What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion based on teachings attributed to the Buddha, a spiritual leader who lived in Ancient India around the middle of the first millennium BCE (500 BCE). Buddhism is a non-theistic religion as Buddhists do not believe in a creator god or gods. There are a wide range of teachings in Buddhism, some of the more notable ones being:

  • The Three Universal Truths - Annica (Impermanence), Dukka (suffering), and Annata (no-self).
  • The Four Noble Truths - Truths about the cause and end of suffering.
  • The Eightfold Path - Guiding principles on how one should live their life.

Over time, some of the practices became studied and adopted in the West from a philosophical perspective due to many of the teachings being focused on observational philosophy and psychology.

Buddhist Schools, Languages, and Early Buddhist texts

Prior to being recorded in writing the original Buddist teachings were taught and passed down orally. This happened for many years after the Buddha’s death and resulted in multiple schools of Buddhism being created. As the religion spread throughout the East, each school developed their own set of texts written in multiple languages including Pali, Chinese,Tibetan, and Sanskri. Over the years a number of these texts became lost or destroyed. Currently there are three main schools of Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism (The School of the Elders)

The Theravada school is considered the older and more conservative of the three main schools. The main text of Therevada Buddhism is the Pãli Canon, also known as the Tipiṭaka, which is written in the language of the Buddha, Pali. The Pali Cannon is currently the most complete collection of scriptures known to exist. The Tipiṭaka, which means three baskets is a collection with three categories of texts

  • Vinaya Pitaka (Basket of Discipline) - Contains rules for how to live.
  • Sutta Pitaka - (Basket of Discourse) - Contains sermons and discourses attributed to the Buddha.
  • Abhidhamma Piṭaka (Basket of Higher Doctrine) - Contains philosophical and psychological analysis and interpretation of the teachings.

The path to enlightenment in the Theravada focuses on meditation, personal discipline, and requires great dedication which is usually only attainable by monks.

Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle)

Less conservative than Theravada, Mahayana gives many approaches to enlightenment outside of meditation and personal discipline. New doctrines and texts, such as the Mahāyāna sutras, create a path for laypeople to reach enlightenment. The teachings focus on compassion and the importance of helping others achieve enlightenment as well as themselves.

The Mahayana tradition includes schools such as Pure Land Buddhism, Zen, Mādhyamaka (the middle way), Yogācāra (The practice of Yoga), among others.

Vajrayana Buddhism (The Diamond Vehicle/Way of the Diamond)

Vajrayana contains teachings from both Theravada and Mahayana and is said to include the secret teachings of the Buddha. Vajrayana teaches tantric methods, which is said to provide a faster vehicle to liberation.

Vajrayana has four main schools: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug and includes teachings such as as Dzogchen (The Great Perfection).

Read More

  • The Dhammapada - Popular text in Therevada Buddhism fount in the the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Pali Canon.