The Buddhist Religion
Buddhism is a world religion, founded by Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.E.) According to Buddhist scriptures, Siddartha, an Indian prince, was isolated from everyday life by his father. In journeying outside the palace, he had the occasion of seeing a person ill, an old man, a corpse, and an Indian ascetic. He attempted to answer the question of human suffering and practiced meditation to seek the path of enlightenment. One day, after years of strenuous practice and hardship, Siddartha discovered the middle way. He overheard a musician instructing his pupil on a string instrument. He realized that if the string is too loose, you cannot play the instrument and that if it is wound too tight, the string will snap. He chose the middle path between the luxury of palace life and the hardship of religious practice in the forest.
Sitting under the Bodhi tree (in Bodhgaya), Siddartha achieved enlightenment. He was called "Buddha," the Awakened One. He was awakened to the truth of enlightenment. Out of compassion for all humans, he taught his religious path for freedom from endless cycles of rebirth. The Buddha taught that the origin of suffering arises from craving and taught the cessation of suffering through the eightfold path towards freedom. The eightfold path consists of correct view, correct intention, correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration. Buddhism teaches that all life is impermanent and that people can change the conditions leading to endless cycles of rebirth.
Buddhism spread outside of India into Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia, China, and Japan. Asian Buddhisms have spread to the United States. In the last twenty years, Tibetan Buddhism has been the fasting growing form of Buddhism in the United States. There are estimates of approximately 4-5 million Buddhists in the United States.
The Buddhism in Tibet is a combination of different traditions, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Mahayana spread as the dominant forms of Buddhism in Central and east Asia. It stresses the bodhisattva path, a path emphasizing universal salvation through compassion for all sentient beings. Vajryayana is an esoteric form of Buddhism that incorporated the philosophical traditions of Mahayana and its bodhisattva path with indigenous religious practices of Northern India from the 6th to 11th century. It was exported into Tibet where the indigenous religious practices of Tibet fused with the esoteric ritual practices of Indian Vajrayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism may be likened to Buddhism fused with Native American traditions.
For a good video presentation of the life and message of the Buddha: Little Buddha. On Tibetan Buddhism: John Powers, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Ithaca, Snow Lion Press, 1995.
See Buddhist Studies world Wide Web Virtual Library: http://www.uncwil.edu/iabs/vl