasant; the foolish, driven by fleshly desires, prefer the pleasant to the good.”

“Far from each other, and leading to different ends, are ignorance and knowledge. One who aspires after knowledge is not tempted by the multitude of pleasant objects …”

“The goal of worldly desire, the glittering objects for which all men long, the celestial pleasures they hope to gain by religious rites, the most sought-after of miraculous powers — last but till the morrow.”

“The ancient, effulgent being, the indwelling spirit, subtle, deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart, is hard to know. But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain.”

“The Self, whose symbol is OM, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed.”

“Know that Self is the rider, and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins. The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of worldly desire. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind.”

NOTE: In Eastern psychology the mind is an organ of perception.

“When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein.”

“He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal, and having reached it is born no more.”

“The senses derive from physical objects, physical objects from mind, mind from intellect, intellect from ego, ego from the unmanifested seed, and the unmanifested seed from Brahman — the Uncaused Cause.”

“Brahman is the end of the journey. Brahman is the supreme goal.”

“This Brahman, this Self, deep-hidden in all beings, is not revealed to all; but to the seers, pure in heart, concentrated in mind — to them is he revealed.”

“The senses of the wise obey his mind, his mind obeys his intellect, his intellect obeys his ego, and his ego obeys the Self.”

“Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the master and know THAT. Like the sharp edge of the razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread!”

“Soundless, formless, intangible, undying, tasteless, odorless, without beginning, without end, eternal, immutable, beyond nature, is the Self. Knowing him as such, one is freed from death.”

The following are the key ideas summarized from various Upanishads. They highlight what Hinduism is.

I. KATHA UPANISHAD

THE secret of immortality is to be found in purification of the heart, in meditation, in realization of the identity of the Self within and Brahman without. For immortality is union with God.

II. ISHA UPANISHAD

LIFE in the world and life in the spirit are not incompatible. Work, or action, is not contrary to knowledge of God, but indeed, if performed without attachment, is a means to it. On the other hand, renunciation is renunciation of the ego, of selfishness — not of life. The end, both of work and of renunciation, is to know the Self within and Brahman without, and to realize their identity. The Self is Brahman, and Brahman is all.

III. KENA UPANISHAD

THE power behind every activity of nature and of man is the power of Brahman. To realize this truth is to be immortal.

IV. PRASNA UPANISHAD

MAN is composed of such elements as vital breath, deeds, thought, and the senses — all of them deriving their being from the Self. They have come out of the Self, and in the Self they ultimately disappear — even as the waters of a river disappear in the sea.

V. MUNDAKA UPANISHAD

SINCE the manifold objects of sense are merely emanations of Brahman, to know them in themselves is not enough. Since all the actions of men are but phases of the universal process of creation, action alone is not enough. The sage must distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is of things, acts, and relations. But wisdom is of Brahman alone; and, beyond all things, acts, and relations, he abides forever. To become one with him is the only wisdom.

VI. MANDUKYA UPANISHAD

THE life of man is divided between waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. But transcending these three states is super conscious vision — called the Fourth.

VII. TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD

MAN, in his ignorance, identifies himself with the material sheaths that encompass his true Self. Transcending these, he becomes one with Brahman, who is pure bliss.

VIII. AITAREYA UPANISHAD

BRAHMAN, source, sustenance, and end of the universe, partakes of every phase of existence. He wakes with the waking man, dreams with the dreamer, and sleeps the deep sleep of the dreamless sleeper; but he transcends these three states to become himself. His true nature is pure consciousness.

IX. CHANDOGYA UPANISHAD

BRAHMAN is all. From Brahman come appearances, sensations, desires, and deeds. But all these are merely name and form. To know Brahman one must experience the identity between him and the Self, or Brahman dwelling within the lotus of the heart. Only by so doing can man escape from sorrow and death and become one with the subtle essence beyond all knowledge.

X. BRIHADARANYAKA UPANISHAD

THE Self is the dearest of all things, and only through the Self is anything else dear. The Self is the origin of all finite happiness, but it is itself pure bliss, transcending definition. It remains unaffected by deeds, good or bad. It is beyond feeling and beyond knowledge, but it is not beyond the meditation of the sage.

XI. KAIVALYA UPANISHAD

THE sage who by faith, devotion, and meditation has realized the Self, and become one with Brahman, is released from the wheel of change and escapes from rebirth, sorrow, and death.

XII. SVETASVATARA UPANISHAD

MEDITATION can be learned, and it must be practiced according to accepted rules. By its means it is possible to realize the personal Brahman, who, in union with Maya, creates, preserves, and dissolves the universe, and likewise the impersonal Brahman, who transcends all forms of being, who eternally is, without attribute and without action.

OM . . . Peace — peace — peace.

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QUR’AN: THE COW (21-22)

[Reference: QUR’AN: THE COW]

QUR’AN:  THE COW

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE COMPASSIONATE, THE MERCIFUL

(21 – 22)

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O People!

Serve your Lord,

Who created you

and those before you,

so that you may be conscientious;

 who has made the earth a couch for you,

and the heaven a roof,

and who sends water down from the skies,

and who brings forth from it

fruits for your sustenance.

So do not suppose anything to be like God,

When you know.

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COMMENTARY: This verse can be interpreted in two different ways — one constructive and the other, destructive. A social personality will interpret this verse in a way that it improves conditions in the society. But the antisocial personality will interpret this verse in a way that it suppresses the society. Both interpretations will be discussed here.

The social personality will interpret this verse from the viewpoint that is explained under QUR’AN: THE OPENING. Thus, “Serve your Lord” would mean that one must allow the eternal Laws to express themselves fully through one’s being. This means that the self or ego must be put into servitude.

Self, ego, or identity is essentially the weighted average of all physical and mental forces and energies associated with beingness.  This impression of self is continually changing. Self is impermanent. These forces and energies are sustained by the eternal laws that also underlie the existence of the earth and the sky, the phenomenon of rain, growth of food, and man’s means of survival. One must, therefore, put ‘self’ aside and simply understand and follow the eternal Laws unconditionally. One is conscientious and ethical as a result.

Unfortunately, the antisocial personality would interpret this verse quite differently. He would misinterpret “God” as a “superior being” to whom everyone should bow down to in servitude. He would put the eternal Laws in the background and use people’s trust in God for his own purposes. This can be quite destructive as one is told to blindly follow the interpretation of the eternal Laws as provided by the anti-social personality.

NOTE: The actions of anti-social personality always undermine an individual’s ability to think for oneself. In fact, in any environment where one is watched and not allowed to think for oneself, there is always an anti-social personality at work to ensure its own survival at the cost of other’s.

Such suppression was accomplished in the past by monopolizing knowledge and keeping people ignorant. Fortunately, in today’s Information Age, it is becoming increasingly possible to access knowledge and compare it with other knowledge. We have started to see some fundamental changes for the better.

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QUR’AN: THE COW

Reference: QUR’AN: THE OPENING
[NOTE: I am not blogging about Islam. I am blogging about knowledge in the tradition of JNANA YOGA (the yoga of knowledge). My interest is to interpret Qur’an from the viewpoint of knowledge that is useful to mankindI shall be interpreting this knowledge as consistent with my view of God as unknowable. If there is any historical, religious or cultural inconsistency in this material, I shall point it out as such. ~ Vinaire]

QUR’AN:  THE COW

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE COMPASSIONATE, THE MERCIFUL

(2 – 20)

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 This book, without doubt

has guidance in it for the conscientious;  

those who believe in the unseen,

and steadily practice prayer,

and give of what We have provided them,

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COMMENTARY:  This book (Qur’an) consists of the guidance that would bring prosperity to individuals, families, and societies and even to the mankind. Those who are conscientious and think of the survival of everybody and not just their own self, would, no doubt, instinctively follow this guidance.

These laws and principles are quite abstract and they are not very obvious at first glance. However, those who are conscientious would apply them anyway for the good of all. With diligent study and steady practice, they would in time come to appreciate what is in this book.

Giving is always holier than receiving. Those who are conscientious would share their prosperity and help others improve their condition.

NOTE: God is unknowable. There is no person out there providing us with material prosperity, and handing down this guidance. Actually, these are intuitions arrived at by keen observation. 

Prayer is not a mere supplication for relief. Prayer is practicing the principles of Qur’an correctly. Prayer consists of giving rather than receiving.

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and those who believe

what has been sent down to you

and what was sent down before you,

and are certain of the Hereafter.

They follow guidance from their Lord,

and they are the happy ones.

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COMMENTARY:  Those who are conscientious can see the consistency of the truths (laws and principles) revealed in Qur’an with those revealed earlier in the Torah and the Gospel. They know that it is the consequences of their own actions that determine the future. Such people humbly follow the guidance given in Qur’an, and thus achieve success and happiness in their lives.

NOTE: The use of the word “Lord” is poetic. It is not to be taken literally. God is unknowable. Man controls his own destiny. He is his own lord.

Qur’an is describing the characteristics of a SOCIAL PERSONALITY. The social personality naturally operates on the basis of the greatest good for all. The social personality wants to survive and wants others to survive, whereas the ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY (as described in the subsequent verses) really and covertly wants others to succumb.

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As for the ungrateful who refuse,

it is the same to them

whether you warn them or not;

they do not believe.

God has sealed their hearts

and their hearings,

and covered their eyes;

for them there is a great torment.

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COMMENTARY:  There are some who are ungrateful even when they are helped. Such people do not care for this guidance even when it is explained to them how indispensable it is for survival. Such people really have no feelings in their heart for others. They do not want to hear about doing anything good to others. They do not want to see any good being done to others. For such people there is a great torment.

NOTE: Qur’an is describing here the characteristics of an ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY. The antisocial personality really and covertly wants others to succumb.

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And among humankind

are those who say

they believe in God and the Last Day

but they do not believe.

 They try to deceive God

and those who believe,

but they do not deceive anyone

except themselves,

although they do not know it.

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COMMENTARY:  Unfortunately, such people do exist among humankind. They say that they believe in the welfare of all, and that, like anybody, they too are responsible for their actions, but they don’t really mean it. Such people think that they would survive better if others don’t do so well. So they only pretend to help without really helping. But they don’t deceive anyone except themselves, and they do not even know it.

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There is a sickness in their hearts,

and God has made them sicker;

and theirs is a painful torment,

because they were in fact lying.

 And when they are told not to make trouble on earth,

they say they are only doing good.

Is it not that they are in fact

the troublemakers,

without even knowing it?

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COMMENTARY:  Such people are actually sick to their core. They lie and they are tormented by the thought of being found out. Thus, they become sicker. Such people only make trouble even when they say that they have only the best of intentions.  Their actions always lead to trouble but they can’t see it.

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And when it is said to them,

“Believe as the people believe,”

they say, “Shall we believe

as imbeciles believe?”

No, it is they,

they who are the imbeciles,

though they do not know.

And when they encounter

those who believe,

they say, “We believe.”

But when they are alone

with their obsessions,

they say,

“We are in fact with you;

we were only joking.”

 

COMMENTARY:  Such people look down upon those who want people to do better. They consider any helpful attitude to be foolishness.  But it is they who are fools without knowing it. Such people do not express their contempt openly.  Outwardly, they pretend to agree with the idea of everyone working for the common good, but when they are with their own kind they mock the idea of working for anybody’s welfare.

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God will make a joke of them,

amplifying their outrages

as they wander astray.

 They are the ones

who have bartered

guidance for error:

thus their trade does not profit

and they are not guided.

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COMMENTARY:  The irony is that such people do not do well but actually suffer greatly in their ignorance. They shun any guidance and go their own stubborn way. Thus, being trapped in their own lies, they are not guided by good sense.

NOTE:  This is a sad commentary on the duplicity of human nature.  It is not easy to make such people see the error of their ways.  Such people have put themselves beyond the pale by despising those who can help them.  It is indeed a daunting and frustrating task to handle the blindness of such people.

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What they are like is one who lit a fire,

and when it illumined everything around,

God took their light

and left them in darkness,

unseeing.

 Deaf, dumb, and blind,

they will not get back.

Or like a rain cloud from the sky,

in it darkness, thunder,

and lightning.

They put their fingers in their ears

against the peal

in fear of death:

yet God surrounds the ungrateful.

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COMMENTARY:  It is as if everyone around them can see but they can’t see even when a situation is as plain as daylight. They have become deaf, dumb and blind due to their own considerations. There is little chance of them recovering from their condition. Enlightenment comes from courageously facing the stark realities of life however frightening and dangerous they might appear to be.  However, such people are so terrified that they keep on running away.  Yet they have the potential within them to face the truth if they want to.

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The lightning nearly

takes away their vision.

Every time it sheds light for them,

they walk in it;

and when it grows dark upon them,

they stand still.

And if God willed,

God could remove

their hearing and seeing:

for God has power over all things.

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COMMENTARY: When such people are forced to face the truth they do so but with little sense of responsibility. And as soon as they are left to themselves, they become deaf, dumb and blind to truth again. But it is just that they have chosen to be so. There is nobody else to blame. But if they want they can recover from this condition.

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The Context of KHTK

[Reference: What is KHTK?]

KHTK is practiced within the context of THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH – The Path as taught by Buddha. The eight categories of this path are outlined below. Please note that this is eastern psychology and not a religion.

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(A) Wisdom

1.  Right Understanding (seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label)

(a) The nature of life is Dukkha

(b) The origin of Dukkha is ‘thirst’

(c) Nirvana is the cessation of Dukkha.

(d) The path to Nirvana is eight fold.

 

2.  Right Thought (extended to all beings)

(a) Thoughts of selfless renunciation or detachment

(b) Thoughts of love

(c) Thoughts of non-violence

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(B) Ethical Conduct

3.  Right Speech

(a) Abstain from telling lies

(b) Abstain from backbiting and slander and talk that may bring about hatred, enmity, disunity, and disharmony among individuals or groups of people.

(c) Abstain from harsh, rude, impolite, malicious and abusive language.

(d) Abstain from idle, useless and foolish babble and gossip.

(e) Do not speak carelessly: speech should be at the right time and place.

(f) If one cannot say something useful, one should keep ‘noble silence’.

 

4.  Right Action

(a) Abstain from destroying life, from stealing, from dishonest dealings, and from illegitimate sexual intercourse.

(b) Always aim at promoting moral, honorable and peaceful product.

(c) Help others to lead a peaceful and honorable life in the right way.

 

5.  Right Livelihood

(a) Abstain from making living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as

    • Trading in arms and lethal weapons,
    • Intoxicating drinks,
    • Poisons,
    • Killing animals,
    • Cheating, etc.

(b) Live by a profession which is honorable, blameless and innocent of harm to others.

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(C) Mental Discipline

6.  Right Effort (energetic will)

(a) To prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising

(b) To get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a man

(c) To produce, to cause to arise, good and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen

(d) To develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in a man.

 

7.  Right Mindfulness (to be diligently aware, mindful and attentive with regard to)

(a) The activities of the body.

    • Be clearly aware of breathing
    • Whether it is deep or shallow
    • Of how it appears and disappears within the body

(b) Sensations or feelings.

    • Be clearly aware of all forms of feelings and sensations
    • Whether pleasant, unpleasant and neutral
    • Of how they appear and disappear within oneself

(c) The activities of the mind

    • Whether one’s mind is lustful or not, given to hatred or not, deluded or not, distracted or concentrated, etc.
    • All movements of mind, how they arise and disappear.

(d) Ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things

    • One should know their nature
    • How they appear and disappear
    •  How they are developed
    •  How they are suppressed, and destroyed, and so on

 

8.  Right Concentration

(a) First Stage

    • Passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded
    • Feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities.

(b) Second Stage

    • All intellectual activities are suppressed
    • Tranquility and ‘one-pointedness’ of mind is developed
    • The feelings of joy and happiness are still retained.

(c) Third Stage

    • The feeling of joy, which is an active sensation, also disappears
    • The disposition of happiness still remains
    • Mindful equanimity remains

(d) Fourth Stage

    • All sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and sorrow, disappear
    • Only pure equanimity and awareness remains

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The practice of KHTK helps bring about ‘Right Mindfulness’, which then supports the development of overall mental discipline. The mental discipline goes hand in hand with ‘wisdom’ and ‘ethical conduct’. So, when one is working with KHTK, one is working with all the eight categories above simultaneously.

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[For further details, please see: KHTK Index]

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Questions on Buddhism

Buddha

I just received some questions on Buddhism by a student who is working on her final project for her class on Religion. These are very good questions. I would like to post these questions and answers here:

1. In your perspective, what is the way of the Buddha?

From my perspective Buddha’s way is an effort to enable a person to overcome suffering. The core of his teaching is to look at things just as they are without assuming anything.

2. What made you decide to practice Buddhism?

I am an engineer and knowledge has always fascinated me. I have studied all major religions and have looked closely at their actual applicability. I am simply practicing what makes sense to me, and what is useful. It happens to be the core ideas expressed in Buddhism. But I must say that these ideas overlap with ideas from other religions. In short, knowledge cannot be limited to any particular label.

3. Was Buddhism a natural part of your life or did you seek it out?

My natural tendency has always been to question what is inconsistent and to seek out consistency in understanding. This has led me to Buddhism. But even in Buddhism there are many different interpretations. I am generating my own understanding of Buddhism that appears consistent to me. Actually this is exactly what Buddha recommended. One must develop one’s own understanding.

4. What are the benefits of Buddhism to a person’s peace, soul, happiness, compassion, empathy, health, perceptions and impacts of this world?

The following is a quote from the book “BUDDHA” by Karen Armstrong,
“If you look at things just as they are, you gradually gain the insight that makes the suffering more tolerable. It does not prevent the suffering that comes from growing old, getting sick, etc., but you can be peaceful in its presence. Following those insights you naturally develop a conduct that enhances peace and happiness.”

5. How is Buddhism taught to its followers?

Buddhism is a major religion, which is now 2600 years old. At first it was taught by Buddha giving sermons to his disciples. After Buddha’s death all his teachings were written down and were made available through well-organized “sanghas.” A sangha is a community of Buddhist monks.

Today, one may study Buddhism by oneself.  There is excellent literature available on Buddhism in all different media. Buddhism is not faith based. It is knowledge-based. There is no faith-conversion required in Buddhism. A person may study Buddhism because it appeals to him or her. The person does not have to believe in Buddhism. He is not required to follow any rituals.

6. How do people worship?

There is no worship per se, because there is no God in Buddhism. There is only respect for knowledge and understanding. Buddha is revered as the founder of Buddhism. There are monasteries and temples, but these are there only to facilitate study and practice of Buddhism.

7. What does one need to do if they are interested in learning Buddhism?

There is a lot of literature available on Buddhism in its original Pali language, which is also translated in most other languages. There are many commentaries written on Buddhism. For beginners I shall recommend reading the following two books.

What the Buddha taught by Walpola Rahula
Buddha by Karen Armstrong

8. Does Buddhism proselytize?

No.

9. Are there any inconsistencies in Buddhism, such as prejudices?

None that I know of.

10. What is the success rate for those wanting to follow the Buddhist path?

At its peak Buddhism is said to have civilized three-quarters of the population of the world. Buddhism has influenced many religions that have followed since. Buddhism is a path of peace, and it has been very successful in bringing about that peace  on a social basis as well as on an individual basis.

11. How does one reach enlightenment?

One reaches enlightenment by understanding the four Noble Truths of Buddha. The fourth Noble Truth lays out an eight-fold path to follow. The following e-book describes it in simple terms:

What the Buddha taught by Walpola Rahula

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