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A replica of an ancient statue of Gautama Buddha, found from Sarnath, near Varanasi.

Part of a series on


Buddhism and psychology
Buddhist psychology
Buddhist philosophy
Buddhism and psychoanalysis
Buddhism and psychotherapy

Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
The Five Precepts
Nirvāna · Three Jewels

Key Concepts
Three marks of existence
Skandha · Cosmology · Dharma
Samsara · Rebirth · Shunyata
Pratitya-samutpada · Karma

Practices and Attainment
Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
Four Stages of Enlightenment
Paramis · Meditation

Buddhism by Region

Schools of Buddhism
Theravāda · Mahāyāna
Vajrayāna · Early schools

Pali Suttas · Mahayana Sutras
Vinaya · Abhidhamma

Comparative Studies
Culture · List of Topics

Dharma wheel 1.png

Buddhism is a set of teachings often described as a religion.[1] However, some definitions of religion would exclude it, or some forms of it. Some say it is a body of philosophies influenced by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Gautama Buddha.[2] Others say it is teachings to guide one to directly experiencing reality.[3][4] Many recent scholars regard it as a plurality rather than a single entity.[5] Buddhism is also known as Buddha Dharma or Dhamma, which means roughly the "teachings of the Awakened One" in Sanskrit and Pali, languages of ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhism began around 5th century BC with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Lumbini, Nepal and is hereafter referred to as "the Buddha".


For a more extensive description, see Gautama Buddha.

Gautama, whose personal name according to later sources was Siddhartha, was born in the city of Lumbini[6] and raised in Kapilavastu, near the modern town of Taulihawa, Nepal.[7] The traditional story of his life is as follows; little of this can be regarded as established historical fact. Born a prince, his father, King Suddhodana, was supposedly visited by a wise man shortly after Siddhartha was born and told that Siddhartha would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a holy man (Sadhu). Determined to make Siddhartha a king, the father tried to shield his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Despite his father's efforts, at the age of 29, he discovered the suffering of his people, first through an encounter with an elderly man. On subsequent trips outside the palace, he encountered various sufferings such as a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and a monk or an ascetic. These are often termed 'The Four Sights.'[8]

Gautama, deeply depressed by these four sights, sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Gautama escaped his palace, leaving behind this royal life to become a mendicant. For a time on his spiritual quest, Buddha "experimented with extreme asceticism, which at that time was seen as a powerful spiritual practice...such as fasting, holding the breath, and exposure of the body to pain...he found, however, that these ascetic practices brought no genuine spiritual benefits and in fact, being based on self-hatred, that they were counterproductive."[9]

After abandoning asceticism and concentrating instead upon meditation and, according to some sources, Anapanasati (awareness of breathing in and out), Gautama is said to have discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation that lies mid-way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl and then, sitting under a pipal tree or Sacred fig, (Ficus religiosa), now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya,[10][11] he vowed never to arise until he had found the Truth. His five companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After 49 days meditating, at the age of 35, he attained bodhi, also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. After his attainment of bodhi he was known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha and spent the rest of his life teaching his insights (Dharma).[12] According to scholars, he lived around the fifth century BCE, but his more exact birthdate is open to debate.[13] He died around the age of 80 in Kushinagara (Pali Kusinara) (India).[14]


The most frequently used classification of present-day Buddhism among scholars[15] divides present-day adherents into the following three traditions or geographical or cultural areas: Theravada, East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.

An alternative scheme used by some scholars[16]Template:Page number has two divisions, Theravada and Mahayana. In this classification, Mahayana includes both East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. This scheme is the one ordinarily used in the English language.[17] Some scholars[18] use other schemes. Buddhists themselves have a variety of other schemes.

Buddhism today

Buddhism had become virtually extinct in India, and although it continued to exist in surrounding countries, its influence was no longer expanding. It is now again gaining strength. While estimates of the number of Buddhist followers range from 230 to 500 million worldwide, most estimates are around 350 million,[19] or 310 million.[20] However, estimates are uncertain for several countries. According to one analysis,[21] Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. The monks' order (Sangha), which began during the lifetime of the Buddha in India, is among the oldest organizations on earth.

File:Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo.jpg

Typical interior of a temple in Korea

  • Theravāda Buddhism, using Pāli as its scriptural language, is the dominant form of Buddhism in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Also the Dalit Buddhist movement in India (inspired by B. R. Ambedkar) practices Theravada.
  • East Asian forms of Mahayana Buddhism that use scriptures in Chinese are dominant in most of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam as well as within Chinese and Japanese communities within Indochina, Southeast Asia and the West.
  • Tibetan Buddhism, using the Tibetan language, is found in the ethnically Tibetan-dominant regions of China and the surrounding areas in India, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, and the Russian Federation
  • Most Buddhist groups in the West are at least nominally affiliated to some eastern tradition listed above. An exception is the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, though they can be considered Mahayanist in a broad sense.

At the present time, the teachings of all three branches of Buddhism have spread throughout the world, and Buddhist texts are increasingly translated into local languages. While, in the West, Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East, Buddhism is regarded as familiar and part of the establishment. Buddhists in Asia are frequently well organized and well funded. In a number of countries, it is recognized as an official religion and receives state support. In the West, Buddhism is recognized as one of the growing spiritual influences. (see Buddhism in the West)

See also Buddhism by country

Some teachings

Other teachings can be found in the sections below on history of Indian Buddhism and the main traditions, and also in separate articles on Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren, Shingon. (Also, Falun Gong is classified sometimes as a form of Buddhism[22], sometimes as a form of Chinese religion[23]).

In Theravada Buddhism, any person who has awakened from the "sleep of ignorance" (by directly realizing the true nature of reality), without instruction, and teaches it to others is called a Buddha, while those who achieve realisations but do not teach others are called paccekabuddhas. All traditional Buddhists agree that Shakyamuni or Gotama Buddha was not the only Buddha: it is generally taught that there have been many past Buddhas and that there will be future Buddhas too. If a person achieves this awakening, he or she is called an arahant. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is thus only one among other buddhas before or after him.[24] His teachings are oriented toward the attainment of this kind of awakening, also called liberation, or Nirvana.

One of the teachings ascribed to the Buddha regarding the holy life and the goal of liberation is constituted by the "The Four Noble Truths", which focus on dukkha, a term that refers to suffering or the unhappiness ultimately characteristic of unawakened, worldly life. According to the interpretation of earlier Western scholars, followed by many modern Theravadins, the Four Noble Truths regarding suffering state what is its nature, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation.[25] This way to the cessation of suffering is called "The Noble Eightfold Path". However, according to at least some recent scholars,[26] the so-called truths are not statements at all, but "things": suffering and the rest.

Numerous distinct groups have developed since the passing of the Buddha, with diverse teachings that vary widely in practice, philosophical emphasis, and culture. Few valid generalizations are possible about all Buddhists.[27]



Gautama Buddha, Gandhara, northern Pakistan.

Main article: Bodhi

Bodhi (Pāli and Sanskrit (बॊधि), lit. awakening) is a term applied in Theravada Buddhism to the experience of Awakening of Arahants, including Buddhas. When used in a generic sense, a buddha is generally considered to be a person who discovers the true nature of reality through (lifetimes of) spiritual cultivation, investigation of the various religious practices of his time, and meditation. This transformational discovery is called Bodhi, which literally means "awakening", but is more commonly called "enlightenment".

In Early Buddhism, Bodhi carries a meaning synonymous to Nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implied the extinction of raga (greed),[28] dosa (hate)[29] and moha (delusion).[30] In the later school of Mahayana Buddhism, the status of nirvana was downgraded, coming to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana, and that one needed the additional and higher attainment of Bodhi to eradicate delusion.[31] The result is that according to Mahayana Buddhism, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Bodhisattva attains Bodhi. In Theravada Buddhism, Bodhi and Nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from craving, hate and delusion. The Arahant, according to Theravada doctrine, has thus overcome greed, hatred, and delusion, attaining Bodhi. In Theravada Buddhism, the extinction of only greed (in relation to the sense sphere) and hatred, while a residue of delusion remains, is called Anagami.

Bodhi is attained when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and all karma has reached cessation. Although the earliest sources do not have any mention of Paramitas,[32][33] the later traditions of Theravada and Mahayana state that one also needs to fulfill the pāramitās. After attainment of Bodhi, it is believed one is freed from the compulsive cycle of saṃsāra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth, and attains the "highest happiness" (Nirvana, as described in the Dhammapada). Belief in self (ātmān, Pāli attā) has also been extinguished as part of the eradication of delusion, and Bodhi thus implies understanding of anattā (Sanskrit: Anatman).

Some Mahayana sources contain the idea that a bodhisattva, which in other Mahayana sources is someone on the path to Buddhahood, deliberately refrains from becoming a Buddha in order to help others.

According to a saying in one of the Mahayana sutras, if a person does not aim for Bodhi, one lives one's life like a preoccupied child playing with toys in a house that is burning to the ground.[34]

Middle Way

Main article: Middle Way

An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way which was discovered by the Buddha prior to his enlightenment (bodhi). The Middle Way or Middle Path has several definitions:

  1. It is often described as the practice of non-extremism; a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and opposing self-mortification.
  2. It also refers to taking a middle ground between certain metaphysical views, e.g. that things ultimately either exist or do not exist.[35]
  3. An explanation of the state of nirvana and perfect enlightenment where all dualities fuse and cease to exist as separate entities (see Seongcheol).

Refuge in the Three Jewels

Footprint of the Buddha with Dharmachakra and triratna, 1st century CE, Gandhāra.

Main article: Refuge (Buddhism)

Traditionally, the first step in most forms of Buddhism requires taking refuge, as the foundation of one's religious practice, in Buddhism's Three Jewels (Sanskrit: त्रिरत्न Triratna or रत्नत्रय Ratna-traya, Pali: Tiratana).[36] Tibetan Buddhism sometimes adds a fourth refuge, in the lama. The person who chooses the bodhisattva path makes a vow/pledge. This is considered the ultimate expression of compassion in Buddhism.

The Three Jewels are:

  • The Buddha (i.e.,Awakened One). This is a title for those who attained Awakening similar to the Buddha and helped others to attain it. See also the Tathāgata and Śākyamuni Buddha. The Buddha could also be represented as the wisdom that understands Dharma, and in this regard the Buddha represents the perfect wisdom that sees reality in its true form.
  • The Dharma: The teachings or law as expounded by the Buddha. Dharma also means the law of nature based on behavior of a person and its consequences to be experienced (action and reaction). It can also (especially in Mahayana Buddhism) connote the ultimate and sustaining Reality which is inseverable from the Buddha.
  • The Sangha: This term literally means "group" or "congregation," but when it is used in Buddhist teaching the word refers to one of two very specific kinds of groups: either the community of Buddhist monastics (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis), or the community of people who have attained at least the first stage of Awakening (Sotapanna (pali)—one who has entered the stream to enlightenment). According to some modern Buddhists, it also consists of laymen and laywomen, the caretakers of the monks, those who have accepted parts of the monastic code but who have not been ordained as monks or nuns.

According to the scriptures, The Buddha presented himself as a model, however, he did not ask his followers simply to have faith (Sanskrit श्रद्धा śraddhā, Pāli saddhā) in his example of a human who escaped the pain and danger of existence. In addition, he encouraged them to put his teachings to the test and accept what they could verify on their own. The Dharma, i.e. the teaching of the Buddha, offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. The Saṅgha (Buddhist Order of monks) is considered to provide a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further examples that the truth of the Buddha's teachings is attainable.

In the Mahayana, the Buddha tends not to be viewed as merely human, but as the earthly projection of a being beyond the range and reach of thought. Moreover, in certain Mahayana sutras, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are viewed essentially as One: all three are seen as the eternal Buddha himself.

Many Buddhists believe that there is no otherworldly salvation from one's karma. The suffering caused by the karmic effects of previous thoughts, words and deeds can be alleviated by following the Noble Eightfold Path, although the Buddha of some Mahayana sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra, also teaches that powerful sutras such as the above-named can, through the very act of their being heard or recited, wholly expunge great swathes of negative karma.

The Four Noble Truths

Main article: The Four Noble Truths

According to the scriptures, the Buddha taught that in life there exists Dukkha, which is in essence sorrow/suffering, that is caused by desire and it can be brought to cessation by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Sanskrit: Āryāṣṭāṅgamārgaḥ , Pāli: Ariyo Aṭṭhaṅgiko Maggo). This teaching is called the Catvāry Āryasatyāni (Pali: Cattāri Ariyasaccāni), or the "Four Noble Truths".

  1. There is suffering
  2. There is a cause of suffering — craving
  3. There is the cessation of suffering
  4. There is a way leading to the cessation of suffering — the Noble Eightfold Path

According to the scriptures, the Four Noble Truths were among the topics of the first sermon given by the Buddha after his enlightenment,[37] which was given to the five ascetics with whom he had practised austerities. The Four Noble Truths were originally spoken by the Buddha not in the form of a religious or philosophical text, but in the manner of a medical diagnosis and remedial prescription in a style that was common at that time. The early teaching[38] and the traditional understanding in the Theravada[39] is that these are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.[40]

The Noble Eightfold Path

Main article: Noble Eightfold Path

The eight-spoked Dharmacakra. The eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to the cessation of suffering, the fourth part of the Four Noble Truths. This is divided into three sections: Śīla (which concerns wholesome physical actions), Samadhi (which concerns the meditative concentration of the mind) and Prajñā (which concerns spiritual insight into the true nature of all things).

Śīla is morality—abstaining from unwholesome deeds of body and speech. Within the division of sila are three parts of the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Speech—One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way (samyag-vāc, sammā-vācā)
  2. Right Actions—Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm (samyak-karmānta, sammā-kammanta)
  3. Right Livelihood—One's way of livelihood does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly (samyag-ājīva, sammā-ājīva)

Samadhi is developing mastery over one’s own mind. Within this division are another three parts of the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Effort/Exercise—One makes an effort to improve (samyag-vyāyāma, sammā-vāyāma)
  2. Right Mindfulness/Awareness—Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (samyak-smṛti, sammā-sati)
  3. Right Concentration/Meditation—Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion. (samyak-samādhi, sammā-samādhi)

Prajñā is the wisdom which purifies the mind. Within this division fall two more parts of the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Understanding—Understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. (samyag-dṛṣṭi, sammā-diṭṭhi)
  2. Right Thoughts—Change in the pattern of thinking.

The word samyak means "perfect". There are a number of ways to interpret the Eightfold Path. On one hand, the Eightfold Path is spoken of as being a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another, whereas others see the states of the 'Path' as requiring simultaneous development. It is also common to categorize the Eightfold Path into prajñā (Pāli paññā, wisdom), śīla (Pāli sīla, virtuous behavior) and samādhi (concentration).

Śīla: (Moral cultivation and the precepts)

Main article: Sila

Śīla (Sanskrit) or sīla (Pāli) is usually translated into English as "virtuous behavior", "morality", "ethics" or "precept". It is an action committed through the body, speech, or mind, and involves an intentional effort. It is one of the three practices (sila, samadhi, and panya) and the second pāramitā. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of śīla are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment, i.e. no longer being susceptible to perturbation by the passions.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Śīla is the foundation of Samadhi/Bhāvana (Meditative cultivation) or mind cultivation. Keeping the precepts promotes not only the peace of mind of the cultivator, which is internally, but also peace in the community, which is externally. According to the Law of Kamma, keeping the precepts are meritorious and it acts as causes which would bring about peaceful and happy effects. Keeping these precepts keeps the cultivator from rebirth in the four woeful realms of existence.

Śīla refers to overall (principles of) ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, which correspond to 'basic morality' (five precepts), 'basic morality with asceticism' (eight precepts), 'novice monkhood' (ten precepts) and 'monkhood' (Vinaya or Patimokkha). Lay people generally undertake to live by the five precepts which are common to all Buddhist schools. If they wish, they can choose to undertake the eight precepts, which have some additional precepts of basic asceticism.

The five precepts are not given in the form of commands such as "thou shalt not ...", but are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate well.

1. To refrain from taking life. (non-violence towards sentient life forms)
2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (not committing theft)
3. To refrain from sensual misconduct (abstinence from immoral sexual behavior)
4. To refrain from lying. (speaking truth always)
5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness (refrain from using drugs or alcohol)

In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict, and becomes a precept of celibacy.

The three additional rules of the eight precepts are:

6. To refrain from eating at the wrong time (only eat from sunrise to noon)
7. To refrain from dancing, using jewelry, going to shows, etc.
8. To refrain from using a high, luxurious bed.

Vinaya is the specific moral code for monks and nuns. It includes the Patimokkha, a set of 227 rules for monks in the Theravadin recension. The precise content of the vinayapitaka (scriptures on Vinaya) differ slightly according to different schools, and different schools or subschools set different standards for the degree of adherence to Vinaya. Novice-monks use the ten precepts, which are the basic precepts for monastics.

In Eastern Buddhism, there is also a distinctive Vinaya and ethics contained within the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (not to be confused with the Pali text of that name) for Bodhisattvas, where, for example, the eating of meat is frowned upon and vegetarianism is actively encouraged (see vegetarianism in Buddhism). In Japan, this has almost completely displaced the monastic vinaya, and allows clergy to marry.

Samādhi/Bhāvanā (Meditative cultivation)

Main article: Samadhi

In the language of the Noble Eightfold Path, samyaksamādhi is "right concentration". The primary means of cultivating samādhi is meditation. Almost all Buddhist schools agree that the Buddha taught two types of meditation, viz. samatha meditation (Sanskrit: śamatha) and vipassanā meditation (Sanskrit: vipaśyanā). Upon development of samādhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilement, calm, tranquil, and luminous.

Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration (jhāna, Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna), his mind is ready to penetrate and gain insight (vipassanā) into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering. The cultivation of mindfulness is essential to mental concentration, which is needed to achieve insight.

Samatha Meditation starts from being mindful of an object or idea, which is expanded to one's body, mind and entire surroundings, leading to a state of total concentration and tranquility (jhāna) There are many variations in the style of meditation, from sitting cross-legged or kneeling to chanting or walking. The most common method of meditation is to concentrate on one's breath, because this practice can lead to both samatha and vipassana.

In Buddhist practice, it is said that while samatha meditation can calm the mind, only vipassanā meditation can reveal how the mind was disturbed to start with, which is what leads to jñāna (Pāli ñāṇa knowledge), prajñā (Pāli paññā pure understanding) and thus can lead to nirvāṇa (Pāli nibbāna). When one is in jñāna, it is nibbāna, albeit only temporary because in these states, all defilements are suppressed. Only prajñā or vipassana eradicates the defilements completely. Jhanas are also resting states which arahants abide in order to rest.

Prajñā (Wisdom)

Main article: Prajñā

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) means wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, The Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path. Prajñā is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about bodhi. It is spoken of as the principal means, by its enlightenment, of attaining nirvāṇa, through its revelation of the true nature of all things as dukkha (unsatisfactory), anicca (impermanence) and anatta (devoid of self). Prajñā is also listed as the sixth of the six pāramitās of the Mahayana.

Initially, prajñā is attained at a conceptual level by means of listening to sermons (dharma talks), reading, studying and sometimes reciting Buddhist texts and engaging in discourse. The Buddha taught dharma to his disciples mainly through the mean of discourse or sermon,[How to reference and link to summary or text] many attaining nirvana upon hearing the Buddha's discourse.

Once the conceptual understanding is attained, it is applied to daily life so that each Buddhist can verify the truth of the Buddha's teaching at a practical level. Lastly, one engages in insight (vipassanā, Sanskrit vipaśyanā) meditation [How to reference and link to summary or text] to attain such wisdom at intuitive level. It should be noted that one could theoretically attain nirvana at any point of practice, while listening to a sermon, while conducting business of daily life or while in meditation.

Buddhism and intellectualism

Main article: Reality in Buddhism

According to the scriptures, in his lifetime, the Buddha refused to answer several philosophical questions. On issues such as whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite, unity or separation of the body and the self, complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and then death etc, the Buddha had remained silent. One explanation for this is that such questions distract from practical activity for realizing enlightenment.[41] Another is that such questions assume the reality of world/self/person.

In the Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana sutras and Tantras, the Buddha stresses that Dharma (Truth) cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic: Reality transcends all worldly concepts. The "prajna-paramita" sutras have this as one of their major themes. What is urged is study, mental and moral self-cultivation, faith in and veneration of the sutras, which are as fingers pointing to the moon of Truth, but then to let go of ratiocination and to experience direct entry into Liberation itself.

The Buddha in the self-styled "Uttara-Tantra", the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (a Mahayana scripture), insists that, while pondering upon Dharma is vital, one must then relinquish fixation on words and letters, as these are utterly divorced from Liberation and the Buddha. The Tantra entitled the "All-Creating King" (Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, a scripture of Tibetan Buddhism) also emphasises how Buddhist Truth lies beyond the range of thought and is ultimately mysterious. The Supreme Buddha, Samantabhadra, states there: "The mind of perfect purity ... is beyond thinking and inexplicable ...."[42] Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist yogi and teacher mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his 6 words of advice.

Most Buddhists agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, words are inadequate to describe the goal; schools differ radically on the usefulness of words in the path to that goal.[43]

Buddhist scholars have produced a prodigious quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts. See e.g. Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism. Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages.

Mahayana often adopts a pragmatic concept of truth:[44] doctrines are "true" in the sense of being spiritually beneficial. In modern Chinese Buddhism, all doctrinal traditions are regarded as equally valid.[45]

Buddhist texts


Main article: Buddhist texts

Buddhist scriptures and other texts exist in great variety. Different schools of Buddhism place varying levels of value on them. Some schools venerate certain texts as religious objects in themselves, while others take a more scholastic approach. The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka and in Pāli as the Tipitaka. These terms literally mean "three baskets" and refer to the three main divisions of the canon, which are:

  • The Vinaya Pitaka, containing disciplinary rules for the Sanghas of Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as a range of other texts including explanations of why and how rules were instituted, supporting material, and doctrinal clarification.
  • The Sūtra Pitaka (Pāli: Sutta Pitaka), contains the actual discourses of the Buddha.
  • The Abhidharma Pitaka (Pāli: Abhidhamma Pitaka) contains commentaries or systematic expositions of the Buddha's teachings.

According to the scriptures, soon after the death of the Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held; a monk named Mahākāśyapa (Pāli: Mahākassapa) presided. The goal of the council was to record the Buddha's sayings—sūtras (Sanskrit) or suttas (Pāli)—and codify monastic rules (Vinaya). Ānanda, the Buddha's personal attendant, was called upon to recite the discourses of the Buddha, and according to some sources the abhidhamma, and Upāli, another disciple, recited the rules of the Vinaya. These became the basis of the Tripitaka. However, this record was initially transmitted orally in form of chanting, and was committed to text in a much later period. Both the sūtras and the Vinaya of every Buddhist school contain a wide variety of elements including discourses on the Dharma, commentaries on other teachings, cosmological and cosmogonical texts, stories of the Buddha's previous lives, and lists relating to various subjects.

The Theravāda and other Early Buddhist Schools traditionally believe that the texts of their canon contain the actual words of the Buddha. The Theravāda canon, also known as the Pāli Canon after the language it was written in, contains some four million words. Other texts, such as the Mahāyāna sūtras, are also considered by some to be the word of the Buddha, but supposedly either were transmitted in secret, or via lineages of mythical beings (such as the nāgas), or came directly from other Buddhas or bodhisattvas. Some six hundred Mahāyāna sutras have survived in Sanskrit or in Chinese or Tibetan translations.

The followers of Theravāda Buddhism take the scriptures known as the Pāli Canon as definitive and authoritative, while the followers of Mahāyāna Buddhism base their faith and philosophy primarily on the Mahāyāna sūtras and their own versions of the Vinaya. The Pāli sutras, along with other, closely-related scriptures, are known to the other schools as the āgamas.

Whereas the Theravādins adhere solely to the Pali canon and its commentaries, the adherents of Mahāyāna accept both the agamas and the Mahāyāna sūtras as authentic and valid teachings of the Buddha, designed for different types of persons and different levels of spiritual penetration. For the Theravādins, however, the Mahayana sūtras are works of poetic fiction, not the words of the Buddha himself. The Theravadins are confident that the Pali canon represents the full and final statement by the Buddha of his Dhamma—and nothing more is truly needed beyond that. Anything added which claims to be the word of the Buddha and yet is not found in the Canon or its commentaries is treated with extreme caution if not outright rejection by Theravada.

Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.

For the Mahāyānists, in contrast, the āgamas do indeed contain basic, foundational, and, therefore, relatively weighty pronouncements of the Buddha, but from the Mahayana standpoint the Mahāyāna sutras articulate the Buddha's higher, more advanced and deeper doctrines, reserved for those who follow the bodhisattva path. That path is explained to be built upon the motivation to achieve not only personal liberation, but Buddhahood itself in order to know how best to liberate all living beings from unhappiness. Hence the name Mahāyāna (lit., the Great Vehicle), which has room for both the general masses of sentient beings and those who are more developed. The "Great" of "Maha-yana" is indeed typical of much of this version of Buddhism—from the physical bigness (lengthiness) of some of the Mahayana sutras and the vastness of the Bodhisattva vow (to strive for all future time to help free all other persons and creatures from pain), to the (in some sutras and Tantras) final attainment of the Buddha's "Great Self" (mahatman) in the sphere of "Great Nirvana" (mahanirvana). For Theravadins and many scholars[46], however, the self-proclaimed "greatness" of the Mahayana Sutras does not make them a true account of the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Unlike many religions, Buddhism has no single central text that is universally referred to by all traditions. However, scholars have referred to the Vinaya Pitaka and the first four Nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka as the common core of all Buddhist traditions.[47] this could, however, be considered misleading, as Mahāyāna considers these not a core, merely a preliminary teaching, and the Tibetans never even translated most of the āgamas, though theoretically recognizing them. The size and complexity of the Buddhist canons have been seen by some (including Buddhist social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar) as presenting barriers to the wider understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

Over the years, various attempts have been made at synthesizing a single Buddhist text that will encompass all of the major principles of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, condensed 'study texts' were created that combined popular or influential scriptures into single volumes that could be studied by novice monks. Later in Sri Lanka, the Dhammapada was championed as a unifying scripture.

Dwight Goddard collected a sample of Buddhist scriptures, with the emphasis on Zen—along with other classics of Eastern philosophy, such as the Tao Te Ching—into his Buddhist Bible in the 1920s. More recently, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar attempted to create a single, combined document of Buddhist principles with his “The Buddha and His Dhamma”. Other such efforts have persisted to the present day, but currently there is no single text widely accepted as being central to all Buddhist traditions.

Buddhist symbols

Main article: Buddhist symbolism

The eight auspicious symbols of Mahayana and Vajrayana are:

  • the Parasol (Umbrella)
  • the Golden Fish
  • the Treasure Vase
  • the Lotus
  • the Conch Shell
  • the Endless Knot
  • the Victory Banner
  • the Dharma wheel

Comparative study

This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it. Buddhism is a fertile ground for comparative studies with different beliefs, philosophy, science, history, and various other aspects of Buddhism. In term of doctrine, dependent origination is Buddhism's primary contribution to metaphysics. This has wide-ranging implication in terms of theology, philosophy, and science. On the other hand, Buddhist emphasis on the Middle way not only provides a unique guideline for ethics but it has also allowed Buddhism to peacefully coexist with various local beliefs, customs, and institutions in adopted countries for most of its history.

List of Buddhism related topics in comparative studies

  • Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Buddhism and Eastern teaching (Buddhism and East Asian teaching)
  • God in Buddhism (Buddhism, mysticism, and monotheism)
  • Buddhism and Christianity
  • Buddhist philosophy (Buddhism and Western philosophy)
  • Buddhist Ethics (Buddhism and ethics)
  • Buddhism and science (Buddhism and science)
  • Buddhism and psychology
  • Buddhism and Jainism


Although Buddhism is generally seen as benign and peaceful in the West, there is some criticism of it, from the anti-religious (atheists) as well as from other religions.

Christians and Muslims often criticize Buddhism for being idolatrous [48]

Many anti-religious people see Buddhism just as (or almost as) superstitious and damaging as any other religion, even though many of its forms are nontheistic or even atheistic[49][50][51]. Christopher Hitchens is a vocal critic of Buddhism and the Dalai Lama [52] [53].

However Richard Dawkins stated in the God Delusion that he regards Buddhism and Confucianism as ethical systems and philosophies rather than religions [54] while Sam Harris practices Buddhist meditation, but does acknowledge that the kamikaze attacks of WWII where inspired by Buddhism [55] and that the term “Buddhism” should be removed entirely and Buddhist meditation should leave the realm of religion and enter the realm of science [56]. These three are considered three of the four "Four Horsemen" of the "New Atheism" [57][58].

See also



Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Buddhism.
  • Bechert, Heinz & Richard Gombrich (ed.) The World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, 1984
  • Berzin, Alexander. Historical Sketch of Buddhism and Islam in Afghanistan. Berzin Archives.
  • Cousins, L. S. (1996). The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Series 3 (6.1): 57-63.; reprinted in Williams, Buddhism, volume I; NB in the online transcript a little text has been accidentally omitted: in section 4, between "... none of the other contributions in this section envisage a date before 420 B.C." and "to 350 B.C." insert "Akira Hirakawa defends the short chronology and Heinz Bechert himself sets a range from 400 B.C."
  • Davidson, Ronald M. (2003). Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gethin, Rupert (1998). Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-289223-1.
  • Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-52-131333-3.
  • Lamotte, Étienne (trans. from French) (1976). Teaching of Vimalakirti, trans. Sara Boin, XCIII, London: Pali Text Society.
  • Skilton, Andrew (1997). A Concise History of Buddhism, Windhorse Publications.
  • Williams, Paul (1989). Mahayana Buddhism: the doctrinal foundations, London: Routledge.
  • Williams, Paul (ed.), Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, 8 volumes, Routledge, London & New York, 2005

Suggested reading

Sarunya Prasopchingchana & Dana Sugu, 'Distinctiveness of the Unseen Buddhist Identity' (International Journal of Humanistic Ideology, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, vol. 4, 2010)

  • Donath, Dorothy C. (1971). Buddhism for the West: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna; a comprehensive review of Buddhist history, philosophy, and teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present day, Julian Press. ISBN 0-07-017533-0.
  • Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English, Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-321-4. Also available on-line: [3] [4] [5]
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, Oxford University Press.
  • Lowenstein, Tom (1996). The Vision of the Buddha, Duncan Baird Publishers. ISBN 1-903296-91-9.
  • Kohn, Michael H. (trans.) (1991). The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-520-4.
  • Morgan, Kenneth W. (ed), The Path of the Buddha: Buddhism Interpreted by Buddhists, Ronald Press, New York, 1956; reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi; distibuted by Wisdom Books
  • Nattier, Jan (2003). A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to The Inquiry of Ugra (Ugrapariprccha), University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2607-8.
  • Robinson, Richard H., and Johnson, Willard L. (1982). The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0-534-01027-X.
  • Sinha, H.P. (1993). Bhāratīya Darshan kī rūprekhā (Features of Indian Philosophy), Motilal Banarasidas Publ.. ISBN 81-208-2144-0.
  • Smith, Huston; Phillip Novak (2003). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, HarperSanFrancisco.
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2001). Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha (3rd ed., rev.).
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Broadway Books, 1974.
ISBN 0-7679-0369-2.
  • Thurman, Robert A. F. (translator) (1976). Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: Mahayana Scripture, Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-00601-3.
  • Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, 1974.
ISBN 0-8021-3031-3.
  • White, Kenneth, The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment Including a Translation into English of Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, and Sammaya-kaijo, The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.
ISBN 0-7734-5985-5.
  • Yamamoto, Kosho (translation), revised and edited by Dr. Tony Page. The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, (Nirvana Publications 1999-2000).
  • Yin Shun, Yeung H. Wing (translator), The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master, Wisdom Publications, 1998.
ISBN 0-86171-133-5.

  • Jewels of the Doctrine (Buddhist Stories of the Thirteenth Century)/ Ranjini/ Sri Satguru Publications


  1. Chambers Dictionary, 2006; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2003; New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, 1998; Dewey Decimal System of Book Classification; [1]
  2. see, for example, Basic Points Unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna
  3. For example: Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds For example: Dorothy Figen, Is Buddhism a Religion?
  4. For example: Narada Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell,
  5. Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism,page 2; Robinson et al., Buddhist Religions, 5th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont, California, 2004
  6. For instance, see the UNESCO webpage entitled, "Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha". See also Gethin Foundations, p. 19, which states that in the mid-third century BCE the Emperor Ashoka determined that Lumbini was the Buddha's birthplace and thus installed a pillar there with the inscription: "... this is where the Buddha, sage of the Śākyas, was born."
  7. For instance, Gethin Foundations, p. 14, states: "The earliest Buddhist sources state that the future Buddha was born Siddhārtha Gautama (Pali Siddhattha Gotama), the son of a local chieftain—a rājan—in Kapilavastu (Pali Kapilavatthu) on what is now the Indian-Nepalese border." However, Professor Gombrich (Theravada Buddhism, p. 1) and the old but specialized study by Edward Thomas, The Life of the Buddha, ascribe the name Siddhattha/Siddhartha to later sources
  8. The Life of the Buddha: The Four Sights "On the first visit he encountered an old man. On the next excursion he encountered a sick man. On his third excursion, he encountered a corpse being carried to cremation. Such sights brought home to him the prevalence of suffering in the world and that he too was subject to old age, sickness and death...on his fourth excursion, however, he encountered a holy man or sadhu, apparently content and at peace with the world."
  9. Wild mind Buddhist Meditation, The Buddha’s biography: Spiritual Quest and Awakening
  10. see: The Bodhi Tree
  11. Bodhi leaf
  12. Skilton, Concise, p. 25
  13. Cousins, Dating.
  14. "the reputed place of Buddha's death and cremation,"Encyclopedia Britannica, Kusinagara
  15. (Harvey, 1990); (Gombrich,1984);

    Gethin (1998), pp. 1–2, identifies "three broad traditions" as: (1) "The Theravāda tradition of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, also sometimes referred to as 'southern' Buddhism"; (2) "The East Asian tradition of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, also sometimes referred to as 'eastern' Buddhism"; and, (3) "The Tibetan tradition, also sometimes referred to as 'northern' Buddhism."

    Robinson & Johnson (1982) divide their book into two parts: Part One is entitled "The Buddhism of South Asia" (which pertains to Early Buddhism in India); and, Part Two is entitled "The Development of Buddhism Outside of India" with chapters on "The Buddhism of Southeast Asia," "Buddhism in the Tibetan Culture Area," "East Asian Buddhism" and "Buddhism Comes West."

  16. Smith, Buddhism; Juergensmeyer, Oxford Handbook. In addition, Gethin, Foundations, pp. 1–5, could be used to support the use of this bipartite classification scheme to the degree that he identifies that both East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism have a "general outlook" of the Mahāyāna tradition, although Tibetan Buddhism's "specific orientation" is Tantric Buddhism.
  17. "Tibetan Buddhism". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (2004). Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved on 2007-07-07. 
  18. See e.g. the multi-dimensional classification in Encyclopedia of Religion, Macmillan, New York, 1987, volume 2, pages 440ff
  19. Major Religions Ranked By Size. URL accessed on 2007-07-31.
  20. Jones, Judy; William Wilson (2006). "Religion" An Incomplete Education, 3rd edition, 473, Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-7394-7582-9.
  21. Garfinkel, Perry (December 2005). Buddha Rising. National Geographic: 88-109.
  22. World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, 2001, volume 2, page 10
  23. [2]
  24. See for example: Buddhas of the past and future
  25. See for example: The Four Noble Truths
  26. Gethin, Foundations, page 60
  27. Gombrich, Richard F. (1988). Theravada Buddhism, 2nd, 2, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  28. Pali Text Society Pali Dictionary
  29. Pali Text Society Pali Dictionary
  30. Pali Text Society Pali Dictionary
  31. An important development in the Mahayana [was] that it came to separate nirvana from bodhi ('awakening' to the truth, Enlightenment), and to put a lower value on the former (Gombrich, 1992d). Originally nirvana and bodhi refer to the same thing; they merely use different metaphors for the experience. But the Mahayana tradition separated them and considered that nirvana referred only to the extinction of craving (= passion and hatred), with the resultant escape from the cycle of rebirth. This interpretation ignores the third fire, delusion: the extinction of delusion is of course in the early texts identical with what can be positively expressed as gnosis, Enlightenment.’’ How Buddhism Began, Richard F. Gombrich, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997, p. 67
  32. ‘It is evident that the Hinayanists, either to popularize their religion or to interest the laity more in it, incorporated in their doctrines the conception of Bodhisattva and the practice of paramitas. This was effected by the production of new literature: the Jatakas and Avadanas.' Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, p. 251. The term 'Semi-Mahayana' occurs here as a subtitle
  33. ‘[the Theravadins’] early literature did not refer to the paramitas.’ Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, Dutt, p. 228
  34. Norbu, Chogyal Namkhai (2000). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen, 164, Snow Lion Publications.
  35. Kohn, Shambhala, pp. 131, 143
  36. Bhikku, Thanissaro (2001). Refuge. An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha. Access to Insight.
  37. Thera, Piyadassi (1999). "Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta" The Book of Protection, Buddhist Publication Society. In the Buddha's first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, he talks about the Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths.
  38. Harvey, Introduction, p. 47
  39. Hinnels, John R. (1998). The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, London: Penguin Books.,pages 393f
  40. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, p. 92
  41. MN 72 (Thanissaro, 1997). For further discussion of the context in which these statements was made, see Thanissaro (2004).
  42. The Sovereign All-Creating Mind tr. by E.K. Neumaier-Dargyay, pp. 111–112.
  43. Philosophy East and West, volume Twenty-Six, page 138
  44. Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, 1989, page 2
  45. Welch, Practice of Chinese Buddhism, Harvard, 1967, page 395
  46. for example: A.K. Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edtion (2000), p. 4
  47. A.K. Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition (2000)
  48. Islam and Buddhism – Harun Yahyah,
  49. "Is Buddhism Atheistic?",
  50. "Buddhism is Atheist",
  51. "Buddhism and Atheism",
  52. ”There is No Eastern Solution", god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens
  53. "His Material Highness" by Christopher Hitchens,
  54. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
  55. ”Ch. 7: Experiments in Consciousness”, The End of Faith, Sam Harris
  56. Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris,

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