What is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism? Why should we ask that? Buddhism is defined as a religion (a really large one, with 500 million followers according to some sources), although not everyone agrees on that, saying that it could be considered a philosophy or a way of life. Buddhism gets its name from Siddharta Gautama, whom was called the Buddha by his followers. This is a title that means the awakened one or the enlightened one.

He is thought to have lived in Northern India around the year 500 BC. We don’t have many historical facts about him, but we can say that he existed and lived in India. He was a prince of the Shakya tribe, son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. It has been common in the Buddhist world to refer to him as Shakyamuni, “the sage of Shakya tribe”.

After some time of living as a prince, he decided to seek enlightenment. Eventually, he achieved that. He started to talk about his experience to others on the roads of Nortern India. In this way, Buddhism was founded. The most ancient of Buddhist scriptures are called the Pali Canon or Tripitaka, they are written in Pali, a language very similar to the one spoken by the Buddha. These scriptures are given different degrees of importance by different schools or branches of Buddhism, but they are considered the mother of all Buddhist scriptures.

The Theravada School, the most ancient and conservative of Buddhist branches, considers the Tripitaka the only true scripture. They try to imitate what they consider were the practices and beliefs of the early followers of the Buddha. Many consider Theravada Buddhism more of a philosophy, as it doesn’t involve any worship of gods.

Then we have Mahayana Buddhism, the larger of Buddhist branches. It has many variants, like Pure Land Buddhism, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. The Mahayana changes dramatically the beliefs and practices of what is considered traditional Buddhism. They give more importance to devotion of what are called celestial bodhisattvas and Buddhas. These are people who achieved enlightenment or certain degree of wisdom. They have godlike powers and can help you ahieve salvation. This sounds more like traditional religion.

So, Buddhism is a very complex traditions that has many layers. It’s difficult to characterize it as a whole.

To learn more about the different beliefs and practices of Buddhism, you might be interested in the following site by author Pablo Antuna:

Buddhism Through Buddhist Eyes: Learn about Buddhism in a clear language.

Buddhist teachings: Understand what the Buddha tries to convey to his followers.

Pablo Antuna is an experienced teacher and author. He teaches Comparative Religion and is specialized in Eastern Religions.

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