3: Buddhism


  • Adherents: 376 million (6th largest)
  • Do They Proselytize? No.
  • Dogmatic? Yes.
  • Theistic? No.
  • Major populations: China & Japan


I. Buddhism & History

Buddhist Monk

Key Terms

  • Bodhisattvas
  • Theravada
  • Mahayana
  • Vajrayana

Sutra 1-8

Now this, O monks, is the noble truth concerning suffering. Birth brings pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, and separation from something pleasant is painful. Any craving that is unsatisfied is painful... This, O monks, is the noble truth concerning suffering.

Now this, O monks, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering. Truly, it is thirst or craving. It causes the renewal of existence, and is accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there. It is the craving for the gratification of the passions, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for success in this present life. This, O monks, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering.

Now this, O monks, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering. Truly, it is the destruction of this very thirst. It is the laying aside of, the harboring no longer of this thirst. This, O monks, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering.

There is a middle path, O monks, avoiding these two extremes...This path opens the eyes, bestows understanding, leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, and to Nirvana! What is that middle path, O monks, avoiding these two extremes? Truly, it is this Noble Eightfold Path... Now this, O monks, is the noble truth concerning the way which leads to the destruction of sorrow. Truly, it is this Noble Eightfold Path.

  • A. A Short History of Buddhism
    • Begins with an Indian prince named Siddhartha
    • Siddhartha became the Buddha
    • Buddhism spread throughout Asia and then the world
  • B. The Buddha in History: Siddhartha
    Cultural Influences: India, Hinduism
    • Early Life of the Buddha
      • Siddhartha Gautama c. 550 - 450 BCE
      • Siddhartha was conceived from a virgin mother in India (modern day Nepal)
      • Delivered through a painless birth
      • Siddhartha was a sheltered Indian Prince who never saw suffering or death in his young life
    • Search for Enlightenment
      • At 29, Siddhartha left his father’s palace and
        witnessed suffering for the first time
      • The Four Sights: sickness, old age, death, asceticism
      • The Great Departure: he left his life of privilege and became an ascetic, eating only one leaf or nut per day
      • Siddhartha abandoned asceticism and instead pursued the Middle Way
      • Through meditation under the Bodhi tree, he achieved enlightenment
        and recognized the four noble truths
      • Siddhartha then became the Buddha = the “Awakened One”

  • C. Buddhists in History: Spread from India
    Cultural Influences: India, Asia
    • Buddhism began in Ancient India in the fifth century BCE
    • During the time of the Buddha, Buddhism was a wandering practice
    • Because of this it easily spread throughout Asia and the Middle East
    • One of the reasons for Buddhism’s popularity: the power of narrative
    • Emperor Ashoka, who converted to Buddhism, constructed monuments
    • Buddhism in India declined by the thirteenth century because of the popularity of bhakti Hinduism and the spread of Islam
    • By this point, however, Buddhism had spread throughout Asia

  • D. Buddhists in History: A Worldwide Religion
    Cultural Influences: Asia, Australia
    • Today 7% of the world’s population are Buddhists
    • Buddhism in America
      • 1.2 million practicing Buddhists
      • 4th largest religion in America
      • Famous American Buddhists: Lisa Simpson, Adam Yauch, Tiger Woods, Tina Turner, Richard Gere
    • Buddhism in Australia
      • 2.5% of Australians are practicing Buddhists
      • Second largest religion after Christianity
      • Attributed to its proximity to Asia and increasing numbers of Asian immigrants


II. The Teachings of Buddhism

  • A. The Middle Way
    • All things in moderation
    • A turning away from extremism
    • A turning away from dualism

  • B. An End to Suffering?
    • Suffering can end if one follows the Four Noble Truths

  • C. The Four Noble Truths
    • Dukkha: Existence is filled with suffering
    • Samudaya: Suffering is caused by desire (called Tanha)
    • Nirodha: Liberation from suffering is possible
    • The Eightfold Path is the way to achieve enlightenment
      • Right view or understanding
      • Right thought
      • Right speech
      • Right conduct
      • Right livelihood
      • Right effort
      • Right Mindfulness
      • Right meditation

III. Key Concepts in Buddhist Teachings

  • A. The Three Jewels
    • The Buddha: an exemplar of the preferred lifestyle, wisdom, ethics, and mental discipline; The Buddha is just a human being in the earliest forms of Buddhism, but this changed as Buddhism evolved
    • The Dharma: the teachings which lead to an end of suffering
    • The Sangha: The worldwide community of Buddhism in which one can seek refuge
  • B. Nirvana
    • Goal of Nirvana is not as stressed as in Hinduism
    • More important to seek Buddhahood in this life

IV. Exegesis: Traditions of Buddhist Interpretation


The Wheel of Dharma
A wheel with 8 spokes, representing the  Eight–Fold Path.
A similar “wheel” adorns the flag of India.

  • A. Theravada Buddhism
    • Southeast Asia: especially Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka
    • “Way of the Elders”
    • Oldest form of Buddhism
    • Popularized by King Ashoka, 3rd century BCE, ruled most of India, who converted to Buddhism
    • Conservative - claims to preserve the original form of Buddhism
    • Believe enlightenment is achieved through monastic discipline
    • Monastic sangas are supported through charitable donations
    • Laypeople receive merit through donations but will not achieve nirvana

  • B. Mahayana Buddhism
    • East Asia: especially eastern China, North and South Korea, and Japan
    • “Greater Vehicle” - most populous
    • Developed in India in the 1st century CE
    • Believe enlightenment can be achieved by anyone, not just monks
    • Focus on universal salvation
    • The Buddha is just one manifestation of Buddha-hood or the Buddha-nature that anyone can attain
    • Bodhisattvas - Buddhist saints who are enlightened beings that help people achieve salvation
    • Laypeople receive merit through devotion and can achieve nirvana
    • Variations of Mahayana
      • Pure Land Buddhism: veneration of a heavenly buddha named Amida; devotion to Amida allows one to attain heavenly eternal paradise
      • Zen Buddhism: Originated in China, but popular in Japan; emphasis on meditation, koans, and spiritual insight
      • Imperial-way Buddhism: Originated in Japan in 1938; asserts the emperor, not the Buddha, should be the principal image of adoration, focus on national piety

  • C. Vajrayana Buddhism
    • Northern Asia: especially northwest China, Tibet, and Mongolia
    • “Diamond Vehicle”
    • Developed in Tibet in 8th century CE
    • Merged with Tibetan folk and magic traditions
    • Dalai Lama - spiritual leader of Tibet (in exile in India)


V. Enacting Buddhism

  • A. Buddhist Veneration
    • Meditation applies to only certain interpretations of Buddhism
    • Visits to temples and shrines where Bodhisattvas are honored

  • B. Buddhist Pilgrimages
    • Lumbini - birthplace
    • Bodhgaya - place of enlightenment
    • Sarnath - place of first sermon
    • Kushinagar - place of death

  • C. Engaged Buddhism
    • Concerned with enacting Buddhist values
      politically and socially
    • Popular in America among new converts

Buddhist Temple