We could never capture the depth, the breadth, the nuance, and the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings in short online blurbs. But we’ll try!

About the Buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born in India as Prince Siddhartha Gautama approximately 2,500 years ago. He renounced his royal life after coming face to face with the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. He studied and practiced with various ascetics in search of a solution, but ultimately rejected their traditions as well. After an extensive period of meditation, he became enlightened — reaching a realization of the true nature of reality, our minds, and the path for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.

A key concept underlying all Buddhist study and practice is that the Buddha is not a supreme being or creator. A Buddha is an enlightened or “fully awakened” being, who has eliminated all mental obscurations and perfected all good qualities. And we all have the potential to become enlightened ourselves.

About the teachings

Practicing Buddhism is a commitment to exploring and working on the mind. The nature of our minds is said to be clear and knowing. But “mental afflictions” like anger, attachment, pride, resentment, and jealousy agitate the mind and lead us to create negative karma, which in turn leads to our suffering.

The root of the mental afflictions is a misunderstanding of how things really exist — our grasping at an inherent existence of self and phenomena — and a self-cherishing attitude that follows.

We counter self-grasping ignorance by studying and hopefully one day realizing the ultimate nature of reality — that things are empty of inherent, independent existence from their own side. We counter self-cherishing by developing genuine compassion and a wish to benefit all sentient beings.

Some Key Terms and Concepts

Bodhicitta — A mind that wishes to become enlightened, to benefit all sentient beings and liberate them from suffering.

Dharma — Sanskrit for “that which is established.” In Buddhism, absolute Dharma refers to the realizations attained along the path to liberation and enlightenment. But the word dharma is commonly used to refer to the teachings of the Buddha.

Enlightenment — Full awakening; buddhahood; omniscience. The ultimate goal of a Mahayana Buddhist, attained when all obscurations have been removed and all the qualities of the mind have been fully actualized. It is a state characterized by perfect compassion, wisdom and power. (From the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive)

The Four Noble Truths — The Buddha’s first teaching explaining the nature of suffering, its cause, the possibility of cessation, and the path to free our minds.

Impermanence — The idea that all phenomena are constantly changing, on gross and subtle levels.

Karma — Sanskrit for “action.” Karma refers to the universal law of cause and effect. Simply, that our virtuous actions of body, speech, and mind will result in our happiness, while nonvir tuous actions of body, speech, and mind will lead to suffering.

Lam Rim — The graduated path to enlightenment that will lead us out of cyclic existence. Lam rim topics for study and meditation include the qualities of the guru, nature of mind, precious human rebirth, impermanence and death, karma, refuge, suffering, renunciation, compassion, and the nature of reality.

Samsara — The beginning-less, recurring cycle of suffering, death and rebirth that we experience due to delusions and karma.