Buddhism is the sixth largest religion in the world with estimates of over 350 million followers. Join Active Minds for an examination of its origins, teachings and practices. We will discuss the life and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) and discuss the various types of Buddhism, including Zen Buddhism, Tibetian Buddhism, and others.

Key Lecture Points

  • Buddhism is the sixth largest religion in the world, with some 376 million adherents. Most Buddhists live in Asia. In the US roughly 6 million people are Buddhists.
  • Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest spiritual practices, originating with Prince Siddhartha Guatama (The Buddha) in Northern India in the 6th century BCE. By the 13th century CE, Buddhism had spread to most of Asia (central, south, west, southeast) and had developed into many different sects/variants. Major sects include Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.
  • The Buddha is NOT a god and he is not usually worshipped by Buddhists. Rather, the Buddha was a man and a teacher, who taught the dharma to his followers. The dharma, or Buddhist teachings and principles, focus upon the liberation of the individual from earthly suffering. Through correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the following of the Eightfold Path, Buddhists may achieve nirvana, or enlightenment. Buddhists believe in karma (that all actions have consequences) and in reincarnation or rebirth.
  • Buddhism came to the United States beginning in the 19th century, as thousands of immigrants from China, and later from Japan, settled and practiced their faith. The first Buddhist temple was built in San Francisco in 1853. Today, the vast majority, some 75-80%, of American Buddhists are of Asian ancestry. Intellectuals and writers like Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau, and later Kerouac and Watts, became enthralled with Buddhist beliefs, and since their times many Americans of non-Asian ancestry have also taken up the practice.
  • Buddhism, usually associated with non-violence and a general respect for life, in the 20th century became a opposition force to war. Perhaps most notably, the Dalai Lama has since 1950 been nonviolently opposing the Chinese occupation of Tibet. And, during the Vietnam War, many Buddhist monks openly protested the conflict, some by burning themselves alive.
  • Today, Buddhism faces a number of challenges. The role of women and environmental degradation are among the current issues faced by Buddhists.

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Shambhala Publications, 2000. 112 pages. This classic of twentieth-century literature chronicles the spiritual evolution of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha—a spiritual journey that has inspired generations of readers. This edition also includes an introduction exploring Hesse's own spiritual journey as evidenced in his journals and personal letters.
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  • Skilton, Andrew. A Concise History of Buddhism. Windhorse, 2004. 272 pages. Andrew Skilton, a practicing Buddhist and Buddhist scholar, presents a clear, concise overview of the teachings, schools, and methods of Buddhism and gives an excellent introduction to its history.
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