Buddhism is a path that seeks to lead individuals from a life constricted by greed, hatred and ignorance to one liberated by generosity, compassion and insight. Its aim is to overcome suffering and to promote happiness.
Although Buddhism is called a religion, it is radically different from the other major world religions. Buddhism does not have a Creator God to obey, but requires a willingness to commit oneself to the Buddha (the ideal of Enlightenment), the Dhamma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the community of his followers).
Buddhism does not require blind faith or conformity; each person is expected to examine and test out the teachings for themselves.
On a personal level Buddhism is about pursuing the path to Enlightenment through being mindful, and taking responsibility for your life:
Enlightenment – because Buddhists believe that everyone has the potential to become enlightened, to be fully awake to the Truth.
Being mindful – because Buddhists seek to avoid those things which dull the mind and to develop awareness of themselves, their feelings and the world around them.
Taking responsibility for your life – because Buddhists believe that, through our actions we create who we become (The law of karma).
The founder of Buddhism was an Indian prince of the 6th century BCE. After coming fact to face with the suffering inherent in life he left his life of luxury and set out to find its cause and its cure. In stark contrast to his earlier luxurious life, he adopted severe ascetic practices. Eventually he recognised that this way not helpful and adopted a Middle Way of being compassionate to oneself without being indulgent. He finally realised Enlightenment and spent the remaining 40 years of his life teaching others.
He is the supreme example for Buddhists, but he is not regarded as a God. They believe that all beings have the potential to realise Enlightenment as he did. He emphasised that his teaching, should not be accepted blindly and that everyone must tread the path for themselves.
All Buddhists take refuge in the Three Treasures, or Three Jewels:
The Buddha – as teacher and embodiment of the potential found within us all,
The Dhamma (the Buddha’s teaching),
The Sangha (the Buddhist community).
As Buddhism spread and the teachings developed, many different traditions and schools evolved. Buddhism became a major influence in India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Thailand, Tibet, Myanmar (Burma) and many other countries.
Buddhism has now become established in the West and in the United Kingdom where all the major traditions are represented.