Christianity Knowledge Base

Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices, considered by many to be a religion. A Buddhist is one who takes refuge in The Three Jewels: the Buddha (the Awakened One), the Dharma (the Teaching of the Buddha) and the Sangha (the Community of Buddhists). Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million to 500 million. Most Buddhists live in Asia, but adherents are found worldwide.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "The Buddha" (of our era), who lived in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. He probably died around 400 BCE. Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of rebirths with suffering (saṃsāra). Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ritual and the invocation of holy beings that help them achieve Nirvana, renunciation of worldly matters, meditation, study and the cultivation of wisdom.

Buddhism has spread through these main branches:

  • Theravada, which extended south and east from its origins and now has a widespread following in Southeast Asia.
  • Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren and Vajrayana), which diffused from its origins west, north and east throughout East Asia.

Both branches then spread further into Europe and to the Americas.

Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism doesn't have a clearly definable common core. Also, there is significant disagreement over the importance of various scriptures. For instance, the Tipitaka's Nikayas (Agamas to Mahayana Buddhists) are recognized by most Buddhist schools. However, in addition to this, the Mahayana branch regard the Mahayana sutras as more significant, scriptures that the Theravadins find irrelevant. Also, Vajrayana Buddhists find great value in the Tantras.

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