ImageCan you imagine wanting nothing? How would you feel? Calm and relaxed? Cheerful? Satisfied? This is the state of mind Buddhists try to reach. Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy. It was founded in the 6th century bc by a man known as Buddha.


Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as Buddha, was born in Nepal around 563 bc. His father was a king. Young Siddhartha grew up knowing only comfort and pleasure. Then one day he discovered that suffering exists, and it troubled him. Why did people suffer, he wondered? How could they be saved?

Siddhartha went on a quest for answers. Holy men advised him that giving up all pleasures and comforts would release him from suffering. Siddhartha tried this, but it didn’t work. Finally, he sat under a bo tree and meditated—that is, he emptied his mind of all thoughts in an effort to concentrate. Gradually, he came to enlightenment, awareness of the religious truth he had been seeking. He was then known as Buddha. Buddha means the “enlightened one.”


Buddha taught that happiness lies neither in pleasure nor in self-denial. He advised people to follow a middle way between extremes. He preached what he called the Four Noble Truths: first, that life is suffering; second, that suffering comes from desire, or attachment to the world; third, that attachment can be ended; and fourth, that the way to end it is to follow the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path consists of eight things people should do or have in their lives. They include right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right effort, right-mindedness, and making a living in the right way. The eighth step is daily meditation. Buddha said people who follow this path can achieve a state of happiness called nirvana. As a result, they escape the world and its suffering forever. Those who do not achieve nirvana are going to be born again after death in another form and will have to start over.


Buddha’s followers were monks. They lived apart from the world, in monasteries. They shaved their heads, wore orange robes, and lived a Buddhist life.

About a hundred years after Buddha died, his followers started writing his teachings down in books called sutras. Soon after this, Buddhism split into two branches. The Theravada Buddhists believe each person should strive to reach nirvana on his or her own. The Mahayana Buddhists believe Buddhists should seek help from bodhisattvas. A bodhisattva is someone who has already reached enlightenment.


In the 3rd century bc, an Indian king named Ashoka became a Buddhist. He sent Buddhist teachers far and wide. Buddhism spread over the next 500 years. It took root in China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka.

As it spread, Buddhism took new forms. Buddhists of Tibet regard their leader, the Dalai Lama, as a living Buddha. In Japan, Zen Buddhists emphasize meditation and work.

Most Buddhists today live in East Asia and Sri Lanka. Buddhism is also finding new followers in India, where it had once died out. Buddhists can now be found all around the world, including in the United States and Canada.

 Source: Microsoft ® Encarta