Dive into the study of Buddhism—the religious teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha “the awakened one” because he attained enlightenment during the sixth century BCE. Buddhism originated in India, with many of its canonical texts written in Sanskrit. It later spread to China and much of Asia before becoming popular worldwide. One reason for its popularity may be because Buddhism is not focused on the worship of a specific deity or God but rather it is a pathway to understanding reality and ultimately ending one’s suffering. Modern practitioners are generally from one of three sects of Buddhism—Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan (Vajrayana). Within these three sects, there are different types of Buddhist traditions, including Zen and Pure Land Buddhism to name a few.
Buddhists, practitioners following the teachings of Buddha, utilize several strategies for reaching enlightenment—the threefold way, the four noble truths, and the noble eightfold path. The threefold way shows that the path to spiritual enlightenment stems from the practice of ethics (or one’s intentional behaviors), meditation, and wisdom. The four noble truths are the foundation of Buddhist teachings—that life is suffering caused by craving. When craving is eliminated, then so is suffering. An ascetic life is one way to eliminate craving. In the spiritual search for enlightenment, there is an eightfold path that leads to the realization of these truths. The noble eightfold path is a deeper elaboration of the threefold way that specifically shows how one can travel toward enlightenment through intention and practice. The noble eightfold path is the practice of the right understanding, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and Buddhist meditation. Each of these leads to the realization of the threefold way and eventually to enlightenment.
Buddhist Studies is a specialized area of study that blossomed out of Asian Studies, an interdisciplinary area study. It is also intertwined with religious studies, as it is a religion that has attained great influence beyond its origins in India to become a religious philosophy for an estimated 535 million Buddhists worldwide in 2021. The religious group's adherents comprise approximately 8–10% of the world’s population.