The Indian subcontinent is host to many religions. One of those religions is Buddhism.
Today, Buddhism is a major world religion. It began in ancient India. Buddhism is different from other major religions because there are no gods in Buddhism. If an offering is made to a statue of Buddha, it is a sign of respect, not worship. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Buddha. Buddha never wrote any books. His teachings were taught orally.
So, who is the Buddha? The Buddha was a prince in ancient India. His name was Siddhartha Gautama. He was troubled by all the suffering he saw around him. To remove suffering, he believed people had to stop being selfish. He created the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path, to help people learn how to reduce suffering. His followers called him the Buddha, or “The Enlightened One”.
Some of the main concepts of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and Nirvana.Buddha's Four Noble Truths are:
- Life is filled with suffering.
- Suffering is caused by people's wants.
- Suffering can be ended if people stop wanting things, like more pleasure or more power.
- To stop wanting things, people must follow 8 basic laws called the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path are eight rules of behavior. Buddha realized that people could not follow rules if they were too strict. That’s why the Eightfold Path is also called The Middle Way. These eight rules demand a certain behavior that costs nothing except effort and care. Basically, these rules tell you to try to think about the repercussions of what you are doing, try not to hurt anyone, and try not to be so selfish. Buddhism does not say give everything away, but rather, take a middle path.
Nirvana is the Buddhist belief of lasting peace of the soul, which releases the soul from reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that the individual soul of a person is reborn in a different form after death, based on their karma, or their deeds in their prior life or lives. A belief in reincarnation or rebirth is part of both Buddhism and Hinduism. This is something these two major religions have in common. Buddhists believe that each reincarnation you personally go through offers your soul a chance to learn how to behave, how not to hurt someone, how not to be evil, and how not to be selfish. Buddhists believe you will not reach Nirvana until you learn these things.
In ancient India, Buddhism taught that anyone could enter Nirvana, no matter how lowly they were on the social scale. Hinduism taught that only the Brahmins, members of the highest caste, could achieve entry into this wonderful state of peace. This is one way these two religions are different.
In the beginning, Buddhism did not have priests. There was only the oral teachings of Buddha. These teachings were explained by Buddhists monks. They were also taught by missionaries, who spread their religious beliefs to others. Today, there are about 500 million Buddhists in the world. Some Buddhist branches do have temples and priests, while others do not. But these developed over time. Buddhism today still embraces the idea of a teacher and a spiritual community. Depending upon the branch, a teacher might be a Buddhist monk, a Buddhist nun, or a regular person. Buddhism today is still primarily taught orally, passed from teacher to student.
Since Buddhists do not believe in a god or gods, some people ask how can Buddhism be a religion? The answer is that depends upon your definition of religion. Some people combine Buddhist practice with other religious beliefs. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, has stated that anyone who feels drawn to Buddhism does not need to convert. Whether or not Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, or more likely a combination of both, is not important to Buddhists. What is important to Buddhists is that they live their life in a caring way, try their best to avoid hurting others, and practice tolerance, which is the willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs of others.