Besides the fact that Buddhists are told to think for themselves, and that Buddhism as a philosophy exists across many cultures, time periods, and with varying teachings and practices, there are some core Buddhism beliefs that might be considered representative of most Buddhists.
This page may serve as a basic introduction to Buddhism. All quotes are from the Buddha, unless otherwise stated. If you wish to explore any idea further, select the link to navigate to a book or website specially recommended if you are interested in that topic. If you have an idea for a new belief that should be included, send us an email.
1. Buddha is Not a God
The Buddha was an ordinary man, who 2,500 years ago saw clearly into the true nature of reality. As such, Buddha’s teachings are not set rules to follow, nor the only wisdom in the world. Rather, they should be seen as advice to consider, from someone who has ‘gone beyond’ everyday views, ideas, and conceptions. Many have also become ‘enlightened’ before Buddha, have since the Buddha, and will in the future.
2. You Should Not Believe Anything Without Thinking
Buddhists are encouraged to test everything they read or hear, to see if it stands up to their own standards as true or not.
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
3. Gods and Deities are Cultural
Some Buddhist schools have many Gods, others have none. But it would be wrong to say that Buddhism itself teaches atheism, pantheism, or any other position on gods and deities. Gods are the conception of a particular time and culture, and may be used more or less wisely in the development of one’s spiritual practice.
4. But… Don’t worry too much about the nature of God
The Buddha said it was more important to take steps to end your suffering than to follow endless discussions on the ‘true’ nature of God (and other such unanswerable questions).
Our theories of the eternal are as valuable as are those which a chick which has not broken its way through its shell might form of the outside world.
5. The Purpose of Life
Life exists in itself – there is no inherent meaning attached to life. However – as all human beings (and animals) wish for happiness and not to suffer – the purpose of life may be said to end that suffering.
6. The Afterlife Depends on this Life
Buddhism teaches that in an interconnected world, all actions have consequences (karma). The consequences of acts undertaken in this and earlier lifetimes will be felt in a next one, in a process known as reincarnation. It is a Buddhist aim to educate oneself and meditate in order to escape from this cycle of rebirth, to enter Nirvana.
7. Books and Teachings are Very Important
It is important to read and to listen to great teachers, so we can ‘undo’ more of our ignorance. Books are important, as is listening to great teachers. In fact, it is one of the most important things we can do with our lives.
8. Meditation is Key
A key belief in all Buddhist groups is the importance of meditation. Without calming our mind, and examining our mind’s nature and its beliefs, we can never reach enlightenment. Doing this sitting down is called meditation, and doing this while we undertake everyday activities is called mindfulness.
Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox.
9. Healing Comes from Mind
Buddhism believes that our external situation is created by our internal minds. This is equally true for our health and the state of our bodies. Many Buddhists use meditation, mantras, and prayers alongside medicines to help heal themselves.
See HealingMeditation.org for more information on how this is done.
10. It’s Up To Ourselves
Buddhism maintains that it is not up to others to make us meditate or study. We are responsible for creating our own suffering, and it is solely up to us to create the circumstances for our release. It requires personal wisdom and commitment.
Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.
11. Our Bodies Are Precious
A life reborn as a human is considered a very precious thing. To have a long life is a rare and important opportunity to end our suffering. Hence, it is important to keep healthy.
To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
12. Your Spiritual Community is Important
You do not have to go to a temple or meditation class to be a Buddhist. But being surrounded by others with similar views and objectives as yourself will be beneficial for one’s motivation, sense of purpose and deepening one’s understanding.
13. Interconnectedness is the Nature of Reality
Buddhists believe that everything is interconnected – every object, being, and concept is connected to what caused it, and what is around it. Also known as ‘emptiness’, Buddhists try to see that there is nothing in the universe that is not connected to everything else.
Emptiness is impermanence, it is change.
We should not complain about impermanence,
because without impermanence, nothing is possible.
Thich Nhat Hanh
This is the editor’s own favorite book! It most clearly explains how we are not separate from the people and objects around us, in beautiful writing.
14. It’s Good to Be Good
Buddhists believe in the idea of karma (a logical extension from everything being interconnected). What we do to others will ultimately affect ourselves.
Hence Buddhism advocates doing good deeds, but not just the following strict rules. It is up to the individual to consider the wisest course of action for their future long term happiness. Five precepts, or ‘guides’, are often given as advice as to actions that will often most lead to beneficial outcomes. They are: not to lie, steal or defraud, kill or injure others, hurt via sexual relationships, and to not further cloud your mind with too many intoxicants.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.
15. Compassion is Key
Compassion is a natural extension of understanding and wisdom. With true wisdom we grow more compassionate for the people we meet. And with compassion we ourselves grow wiser.
If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.
16. Sex is Neither Bad nor Good
In Buddhism, it is less the act of sex, or when or with whom it is performed that is important. More important is the motivation, attachment, and consequences of any act.
17. Strive for Balance
The Buddha himself learned that it is important not to be too strict on oneself (or on others). Moderation is the key to success in most things.
If you tighten the string too much, it will snap, and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play.
18. It’s Never Too Late to Begin
Some Buddhist schools emphasize that enlightenment is a quick process, that can happen at any moment. Others emphasize that it is difficult, and can take many lifetimes. Both agree, it is never too late to start practicing and thinking about the right way to live. The less ignorance you have, the less you will suffer.
It is never too late.
Even if you are going to die tomorrow,
Keep yourself straight and clear and be a happy human being today.
If you keep your situation happy day by day,
you will eventually reach the greatest happiness of Enlightenment.