Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha (the “Enlightened One”) founded Buddhism in approximately 528 BCE, near the border of present-day India and Nepal. The teachings of the Buddha were not originally written down but were passed on in an oral tradition for several centuries.
They were eventually written in two different forms, the Pali canon of the Theravada tradition (written down in Sri Lanka around the middle of the 1st century BCE) and the Sanskrit of the northern Mahayana tradition.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to end the cycle of suffering and rebirth and to attain nirvana, which can only be reached by leading a virtuous life and obtaining wisdom. Wisdom is defined as a profound philosophical understanding of the human condition and is the result of long reflection and deep thought.
The wisdom that one must know is contained in the Four Noble Truths: suffering exists; suffering arises from attachment to desires; suffering ceases when attachment to desires ceases, and freedom from suffering is possible when practicing the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path is a way of life designed to bring virtue and knowledge to a Buddhist. The Path is known as the “Middle Way” because it is the middle road between the two extremes of severe hardship and overindulgence.
Another important aspect of Buddhism is karma, which refers to moral choices and their consequences. The law of karma teaches that responsibility for actions is born by the person who commits them and that everything a person does, good or bad, will come back to revisit them.
It is each Buddhist’s responsibility to avoid bad karma and help alleviate the suffering of others.
The Sangha is the assembly of Buddhist monks who study, teach and preserve the teachings. They serve the practitioners through example and teachings of morality. The monks live by The Book of Discipline, a vast collection of changeable rules. Their authority is maintained only as long as they are functional, which has led to many revisions.
Buddhism is one of the four largest active faith traditions today. The precise number of followers is difficult to determine, as many people practice variations of Buddhism. Buddhism is practiced in many countries around the world, with the highest concentration of practitioners in central Asia, Japan, China, and Korea.