Indian religion
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Buddhism originated in Indian Subcontinent, mainly in the North Indian Plain, based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Gautama Buddha. A Buddha is one who is said to be awake to the truth of life.


Basic terms




A Buddha statue in Buddha Park of Ravangla.

Over the centuries his teachings spread to Nepal, Central Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and now Europe and North and South America. Theravada Buddhism is most common in South East Asia; Mahayana further north. Buddhism exists in many different strands today, but all schools and sects share basic ideas. About seven percent of the people of the world are Buddhist.

While many people see Buddhism as a religion,[1] others see it as a philosophy, and others as a way of finding reality.[2][3]

Background and Buddhist concepts


Siddhartha Gautama (563–483 BC) began life as the infant prince of a small kingdom in Lumbini, now in the southern part of Nepal. As an adult he left wealth and status behind to search for truth. Enlightened at the age of 35, the Buddha spent the next 45 years of his life traveling and teaching in the northern part of India. He died at the age of 80.

The Buddha focused much of his teaching on how to overcome suffering. He saw that all living things suffer in being born, in getting sick, in growing old, and in facing death.[4] By overcoming suffering, he taught, a person will be truly happy.

Early teaching. His first lesson after becoming enlightened was to other seekers who had also renounced the world. This was a group of holy men or monks with whom the Buddha had studied for five or more years. To them he first presented what he saw as the Four Noble Truths of life and the Eightfold Noble Path (see below). These teachings identify the causes of suffering and their cure.

Three marks of existence. The Buddha taught that life is best understood as being impermanent (everything changes), unsatisfactory (left on our own we are never truly happy), and interdependent (all things are linked, even to the degree that the self is better understood as an illusion).

The middle way. Buddhism teaches non-harm and moderation or balance, not going too far one way or the other. This is called the Middle Way, and encourages people to live in balance.

Meditation. The Buddha recommended meditation as a way to discipline the mind and see the world as it is. Buddhists may meditate while sitting in a special or specific way. Standing and walking meditation are other styles.

Three poisons. In discussing suffering, the Buddha identified the three poisons of desire, anger and stupidity, and he showed that we could end our suffering by letting go of desires and overcoming anger and stupidity.

Nirvana. The complete letting go of negative influences is called Nirvana, meaning "to extinguish," like putting out the flame of a candle. This end of suffering is also called Enlightenment. In Buddhism, Enlightenment and Nirvana often mean the same thing.

Do Buddhists believe in god or gods? The Buddha would not say if gods exist or not, although gods play a part in some Buddhist stories. If someone asked the Buddha, "Do gods exist?" he maintained a noble silence. That is, he would not confirm or deny. Buddhists do not believe that people should look to gods to save them or bring them enlightenment.[5] Rather individuals should work out their own path the best they can.

Other basic teachings. Many of the Buddha's ideas are found in other Indian religions, especially Hinduism.

  • Karma. Karma refers to actions, and the Buddha taught that actions have consequences for good or ill. If people make good decisions they will be happier and have more peace of mind.
"To avoid all evil
To do good.
To purify one's mind: This is the teaching of all the Buddhas." Dhammapāda, XIV, 5
  • Reincarnation. The Buddha taught about reincarnation, the idea that after we die we are likely to be reborn in this world and face the same kind of suffering as in the past life. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to find enlightenment (Nirvana) which places us beyond endless reincarnation and suffering. Some Buddhists understand the idea in a poetic way, and not a literal one.

Meaning of Buddha

Statue of Buddha with surrounding stupas in Borobudur temple complex, Indonesia.

Buddha is a Pali word which means "The Awakened (or Enlightened) one". Someone who has woken up to the truth of the mind and suffering and teaches the truth to others is called a Buddha. The word "Buddha" often means the historical Buddha named Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama).[6] Buddhists do not believe that a Buddha is a god, but that he is a human being who has woken up and can see the true way the mind works. They believe this knowledge totally changes the person. This person can help others become enlightened too. Enlightened people are beyond birth, death, and rebirth.

The first Buddha


According to Buddhism, there were countless Buddhas before Gautama Buddha and there will be many Buddhas after him.

In Pali texts, the first Buddha in Buddhavamsa sutta was Taṇhaṅkara Buddha. The Mahapadana sutta says the earliest Buddha of the recent seven buddhas was Vipassi Buddha (But sutta is not saying that Vipassi is first Buddha). Counting from the present kalpa (the beginning of our present world (Earth)) Gautama Buddha is considered the fourth Buddha. In this telling, the first is Kakusandho Buddha, second Konakamano Buddha, and the third Kassapo Buddha. The last Buddha of this kalpa will be Maitreya Buddha. Then the world (Earth) will renew itself and from then begins a new kalpa.

Beliefs of Buddhism


The three jewels


Buddhists respect and treasure the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The Buddha refers to the awakened one, the Dharma to the Buddha's teachings, and the Sangha to the people who follow the Buddha and his teachings.

Buddhists say "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha." They find comfort in these jewels or treasures.

Four noble Truths


The Buddha's first and most important teachings are the Four Noble Truths.[7]

  1. Life is suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is desire.
  3. There is a way to end suffering.
  4. The way to end suffering is to follow the eightfold path.

Noble Eightfold Path


The Buddha told people to follow a special way of life called the Noble Eightfold Path if they want to understand the Four Noble Truths. These are:

  1. Appropriate views. Know and understand the Four Noble Truths
  2. Appropriate thought. Turn your mind away from the world and towards the Dharma
  3. Appropriate speech. Tell the truth, don't gossip, and don't talk badly about others
  4. Appropriate conduct. Don't commit evil acts, like killing, stealing, or living an unclean life
  5. Appropriate livelihood. Earn your money in a way that doesn't harm anyone
  6. Appropriate effort. Work to make your mind more good and less evil
  7. Appropriate mindfulness. Remember the Dharma and apply it all the time
  8. Appropriate meditation. Practice meditation as a way of understanding reality

Five precepts


Buddhists are encouraged to follow five precepts, or guidelines. The Buddha taught that killing, stealing, having sex in a harmful way, and lying are not signs of skill.[8]

  1. I will not hurt a person or animal that is alive.
  2. I will not take something if it was not given to me.
  3. I will not engage in sexual misconduct.
  4. I will not lie or say things that hurt people.
  5. I will not take intoxicants, like alcohol or drugs, causing heedlessness.

If a person wants to be a monk or nun, he or she will follow other precepts as well.

Further reading

  • Bechert, Heinz (1984). The World of Buddhism. Thames & Hudson.
  • Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31333-9.
  • Armstrong, Karen (2001). Buddha. Penguin Books. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-14-303436-0.
  • Gunaratana, Henepola (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-0-86171-321-9.
  • Robinson, Richard Hugh (1982). The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0-534-01027-0.
  • Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2003). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 978-0-06-073067-3.


  1. Chambers Dictionary, 2006; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2003; New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, 1998; Dewey Decimal System of Book Classification
  2. For example: Thich Nhat Hanh, Path White Clouds|Old Path White Clouds Archived 2023-02-19 at the Wayback Machine For example: Dorothy Figen, Is Buddhism a Religion?[permanent dead link]
  3. For example: Narada Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell, http://www.buddhanet.net/nutshell03.htm Archived 2008-02-17 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Buddhism". ThoughtCo. Archived from the original on 2019-02-27. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  5. "Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire". www.accesstoinsight.org. Archived from the original on 2019-06-06. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  6. see, for example, Basic points unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna.
  7. Buswell, Robert E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson/Gale. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-02-865720-2.
  8. Thanissaro (2006). Archived 2008-02-23 at the Wayback Machine Thanissaro, in part, references MN 9, Sammā-diṭṭhi Sutta, to support this statement.

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