What Is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices largely based on teachings attributed to siddhartha, who is commonly known as the buddha.
Buddhism is a religion that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (563–483 B.C.), who was born into a royal family in Kapilavastu (present-day Nepal). When Siddhartha was twenty-nine years old he became aware that old age, sickness, and death are a part of life, so he gave up all his possessions and became a wandering holy man. Seeking to understand why people suffer and how he could end this suffering, he fasted and meditated for six years. Finally he realized that a life of denial would not lead him to enlightenment. While resting under a banyan tree (a fig tree with many trunks) Siddhartha had a deep religious experience called nirvana. The word "nirvana" comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and means "blowing out," like a flame that is extinguished. The person who reaches nirvana on Earth is freed of hatred and greed, and the soul reaches a complete state of nirvana after the death of the body. However, nirvana is not like the heaven—a paradise where the soul goes after death—of Christianity or Islam (religions based on a belief in one all-powerful and all-knowing God). The concept of nirvana is also one of the main differences between Buddhism and Hinduism. According to the Hindu religion, after death a person's soul (spiritual essence) moves into a new body and is born again. This rebirth is called reincarnation. Buddhists believe, however, that this continuous cycle of rebirth ends once the soul achieves nirvana. When Siddhartha reached the elevated state of nirvana, he became the Buddha, which means "Enlightened One." He began teaching others how to reach nirvana by following the Middle Way, which avoids extremes in behavior.
Further Information: Harkavy, Michael, ed. The New Webster's International Encyclopedia. Naples, Fla.: Trident Press International, 1996; Penney, Sue. Buddhism. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997; Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. Buddhism. New York: Facts On File, 1993.