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What Is Buddhism? Basics, part 1


As a young soul interested in entering the path of Buddhism, what is a good way to start? I find it almost overwhelming to just start, I meditate, I practice key points of the dharma and live accordingly. I am told I am thinking too much, but if you could give me a sort of step by step start up guide, it would be a great help for the transition process.

Thanks again for all that you are…and all that you continue to teach us.


Excellent question, and one that I am asked increasingly often. We’ve moved past the really beginner stuff here on the DB site and newsletter, but new folks keep joining us. For the rest of this week, I am going to present a series on “Getting Started in Buddhism.” Old-timers and long-term readers probably already know all this already, but reviewing the basics once a year isn’t going to hurt.

What is Buddhism?
By Brian Schell

Buddhism is a path of real-world practices and internal spiritual development which lead to insight into the true nature of life. Practices such as meditation are means of changing oneself in order to develop and perfect the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The methods developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years have created an incredible array of resources for all those who wish to follow the path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood. The foundation of Buddhism is the Fourfold Noble Truth:

1. The world is full of suffering and stress.

2. The cause of this suffering and stress is desire and irrational grasping.

3. If this desire can be removed, then suffering and stress will be ended.

4. Desire can be removed by following the Noble Eightfold Path:

1) Right Views

2) Right Thoughts

3) Right Speech

4) Right Conduct

5) Right Livelihood

6) Right Effort

7) Right Mindfulness

8) Right Concentration

Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a God, some people do not consider it as a religion, but more of a philosophy. The basic teachings of Buddhism are straightforward and practical: nothing is permanent; actions have consequences; but change is possible. Thus Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, or gender. It also teaches practical methods such as meditation which enable people to make use of its teachings in order to transform their lives, to be fully responsible for those lives and to develop the desirable qualities of Wisdom and Compassion.

Buddhism began about 523 B.C.E., and the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha by name, was a Hindu from northern India. His birthplace, Lumpini, is now part of Nepal. The “bible” of Buddhism is the “Tripitaka,” or Three Baskets, is formed of the Sutta (Sutras of the Buddha), Vinaya (precepts for the Sangha), and the Abhidhamma (higher teachings, or analytical writings about the higher states). The oldest extant manuscripts date to the first century B.C.E. There are various sects of Buddhism, and they all place more or less emphasis and value on written scriptures.

There are approximately 362 million buddhists in the world. There are many different forms of Buddhism, which developed and grew as it spread from India and Nepal throughout Asia. The three main vehicles are Theravada (sometimes known as Hinayana), Mahayana and Tantrayana (also known as Vajrayana). Theravada is the oldest tradition and is practiced predominently in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. Theravada practice has the goal of reaching the state of nirvana, becoming an arhat, and achieving liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Mahayana predominates in Northern India, China, Japan, and Vietnam. Tantrayana predominates in Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia. Both Mahayana and Tantrayana practice is primarily to help all sentient beings reach enlightenment and in doing so achieve both nirvana and buddhahood. In Tantrayana additional tantric practices are used in order to achieve Buddhahood more quickly.

3 comments to What Is Buddhism? Basics, part 1

  • Jami

    Nice and helpful summary. We may also add that within the broad ‘schools’ there are emerging sub-sects or groups.

    These, I beleive, are often localised developments, taking issue with a particular course in the major school, and emphasising over-looked or under-emphasised aspects of a particular doctrine.

    Daily buddhism is a central and informative medium in developing an awareness of the foundational principles for all who are interested. Good luck!

  • steve

    If i may comment on the basics of buddhism i found one book to be helpful,it is the one that the buddhist temple i visited uses, it is:
    EIGHT MINDFUL STEPS TO HAPPINESS-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana it cost me $16.95

  • Very good answer and a nice introduction. I know that is hard to try to explain Buddhism with just a few words, so congratulations for this article.