Buddhism Fast Facts

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CNN  — 

Here’s a look at Buddhism, the major religion of many countries in Asia.


Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) grew up in a wealthy family. He decided to follow a path of self-denial, but did not find truth until he sat down under a tree, now known as the Bo tree. There he was “enlightened” and obtained the knowledge he had been looking for.

According to legend, Buddha sat under the Bo tree for 49 days and was tempted by demons. He discovered four noble truths and the Eightfold Path to Nirvana, or ultimate bliss.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: 1) suffering as a characteristic of existence, 2) the cause of suffering is craving and attachment, 3) the ceasing of suffering, called Nirvana, and 4) the path to Nirvana, made up of eight steps, sometimes called the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path to Nirvana is to be “right” in all these areas: concentration, views, speech, resolve, action, livelihood, effort and mindfulness.

There are two major schools of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada or Hinayana. There is a third school, the Vajrayana, but it only has a small following.

Dozens of different sects of Buddhism are derived from these schools, all having different characteristics, but sharing the basic beliefs.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must stop the cycle of rebirth as a suffering, selfish individual, and must attain Nirvana, which is the highest point and the end of the self.

Karma is the belief that good deeds/behavior will be visited back on individuals as well as bad deeds/behavior. This is the basis for living a good, moral life.

The Pali Tipitaka is the earliest collection of sacred Buddhist writings; used mostly in the Theravada school. Translated, it means the “Three Baskets.”

Other Facts

According to Pew Research Center, there are approximately 488 million Buddhists worldwide.

Less than 1% of the general public in the United States is Buddhist.


563-483 BC - Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, lives in India. Others (especially the Japanese) believe he lived about 100 years later, from 448 to 368 BC. India is in religious disarray at the time of Buddhism’s creation. People have become disillusioned with Hinduism.

150 AD - Trade brings Indian people and beliefs to Asia, particularly China.

3rd century - Teachings of Buddha are translated to Chinese.

4th century - Introduced to Korea.

6th century - Introduced to Japan.

1100-1200 - Muslims dominate India, and Buddhism becomes a very minor religion in the country.

1800s - Introduced to the United States, mostly on the west coast.

1959 - Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader in Tibet, flees to India to escape Chinese rule.

Present - Buddhism remains a minority religion in its country of origin, India, with about eight million followers, or 0.7% of the total Indian population.