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What is Buddhism?

The name Buddhism comes from the word 'budhi' which means 'to wake up' and thus Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 35. Buddhism is now 2,500 years old and has about 300 million followers worldwide. Until a hundred years ago Buddhism was mainly an Asian philosophy but increasingly it is gaining adherents in Europe, Australia and America.

So Buddhism is just a philosophy?

The word philosophy comes from two words 'philo' which means 'love' and 'sophia' which means 'wisdom'. So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both meanings describe Buddhism perfectly. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop love and kindness so that we can be like a true friend to all beings. So Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a philosophy. It is the supreme philosophy.

Why are there so many different types of Buddhism?

There are many different types of sugar: brown sugar, white sugar, rock sugar, syrup and icing sugar but it is all sugar and it all tastes sweet. It is produced in different forms so that it can be used in different ways. Buddhism is the same: there is Theravada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism but it is all Buddhism and it all has the same taste - the taste of freedom. Buddhism has evolved into different forms so that it can be relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. It has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. Outwardly, the types of Buddhism may seem very different but at the centre of all of them is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All major religions, Buddhism included, have split into schools and sects. But the different sects of Buddhism have never gone to war with each other and to this day, they go to each other's temples and worship together. Such tolerance and understanding is certainly rare.

Was the Buddha a god?

No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god. He was a man who perfected himself and taught that if we follow his example, we could perfect ourselves also.