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published: 3/17/04
updated: 7/5/13

Buddhist Beliefs

What do Buddhists Believe?

Thai Buddhists at a temple in Chiang Mai

Beliefs are important in Buddhism. The religion's important doctrines aren't necessarily the same as those of other world religions, for example doctrines about God, but beliefs are still central to the Buddhist worldview. Right beliefs concerning human nature and ultimate reality are of the highest priority. (See Buddhism Facts and Buddhism symbols)

The Buddha was called the "Enlightened One." After he became enlightened, he taught that the way to eliminate suffering begins with understanding the true nature of the world. However, the Buddha considered knowledge important only insofar as it remains practical. He rejected speculation about such matters as God, the nature of the universe, and the afterlife, urging his followers to focus instead on the Four Noble Truths by which they can free themselves from suffering. (See more about Buddha here and Zen Buddhism here.)

Basic Points of Buddhism

In the 2,500 years since the Buddha's enlightenment, Buddhism has spread over many countries, split into numerous sects, and adopted a wide variety of beliefs, practices, rituals and customs. However, an essential unity centered around the teachings of the Buddha underlies these differences.

Also see: Buddhist symbols

Is Buddhism Atheistic?

As seen in the Basic Points of Buddhism, one general doctrine agreed upon by Buddhists is: "We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God." However, disbelief in a creator God does not mean that Buddhism is atheistic.

Also compare: Buddhism to over 40 different religions on one huge chart

Buddhas and Deities

In Mahayana Buddhism, the universe is populated with celestial buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities that assist and inspire the Buddhist practitioner. Among the most popular are Kuan Yin, the Medicine Buddha, the Laughing Buddha and the Green and White Taras. These and other fascinating figures are explored in this section.

Also see: Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism

Human Nature

In Hinduism, the soul, or atman, is an eternally existing spiritual substance or being and the abiding self that moves from one body to the next at rebirth. The Buddha rejected this concept.

Also see: Buddhist meditation

Purpose of Life

In Buddhism, the purpose of life is to end suffering. The Buddha taught that humans suffer because we continually strive after things that do not give lasting happiness.

Also see: Buddhism prayer wheel

Reincarnation and Afterlife

The Buddha said of death:
Life is a journey.
Death is a return to earth.
The universe is like an inn.
The passing years are like dust.
Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp - a phantom - and a dream