Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices considered by most to be a religion and is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as “The Buddha” (the Awakened One), who was born in what is today Nepal. He lived and taught in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent and most likely died around 400 BCE in what is now modern India.
Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth, that is, achieving Nirvana. Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas, renunciation of worldly matters, cultivating continuous mindfulness, meditation, physical exercises, study, and the cultivation of wisdom.
Buddhism is broadly recognized as being composed of two major branches:
- Theravada, which has a widespread following in Southeast Asia
- Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism and Tendai), found throughout East Asia. It should be noted that in some methods of classification, Vajrayana is considered a third branch.
While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million and 500 million.
The Bhavacakra or Wheel of Becoming is a symbolic representation of continuous existence proces in the form of a circle, used primarily in Tibetan Buddhism.