Buddhism is both a religion and philosophy. The traditions and beliefs surrounding Buddhism can be traced to the original teachings of Gautama Buddha, a sage thinker who is believed to have lived between the fourth and sixth centuries BCE. The Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of ancient India, providing the template for a faith based on the ideas of moral rectitude, freedom from material attachment or desire, the achievement of peace and illumination through meditation, and a life dedicated to wisdom, kindness, and compassion. The Buddha’s teachings proliferated widely through much of Asia in the centuries that followed.
Though its scriptures and traditions inform countless subsequent sects and ideologies, Buddhism is largely divided into two branches: Theravada — the goal of which is to achieve freedom from ignorance, material attachment, and anger by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, all in pursuit of a sublime state called Nirvana; and Mahayana — the goal of which is aspire to Buddhahood by practicing the Zen principles of self-control, meditation, and expression of the insight of Buddha in your daily life, especially for the benefit of others, all to the end of achieving bodhisattva, or an ongoing cycle of rebirth by which you can continue to enlighten others.
Today, roughly 7% of the world practices some form of Buddhism, making it the fourth largest of the world’s religions, with an estimated 500 million adherents across both the Eastern and Western worlds.