Buddhist Monks in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Buddhism is the world's fourth largest religion. An Indian religion, Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practiceslargely based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. Buddhism originated in Ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia.

All Buddhist traditions share the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death & rebirth, either by the attainment of Nirvana or through the path of Buddhahood. Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices. Widely observed practices include taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, meditation, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (virtues).

The Buddha was not concerned with satisfying human curiosity related to metaphysical speculations. Topics like the existence of god, the afterlife, or creation stories were ignored by him. During the centuries, Buddhism has evolved into different branches, and many of them have incorporated a number of diverse metaphysical systems, deities, astrology and other elements that the Buddha did not consider. In spite of this diversity, Buddhism has a relative unity and stability in its moral code.

In some religions, sin is the origin of human suffering. In Buddhism there is no sin; the root cause of human suffering is avidyā “ignorance”. In the entrance area of some Buddhist monasteries, sometimes the images of four scary-looking deities are displayed, the four protectors whose purpose is to scare away the ignorance of those who enter.

Buddhism does not require faith or belief. If faith can be understood as believing something which is unsupported by evidence, and ignorance is overcome by understanding, then faith is not enough to overcome ignorance and therefore suffering. And belief, as understood by other religions, is not necessary in Buddhism.

In its most basic form, Buddhism does not include the concept of a god. The existence of god is neither confirmed, nor denied; it is a non-theistic system. The Buddha is seen as an extraordinary man, not a deity. Some Buddhist schools have incorporated supernatural entities into their traditions, but even in these cases, the role of human choice and responsibility remains supreme, far above the deeds of the supernatural.

Buddhism has spread across the world, and Buddhist texts are increasingly translated into local languages. While in the West Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East it is regarded as familiar and traditional. In countries such as Cambodia and Bhutan, it is recognized as the state religion and receives government support. In certain regions such as Afghanistan, Buddhist monuments have been targets of violence and destruction. China is the country with the largest population of Buddhists, approximately 244 million or 18.2% of its total population.

Estimated Followers: 400 million
Of Global Population: 7%


Beliefs and Practices

Buddhism, like most of the great religions of the world, is divided into many different traditions. However, most traditions share a common set of fundamental beliefs.

For many Buddhists, Buddhism is a way of life that focuses on faith, ultimate reality, and understanding of human nature. One of the important fundamentals of Buddhism is reincarnation. The goal is to break the cycle of reincarnation by breaking their attachment to desire. Doing so, one will attain Nirvana and will be free of suffering.

The Buddha was referred to as “The Enlightened One”. After the Buddha became enlightened, his goal was to teach others how to become enlightened as well. He taught that eliminating suffering is done by fully understanding the world. In order to do this, he urged his followers to focus on the Four Noble Truths.

Four Noble Truths:

Dukkha: The truth of suffering. Suffering is real and almost universal. Suffering has many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, the impermanence of pleasure.
The cause of suffering. It is the desire to have and control things. It can take many forms: craving of sensual pleasures; the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.

There is an end to suffering. Suffering ends with the final liberation of Nirvana. The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving.

In order to end suffering, the Eightfold Path must be followed.

The Eightfold Path of Buddhism, also called the Middle Path or Middle Way, is the system of following these eight divisions of the path to achieve spiritual enlightenment and cease suffering:

1) Right understanding of the Four Noble Truths

2) Right thinking;  following the right path in life

3) Right speech;  no lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language

4) Right conduct; by following the Five Precepts (do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not misuse sex, and do not consume alcohol or other drugs).

5) Right livelihood;  support yourself without harming others

6) Right effort;  promote good thoughts and conquer evil thoughts

7) Right mindfulness;  become aware of your body, mind and feelings

8) Right concentration;  meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness

There are three important practices in Buddhism. The first one is Sila, which means to have good conduct. It is based on two principles: 1) equality, that all living entities are equal and 2) reciprocity, treating others the way you would wish to be treated. The second important practice is Samadhi, which is the practice of concentration and meditation. The third important practice is Prajna, which is wisdom and enlightenment and the real heart of Buddhism. It is believed that wisdom will emerge if the follower is calm and pure.


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