Unlike other religious philosophies or systems of religious thought, Buddhism makes no clear distinction between divinity and humanity. Its teachings enable people to attain enlightenment, to become Buddhas themselves. But specifically, the Lotus Sutra alone makes Buddhahood accessible to all people. The Buddha can in no way be defined as a transcendental or supreme being. "Buddha" means the Enlightened One; a Buddha is a person who perceives within his own life the essence, or reality of life. This ultimate reality supports and nourishes humanity and all other living beings. Those who have perceived this ultimate reality inherent in their own lives truly know themselves; they are Buddhas.
Socrates' words, "Know thyself," have posed a problem which philosophy, down through history, has attempted to answer. Buddhism expounded about one hundred years before the age of Socrates, provided a concrete answer, but it was long obscured by the ESOTERIC tendencies among early Buddhist scholars(i.e Tibetan Buddhism). The Buddhist philosophy is actually the revelation of a very practical way to bring out the true self, as opposed to the phenomenal self, as one moves toward perfection. It is not metaphysical speculation. Buddhism is basically a practical system of teachings providing a means to realize the ideal state of Buddhahood, which is self-perfection.
Buddhists perceive the ultimate reality of life equally within all human beings, and accordingly respect the dignity of all people. As one begins to recognize this, one understands that one must awaken others to the dignity of their own lives. One's belief urges one to teach and help others awaken to the ultimate reality existing within so that they can create truly happy lives. In that way one is helping others attain Buddhahood. Those who truly strive for the sake of others are called "bodhisattvas." The power, which infuses them with the desire to help others, is the impartial and infinite compassion of the Buddha called jihi.
The two goals of Buddhism, then, are the attainment of Buddhahood and the fulfillment of the requirements of the bodhisattva. Interestingly, they are restated in Immanuel Kant's idea that self-perfection and other people's happiness are at once the purposes and obligations of human beings, unconsciously echoing principles expounded at least 2,300 years before Kant's time. This shows that a universal teaching can and will reappear in entirely different cultural mediums.
No clear definition of Buddhism can be readily given. There are many explanations about what Buddhism is, presented from many different angles. Therefore, an ATTEMPT to formulate an explanation, which is understandable and satisfactory to everyone, is a virtual impossibility.
All the teachings of Shakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism, were recorded giving rise to a vast array of sutras or scriptures. Because they contain teachings which are at times contradictory, a large number of schools developed, basing their teachings on one or another of the sutras. As a result, endless controversies/conflicts arose among the different Buddhist sects(both Hinayana and Mahayana schools), each asserting the superiority of its own tenets.
Notwithstanding these conflicts, however, all the Buddhist sects commonly acknowledge the account concerning Shakyamuni's motives for renouncing the secular world. It is as follows: In his youth, when he was a prince and called Gautama Siddhartha, Shakyamuni became aware of and profoundly troubled by the problem of human suffering. He gave up his princely status and pursued the life of a religious mendicant in search of a solution to the four inescapable sufferings which confront all human beings: birth, old age, sickness and death. According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha renounced secular life at the age of nineteen and attained enlightenment at thirty. Modern scholars generally place these ages at twenty-nine and thirty-five, respectively. After eleven years (six years according to the latter view) of ascetic practices and deep meditation, he finally realized the truth which would emancipate human beings from suffering, and he became a Buddha. An understanding of what Buddhism actually is can be gained from knowledge of the motive that prompted him to seek enlightenment. In the final analysis, all of Shakyamuni's teachings were expounded for the sole purpose of solving the universal sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death, as well as to seek a way to transcend them.
However, this does not mean that Buddhism works to free its believers from the phenomena of aging, sickness and death. Shakyamuni Buddha himself grew old and passed away. He was in no way entirely free of sickness, as is indicated by the statement in the Lotus Sutra, "[The Thus Come One is well and happy,] with few ills and few worries." Then what does it mean to say that Shakyamuni overcame the four sufferings? The answer to this question will clarify the truth to which the Buddha was enlightened, comprising the essence of the Buddha's teachings.
Buddhism has its origin in the desire to solve the most fundamental problem of human suffering. The teachings of Buddhism effectively deal with the question of a human being's very existence and pursue the surest way toward establishing a secure basis for living. There has been a tendency to regard Buddhism as a religion which is NIHILISTIC, negating the value of human life. On the other hand, there are a number of people who think that Buddhism is a means by which to satisfy their material desires. It is true that, among the Buddhist teachings, some speak out against attachment to mundane pursuits and urge people to seek the eternal truth beyond the impermanence of all phenomena, while other teachings assure one of the fulfillment of secular and material desires. However, it is a grave ERROR to think that such teachings constitute the CORE of Buddhism. The reason for such conflicting views is found in the process by which Shakyamuni's teachings were recorded and transmitted, during which time the essence which integrates all of these partial truths of the Buddha's enlightenment was lost sight of. The purpose and significance of Buddhism lies in overcoming the four basic sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death, as well as in enabling each individual to establish his own identity.
As stated earlier, the solution to these four sufferings does not mean the denial of the impermanence of life. It is an awakening to the reality of the eternal and essential life, which underlies and governs the constant universal cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death. As long as one clings only to the affairs of one's daily existence in this world one cannot grasp that reality. For this reason, the Buddha taught people to transcend their daily lives, which are uncertain and fleeting, in order to overcome these sufferings. However, to realize the essential life which continues eternally, transcending both birth and death, means to establish the solid foundation of human existence within the harsh realities of this world. One's awakening to the reality of this truth must be reflected in one's daily living. In other words, it manifests itself in such phenomena as the fulfillment of material desires and physical well being. In this sense, a promise of worldly happiness is also a part of the Buddhist teachings.
The second noble truth essentially teaches nihilism.
Buddhism has been criticized as negative because it places strong emaphasis on the sufferings that life brings.But what could be more positive than confronting the reality of death, along with it's concomitant sufferings, and finding a way to cope with them ?
As you said, even in Buddhism there exist the idea that faithful will uopn dying be reborn in a Pure LAnd in the west, where they will in bliss and glory and perfect enlightenment or concept of salvation forevermore.Though this idea has a large following, it was first put NOT as a definitive Buddhist theory of Life after Death, but as MEANS of attracting people of Buddhism. SHAKYAMUNI's original purpose was to wipe away man's futile attachment to this world so as to be able to face the problem of DEATH directly. Nicheren Daishonin said: " LEARN FIRST ABOUT DEATH AND THEN ABOUT OTHER THINGS "
Similarly, from an existentialist viewpoint, Martin Heidegger wrote that Human Life is " an existence directed toward death" and that death-potential is inherent in Human Life at the time conception. SHAKYAMUNI took great care to clarify the real nature of death.Whereas most mean do not want to die or even to think about death, he bravely rose above this instinctive human aversion and accepted the four sufferings as the normal condition of Life.With full awareness of human suffering he contemplated the essence of Life and Death.
His most definitive stage of teaching and widely considered as his Final and Highest teachings are embodied in the LOTUS SUTRA, the core-philosophy of MAHAYANA teachings especially to Nichiren Buddhism.
Of course, Shakyamuni taught that the existence is marked by suffering (taught in 4 noble truths and fundamental doctrines of Hinayana Buddhism) .But, this is not the sum of BUDDHA's message. He went on to urge men not to try escape from this suffering of LIFE, but we have to face them up boldly and in that way to overcome them. And this is crucial to all of us on how to handle things.
A phrase in the LOTUS SUTRA says plainly :
" THIS WORLD ITSELF IS WHERE PEOPLE CAN LIVE IN HAPPINESS AND PEACE ". Far from being negative, a truly called GENUINE(TRUE) BUDDHISM affirms and exalts LIFE. For the buddhist philosophy of eternal life is NOT an expedient designed TO persuade people to accept their mortelity; it is a realistic and unfailing view of life established through myriad struggles agianst the sufferings of BIRTH, OLDA-AGE, SICKNESS AND DEATH. It teaches us to face up to the realities of Life with conviction and hope; it enjoins us to devote all our actions and our thoughts to the welfare of others, because COMPASSION is the ultimate source of COSMIC LIFE.
By cherishing this philosophy we can turn each difficulty into a source of power bringing joy to our lives. THe trials we face for the building of our character. Hardship becomes the fertile soli in which tiny new shoots spring up and flourish. Each bead of sweat expended in the struggle for self protection and the betterment of our society becomes the SEED of greater energy.
The quintessential BUDDHISM OF THE LOTUS SUTRA became the mainstream of the Buddhist thought after the BUDHHA's passing. In the course of time, every philosophical and religious system inevitably engenders misuderstandings and perversions. Thus Buddhism gave birth to a large number of mistaken and different sects.
The third Noble truth is just not appealing even if true. Nirvana is equivalent to extinction of the self.
The experience of nirvana is spoken of as a state beyond birth and death, beyond any possible conception or description. It can not be spoken of in terms of anything that our finite minds can relate to. But it is the supreme reality that is beyond causes and conditions which we can awaken to even within this lifetime, though this awakening may be only the beginning of something even more unimaginable upon death as implied by the term parinirvana (complete nirvana).
Nirvana is not a state of annihilation though it is selfless. It is spoken of in terms of being pure, blissful, eternal, and the basis of true selfhood - though even these terms are only used analogously - the truth being beyond even these. Nirvana is not a person, place, or thing but it is not nothingness either.