Buddhism takes its name from Siddhartha Gautama (circa 566-486 BC), revered by his disciples as Buddha (the awakened). His teachings spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and many other parts of Asia over the course of a few centuries. Buddhism, which later disappeared almost entirely from its native country as a living religion, had a profound impact on the religious life and cultural development outside India, from Afghanistan in the west to China, Korea, Japan, in the east, passing through Southeast Asia from Myanmar to the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. At present, Buddhism also has an active role in the religious landscape of Europe and North America.
The central figure of this doctrine is Buddha. Buddha, a prince who was born in Lumbini (now belongs to Nepal), renounced his life to free himself from samsara, the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. After a long period of study, meditation and introspection, he experienced the enlightenment or awakening that made him Buddha (note that although Siddhartha receives the name of the Buddha, he was not the first or the last to get this appellation). Eventually he began to preach and get his first followers, and set out to summarize his insights into the doctrines of the four noble truths and the noble octuplet path.
1. The truth of suffering.
2. The truth of the cause of suffering.
3. The truth of the end of suffering.
4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering.
1. Right View.
2. Right Resolve.
3. Right Speech.
4. Right Conduct.
5. Right Livelihood.
6. Right Effort.
7. Right Mindfulness.
8. Right Meditation.
The Buddhist religion evolved into many complex forms, but maintaining its nucleus. Buddha was not considered a god or a supernatural, but a man who had found the deepest answer to human existence and had made this find available to others. For millions of Asians and large numbers of Europeans and Americans, Buddhism conveys a sense of sanctity, social and cultural cohesion without depending on the concept of a creator god.
Buddhism has been transformed into different branches by the followers: There are three branches:
The Hinayana is the most traditional way of following Buddhism. This is based on the set of “exact” teachings Buddha. Sri Lanka has played a central role in preserving the Hinayana practices. The main countries where this tradition is currently alive and well in Sri -Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos. The monks of Hinayana sect use saffron robes.
The Mahayana sect is based on the older tradition and fully accepts these teachings, but not all traditional interpretations. One of the most important aspects is for example the traditional interpretation that Buddhahood can be achieved only by very few people. The Mahayana teaches instead that every sentient being (being with a mind) can become a Buddha; the only thing preventing our full enlightenment is the failure to improve one's own actions and state of mind. This sect is well preserved in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim.
Bajrayana is as an extension of Mahayana and it differs in its practices, rather than its philosophy. The Bajrayana requires mystical experience in order to experience Buddha-nature prior to full enlightenment. In order to transmit these experiences, a body of esoteric knowledge has been accumulated by Buddhist tantric yogis and is passed via lineages of transmission. To get this knowledge, the practitioner requires initiation from a highly skilled spiritual teacher. Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan preserve this sect.