The founder of Buddhism was Buddha, originally known as Prince Siddhartha. He was born in a royal family with all the luxuries of life at his disposal. However, by the age of 29, he encountered the harsh realities of life and left his luxurious home to find the real meaning of life. After following a path of first, rigorous austerity and then meditation, He finally attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Gaya. After attaining enlightenment, He preached others to follow the same path and thus, laid the foundation of Buddhism.

One fundamental belief of Buddhism is often referred to as reincarnation. This means that people are reborn after dying. In fact, most individuals go through many cycles of birth, living, death and rebirth. A practicing Buddhist differentiates between the concepts of rebirth and reincarnation. In reincarnation, the individual may recur repeatedly. In rebirth, in a person does not necessarily return to Earth as the same entity ever again. He compares it to a leaf growing on a tree. When the withering leaf falls off, a new leaf will eventually replace it. It is similar to the old leaf, but it is not identical to the original leaf. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. This is a state of liberation and freedom from suffering. Buddhism, like most of the great religions of the world, is divided into a number of different traditions. However, most traditions share a common set of fundamental beliefs.

The Four Noble Truths:

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths explore human suffering. They may be described as:
  1. Dukkha: Suffering exists: (Suffering is real and and almost universal. Suffering has many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, the impermanence of pleasure.)
  2. Samudaya: There is a cause for suffering. (It is the desire to have and control things. It can take many forms: craving of sensual pleasures; the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.)
  3. Nirodha: There is an end to suffering. (Suffering ceases with the final liberation of Nirvana (a.k.a. Nibbana). The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving.)
  4. Magga: In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path:

The Buddha's Eightfold Path consists of:

Panna: Discernment, wisdom:
1) Samma ditthi Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
2) Samma sankappa: Right thinking; following the right path in life.
Sila: Virtue, morality:
3) Samma vaca: Right speech: no lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language.
4) Samma kammanta Right: conduct by following the Five Precepts.
5) Samma ajiva: Right livelihood; support yourself without harming others
Concentration, meditation:
6) Samma vayama Right Effort: promote good thoughts; conquer evil thoughts.
7) Samma sati Right Mindfulness: Become aware of your body, mind and feelings.
8) Samma samadhi Right Concentration: Meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness.

The Five Precepts:

These are rules to live by. They are somewhat analogous to the second half of the Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity -- that part of the Decalogue which describes behaviors to avoid. However, they are recommendations, not commandments. Believers are expected to use their own intelligence in deciding exactly how to apply these rules.
  1. Do not kill. This is sometimes translated as "not harming" or an absence of violence.
  2. Do not steal. This is generally interpreted as including the avoidance of fraud and economic exploitation.
  3. Do not lie. This is sometimes interpreted as including name calling, gossip, etc.
  4. Do not misuse sex. For monks and nuns, this means any departure from complete celibacy. For the laity, adultery is forbidden, along with any sexual harassment or exploitation, including that within marriage. The Buddha did not discuss consensual premarital sex within a committed relationship; Buddhist traditions differ on this.
  5. Do not consume alcohol or other drugs. The main concern here is that intoxicants cloud the mind. Some have included as a drug other methods of divorcing ourselves from reality -- e.g. movies, television, the Internet.

Those preparing for monastic life or who are not within a family are expected to follow an additional five precepts:

6. Taking untimely meals.
7. Dancing, singing, music, watching grotesque mime.
8. Use of garlands, perfumes and personal adornment.
9. Use of high seats.
10. Accepting gold or silver.

Buddhist Worship
Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. It is not considered essential to go to a temple to worship with others.

At Home

Buddhists will often set aside a room or a part of a room as a shrine. There will be a statue of Buddha, candles, and an incense burner.

There are as many forms of Buddhist worship as there are schools of Buddhism - and there are many of those.
Worship in Mahayana tradition takes the form of devotion to Buddha and to Bodhisattvas.
Worshippers may sit on the floor barefoot facing an image of Buddha and chanting. They will listen to monks chanting from religious texts, perhaps accompanied by instruments, and take part in prayers.

A mantra is a word, a syllable, a phrase or a short prayer that is spoken once or repeated over and over again (either aloud or in a person's head) and that is thought to have a profound spiritual effect on the person.
A very well known mantra is the mantra of Avalokiteshvara: om mani padme hum. This is sometimes said to mean "Behold! The jewel in the lotus!", but this translation isn't much help - the phrase isn't really translatable because of the richness of meaning and symbolism it contains.

Physical Prayer Aids
It's common to use prayer beads to mark the number of repetitions of a mantra.
Mantras may also be displayed on a prayer wheel and repeated by spinning the wheel, or written on a prayer flag - in which case the prayer is repeated each time the flag moves in the wind.
Prayer wheels can be tiny things that a Buddhist carries with them or enormous objects up to nine feet high found in monasteries.
These physical prayer devices are very common in Tibetan Buddhist communities.

Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, an American journalist, developed the Buddhist Flag in 1880. The five colors of the flag represent the colors of the aura that radiated from Buddha, at the time of His Enlightenment. The colors are:

Blue: Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
Yellow: The Middle Path - avoiding extremes, emptiness
Red: Blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
White: Purity of Dharma - it leads to liberation, outside of time or space
Saffron: The Buddha's Teaching - wisdom


There is an estimated 230 and 500 million people practicing Buddhism in the word today.
350 million as the most commonly cited number of people figured.

Biddhism in Modern Asia
In northern Asia, Mahayana remains the most common form of Buddhism in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Singapore. Theravda predominates in most of Southeast Asia, including Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, as well as Sri Lanka. Vajrayana is predominant in Tibet, Mongolia, portions of Siberia and portions of India, especially those areas bordering Tibet. Kalmykia, while geographically located in Europe, is culturally closely related to Mongolia and thus its Buddhism is more properly grouped with Asian than with Western Buddhism.
While in the West Buddhism is often seen as exotic and progressive, in the East Buddhism is regarded as familiar and part of the establishment. Buddhist organizations in Asia frequently are well-funded and enjoy support from the wealthy and influential. In some cases, this has led critics to charge that certain monks and organizations are too closely associated with the powerful and are neglecting their duties to the poor.

Buddhism and the West

In the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhism (along with many other of the world's religions and philosophies) came to the attention of Western intellectuals. These included the pessimistic German philosopher Schopenhauer and the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who translated a Buddhist sutra from French into English. German writer Hermann Hesse also showed great interest in the eastern religion, even writing a book entitled Siddhartha. Spiritual enthusiasts enjoyed what they saw as the exotic and mystical tone of the Asian traditions. At first Western Buddhology was hampered by poor translations (often translations of translations), but soon Western scholars began to learn Asian languages and translate Asian texts. In 1880 J.R. de Silva and Henry Steel Olcott designed the International Buddhist flag to celebrate the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Its stripes symbolise universal compassion, the middle path, blessings, purity and liberation, wisdom, and the conglomeration of these. The flag was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress.
In 1899 Gordon Douglas became the first Westerner to be ordained as a Buddhist monk.The first Buddhists to arrive in the United States were Chinese. Hired as cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries, they established temples in their settlements along the rail lines. See the article on Buddhism in America for further information.The Buddhist Society, London was founded by Christmas Humphreys in 1924.

The cultural re-evaluations of the hippie generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a re-discovery of Buddhism, which seemed to promise a natural path to awareness and enlightenment. Many people, including celebrities, traveled to Asia in pursuit of gurus and ancient wisdom. Buddhism had become the fastest-growing religion in Australia and many other Western nations by the 1990s, in contrast to the steady decline of traditional western beliefs

A distinctive feature of Buddhism has been the continuous evolution of the practice as it was transmitted from one country to another. This dynamic aspect is particularly evident today in the West. Chgyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala meditiaton movment, claimed in his teachings that his intention was to strip the ethnic baggage away form traditional methods of working with the mind and to deliver the essence of those teachings to his western students. Another example of an school evolving new idioms for the transmission of the dharma is the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, founded by Sangharakshita.


Most studies have indicated a Buddhist population in the United States of between 1 and 4 million. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2004 indicates that 2% of the U.S. population is Buddhist, which would mean a total of 5,973,446 Buddhists. For the last 16 years, all denominations of the Buddhist religion have experienced an unparalleled growth in the United States of America. From the years 1990 to 2001, Buddhism had grown 170% and transformed itself into the 4th most practiced religion in America. It was neck to neck with Islam losing a 3rd place position by a mere 22,000 people. Other estimates, that perhaps there is more than just the six million Buddhists in America: in the 1990s, Robert A. F. Thurman stated his opinion that there were 5 to 6 million Buddhists in America, and others might speculate there are more.

Since 2001, native born American’s have experienced an ever greater interest and growth in Buddhism that gives people the impression that the number and percentage of Buddhist adherents must be even larger in 2006 than in 2001. For instance, since 2001, in the State of Connecticut, the appearance of the Buddhist Faith Fellowship and other successful and growing Buddhist congregations have brought about an explosion of Buddhist practitioners in this state. The rapid growth in the Buddhist Faith Fellowship exceeds 1000% since its inception in 2001.

Regarding national growth, the number of actual American Buddhists is still unclear. The web site The Landscape of American Buddhism, states, “Scholars of Buddhism come to very different conclusions about the number of Buddhists in America. In the mid-1990s, Robert Thurman, a Buddhist Studies professor at Columbia University and a former Buddhist monk himself, told “ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings” that there were five to six million Buddhists in the United States. Thurman was probably guessing, but by 1997, a German scholar named Martin Baumann postulated three to four million Buddhists in America, based on his own surveys and extensive research….it is quite likely that Baumann’s figure was correct for its time, and that there now may well be many more Buddhists on America soil. That makes American Buddhism as large as many Protestant denominations.

What is the reason behind the success of Buddhism’s growing religion? From what I read there are three reasons why:
  1. Buddha’s central message of assurance, tolerance and optimism, in which personal experience and spiritual transformation overrides traditional western religious fear and blind faith in ancient dogma and Christian mythology.
  2. Secondly, growth is also attributed to the new generation of native-born American Buddhist teachers who have learned to better communicate the dharma to the ever increasing American audience. These teachers have adopted modern organizational models to maintain and propagate the dharma.
  3. Finally, and probably the most impacting is the deep dissatisfaction of many Americans with the status quo and blind mind think that their Christian religion is fundamentalist and conservative. This really helped the Buddhism emerge as a viable alternative religion. Religioustolerance.org cites, “large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating themselves from Christianity….” This phenomenon has occurred in other Western Nations like the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and other industrial countries. According to Sydney Morning Herald, in its article, While Christianity Declines, Buddhism Grows Rapidly, Australia had polled more Buddhists than Baptists in 2005. For more information on this subject matter, the article Buddha Rising, from the National Geographic Magazine, December 2005 issue, explores Buddhism's current world-wide renaissance and expansion, especially in western countries like the United States.

A segment on NBC of Buddhism as a growing trend in America:

Buddhist temples come in many shapes. Perhaps the best known are the pagodas of China and Japan. Buddhist temples are designed to symbolise the five elements: Fire; Air; Earth, symbolised by the square base; Water and Wisdom, symbolised by the pinnacle at the top. All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha. Worshippers may sit on the floor barefoot facing the representation of Buddha, chanting.



Tripitaka (Pali Canon)

The Tripitaka is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only text recognized as canonical by Theravada Buddhists. Many commentaries have been added over the centuries, however. Tripitaka means "three baskets," from the way in which it was originally recorded: the text was written on long, narrow leaves, which were sewn at the edges then grouped into bunches and stored in baskets. The collection is also referred to as the Pali Canon, after the language in which it was first written. It is a vast collection of writings, comprising up to 50 volumes costing $2000 in some modern sets. 02.gif
The Tripitaka was handed down orally, then written down in the third century B.C.E. According to Buddhist tradition, the contents of the Tripitaka were determined at the First Buddhist Council, shortly after the Buddha's death. As many as 500 of Buddha's disciples assembled, and at the direction of Mahakashypa, Buddha's successor, the teachings of the Buddha were recited in full. They were then verified by others who had also been present and organized into the Tripitaka (although not written at the time).
The Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket) was recalled by a monk named Upali. It deals with rules and regulations for the monastic community (the sangha), including 227 rules for monks, further regulations for nuns, and guidelines for the interaction between the sangha and the laity. Most of these rules derive from the Buddha's responses to specific situations in the community.
Tibetan script, from a passage of Buddhist
scripture "Rite of Praying for Long Life."

The Sutra Pitaka (Discourse Basket) was recited by Ananda, Buddha's cousin and closest companion. It contains the Buddha's teachings on doctrine and behavior, focusing especially on meditation techniques.
The Abhidharma Pitaka (Higher Knowledge or Special Teachings Basket) was recited by Mahakashyapa, the Buddha's successor. It is essentially a collection of miscellaneous writings, including songs, poetry, and stories of the Buddha and his past lives. Its primary subjects are Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Also within the Abhidharma Pitaka is the Dhammapada (Dharmapada in Sanskrit), a popular Buddhist text. The Dhammapada consists of sayings of the Buddha and simple discussions of Buddhist doctrine based on the Buddha's daily life.

Mahayana Buddhist Sutras

Mahayana Buddhism reveres the Tripitaka as a sacred text, but adds to it the Sutras, which reflect distinctively Mahayana concepts and are used more often by Mahayana Buddhists. Most of the Mahayana Sutras, which number over two thousand, were written between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the period in which Mahayana Buddhism developed. Different divisions of Mahayana Buddhism emphasize different Sutras, but some texts, like the Lotus Sutra and Heart Sutra, are important to most branches of Mahayana.
The Lotus Sutra is probably the most significant of the Mahayana Sutras. It describes a sermon delivered by the Buddha to an assembly of buddhas, boddhisatvas, and other celestial beings. This sermon emphasizes the importance of becoming a boddhisatva, realizing one's buddha-nature, and other Mahayana concepts. The Lotus Sutra is revered by most Buddhists, and is the primary focus of the Nichiren school.
The Heart Sutra is another important Mahayana text. It is very short, only a few pages, and provides a concise summary of key Mahayana concepts. Presented as the teachings the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Heart Sutra describes the five skandhas (elements of human nature), as well as the Mahayana views of "emptiness," nirvana, and ultimate reality.
The Land of Bliss Sutra is especially important in Pure Land Buddhism. It tells the story of Amitabha (Amida) Buddha's vow to help people reach nirvana, describes the Pure Land, and relates what one must do to be reborn in the Pure Land.

Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the Tibetan text that is most well known to the West. Written by a Tibetan monk, the Book of the Dead describes in detail the stages of death from the Tibetan point of view. It chronicles the experiences and religious opportunities a person encounters at various stages: while dying, at the moment of death, during the 49-day interval between death and rebirth, and at rebirth.
The title "Tibetan Book of the Dead" was coined by the American editor W.Y. Evans-Wentz in imitation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual name in Tibetan is Bardo Todrol Chenmo, which means the Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Between. The Tibetan word bardo means "between," "gap," or "transition," and refers to the time between death and rebirth.
In Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia, a lama will often recite the Book of the Dead to a recently deceased person in order to help him understand his experiences and gain enlightenment, or at least a positive rebirth.
The Book of thescrip.jpg Dead is a product of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Nyingma tradition, the book was composed in the eighth century CE by Padmasambhava, who then concealed the book because he knew the world was not yet ready for its teachings. Concealing, rather than revealing, books immediately upon writing them is a distinctive practice of the Nyingma school. Concealed works are called terma ("treasure"), and it is believed that they will not be discovered until the world is ready for them. The Tibetan Book of the Dead was rediscovered in the 14th century CE by Karma Lingpa, a monk of the Nyingma school.

Buddhist Scripture and Prayer Beads.

Buddah Eyes (Wisdom Eyes) symbol.jpg
On virtually every stupa (Buddhist shrine) in Nepal, there are giant pairs of eyes staring out from the four sides of the main tower. These are Buddha Eyes (also known as Wisdom Eyes), and they look out in the four directions to symbolize the omniscience (all-seeing) of a Buddha.The Buddha eyes are so prevalent throughout the country that they have become a symbol of Nepal itself. Between the Buddha's eyes where the nose would be is a curly symbol that looks like question mark. This is the Nepali character for the number 1, which symbolizes unity of all the things as well as the one way to reach enlightenment—through the Buddha's teachings. Above this is a third eye, symbolizing the all-seeing wisdom of the Buddha.

Buddahpada: The Buddah's Footprintbuddhapada-symbols-clipart-75.gif
The footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) are one of the early representations of the Buddha in the anticonic (no statues) stage of Buddhist art. The Buddhapada are highly revered in all Buddhist countries, especially in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Symbolizing the grounding of the transcendent, feet have been objects of respect in India long before Buddhism. According to Buddhist legend, after the Buddha attained enlightenment, his feet made an imprint in the stone where he stepped. In another tradition, the infant Buddha took seven steps after his birth to symbolize his spiritual domination of the universe. The footprints of the Buddha symbolize the Buddha's presence, as they are believed to be the imprints where the Buddha actually touched the ground. At the same time, the Buddhapada signify the Buddha's absence now that he has entered nirvana, and thus are a reminder of the Buddhist ideal of nonattachment.The Buddha's footprints are usually depicted with the toes of all one length and with a dharmachakra (wheel) in the center. Other ebuddhapada-limestone-panel-amaravati-stupa-india-1stC-BC-BritMuseum-200.jpgarly Buddhist symbols also appear on the heels and toes, such as the lotus, the swastika and the triratna (Three Jewels). Some Buddhapada can be vefeet-Burma-asiatours-200.jpgry large and detailed, displaying the 32, 108 or 132 distinctive marks of a Buddha in a checkerboard pattern. These symbols are also seen on the bottom of the feet of large statues of the reclining Buddha.Sculptures of Buddha's footprints are usually protected in a special temple structure, where the faithful bring flowers and other offerings to them. The Buddhapada image can also be found on Tibetan thangkas.

The Endless Knot

The endless knot (Skt. shrivatsa; Tib. dpal be'u) is a closed, graphic ornament composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. It overlaps without a beginning or an end, symbolising the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion.lm52.jpg It indicates continuity as the underlying reality of existence. It is conjectured that it may have evolved from an ancient naga symbol with two stylized snakes. The latter image signifies the dramatic interplay and interaction of the opposing forces in the dualistic world of manifestation, leading to their union, and ultimately to harmony in the universe. This fact is amply reflected in the symmetrical and regular form of the endless knot. The intertwining of lines represents how all phenomena are conjoined and yoked together as a closed cycle of cause and effect. Thus the whole composition is a pattern that is closed on in itself with no gaps, leading to a representational form of great simplicity and fully balanced harmony. Since all phenomena are interrelated, the placing of the endless knot on a gift or greeting card is understood to establish an auspicious connection between the giver and the recipient. At the same time, the recipient is goaded to righteous karma, being reminded that future positive effects have their roots in the causes of the present. This is because the knot represents a connection, a link with our fates, binding us to our karmic destiny. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most favorite symbols in Tibetan Buddhism, and often occurs on its own. Other, related interpretations of the endless knot have also been given, such as the following:

The auspicious drawing symbolises the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs. Similarly, it represents the union of wisdom and method, the inseparability of emptiness and dependent arising at the time of path, and finally, at the time of enlightenment, the complete union of wisdom and great compassion. swastika-korea-cc-lance-johnson-200.jpg


The swastika (Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes dots are added between each arm.The swastika is answastika-lotus-lamp-korea-cc-photocapy-200.jpg ancient symbol found worldwide, but it is especially common in India. It can be seen in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, and Persians as well Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The swastika's Indian name comes the Sanskrit word svasti, meaning good fortune, luck and well being. In Hinduism, the right-hand (clockwise) swastikswastika-wheel-taiwan-cc-hakym-200.jpga is a symbol of the sun and the god Vishnu, while the left-hand (counterclockwise) swastika represents Kali and magic. The Buddhist swastika is almost always clockwise, while the swastika adopted by the Nazis (many of whom had occult interests) is counterclockwise. In Buddhism, the swastika signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the Buddah's footprint and the Buddha's heart. The swastika is said to contain the whole mind of the Buddha and can often be found imprinted on the chest, feet or palms of Buddha images. It is also the first of the 65 auspicious symbols on the footprint of the Buddha. The swastika has also often been used to mark the beginning of Buddhist texts. In China and Japan, the Buddhist swastika was seen as a symbol of plurality, eternity, abundance, prosperity and long life.The swastika is used as an auspicious mark on Buddhist temples and is especially common in Korea. It can often be seen on the decorative borders around paintings, altar cloths and banners. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is also used as a clothing decoration.
The Golden Fishes
The Golden Fishes symbol (Skt. suvarnamatsya; Tib. gser nya) consists of two fishes, which usually appear standing vertically with heads turned inwards towards each other. The pair of fishes originated as an ancient pre-Buddhist symbol of the two sacred rivers of India, Ganga and Yamuna. Symbolically, these two rivers represent the lunar and solar channels, which originate in the nostrils and carry the alternating rhythms of breath or prana. In Buddhism, the golden fishes symbolize happiness, as they have complete freedom in water. They represent fertility and abundance as they multiply very rapidly. Fish often swim in pairs, and in China they represented conjugal unity and fidelity, where a pair of fishes would often be given as a wedding present. Both Jesus Christ and Buddha are known as "fishers of men," because they save mortals from the ocean of suffering.