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Buddhism - Introduction

Buddhism is a vast and complex religious and philosophical tradition which stretches back over 2,500 years.

Over the last 30 years Buddhism has seen growth in the West as its non-dogmatic nature, rationality, possibility of a spiritual guide, and opportunity for personal transformation have all made it attractive to post-modern society.

It has about 500 million adherents around the world

'Buddha' means 'one who has woken up'. Most people live asleep, never knowing or seeing life as it really is. As a consequence they suffer. A buddha is someone who awakens to the knowledge of the world as it truly is and so finds release from suffering.

A Buddha teaches out of sympathy and compassion for the suffering of beings and for the benefit and welfare of all beings.

Buddhism does not actively look for converts, but it is thoroughly welcoming to those who do want to convert. Buddhism can coexist with other faiths.

Buddhism has no unique creed, no single authority, no single sacred book

Buddhism focuses on each individual seeking to attain enlightenment.

Key beliefs and values are contained in "The Four Noble Truths"

Key insight: there is nothing that permanently exists


Buddhism has no omnipotent, creator God who exists apart from this or any other universe.

Belief in a God of that kind is not part of Buddhism


All existence is "dukkha"; without permanence and therefore filled with suffering. Dukkha comes from a search to find something permanent in a world where nothing permanently exists

Dukkha can end in enlightenment and the state known as nirvana, where all action and interaction ceases. Life is a continuing process of birth and death, but there is no soul that is reborn in the continuing process of birth and death, only the process of one moment giving rise to the next.

The form in which one is reborn, animal or human, in heaven or in hell, depends on karma-impersonal ethical law.

One can escape from this process by attaining nirvana or enlightenment


Nirvana can be reached by following the Eightfold Path of:

Right understanding
Right thinking
Right speaking
Right acting
Right lifestyle
Right endeavouring
Right mindfulness
Right contemplation

The Schools of Buddhism

There are many schools and practices of Buddhism

Theravanda or Southern Buddhism
Its scriptures are preserved in Pali, an ancient India language closely related to Sanskrit. Compared to the following two traditions it is closer in the doctrine and practice to ancient Buddhism existing the early years BC in India. It's followed by 100 million in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.
Mahayana or Eastern Buddhism
Its scriptures are preserved in Chinese and is very diverse. It has co-existed with Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto and Communism. It is found in Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam. It is still a significant religion for a population of 500 - 1,000 million.

Tibetan or Northern Buddhism
Its scriptures are preserved in Tibetan and although it's outlook is broadly Mahayana it's specific orientation is Tantric Buddhism. It is followed by 10 - 20 million in Tibet and Mongolia and in parts of Nepal and Himalayan India.

The Beginning of Buddism: Gautama

The Buddhist tradition is founded on and inspired by the teachings of a charismatic person who lived c.566-486BC.

He was born Siddhartha Gautama, son of a local rajan, or chieftan, in Kapikvastri on the Indian-Nepalese border.

He was a member of a privileged and wealthy family and lived comfortably.

Disillusioned with his life, he left home and adopted the life of a wandering ascetic and embarked on a spiritual quest.

Still not satisfied, as he sat in meditation under a tree on the banks of the Nairangana in Northern India, he had a profound experience.

Called Bodhi or 'awakening', he had a deep understanding of the nature of suffering, its cause and a way of stopping it.

The Lord Buddha then devoted the rest of his life to teaching the way to cease suffering.

By his death at about the age of 80 he had a considerable following and a well organised community.

Holy Books

There are many collections of Buddhist teachings, usually specific to geographical regions, that are regarded as important. In addition to the Pali canon (above), sutras, containing the Buddha's advanced teaching, are treasured by Mahayana Buddhists.

Buddhist symbols include

  • The lotus
  • The wheel of life
  • Images of the Buddha
  • Mandalas-symbolic maps, expressing in concentrated form, the nature of Buddhist universes.

Buddhism - Useful Links

Introduction to Buddhism
Features on the main figures, history of Buddha, major sects of Buddhism, four noble truths, eightfold path, five precepts. Produced by

Birth of Prince Siddhartha; Four Noble Truth; The Noble Eightfold Path

Non-commercial web page by a lay person. Content based on Buddhist Studies for Secondary 3.

Small Romanised Pali - English Dictionary of Buddhist Terms

Compiled by Watthai Net Sydney Australia

14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
This Internet site is dedicated to creating awareness of the life and work of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and has been created under the auspicies of the Office of Tibet and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

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