Why learn about Buddhism?

Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. Despite the linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity of Asian cultures, there is one thing that virtually all share in common: most Asia cultures have had contact with the Buddhist tradition. Beginning in northwest India, Buddhism spread throughout South Asia, then Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. From Afghanistan to Japan, from Mongolia to Indonesia, and everywhere in between, Buddhism has significantly impacted the cultures of Asia over its 2,500-year history. From the 18th century, Buddhism began to influence the cultures of the modern West. Today, Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States as mindfulness and meditation become part of mainstream American culture. Therefore, whether one is Buddhist or not, learning more about Buddhism is a great way to learn more about the world. In fact, learning more about the world, seeing the world as it truly is, is without a doubt one of the main goals of the practice of Buddhism.


Who was the Buddha?

The World Religion we know today as “Buddhism” looks to a man named Siddhartha Gotama of the Shakya Clan as its founder. Siddhartha Gotama lived about 500 years before Christ in ancient India (in what is today Nepal). He was born a prince, or perhaps the son of a tribal chieftain, but left his privileged lifestyle to look for answers to the fundamental problems that plague the human condition. Having finally discovered the answers to those questions, he came to be known as Buddha, “the awakened one.”

A Buddha is not a God, but not just an ordinary person either. A Buddha is someone who has achieved insight into the true nature of reality, and is thus “awake.” A Buddha is someone who sees the world as it truly is, and thus, has acquired freedom from the pain and suffering of the human condition caused by ignorance. The Buddha taught that just as he had achieved this state, so too can all beings. Some Buddhists believe that all beings have an innate capacity for Buddhahood (Waking Up!), and in some sense already are Buddhas. Through studying the teachings of the Buddha, and engaging in Buddhist practices, this innate potential, this always-already present quality of our being, may be realized.


To take refuge in the Buddha means that one not only looks to the Buddha as a guide to how to live an exemplary life, but also that one recognizes the truth of the Buddha’s claim that he discovered a path beyond cyclical suffering. Moreover, one recognizes that within ourselves we possess the capacity to achieve the lofty goal of Nirvana, or freedom. For Mahayana Buddhists, taking refuge in the Buddha is also a recognition of one’s innate Buddha nature.


Below we have provided a brief description of the following:

Life of the Buddha

Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and gods of the Mahayana

Buddha Nature (Tathagata-garbha) (to come)