What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a universal teaching. It speaks to [everyone]. It speaks to them, moreover, not as belonging to any particular social group, e.g. clan, tribe, caste, race, nation, but as individual human beings. What it tells each one of them is that [they] can grow… from unenlightened humanity into enlightened humanity – Sangharakshita

Buddhism has so many different forms that trying to understand it can be confusing. Our teacher, Sangharakshita, was concerned with finding what unites all of the different presentations of Buddhism. He believed that all forms of Buddhism have the historical Buddha and his experience of enlightenment in common. This means that Buddhism teaches human potential and also provides a path of spiritual practice through which we can awaken to this potential, causing less suffering for ourselves and others.

Ultimately this path leads to complete freedom from suffering and the development of positive qualities; energy, love, wisdom and compassion. According to Buddhist tradition this path was rediscovered by the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, around 2600 years ago. Upon rediscovering the path he became known as the Buddha, a name meaning ‘one who is awake’. In other words he became enlightened, fully awake to the nature of reality.

Buddhists believe that it’s possible for all of us to evolve and develop our full potential as human beings, by following this well-trodden path of practice. In Buddhism there isn’t a creator God. Instead our experience is understood to be the consequence of conditions arising from our environment and actions.

One of the simplest and most fundamental presentations of the Buddhist path focuses on three aspects: ethics, mediation and wisdom. Although any people in the UK first become interested in Buddhism through exploring meditation and mindfulness, traditionally taking responsibility for ourselves and refining our actions is seen as an important basis for exploring meditation because it can give us peace of mind. Transforming our hearts and minds through meditation practice leads to us becoming more aware. With more awareness we are able to reflect on the significance of our lives and these reflections can lead to a deepening insight into the nature of reality, which in turn can liberate us from the states of mind that cause our suffering.