What Are the Main Beliefs of Buddhism?

What Are the Main Beliefs of Buddhism?

What Are the Main Beliefs of Buddhism?

Buddhism is one of the world's three great missionary religions (the others being Christianity and Islam).

It has assumed a great variety of social and ritual forms as it has spread throughout Asia and (in recent decades) the world. It began as a humanist and individualistic soteriology which preached the abandonment of ordinary householder life and its associated rituals.

Monks and nuns renounce work and worldly activity; lay people support them in return for spiritual and ritual services. Whether the forms of ritual and religious life that developed for lay people should be seen as fully Buddhist or as some kind of ‘second best’ is an important part of debate over the interpretation of Buddhism between textual and more fieldwork-oriented scholars.

In both the modern and premodern eras Buddhism has played an important but changing role in defining national identity in Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma. In Japan after 1868 the state attacked Buddhism as foreign and anti-national, without being able to destroy it entirely.

Everywhere revitalization movements in the modern period have tended to stress the rationalist and egalitarian parts of the Buddhist message; meditation has, for the first time, become a mass phenomenon practised as much by lay people as by monastics.


Buddhism is a major world religion that was founded in northeast India by Siddhartha Gautama (c. 480–400 BC), a religious teacher who experienced a spiritual awakening at the age of 35 and was thereafter known by the honorific title of Buddha (‘enlightened one’).

Buddhism spread rapidly from India to parts of south Asia before the Christian era, and by the early centuries CE it became established in China. Subsequently, it spread into Tibet, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

As it traveled, Buddhism interacted with the indigenous beliefs it encountered, and this gave rise to considerable variation in style among Buddhist schools.

Newcomers to Buddhism are often struck by the variety and diversity of its schools and traditions, but at the level of the moral teachings there is arguably much common ground, and it does not seem unreasonable to speak of a common moral core underlying the divergent customs, practices, and teachings of the different schools.

This core is composed of the principles and precepts, the values and virtues that were expounded by the Buddha in the fifth century BC and that continue to guide the conduct of approximately 350 million Buddhists throughout the world today.

The Buddha appointed no successor and there is no central authority on matters of doctrine and ethics, although the order of monks (sangha) instituted by the Buddha is regarded by most Buddhists as the authorized custodian and interpreter of the Buddha’s teachings.

The goal of all Buddhists is enlightenment (nirvana), a state of spiritual and moral perfection that can be attained by any human being who lives in accordance with Buddhist teachings.

Buddhism does not believe in a supreme being or creator god, and its precepts and ethical teachings are seen not as divine commands but as rational principles that, if followed, will promote the flourishing or welfare of oneself and others.

It may therefore be regarded as a form of eudaimonism, and although it is still too early for there to be a consensus among scholars as to how Buddhism should be classified in terms of Western theories of ethics (and there are some who believe it cannot be), it seems clear that the cultivation of virtues plays an important role.

Buddha Sculpture FAQs

What Are The Basic Beliefs Of Buddhism?

The basic beliefs of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths, which teach that life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire and attachment, and that suffering can be ended by following the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path teaches finding the ''right'' way in all things, like speech and action, by seeking moderation.

What Do Buddhists Believe?

Buddhism is one of the world's largest religions and originated 2,500 years ago in India. Buddhists believe that human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana.

Who Do Buddhists Worship?

In most Buddhist traditions, followers do not ''worship'' anyone. While many Buddhists are atheists, some revere the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) as a deity or sacred being while others worship Hindu or other gods.

What Is Buddhism In Simple Terms?

Buddhism is a religious and philosophical tradition that focuses on how to live in order to achieve enlightenment. The purpose is to break free of the endless cycles of reincarnation and avoid suffering.

Can You Be Buddhist And Believe In God?

Depending on the person and branch of Buddhism, some people believe you can be Buddhist and believe in God or other deities. In early Buddhism, Hindu deities were sometimes worshiped.

However, Buddhism is not a deistic religion, so it does not require a belief in God or other deities.

The Contemporary Situation


Currently, Theravada Buddhism is practiced in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Tibet was and is a stronghold of both Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, with both married and celibate practitioners.

Chinese Buddhism was predominantly non-Tantric Mahayana of various sorts, as are Korean and Vietnamese Buddhism.

In East Asia generally different sects grew up on the basis of different Mahayana scriptures; thus, in Japan there are both Tantric (Shingon, Tendai) and non-Tantric Mahayana schools, and even a tiny school (the Ritsu) based entirely on the practice of the monastic code.

Thus when new religious movements arose in this century in Japan, naturally some were strongly Buddhist: some, like Soka Gakkai and Reiyukai, have spread through missionary activity to many different countries.

The Tibetan diaspora has carried Tibetan Buddhism around the globe as well, and Theravada Buddhists have also proselytized widely.

There have also been attempts to build a global ecumenical Buddhist movement, though it will prove difficult to decide who should lead it.

There is a striking contrast between the Theravada countries plus Tibet, where Buddhism became the dominant cultural tradition and came eventually to define a nationality, and East Asia, where Buddhism, though at periods dominant and favored by the elite, never achieved unquestioned acceptance.

In China, Japan, and Korea the influence of Confucianism and Daoism meant that Buddhists often had to defend celibacy against the argument that it undermined society; by contrast, the spiritual value of avoiding marriage and reproduction is rarely questioned in South Asia and Buddhist Southeast Asia.


Buddhism, though introduced to China from India between 58 and 76 AD, began to flourish only in the third century.

It evolved around the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, a contemporary of Confucius.

Buddhism believes that desire is the source of all pain and that pain can be overcome by suppressing desire through meditation.

The main Buddhist values are love, wisdom, goodness, calmness and self-control. Buddhists believe that people should try to end suffering; all things should be seen as having no self or essential nature.

Nothing should be seen as literally existing or ‘standing apart’ from all other things in self-sustained independence. On the contrary, all things should be seen as arising interdependently and as ultimately empty of any permanently abiding essence.

In ancient China, people thought of Buddhism as a code of behaviour that they could follow to lead them to Nirvana.

Buddhism Beliefs

Siddhartha's attainment of enlightenment, or nirvana, was through realizing what causes suffering and how to overcome it.

This explanation is called the Four Noble Truths, the main tenets of Buddhism, which explains the reality of life and how to escape suffering. The Four Noble Truths are:

  • Life is suffering.
  • Suffering is caused by desire or want.
  • There is an end or cessation of suffering.
  • The end to suffering is found through the noble Eightfold Path.

For Siddhartha, it was essential to discover and accept that life is inherently suffering and that this suffering was caused by desire and attachment. In Buddhism, non-attachment is a key concept to be able to avoid desire and, in turn, suffering.

Siddhartha did not teach that attachment, whether to family or objects, was ''bad'' or ''good,'' simply that it was what caused people to desire and suffer.

This attachment and suffering was what caused samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that could only be escaped through enlightenment.

The final part of the Four Noble Truths teaches that the way to end suffering is done by following the Eight-Fold Path, a list of eight areas of life in which Buddhists should try to do the right thing and find moderation.

For Siddhartha and his followers, the Four Noble Truths were essential to understand and internalize in order to avoid suffering and to achieve nirvana, but the Eightfold Path contained the steps to attain enlightenment. The Eightfold Path consists of:

  • right view
  • right resolve
  • right speech
  • right action
  • right livelihood
  • right effort
  • right mindfulness
  • right concentration

The Eightfold Path does not teach that each of these is ''right'' as opposed to ''wrong'' but rather that every action, intention, and thought should be purposeful and focused. ''Right resolve,'' for example, refers to focusing on achieving enlightenment rather than focusing on other worldly and unnecessary things that could lead to suffering.

The basic belief of Buddhism that lies behind the Eight-Fold Path is trying to keep to the Middle Way, meaning to do all things in moderation and not go to extremes.

During Siddhartha's experience with the ascetics, he learned that severe self-discipline was not helpful in achieving enlightenment but neither was his luxurious life of indulgences before that.

For Siddhartha, the best way to achieve enlightenment and end suffering was through finding moderation and following the Middle Way.

The Spread of Buddhism

Siddhartha wanted to help others attain enlightenment as well, so he taught the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path to his followers, claiming to be ''setting the wheel of the teaching in motion.''

To carry on his teachings, his followers established a community called the Sangha in the 5th century BCE, which was a group of monks and nuns who followed and passed on the Buddha's teachings.

The dharma, or spirit of the teachings of the Buddha, became the basis for the Buddhist tradition moving forward since there were no scriptures for hundreds of years.

Unlike the teachings of its original religious tradition of Hinduism, Buddhism did not have a focus on deities but simply on achieving enlightenment. Buddhism gained many followers from the Hindu tradition, both monastic people and lay people. Buddhism originated where modern-day Nepal is.

In the 3rd century BCE, King Ashoka of India helped spread the Buddhist tradition after his conversion by demonstrating the peaceable nature of the tradition for individuals and communities.

Ashoka's reign spread Buddhism throughout India, and the silk routes that carried trade goods between India and China helped the tradition spread even further. As it gained more followers, it split into two major branches with subsets around the 1st century BCE.

Fundamental Teachings


The word Buddha means The Awakened One, coming from the Sanskrit root budh – 'to wake'. He is a man who has woken fully, as if from a deep sleep, to discover that suffering, like a dream, is over.

The historical Buddha was however a man like any other, but an exceptional one; what he rediscovered was a way that anyone can walk, providing that they are so inclined.

The historical Buddha Gautama was not the first Buddha. There had been others who had walked the way before him.

He was not a god, a prophet or any kind of supernatural being. He was, as we have seen, one who was born, lived and died a human being.

A remarkable human being, who discovered a way of achieving true wisdom, compassion and freedom from suffering.

He 'rediscovered an ancient way to an ancient city' that had been covered up and forgotten.

Through his own efforts he was able to find the way out of suffering to liberation, and those that have followed him have kept that way open.

The Buddha did not teach that a God created the Universe. He pointed to a great Law or Dharma running through everything that exists. It is by living in accordance with this Law that true Wisdom and Compassion and hence freedom from suffering may be achieved.

Suffering may only be overcome, however, by being confronted and lived through. In the Buddha's words: 'Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering.' Fundamental Buddhist doctrines include the following:

The Chain Of Causation / The Twelve Linked Chain Of Causation

This important doctrine teaches the interconnectedness of all things and in particular the law of Karma and the mechanism by which we create a world of suffering for ourselves and others, and the opposite; the way to live that reduces suffering for all, and leads to liberation.

The Three Signs Of Being

Change, Suffering, no 'I'

The first, Change, points out the basic fact that nothing in the world is fixed or permanent. We ourselves are not the same people, either physically, emotionally or mentally, that we were ten years - or even ten minutes ago!

Living as we do, then, as shifting beings upon shifting sands, it is not possible for us to find lasting security.

As regards the second Sign, we have already seen how it was the experience of Suffering that sent the Buddha off on his great spiritual quest, though suffering is not a very good translation of the original word, dukkha.

Dukkha implies the generally unsatisfactory and imperfect nature of life.

However, it does not follow that Buddhists believe that life is all suffering. Buddhists do believe that there is happiness in life, but know that it does not last and that even in the most fortunate of lives there is suffering.

Happiness is subject to the law of change and impermanence.

No-I, the third Sign, is a little more difficult.

Buddhists do not believe that there is anything everlasting or unchangeable in human beings, no soul or self in which a stable sense of 'I' might anchor itself. The whole idea of 'I' is in fact a basically false one that tries to set itself up in an unstable and temporary collection of elements.

Take the traditional analogy of a cart. A cart may be broken down into its basic components -axle, wheels, shafts, sides, etc.

Then the cart is no more; all we have is a pile of components. In the same way 'I' am made up of various elements or aggregates (khandhas): form (rupa-khandha), feeling-sensation (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral), (vedana-khandha), perception (sanna-khandha), volitional mental activities (sankhara-khandha), sense consciousness (vinnana-khandha).

The Four Noble Truths


The Noble Truth of Suffering, The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, The Noble Truth of Cessation of Suffering, The Noble Truth of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path.

Buddhism begins with the fact of suffering. However, before we can do anything about it, we must know its cause, which is the deeply-rooted sense of 'I' that we all have.

Because of this we are always struggling to get things that are pleasurable and avoid things that are painful to find ease and security, and generally to manipulate people and situations to be the way 'I' want them.

And because the rest of the world does not necessarily fit in with what I want, we often find ourselves cutting against the general flow of things, and getting hurt and disappointed in the process.

Suffering may be therefore brought to an end by transcending this strong sense of 'I' so that we come into greater harmony with things in general. The means of doing this is The Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Right View. Right Thought. Right Speech. Right Action. Right Livelihood. Right Effort Right Mindfulness. Right Concentration.

The Wheel is the symbol of the Dharma and is shown with eight spokes which represent the Noble Eightfold Path. Right View is important at the start because if we cannot see the truth of the Four Noble Truths then we can't make any sort of beginning.

Right Thought follows naturally from this. 'Right' here means in accordance with the facts: with the way things are - which may be different from how I would like them to be. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood involve moral restraint refraining from lying, stealing, committing violent acts, and earning one's living in a way harmful to others.

Moral restraint not only helps bring about general social harmony but also helps us control and diminish the sense of 'I'. Like a greedy child, 'I' grows big and unruly the more we let it have its own way.

Next, Right Effort is important because 'I' thrives on idleness and wrong effort; some of the greatest criminals are the most energetic people, so effort must be appropriate to the diminution of I, and in any case if we are not prepared to exert ourselves we cannot hope to achieve anything at all in either the spiritual sense nor in life.

The last two steps of the Path, Right Mindfulness or awareness and Right Concentration or absorption, represent the first stage toward liberation from suffering.

To be aware and at one with what we are doing is fundamental to proper living, this practice takes many forms but in the West the formal practice is called meditation. In the most basic form of Buddhist meditation, a person sits cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or upright in a chair.

He/she quietly watches the rise and fall of the breath.

If thoughts, emotions or impulses arise, he/she just observes them come up and go like clouds in a blue sky, without rejecting them on the one hand or being carried away into daydreaming or restlessness on the other.

It should be learnt under the guidance of a teacher just as the Buddha too learnt meditation.

The Three Fires

Desire/Thirst, Anger, Delusion

'Your house is on fire, burns with the Three Fires; there is no dwelling in it' - thus spoke the Buddha in his great Fire Sermon.

The house he speaks of here is the human body; the three fires that burn it are Desire/Thirst. Anger and Delusion.

They are all kinds of energy and are called 'fires' because, untamed, they can rage through us and hurt us and other people too! Properly calmed through spiritual training, however, they can be transformed into the genuine warmth of real humanity.

In General

'Not to do any evil; to cultivate good; to purify one's heart - this is the teaching of all the Buddhas.'

Although Buddhists value such virtues as loving kindness, humanity, patience and giving, perhaps they value wisdom and compassion most of all. The idea of ahimsa or harmlessness is very closely connected with compassion.

The compassionate desire to cause no harm to all beings including animals, plants, and the world in general. In all things Buddhism places great stress on self-reliance and the Buddha himself told his followers not to believe without questioning, but to test it for themselves.

Buddhism is also a very practical religion and aims at helping people to live their lives peacefully.

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