Name Means

Teachings of the Buddha (Buddha means the "Enlightened One")


500 million


Varies: Theravada atheistic; Mahayana more polytheistic. Buddha taught nothing is permanent.


Meditation, mantras, devotion to deities (in some sects), mandalas (Tibetan)

Main Holidays

Vary by region, but often include Buddha's birthday, Buddha's enlightenment, lunar quarters


Tripitaka (Pali Canon); Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra; others.

Buddhism began in India 2,500 years ago and remains the dominant world religion in the East. There are over 360 million followers of Buddhism worldwide and over a million American Buddhists today. Buddhist concepts have also been influential on western culture in general, particularly in the areas of meditation and nonviolence.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of a Nepali prince named Siddharta Gautama who lived around 500 BCE. According to Buddhist tradition, the sheltered young prince was shocked by the suffering he saw outside his palace walls, so he left his life of luxury to seek answers. Eventually he succeeded, becoming the Buddha--the "Enlightened One." He spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching the dharma (the path to liberation from suffering) and establishing the sangha (a community of monks).

Over its long history, Buddhism has taken a wide variety of forms. Some emphasize rituals and the worship of deities, while others completely reject rituals and gods in favor of pure meditation. Yet all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.

Theravada Buddhism, prominent in Southeast Asia, is atheistic and philosophical in nature and focuses on the monastic life and meditation as means to liberation. Mahayana Buddhism, prominent in China and Japan, incorporates several deities, celestial beings, and other traditional religious elements. In Mahayana, the path to liberation may include religious ritual, devotion, meditation, or a combination of these elements. Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and Pure Land are the major forms of Mahayana Buddhism.


Books on Buddhism

Hand-selected books on Buddhism available for purchase at online bookstores.

Buddhist Beliefs

Buddhism centers on correct understanding of human nature and ultimate reality. The Buddha was, after all, called the "Enlightened One." He taught that the way to eliminate suffering began with understanding the true nature of the world...



Basic Points of Buddhism

Four Noble Truths


Human Nature

Meaning of Life

Noble Eightfold Path

Buddhist Holidays and Festivals

Buddhism celebrates many holidays and festivals, most of which commemorate important events in the life of the Buddha or various Bodhisattvas...


Buddhist Practices

Buddhism incorporates a variety of rituals and practices, which are intended to aid in the journey to enlightenment and bring blessings on oneself and others...




Buddhist Ritual Objects

The articles in this section explore the form, function and symbolism of the rich variety of objects used in Buddhist ritual and symbolic art.

begging bowl

Buddha image

Buddhist art

incense burner

mala beads


monastic robes

prayer wheel

singing bowl

skull cup


Buddhist Sects and Schools

There are many subdivisions within Buddhism, but most can be classified into three major branches: Theravada ("Way of the Elders"), Mahayana ("Greater Vehicle") and Vajrayana ("Diamond Vehicle")...

Mahayana Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism

Vajrayana Buddhism


Pure Land Buddhism

Tendai Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism


Buddhist Symbols

In the earliest centuries of Buddhism, statues of the Buddha were not used. Instead, Buddhist art consisted of images symbolizing the Buddha and his teachings, such as the lotus, the Wheel of the Law, the Bodhi tree and the Buddha's footprints...

Buddha eyes


color symbolism

dharma wheel

Eight Auspicious Symbols

golden fishes


Om Mani Padme Hum

treasure vase


victory banner

Wheel of Life


Buddhist Texts

In Buddhism, there are a vast number of Buddhist scriptures and religious texts, which are commonly divided into the categories of canonical and non-canonical...

Tibetan Book of the Dead


Glossary of Buddhism

Definitions of terms related to Buddhism.

History of Buddhism

Buddhist history begins with the life and teachings of an Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama, who lived around 500 BCE. According to Buddhist tradition, the sheltered young prince was shocked by the suffering he saw outside his palace walls, so he left his life of luxury to seek answers...

Buddha, Siddharta Guatama


First Buddhist Council

Second Buddhist Council

Conversion of Asoka

SE Asia

Hellenistic World

Timeline of Buddhism

The history of Buddhism at a glance.

  • Comments
Loading comments...