Overview of Buddhism

Buddhism began in the areas that are today India and Nepal, started by Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly referred to as the Lord Buddha. He taught how to find the way to enlightenment and, therefore, happiness.

Buddhism can trace its beginnings back to between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. It was spread across the world, including Singapore, by migrants, first appearing in the area that is now Singapore sometime around the 2nd century AD. There are various branches and schools of Buddhism, most of which can be found in Singapore.

Buddhism may be practiced differently in various parts of the world due to various influences on the religion and different interpretations of the scriptures. Some of the main influences were from Hinduism, Brahmanism, and Tantric traditions, as well as existing belief systems, such as animist beliefs, that already existed in certain places before the introduction of Buddhism.

Here’s a basic overview of Buddhism to help you understand more about one of Singapore’s major religions:

Buddhism as a Way of Life

Buddhism is often said to be more than a religion; it is a way of life. More of a philosophical practice than a religion in the regular sense, the Buddhist path is essentially leading a proper and moral life, being aware and mindful of actions and thoughts, and fostering understanding and wisdom.

Different Branches of Buddhism

Two of the main branches of Buddhism are Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada is the oldest form of Buddhism and it is often said to also be the form that is the strictest in its interpretation and application. Theravada Buddhism sees the Lord Buddha as a spiritual teacher, with his teachings showing the way to a good life, and a main concept is concerned with the spiritual growth and development of individuals.

Mahayana Buddhists, on the other hand, accept that there have been several important Buddhist teachers since Buddhism began; there has been more than one Buddha. Some Buddhas were not actual people, but rather existed in other realms. Adherents also believe that there is a divine and over-arching ever-present spirit. A main concept within Mahayana Buddhism is to alleviate the suffering of all living beings. Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism are both schools within Mahayana Buddhism.

Common Beliefs

No matter what branch of Buddhism a person follows, there are some basic ideas that all believe. These are known as the Four Noble Truths. They are that people suffer, suffering is caused by seeking pleasure, suffering can end, and that the ways to end suffering are provided by following the Eightfold Noble Path.

The Eightfold Noble Path deals with principles related to Right Speech, Thought, Action, Understanding, Effort, Livelihood, Mindfulness, and Concentration. There are Five Precepts of Buddhism, basically a moral code by which all Buddhists should live. These are not to take the life of any living creature, not to steal, not to be sexually promiscuous, not to tell lies, and not to become intoxicated and lose mindfulness and awareness.

All Buddhists follow the Dhamma (truth), and the word Buddhism comes from the word to awaken.

Wisdom and knowledge should be developed in conjunction with compassion and tolerance. This is known as the middle path.

There are many more things to learn about Buddhism, if you are interested. This is simply a brief overview to help you get to grips with some of the basics.