Religion or philosophy inspired by the 5th century B.C. teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (also known as Gautama Buddha “the enlightened one”). Buddhism focuses on the goal of spiritual enlightenment centered on an understanding of Gautama Buddha’s Four Noble Truths on the nature of suffering and the Eightfold Path of spiritual and moral practice to break the cycle of suffering apart. Buddhism ascribes to a karmic system of rebirth. Several schools and sects of Buddhism exist, often differing on the Buddha’s nature, the extent to which enlightenment can be achieved – for one or all, and by whom – religious orders or laity.

The basic Groupings of Buddhism are

  • Theravada Buddhism: The oldest Buddhist school, Theravada is practiced mostly in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Thailand, with minority representation elsewhere in Asia and the West. Theravadans follow the Pali Canon of Buddha’s teachings and believe that one may escape the cycle of rebirth, worldly attachment, and suffering for oneself; this process may take one or several lifetimes.
  • Mahayana Buddhism, including subsets Zen and Tibetan (Lamaistic) Buddhism: Mahayana Buddhism forms are common in East Asia and Tibet, and parts of the West. Mahayanas have additional scriptures beyond the Pali Canon and believe the Buddha is eternal and still teaching. Unlike Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana schools maintain the Buddha-nature in all beings, and all will ultimately achieve enlightenment.
  • Hoa Hao: a minority tradition of Buddhism in Vietnam that stresses lay participation, primarily by peasant farmers; it eschews expensive ceremonies and temples and relocates the primary practices into the home.