Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana, following the path of the Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) who went on a quest for Enlightenment around the sixth century BC.

There is no belief in a personal or creator god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. In Buddhism life is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These states are called the tilakhana, or the three signs of existence.

Existence is endless because individuals are reincarnated over and over again, experiencing suffering throughout many lives. It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering.

The history of Buddhism is the story of one man’s spiritual journey to enlightenment, and of the teachings and ways of living that he developed from it.

Buddhism Key facts

  • Buddhism is 2,500 years old.
  • There are currently 376 million followers worldwide.
  • There are over 150,000 Buddhists in Britain .
  • Buddhism arose as a result of Siddhartha Gautama’s quest for Enlightenment in around the 6th Century BC.
  • There is no belief in a personal God. It is not centred on the relationship between humanity and God.
  • Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent – change is always possible.
  • The two main Buddhist sects are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, but there are many more.
  • Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple.
  • The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.

The Buddha

Siddhattha Gotama was born into a royal family in present-day Nepal about 2,500 years ago. As the only son of the King, he lived a life of privilege and luxury surrounded by riches. However, even as a youth he realized that he would get no lasting satisfaction from such a lifestyle. At the age of 29, he left the royal enclosure and encountered for the first time, an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. And then finally he saw a calm and dignified hermit. From this experience he decided to forgo his luxurious lifestyle. He left his wife and child in the good hands of the royal family to seek the answers to lasting happiness. He became a monk adopting the harsh poverty of Indian asceticism. After 6 years of wandering and severe ascetic practices, he realized that neither a decadent lifestyle nor extreme asceticism would lead him to the answers he sought.
He decided to pursue “The Middle Way” between these two extremes. He then settled down under a Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening), relaxed, had a good meal and entered into deep meditation. As he meditated and reflected on his experience of life, full understanding came to him. By finding the path to enlightenment, Siddhartha was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth towards the path of enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or ‘Awakened One’.
The Buddha then spent the next 45 years of his life teaching what he finally came to understand. He founded a community of monks known as the Sangha, and Buddhism spread throughout northern India. Kings, nobles, merchants and peasants became his disciples and followers, and even now countless people everywhere benefit from his Teachings.
He passed away peacefully into final Nibbana at the age of 80.