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Religious Studies: Buddhism

Religion 101


"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." (Siddhartha Gautama)


Indian religion based on the teachings of the Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama. Primarily concerned with the liberation from suffering caused by existence in this material realm.

Arose in the 6th century BCE as a direct protest against Hindu sacrificial rituals and the Vedas. 

The Four Noble Truths

  • dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness)
  • samudaya (arising of suffering, origin of suffering)

  • nirodha (cessation of suffering)

  • magga (path).

The Eightfold Path

  • Right view: an understanding of the Four Noble Truths. 
  • Right aspiration: having caring thoughts and intent for all living things. 
  • Right speech: to speak kindly, truthfully, and without bad language. 
  • Right bodily action: to follow the Five or Ten Moral Precepts.
  • Right livelihood: work that will harm nothing living. 
  • Right endeavor: to practice meditation and work at stopping bad thoughts. 
  • Right mindfulness: to give full and relaxed attention to what one is doing to the best of one's ability to reach enlightenment.


Moral Precepts

  • "1. taking life, 2. stealing, 3. sexual promiscuity, 4. lying, and 5. drinking alcohol (which may lead to lack of control and breaking the other four).
  • On holy days: 6. receiving money, 7. eating after noon, 8. use of perfume, oils, and decoration, 9. watching public entertainment, and 10. using grand beds."


  • Eightfold Path. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon.
  • The Four Noble Truths. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon. 
  • Five Moral Precepts. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon. 
  • Ten Moral Precepts. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon.


"[T]he school of Buddhist practice and teaching that developed around 200 BCE, probably in northern India and Kashmir, and then spread east into Central Asia, East Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia.

The way that Mahayana first developed is not clear. It probably started as a movement in opposition to the formal, scholastic approach to Buddhist practice. Mahayana stressed instead meditation and assistance of the spiritual development of others. Some theories suppose it was influenced by the Theravada emphasis on saddha, or faith. Another theory holds that it was an outgrowth of Hinduism. Just as the Bhagavad-Gita teaches the need to act, Mahayana emphasizes the importance of disengaged, non-selfish action. It is also possible that Iranian ideas, mainly the teachings of Zoroastrianism, influenced Mahayana. The Zoroastrian idea of a heaven of light ruled over by a deity of light is similar to the Mahayana concept of the Buddha Amitabha and his Western Paradise.

The key teachings in Mahayana revolve around the idea of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is a saintlike individual who has advanced along the way of cultivation. Instead of deciding to move on to the final extinction of nirvana, the bodhisattva decides to remain in the world of samsara, of constant rebirth, in order to help others achieve enlightenment. The bodhisattva is motivated by a strong sense of compassion (karuna), and compassion is the primary religious emotion stressed in Mahayana writings. In juxtaposition is wisdom (prajna). The bodhisattva must develop karuna and prajna equally during the cultivation process."

Six Paramitas

  • giving (dana) to other people, morality (sila), or right thought and intention; energy (virya), commitment to Buddhist goals; patience (kshanti) towards oneself and others,; meditation (samadhi); and wisdom (prajna)

Munro, M. (2007). Mythology. In U. McGovern (Ed.), Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. Chambers Harrap.

Buddhist ethics. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon.

"Theravāda Buddhism, or the Way of the Elders, is also known as the Hinayana, or Lesser School. It follows the Tripitaka (‘three baskets’), or Pali Canon, and emphasizes the monastic life of meditation as the way to reach enlightenment . Theravāda Buddhists believe that enlightenment is reached by one's own effort, using the dharma (teachings) as a guide. Theravāda Buddhism centres round the monastery and support for the monks. Traditionally, Theravāda monks wear yellow robes. The journey towards enlightenment is marked by three stages: arahat : one who, under the guidance of a Buddha, has gained insight into the true nature of things; paccekabuddha : an enlightened one who lives alone and does not teach; and fully awakened Buddha."

Theravāda. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon.

"Vajrayana is the “diamond vehicle,” that branch of Buddhist practice that developed first in India about 900 CE and then spread north, into Tibet, China and, eventually, Japan. Vajrayana takes Mahayana Buddhism principles as its foundation and adds esoteric practices related to Tantric Buddhism literature. One characteristic of Vajrayana is an emphasis on the role of the master, or guru. The master uses a range of tools, including mantras, mandalas, and mudras, to help disciples gain enlightenment. Rituals are relatively complex compared to Theravada and standard Mahayana practice; these rituals were then integrated into monastic life. The most highly respected figures in Vajrayana were Mahasiddhas, individuals who had supernatural powers, around whom a great oral literature developed.

In Tibetan Vajrayana is the “Vehicle of Indestructile Reality” (rdo-rje’i theg-pa), so named because this form of practice results in full manifestation of the Buddha body, speech, and mind, which are indestructible. An alternative name is the “Vehicle of Secret Mantras” (Guhyamantrayana), and Vajrayana is today normally taken to be equivalent to Tantric Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism."

Irons, E. A., & Irons, E. (2016). Vajrayana Buddhism. In Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Facts On File

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