Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, born in the 5th century BC in what is today Nepal and northern India. He was called “the Buddha”, which means “awakened”, after experiencing a deep awareness of the nature of life, death and existence. In English, the Buddha is said to be enlightened, although in Sanskrit he is “bodhi” or “awakened”. For the rest of his life, the Buddha traveled and taught. However, he did not teach people what he achieved when he became enlightened. Instead, he taught people how to achieve enlightenment on their own. He taught that awakening comes through your own direct experience, and not through beliefs and dogmas.
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At the time of his death, Buddhism was a relatively minor sect with little impact in India. But in the third century BC. AD, the Emperor of India made Buddhism the state religion of the country. Buddhism then spread throughout Asia to become one of the dominant religions on the continent. Estimates of the number of Buddhists in the world vary widely today, partly because many Asians practice more than one religion and partly because it is difficult to know how many people practice Buddhism in communist countries like China. The most common estimate is 350 million, which makes Buddhism the fourth largest religion in the world.
Buddhism is markedly different from other religions
Buddhism is so different from other religions that some people wonder if it is indeed a religion. For example, the central focus of most religions is one or more. But Buddhism is non-theistic. The Buddha taught that believing in the gods was not helpful for those who sought to achieve enlightenment.
Most religions are defined by their beliefs. But in Buddhism, simply believing in doctrines is irrelevant. The Buddha said that doctrines should not be accepted just because they are in the scriptures or taught by priests. Instead of teaching doctrines to memorize and believe, the Buddha taught how to realize the truth for yourself. Buddhism focuses on practice rather than belief. The major pattern of Buddhist practice is the Eightfold Path.
Despite its insistence on free examination, Buddhism could be better understood as a demanding discipline and discipline. And although Buddhist teachings should not be accepted on blind faith, understanding what the Buddha taught is an important part of this discipline. The foundation of Buddhism lies in the four noble truths:
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”)
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