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Buddhism is a faith that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”) more than 2,500 years ago in India. With about 470 million followers, scholars consider Buddhism one of the major world religions. Its practice has historically been most prominent in East and Southeast Asia.

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism who later became known as “the Buddha,” lived during the 5th century B.C. Gautama was born into a wealthy family as a prince in present-day Nepal. Although he had an easy life, Gautama was moved by suffering in the world. 

He decided to give up his lavish lifestyle and endure poverty. When this didn’t fulfill him, he promoted the idea of the “Middle Way,” which means existing between two extremes. Thus, he sought a life without social indulgences but also without deprivation.

After six years of searching, Buddhists believe Gautama found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He spent the rest of his life teaching others about how to achieve this spiritual state.

When Gautama passed away around 483 B.C., his followers began to organize a religious movement. Buddha’s teachings became the foundation for what would develop into Buddhism.

In the 3rd century B.C., Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Indian emperor, made Buddhism the state religion of India. Buddhist monasteries were built, and missionary work was encouraged.

Over the next few centuries, Buddhism began to spread beyond India. The thoughts and philosophies of Buddhists became diverse, with some followers interpreting ideas differently than others.

Today, many forms of Buddhism exist around the world. The three main types that represent specific geographical areas include:

  • Theravada Buddhism: Prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Burma

  • Mahayana Buddhism: Prevalent in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam

  • Tibetan Buddhism: Prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and northern India

DHARMA

Buddha’s teachings are known as “dharma.” He taught that wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity and compassion were important virtues.

Specifically, all Buddhists live by five moral precepts, which prohibit:

  • Killing living things

  • Taking what is not given

  • Sexual misconduct

  • Lying

  • Using drugs or alcohol

THE 4 NOBLE TRUTHS

The Four Noble Truths, which Buddha taught, are:

  • The truth of suffering (dukkha)

  • The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)

  • The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)

  • The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)
     

Collectively, these principles explain why humans hurt and how to overcome suffering.

THE EIGHTFOLD PATH

The Buddha taught his followers that the end of suffering, as described in the fourth Noble Truths, could be achieved by following an Eightfold Path. 

In no particular order, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism teaches the following ideals for ethical conduct, mental disciple and achieving wisdom:

  • Right understanding (Samma ditthi)

  • Right thought (Samma sankappa)

  • Right speech (Samma vaca)

  • Right action (Samma kammanta)

  • Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)

  • Right effort (Samma vayama)

  • Right mindfulness (Samma sati)

  • Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

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