What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, known as Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and spiritual practices largely based on original teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. Buddhism originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C.E., spreading through much of Asia, and at times reaching as far west as (modern day) Afghanistan. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”), although a great many other Buddhist paths are known and practiced, including the Vajrayana tradition of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
Most Buddhist traditions share the goal of overcoming dukkha (suffering) and Saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth), either by the attainment of Nirvana or through the path of Buddhahood. Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices. Widely observed practices include taking refuge in the Three Jewels, meditation, observance of moral precepts, and monasticism.
Belief in the “future Buddha,” the Maitreya, a Bodhisattva who will eventually appear on earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma, is held by the vast majority of the world’s Buddhists, regardless of their particular doctrinal orientations. The Maitreya will usher in a millennial era of peace, harmony, and prosperity.