standing Buddha statue with draped garmet and halo
Standing Buddha statue at the Tokyo National Museum. One of the earliest known representations of the Buddha, 1st–2nd century CE.

Buddhism (əm/, US also d-/)[1][2] is the world's fourth-largest religion[3][4] with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.[web 1][5]Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. Buddhism originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (Pali: "The School of the Elders") and Mahayana (Sanskrit: "The Great Vehicle").

Most Buddhist traditions share the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth, either by the attainment of Nirvana or through the path of Buddhahood.[6][7][8] Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices.[9][10] Widely observed practices include taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, meditation, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (virtues).

Theravada Buddhism has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia such as Myanmar and Thailand. Mahayana, which includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon and Tiantai (Tendai), is found throughout East Asia.

Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian adepts, may be viewed as a separate branch or as an aspect of Mahayana Buddhism.[11] Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth-century India, is practiced in the countries of the Himalayan region, Mongolia,[12] and Kalmykia.[13]

Life of the Buddha

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg
Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra)

Buddhism is an Indian religion[14] attributed to the teachings of the Buddha,[15][16] supposedly born Siddhārtha Gautama, and also known as the Tathāgata ("thus-gone") and Sakyamuni ("sage of the Sakyas"). Early texts have his personal name as "Gautama" or "Gotama" (Pali) without any mention of "Siddhārtha," ("Achieved the Goal") which appears to have been a kind of honorific title when it does appear. The details of Buddha's life are mentioned in many Early Buddhist Texts but are inconsistent, and his social background and life details are difficult to prove, the precise dates uncertain.[17][note 1]

The evidence of the early texts suggests that he was born as Siddhārtha Gautama in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu,[note 2] a town in the plains region of the modern Nepal-India border, and that he spent his life in what is now modern Bihar[note 3] and Uttar Pradesh.[25][17] Some hagiographic legends state that his father was a king named Suddhodana, his mother was Queen Maya, and he was born in Lumbini gardens.[26] However, scholars such as Richard Gombrich consider this a dubious claim because a combination of evidence suggests he was born in the Shakyas community – one that later gave him the title Shakyamuni, and the Shakya community was governed by a small oligarchy or republic-like council where there were no ranks but where seniority mattered instead.[27][note 4] Some of the stories about Buddha, his life, his teachings, and claims about the society he grew up in may have been invented and interpolated at a later time into the Buddhist texts.[30][31]

stone relief sculpture of horse and men
"The Great Departure", relic depicting Gautama leaving home, first or second century (Musée Guimet)

According to the Buddhist sutras, Gautama was moved by the innate suffering of humanity and its endless repetition due to rebirth. He set out on a quest to end this repeated suffering. Early Buddhist canonical texts and early biographies of Gautama state that Gautama first studied under Vedic teachers, namely Alara Kalama (Sanskrit: Arada Kalama) and Uddaka Ramaputta (Sanskrit: Udraka Ramaputra), learning meditation and ancient philosophies, particularly the concept of "nothingness, emptiness" from the former, and "what is neither seen nor unseen" from the latter.[32][33][note 5]

The gilded "Emaciated Buddha statue" in an Ubosoth in Bangkok representing the stage of his asceticism

Finding these teachings to be insufficient to attain his goal, he turned to the practice of asceticism. This too fell short of attaining his goal, and then he turned to the practice of dhyana, meditation. He famously sat in meditation under a Ficus religiosa tree now called the Bodhi Tree in the town of Bodh Gaya in the Gangetic plains region of South Asia. He gained insight into the workings of karma and his former lives, and attained enlightenment, certainty about the Middle Way (Skt. madhyamā-pratipad)[36] as the right path of spiritual practice to end suffering (dukkha) from rebirths in Saṃsāra.[37] As a fully enlightened Buddha (Skt. samyaksaṃbuddha), he attracted followers and founded a Sangha (monastic order).[38] Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma he had discovered, and died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India.[39][20]

Buddha's teachings were propagated by his followers, which in the last centuries of the 1st millennium BCE became over 18 Buddhist sub-schools of thought, each with its own basket of texts containing different interpretations and authentic teachings of the Buddha;[40][41][42] these over time evolved into many traditions of which the more well known and widespread in the modern era are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.[43][44][note 6]