Buddhism is one of the oldest traditions of humankind. It began in India approximately 2500 years ago, and soon became the first “world religion” as it spread through many cultures. Today, Buddhism is found in every part of the world, and has been a Canadian religion for well over 100 years.
Buddhism began with a man, Siddhartha Gautama. Reflecting on his life and those around him, he felt great concern for the suffering of human beings and other creatures in our world. Not satisfied with the teachings available to him in ancient India, he sought a more effective path that could liberate all people from sorrow and distress. As he investigated the nature of reality and the mind, he awoke from the delusions, false attachments, and egocentricity that lie at the root of suffering.
Gautama spent forty-five years traveling and teaching his discoveries to others so that they too could be freed from pain and stress. Those who met him were deeply moved by his wisdom and called him “Buddha,” which means “awakened one” in Sanskrit. Soon a growing group of dedicated monks and nuns had gathered around him. Radically departing from the practices of his day, the Buddha offered all sincere seekers admittance to his community regardless of their gender, race, class, or personal history.
Instead of a single, rigid dogma, the Buddha tailored his teachings so that his insights were conveyed according to the capacity, need, and situation of each person who came to him. Thus there arose a large, diverse array of Buddhist ideas and methods. These were further adapted as they filtered through various cultures, and evolved to meet the circumstances of monastics and laypeople. The result was many different forms of Buddhism, such as Pure Land, Zen, Theravada, and Vajrayana. Each has their own preferred concepts and practices, yet all are rooted in the Buddha’s awakening and aim to faithfully continue his mission of wisdom and compassion.