Friday, February 20, 2015

Religion Survey: Buddhism

Last week I discussed presenting a brief review of world religions, in order to foster respect for the diversity that religious pluralism in the U.S. brings.  This is the third article in the series. For an overview of Hinduism, please see yesterday's post. For an overview of Islam, please see Wednesday's post. For an overview of Christianity, please see Tuesday’s post. For an overview of Judaism, please see Monday’s post.

It is not possible to convey the depth of a religious belief system in 500 words or less. These posts are intended to be a high-level introduction to the origin, founder (if any), holy book(s), principles, and major holy days or celebrations of each of these faiths. I will also attempt to provide references for deeper study.

Religion: Buddhism
Buddhism originated in India around 560-480 BCE. From there it spread across Asia, and is now a global religion.

Within India, most of the concepts of Buddhism were re-absorbed back into Hinduism.

Siddhartha Gautama was the son of a raja. Much of his life is surrounded in legend, so that history and myth are difficult to distinguish. At his birth, it was predicted that he would become either a great king or a religious leader. His father preferred the first, and so raised his son away from death, old age, disease, and ascetic monks.

He came of age, married, and had a son, then became aware of the suffering of the world (death, old age, disease). He left his wife and son, and went searching.

He first tried philosophy, then asceticism (severe fasting and disciplines). After time, he decided to sit under a tree and meditate until he attained enlightenment... which happened.

Holy Book(s):

There are many different Buddhist texts, however the Canon is different for the different sects of Buddhism. has an article discussing the texts associated with each tradition.

Buddhanet has a page of links to texts, with explanations.

Also, I should have mentioned this earlier. Sacred Texts is an excellent internet archive with religious and mythological texts. The About warns that some of the work may be subject to copyright.  Here is Sacred Texts' page for Buddhism.


The Four Noble Truths, as I understand them:
  1. Life is suffering
  2. Suffering comes from desire
  3. Letting go of desire relieves suffering.
  4. The Eightfold path shows how to let go of desire:
    1. Right understanding
    2. Right attitude
    3. Right speech
    4. Right action
    5. Right livelihood
    6. Right effort
    7. Right mindfulness
    8. Right concentration
Here is a Buddhist Studies article with more information.

The various sects have particular ways of practice, traditions, and holy days specific to their tradition.

Major Holy Days / Celebrations:
The different groups of Buddhism have different traditions, often related to the culture of the community it comes through. Dates and holidays can vary considerably.

  • New Year
  • Buddha's Birthday
  • Festival of Souls
  • The Robe offering
To name a few.  This article provides a longer list, with descriptions.

Major groupings / divisions of the religion:

  • Mahayana, "the expansive way"
  • Hinayana, "the exclusive way"

There is also a school of Buddhism that incorporated ideas from Taoism. This is the Chan (Chinese) / Son (Korean) / Zen (Japanese) tradition.


Buddhism is a universal religion, open to everyone. Within Buddha's lifetime, it was open to men and women of any caste, as all people could attain enlightenment.

Historical Buddhism did send out missionaries.  Modern Buddhism, however, has tended to be a non-proselytizing religion.

A person considering Buddhism is encouraged to explore all religions and consider them carefully, and to be sure they understand the teachings of Buddha before converting. (source)

While some sects have a statement of faith for lay conversion, becoming Buddhist is a personal journey.

To learn more (Buddhist-centered):
These are some resources that Google pulled up. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
In addition to online resources:
For a Christian-centered perspective:
I am an American, and most of my readers are based in the United States. I have seen many concerns from Christians that learning even the rudiments of other religions might threaten their faith… and that is one of the reasons I’m even attempting this series.

For those who are not ready to look at things from a Hindu-centered perspective, these two books are Christian-centered overviews:
From the Religious Studies perspective:
This was the textbook in my undergraduate Religious Studies coursework: