All About Buddhism

The Dominant Religion in The East

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What is Buddhism?

Buddhism began in India 2,500 years ago and remains the dominant world religion in the East. There are over 360 million followers of Buddhism worldwide and over a million American Buddhists today. Buddhist concepts have also been influential on western culture in general, particularly in the areas of meditation and nonviolence.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of an Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama who lived around 500 BCE. According to Buddhist tradition, the sheltered young prince was shocked by the suffering he saw outside his palace walls, so he left his life of luxury to seek answers. Eventually he succeeded, becoming the Buddha - the "Enlightened One." He spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching the dharma (the path to liberation from suffering) and establishing the sangha (a community of monks).

Over its long history, Buddhism has taken a wide variety of forms. Some emphasize rituals and the worship of deities, while others completely reject rituals and gods in favor of pure meditation. Yet all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.

Theravada Buddhism, prominent in Southeast Asia, is atheistic and philosophical in nature and focuses on the monastic life and meditation as means to liberation. Mahayana Buddhism, prominent in China and Japan, incorporates several deities, celestial beings, and other traditional religious elements. In Mahayana, the path to liberation may include religious ritual, devotion, meditation, or a combination of these elements. Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and Pure Land are the major forms of Mahayana Buddhism.

Basic Points of Buddhism

Is Buddhism Atheistic?

One general doctrine agreed upon by Buddhists is: "We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God." However, disbelief in a creator God does not mean that Buddhism is atheistic.

Buddhas and Deities

In Mahayana Buddhism, the universe is populated with celestial buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities that assist and inspire the Buddhist practitioner. Among the most popular are Kuan Yin, the Medicine Buddha, the Laughing Buddha and the Green and White Taras. These and other fascinating figures are explored in this section.

Human Nature

In Hinduism, the soul, or atman, is an eternally existing spiritual substance or being and the abiding self that moves from one body to the next at rebirth. The Buddha rejected this concept.

Purpose of Life

In Buddhism, the purpose of life is to end suffering. The Buddha taught that humans suffer because we continually strive after things that do not give lasting happiness.

Reincarnation and Afterlife

The Buddha said of death: Life is a journey. Death is a return to earth. The universe is like an inn. The passing years are like dust. Regard this phantom world As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, A flash of lightning in a summer cloud, A flickering lamp - a phantom - and a dream