Definition - What does Buddhism mean?

Buddhism is considered a religion and a path of spiritual development which is said to lead to an understanding of the true nature of reality. Many people consider it to be a philosophy tradition or a way of life rather than a religion in the traditional sense because it does not necessitate the worship of a god. Buddhism encompasses a range of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices such as meditation, which are intended to cultivate awareness, wisdom and compassion.

The teachings are largely based on those of Gautama Buddha, who is known as the historical Buddha. The name, Buddha, comes from the Sanskrit root for the verb, budh, meaning "to know," and as a name, it means “the awakened one.” Buddha lived and taught in the northern Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C.E. He shared his insights into the nature of life in order to help all sentient beings find relief from their suffering. The path to doing this ultimately leads to enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

Buddhism is a major world religion with about 500 million practitioners worldwide. It is a sister tradition to yoga because both evolved from the traditions and spiritual teachings of ancient India. As such, there are many commonalities between Buddhist and yogic teachings.

Yogapedia explains Buddhism

The end of suffering, according to Buddhism, is through enlightenment, in which one may truly see reality as it is and are able to live fully and naturally in accordance with that. This means freedom from suffering.

One crucial teaching of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths, and it is through direct understanding of these that enlightenment is said to be achieved. They are:

  1. The truth of life is suffering because all experiences and phenomena that are conditional are ultimately impermanent.
  2. The origin of suffering is clinging to and craving what seems pleasurable and avoiding what is not pleasurable.
  3. Suffering ceases through ending these cravings and aversions.
  4. Following the Noble Eightfold Path is what will bring ultimate freedom ending the cycle of death and rebirth.

There are two major branches of Buddhism:

  • Theravada Buddhism (School of the Elder Monks) - where the goal is to achieve nirvana through practicing the Eightfold Path in order to end suffering and rebirth. This is widespread in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
  • Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism - where, instead, practitioners aspire to achieve Buddhahood by following the bodhisattva path. This way they achieve enlightenment, but choose to remain in the cycle of rebirth to help other sentient beings find their own awakening. Mahayana Buddhism is the most widespread Buddhist tradition in the world today. It is prevalent in India, Tibet, Nepal, many South Asian countries, China, Japan and increasingly in the United States and other Western countries.

Email Newsletter

Join thousands of others with our weekly newsletter