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World Religions: Buddhism

Use this primer with the lesson The World's Religions to teach about the diversity of faiths in the United States and around the globe.

Most religions are defined by their beliefs. But in Buddhism, followers are discouraged from believing in doctrines (religious laws or rules) just because they read or are taught them. Instead, the historical Buddha (the religion’s founder Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 25 centuries ago in what is now Nepal and northeastern India) taught others how to realize truth for themselves.

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, meaning that followers do not concern themselves with a personal-creator god present in faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Buddhist practices are described in spiritual guides such as the Eightfold Path, which addresses wisdom, ethical behavior and mental discipline. Examples of practices include meditation, chanting and a belief in karma (a law of cause and effect set in motion by human actions and thoughts). Practices and beliefs can vary widely among Buddhists, however.

There are about 350 million practicing Buddhists, making Buddhism the fourth largest of the world's religions. Buddhism is most often practiced in Asian countries.

Some religious observances:

Vesak (Buddha Day)

Time of Year: Usually May, although celebration days differ depending upon the country. On this day, Buddhists rededicate themselves to the Eightfold Path (guide to spiritual practices). Monks and nuns (men and women dedicated to a religious life) meditate and chant ancient rules. Others bring flowers and offerings to the temples, where they may also meditate and listen to talks. In the evenings, often there will be candlelight processions.

In some places, Buddhists celebrate with parties, parades and festivals. Temples and streets may be decorated with lanterns. Some Buddhists also “wash the baby Buddha.” A small standing figure of the baby Buddha is put inside a basin on an altar. People fill a ladle with water or tea and pour it over the figure to "wash" the baby.

Chunga Choepa (Butter Lamp Festival, Tibet)

Time of Year: Usually March. This festival celebrates miracles performed by the historical Buddha. People display colorful butter sculptures and sing and dance into the night. Sculpting yak butter is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art practiced by monks.


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Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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