What Do Buddhists Believe?

Common Beliefs of Most Buddhists

Buddhism was created in the sub-continent of India somewhere around the year 563 BCE by Siddharta Gautama, more famously known as the Buddha. Buddhism has in common several beliefs with another major world religion which originated in India, Hinduism. These beliefs include cause-and-effects ethics in the form of Karma, the illusionary nature of the world (known as Maya) and the cycle of reincarnation, known as Samsara.

To break the cycle of reincarnation, Buddhists seek enlightenment, which will lead nirvana (an end to hatred, greed and delusion) and involves paying off a karmic debt, which is likely to require multiple lifetimes. Because Buddhism has existed for over 2,500 years or roughly 100 generations of Buddhist thinkers, there are a lot of different ideas among Buddhists about how one best attains enlightenment. One thing most if not all Buddhists agree upon is Siddhartha’s original teachings about the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths

To achieve enlightenment, a Buddhist must attain the essence of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths. These noble truths are defined as:

  1. To live is to suffer.
  2. Suffering is caused by desire.
  3. One can elimate suffering by eliminating all attachments.
  4. Eliminating all attachments is achieved by following the Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Therefore, the Four Noble Truths lead to a Noble Eightfold Path to achieving enlightenment, and therefore Nirvana. The Noble Eightfold Path requires you to attain wisdom to purify your mind, maintaining ethics or morality (abstention from unwholesome deeds) and mental discipline, to achieve mastery over one’s own mind. Mental discipline requires contemplation and meditation.

The Eightfold Path is described as:

  1. Viewing reality as it is, peering through the illusion of what it appears to be.
  2. Renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
  3. Speaking in a truthful yet non-hurtful way.
  4. Acting in a non-harmful way.
  5. Maintaining a non-harmful livelihood.
  6. Making an effort to improve oneself.
  7. Achieve awareness, seeing things for what they truly are with a clear consciousness, being aware of the reality within oneself, without craving.
  8. Correct meditation and/or concentration.

Some view the Eightfold Path as a step-by-step progression, a kind of eight-step program to enlightenment. Others view the Eightfold Path as a simultaneous process, where a Buddhist achieves all eight parts of development at once.

The Middle Way – The Middle Path

Buddhists are expected to follow the “Middle Way”, which is the path of moderation. A Buddhist is supposed to neither live in luxury (or pursue self-indulgence), nor become an ascetic monk (or pursue self-mortification). This method is sometimes translated the Middle Path. There are several explanations for what this Middle Path is, according to the Buddhist sect you listen to.

Practice non-extremism, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence or self-mortification.
The middle ground on metaphysical questions; that is, the view that things either do (permanance) or do not exist (nihilism).
Perfect enlightment or Nirvana, which becomes clear when one realizes that all dualities (extremes) are delusions.
Achieving “emptiness”, avoiding the extremes of inherent existence or nothingness.

This can get heady for some, which may be why there are so many different explanations for Buddhist principles. There are many different sects of Buddhism, while there have been Buddhas besides Siddhartha over the century. Some of these men were charismatics who were virtually worshipped by their followers, while others shunned any such objectification of a Buddha figure as entirely against the tenets of Buddhism.

Buddhism teaches its followers to look at the world from a different perspective than others, not for the sake of doing so, but because the world has a deceptive quality. A Buddhism meditates and contemplates and attempts to break down the illusions in life that deceive others. Because devout Buddhists have often been seen as wise men, such Buddhists have been approached by rulers and common folk alike, who appeal to their wisdom. These people do not always like what they hear from a Buddhist monk.

How Many Buddhists Are There In the World?

It’s hard to say how many Buddhists there are in the world, because Buddhism isn’t a conventional world religion with a church hierarchy or tithe-paying congregation. In fact, many Buddhists would argue that Buddhism isn’t so much a religion as a philosophy, though Buddhism is generally considered a religious belief system. By most experts’ guess, there are between 250 million and a half-billion Buddhists in the world today.

Buddhism has achieved a certain number of adherants in Western Culture, through the import of gurus and Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism tends to rely on meditation over scriptures and was developed in China and Japan.

The two great schools or branches of Buddhism are Theravada Buddhism (the School of the Elders) and Mahayana Buddhism (the Great Vehicle). Theravada is the older of the two branches of Buddhism and tends to have a following in Southeast Asia, some parts of Southwestern China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and, to a lesser degree, in Singapore, the West and in modern-day India, where a kind of revival of Buddhism is happening presently.

Mahayana is found in East Asia, including China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The Mahayana has spread to other parts of the world, in part because of the Himalayan diaspora caused by the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. There are many schools of Buddhism in the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, including Zen, Shingon, Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, the Tendai faith and Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is a highly-respected religious official of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhists, and has lived in exile since the failure of the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 against the Chinese Occupation of Tibet (1949-1950).

What Beliefs Do Buddhists Have?

In summary, Buddhists believe many things. Themes such as the 4 Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Middle Way are commonly held practices and beliefs of most Buddhists, though as you can see, there are many divergent beliefs within the greater Buddhist teachings.