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"Form is no different from emptiness. Emptiness is no different from form. Form is precisely emptiness, emptiness is precisely form."
The Heart Sutra

Labelled variously as a religion, a philosophy, or a "way of life," Buddhism is probably one of the world's more confusing religions, philosophies, or "ways of life." A few things to note first:

  • Buddhism can be considered an offshoot of Hinduism. Some variations are perfectly compatible with Atheism, but the oldest schools teach the existence of Hindu gods, with only some theological differences. Even most schools that lack "gods" still retain supernatural elements; those that dispense with the supernatural entirely tend to be found mostly in the West.
  • No form of Buddhism explicitly teaches the existence of a creator god, and some believe that wondering about it is useless, even harmful. Some schools believe in the existence of gods and demons simply as other forms of life and no better than humans, while others reject the existence of all godlike beings. On top of that, some schools have practices that call on higher powers (including the Buddha). Sometimes this is symbolic, while other times it is in earnest prayer. In all cases, however, whether one believes in gods or not, or whether one worships them or not, they are considered irrelevant to the actual point of Buddhism — the attainment of Enlightenment, which even gods must strive for.
  • Siddhartha Gautama was the first declared-by-that-name Buddha (perfectly enlightened one), but most schools agree that there have been many others before him and will have at least one more in the future, with many beings of various stages of enlightenment in-between.
  • There is no concept of a "soul" in Buddhism, at least not as most people define it. This is because – in contrast to orthodox Hinduism – Buddhism rejects the existence of any unchanging, permanent "self." On a related note, Nirvana (see below) is not technically Cessation of Existence, as there never was a "you" to begin with.
  • Every sentient being has the potential to achieve Nirvana (a state of permanent peace, liberation, and "consciousness without feature, without end" beyond suffering and desire), if not in this life, then another.

Life of the Buddha

The story of Buddhism begins with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in modern-day Nepal around the year 500BCE. As was the fashion of the time, his father, the King of Shakya, took his newborn son to an oracle to have his future read. The oracle told the King that the child would grow up to either be a great king if he experienced no suffering, or a great spiritual teacher if he did. King Suddhodana preferred that his son follow in his own footsteps, and so young Siddhartha was raised with every desire fulfilled but without being allowed to leave his father's palace.

Fast forward 29 years. Siddhartha is now married and in the prime of his life. But he wonders how he can be an effective king if he has never even left the palace to see his kingdom. So his father relents and allows Siddhartha a single day outside the palace. But King Suddhodana secretly sends his ministers to pre-arrange every sight that Siddhartha will see, removing from public view all of the beggars, lepers, and dying subjects.

As Siddhartha walks the street greeted by his subjects, though, he catches sight of an old man. Having been sequestered in a false, perfect world up until this point, he is forced to ask his chariot-driver what is wrong with the elderly individual. He is told that it is an old man, and all men will one day grow old like him. Siddhartha is shocked and continues looking into the crowd in earnest, whereupon he sees a leper. He is shocked by the unhappiness that is visited upon humanity, and embarrassed by his naiveté. The Second sight that he sees is a decaying corpse. This time, he is told by his driver that it is the fate of all human beings to die. At last, he comes upon a third sight — a Hindu ascetic monk. Siddhartha abandons everything to follow this monk, who he hopes will lead him out of the misery that afflicts all humankind, leaving behind his kingdom and a father and wife who are probably somewhat ticked off at the Broken Masquerade.

The Hindu ascetics (Sramanas) were extremely severe, and they ate and drank so little that some of them would even die of starvation. Siddhartha himself almost died of hunger and misery while pursuing the ascetic lifestyle, but one day a peasant girl brought him a bowl of rice to eat and he accepted her generosity. His five ascetic companions were scandalized. Fed up, Siddhartha renounced the path of the Sramanas, lamenting that not only had he not grown spiritually, but this self-mortification might make him see himself as being superior to others. In his desperation, he planted himself under a banyan tree in Gaya, and refused to budge until he had received enlightenment.

For 49 days, Siddhartha struggled with his ignorance under the tree. Tempted by the demon Mara, assaulted by flies, distracted by all of the drama that comes with being human, he refused to give in to any illusion and continued seeking absolute enlightenment. At age 35, under the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha reached enlightenment and became the "Buddha," a Sanskrit word meaning "One who is awake."

The Buddha had realized that the trouble with being human came from clinging and attachment. Everything that comes into existence goes out of existence — all our friends, family, lovers, health, video games, our very lives, and even TV Tropes. The trouble wasn't that these things happen to us, but that we approach life with a flawed set of expectations. One who can accept whatever happens to them without complaint and without craving will never, ever be disappointed. People who find happiness within themselves can be happy no matter what the external circumstances of their lives are, and can eventually achieve the perfection of equanimity, beyond even happiness.

The Four Noble Truths

After Siddhartha achieved enlightenment, it is said that he taught the Four Noble Truths in his first sermon. They are, summarized:

  • That life is suffering. note 
  • That suffering has a cause and this is attachment or desire.
  • That there is a way to end suffering.
  • That this way is through the Noble Eightfold Path.

These concepts form much of the basis of Buddhism. Temporary things cannot provide permanent happiness, and since all things in existence are temporary, existence itself is fundamentally unsatisfying. Note, however, that while the Four Truths are a key part of Theravada Buddhism, they are not that prominent in the Mahayana schools.

The Three Marks of Existence

There are philosophical traits of existence which we regular humans might not be able to realize, which brings us suffering.

  • Impermanence: All things are in a constant state of flux, and nothing is really permanent or eternal. Nirvana is the sole exception.note 
  • Suffering: To exist is to suffer. See the first of the Four Noble Truths.
  • Non-Self: There's no "real" self in living things nor any kind of fixed essence in anything.note 

The Noble Eightfold Path

Often split into three parts, The Noble Eightfold Path is one of the other foundations of Buddhism:

  • Wisdom: The ability to see through falsehood and see how the world really is.
    • Right View: Knowledge of the fruits of good behavior and comprehending the truth of karma (effects of action, speech, and thought), the three marks of existence (impermanence, suffering, non-self), and the Four Noble Truths.
    • Right Intention: To develop harmlessness, uproot ill will, and strive to perfect oneself on the path.
  • Ethical conduct: Keeping one's life free of evils that will try to lead you off the path.
    • Right speech: To avoid lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle chatter.
    • Right action: To avoid killing, stealing, and illicit sex.
    • Right livelihood: To live your life without disadvantaging other beings. For lay Buddhists, this includes abstaining from work that deals with weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink, or poison.
  • Concentration: The ability to remain focused and keep one's mind calm.
    • Right effort: To continually eliminate the bad in one’s self, to prevent evil from taking root, and to protect and foster the good.
    • Right mindfulness: To develop attention and remain mindful, especially of one's body, feelings, mind, and phenomena. This is often tied to certain meditative practices.
    • Right concentration: To perfect one's ability to remain in one-pointed concentration. Again, this point is also developed in the practice of meditation.

The Four Dharma Seals

Buddhists believe that all phenomena in the physical world are characterised by the Four Seals or Axioms. They are, summarised again:

  • All things are impermanent (both in a state of change and not eternal).
  • That conditioned existence is suffering and dissatisfaction.
  • That all things are empty of an enduring and identifiable self.
  • Nirvana is peace and liberation.

Reincarnation and Karma

Two more important concepts key to Buddhism are those of reincarnation and karma. In Buddhist theology, there is no fixed soul, so there is nothing that could actually be reborn. Instead, what we perceive as a person's soul or a person's self is rather a continuous stream of thoughts that continues even after a body has died and will continue in another newly born body. (For a great number of lay Buddhists this is mostly a technicality, though, and not given much thought, if any.) The body which the person is reborn in is determined mostly by karma, although skilled practitioners can control to a certain extent which realm they are reborn in, as can higher beings.

Karma is an action or energy created through action that drives a person's life, death, and rebirth. The concept of karma is like that of cause and effect — Buddhists believe that whatever actions are taken by the individual will have an impact on the individual's future. Buddhism makes special emphasis on the mental intent behind an action — it is possible to accrue positive or negative karma through emotions and thoughts alone, which is what meditation is for. Karma can be both short-term, which arises as the near-immediate consequences of one's actions in the physical world (for example, anger at another person can lead to hate from that person) and long-term (which will decide a person's rebirth and future circumstances).

A person is responsible for his or her own karma, and it is their actions that will ultimately decide their future. Depending on the branch of Buddhism, there can be many ways to purge bad karma, including paying for religious service and performing rituals, but nothing of this makes up for oneself's judgement and virtue.


The exact experience of Nirvana is said to be beyond human description or comprehension, but most schools of Buddhism agree on the basics.

Nirvana literally means "blowing out," as in a candle. It is freedom from the cycle of rebirth and painful existence that affects all beings. In Nirvana, one experiences neither heaven, nor hell, nor any form of existence. It is an existence beyond existence. In this way, all one's cares and anxieties are swept away. One experiences a perfect stillness of mind and eternal peace. This is not a peace in the sense that we know it, as a reprieve from suffering or as a fulfillment of one's desires, but as a freedom from any desire or emotion whatsoever. A commonly used metaphor is of a drop of water falling into a still pool. While the drop was once perceived as separate, and in some sense can still be found in the pool, it is now entirely subsumed into the wholeness of the pool itself. (The extent to which one keeps one's personality varies by school.) In Hinduism, this is called Moksha, and is described as reunion with Brahman — the divine foundation of all things — when one understands that one's true self and Brahman are the same.

Though Moksha and Nirvana are often used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. While Hinduism tends to stress the oneness of the Self with all things, Buddhism tends to stress the non-existence of Self. How these conceptions of enlightenment are functionally different can, to the layperson, be highly technical, and in fact was one of the reasons Buddhism died out in its native India.

The extent to which reincarnation, karma, and Nirvana are taken literally or viewed as extended metaphor varies wildly. In Asia these are more likely to be accepted parts of Buddhist theology; in the West, they're generally dismissed as illustrative or even deliberately discarded.

Three Vehicles of Buddhism

Buddhism is an ancient religion, and over time has split into many denominations. These are grouped into three main "vehicles." Theology can vary wildly between them, and sometimes even within them. These descriptions are for general purpose only:

  • Theravada: The "School of Elders." Found mostly in Southeast Asia, Theravada is the oldest existing vehicle and therefore most similar to the earliest forms of Buddhism. It emphasizes self-liberation through enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path and cultivating meditation. This school is also the most conservative in terms of theology: the non-existence of Self is emphasized, and the worship of gods and higher powers is discouraged. In fact, Theravada claims the Buddha specifically rejected (or judged to be irrelevant) the existence of any "divine foundation" or Creator, whether this be called "Brahman" or something else. In this school, the Buddha is considered a mere human who reached Enlightenment through his own efforts. Karma is a natural and impersonal process, beyond the ability of humans to influence. This path is the most popular in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and the rest of Southeast Asian countries.
  • Mahayana: The "Greater Vehicle." Mahayana Buddhism is the largest in terms of numbers and possibly the most mainstream. It teaches the "Bodhisattva-path," where a being seeks Nirvana not for their own benefit but chooses to return to existence to help others until all are freed from the cycle of rebirth. This school emphasizes compassion to the greatest degree, for instance enforcing vegetarianism to a degree not even Buddha himself seemed to approve, but in turn, it is much more liberal than Theravada in terms of theology: various higher beings are revered or worshipped (both Hindu gods and East Asian deities, as well as Bodhisattvas), and it is not quite so strict in terms of non-existence of the Self. In Mahayana, the Buddha is not considered a "mere human," but an incarnation of a supreme Bodhisattva who returned to help humans on their path to Enlightenment. Further unlike Theravada, negative karma can be purged not only by meditation or right behavior, but also by the recitation of mantras or sacred names. Several of the most representative schools in most East Asian countries and pop culture alike, like Japanese Zen, Chinese Buddhism, or Pure Land Buddhism, follow this path. Remember also the fat, laughing fellow everybody thinks to be the Buddha? It originated in this vehicle, and his name is Budai.
  • Vajrayana: The "Diamond Vehicle." Sometimes considered a sub-sect of Mahayana, it is the smallest denomination, being practiced almost exclusively in Tibet and a handful of schools in other countries, particularly Central Asia (an offshoot of Tibetan Vajrayana is the dominant traditional religion in Mongolia). Vajrayana can be best described as esoteric Buddhism, and as such features a wide set of ritual practices called Tantra, which include a lot of recitation of mantras, sacred names and calls to deities along with much weirder things (such as yogas, visualizations, and ritual taboo-breaking, like the famous Tantric sex, which is often the only thing Western people know about it). Really hammers home the impermanence of the material world and the importance of spiritual devotion (outsiders have noted that there are no "casual" Vajrayana believers), and as in Mahayana, the Buddha is revered as a supreme Bodhisattva. This is the branch that includes Tibetan Buddhism (the one the Dalai Lama follows), Mongolian Buddhism, and a few lineages in East Asia (a prominent example being Japanese Shingon Buddhism).

There is also Navayana ("New Vehicle."), which refers to two largely unrelated traditions that began in the last century or so - the Dalit Buddhist movement in India, and various forms of Western or Modernist Buddhism. Dalit Buddhism was founded in the mid-20th century by Untouchables in India. Influenced by rationalism and Marxism, it rejects all supernatural powers and emphasizes reason and empirical truth. It also explicitly rejects the idea of rebirth, and inheriting karma from a previous birth. In addition to these theological differences, Dalit Buddhism opposes Hinduism, which it sees as responsible for the propagation of the caste system and the Dalit position at the bottom of the social totem pole. While Dalit Buddhists take their teachings from all three schools, they tend to emphasize what they see as the Buddha's role as a political and social reformer, rather than as a spiritual teacher. In this sense, it has much in common with Liberation theology, a form of Christianity that heavily emphasizes political and social justice for the poor. Modern "reinterpretations" of Buddhism, mostly found in the West, tend to be benign forms of "spirituality" and "self-improvement," often jettisoning much of the cosmological and theological baggage of Buddhism found in Asia, and refocusing attention from Nirvana on to how one can improve one's life here on Earth.

Decline of Buddhism in India

Buddhism has become an extreme minority religion in the land of its birth, comprising less than 1% of the population of India. (For comparison, Christians of any sect make up roughly 2.3% of the population.) Various theories have been proposed for why Buddhism declined over the centuries and gradually disappeared, ranging from persecutions by hostile rulers to degeneration of the monasteries. Even as early as the 5th century, visiting Chinese monks commented on the sorry state of Buddhism in India. Ultimately, religious syncreticism diminished Buddhism. Over the centuries, Hinduism and Buddhism grew closer and closer in religious practice, such that by the Middle Ages it was hard for a layperson to tell them apart. Hindu mystics took prominent aspects of Buddhism and incorporated them into their belief system. Eventually Buddhism had nothing of its own left to teach. When Indian sages proclaimed that Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu, that heralded Buddhism's end. With many Buddhists already worshiping Hindu gods, there wasn't any point in remaining a "pure" Buddhist anymore. Ancient Indian Buddhism wasn't so much "destroyed" as simply (re)absorbed into newer forms of Hinduism.


All religions rely on storytelling, and all storytelling relies on tropes!

  • Above Good and Evil: Some schools take dharma as not strictly good or evil. But since your act will add to karma, being nice will be beneficial. For example, being lazy isn't evil but it will make you less likely to be a successful person.
  • All-Loving Hero: Many bodhisattvas in Buddhist art and literature are portrayed as this. Guanyin (or Chenrezig in Tibetan Buddhism) is a noticable example as being The God/Goddess of Mercy.
  • The Almighty Dollar: The five wealth Jambhalas are different Bodhisattvas, each with its own practice and mantra to help eliminate poverty and create financial stability
  • Anti-Hero: Dharmapalas because protecting Buddhism sometimes involves I Did What I Had to Do and Pay Evil unto Evil.
  • Anti-Villain: Type I Mara has been shown to have lots of noble qualities at times. This makes him a Noble Demon plus the fact that he has never been shown doing anything worse than stopping people from becoming Buddhas.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Five Precepts prohibit murder, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants/intoxication. Note: The first four are part of the ten unwholesome deeds i.e. murder, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, idle speech, covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views. All ten unwholesome deeds are always unskillful, which leaves out subtle intoxicants/intoxication like jaywalking.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Enlightenment could somehow be seen as a form of ascension, but many schools would object to that.
    • There is however an actual ascension to a higher plane for very pure people, who are likely to be reincarnated as gods. For many Asian Buddhists, this is a great reward in itself, but many others see it as undesirable, as even gods are not immortal and subject to suffering. With their divine powers and extremely long lives, it's easy for gods to forget that all existing is hardship and all things must come to an end, so being reborn as a human is actually more desirable.
      • Probably even more importantly, beings can also descend to a lower plane of existance and be reincarnated as an animal, a demon, a ghost, or in Hell. Which is the reason that becoming a god is only a temporary freedom from suffering that will come to an end.
      • The big problem with a god rebirth is not that there still is suffering, as it is very slight; in fact, the only suffering in a god realm is that it will eventually end. The problem is that there is not enough suffering, and thus you will not be motivated to practice the dharma.
    • In Pure Land Buddhism, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, it is believed that persons who concentrate all their thoughts on the Bodhisattva Amida on the moment of their death, will be taken by Amida and be reincarnated in his Pure Land. The Pure Land is an almost perfect paradise where people will be taught the words of the buddha all day, and which offers excellent conditions to meditate, making it kind of an express highway to nirvana.
  • Blood Knight: Dharmapalas "being bound by oath to protect Buddhism who will use any excuse for violence (well, any excuse related to protecting Buddhism.)"
  • Crossover Cosmology: Mahayana Buddhism enthusiastically assimilates pretty much every religion it comes across, simply adding the local deities to the vast pantheon of Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and Heavens. This is for the infinitely amusing reason that, even if Vishnu exists, he still needs enlightenment.
  • Defector from Paradise: According to Buddhism, there are enlightened figures known as Bodhisattvas who have chosen to forego entering into full Nirvana. They have taken special vows to help other sentient beings reach complete enlightenment before embracing Nirvana themselves.
    • The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was actually this according to Buddhist scriptures. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment and a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana. The Buddha described Nirvana as the perfect peace of a mind that's free from ignorance, greed, hatred, and other afflictive states of living. Immediately after his awakening, the Buddha debated whether or not he should teach the way to obtain Nirvana to others and eventually decided to leave the state of Nirvana to teach others the knowledge he attained.
  • Elite Four: The Four Heavenly Kings are a group under Sakra, the lord of the devas in Trayastrimsa. They serve to protect the domain from the Asuras and to protect the Bhudda, his followers, and the Dharma from danger.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Buddhism teaches that as a being becomes enlightened they will gain abilities such as telekinesis or telepathy. It also notes that these aren't the point and that focusing on them will ruin your chances for further enlightenment.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are the best known in the West, although they're not the most influential or popular forms in the rest of the world.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The Cold Narakas, which is where you're sent if you're too evil for even the Hot Narakas. This also can describe the people who have the karma that causes them to wind up there.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Buddhism is notoriously and repeatedly the victim of this by western intellectuals, who are prone to filter and sanitize Buddhism in order to paint it as an enlightened, reasonable, and (above all) harmless alternative to the irrational, dogmatic, and violent Abrahamic religions. In reality, Buddhism in its native continent is just as nuanced, complex and yes, guilty of the same levels of dogmatism and atrocities as western religions.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Buddhism was founded in India, and became by far the most popular non-Abrahamic religion in The Far East, getting very popular in East and Southeast Asian countries like Japan, Mongolia, China, Cambodia, Myanmar/Burma and Thailand, and even parts of Russia. In India proper, its adherents are a drop in the bucket, compared to even Christianity. It has also seen a growing popularity in the West, particularly in America and Australia.
  • God of Evil: A complex trope. Mara (the Buddhist devil) is a Deva of the highest heaven of the desire realm and rules the desire realm. To be specific in Kamadhatu (the desire realm), there is Parinirmita-vasavartin or Paranimmita-vasavatti (The Heaven of Devas with Power over other's Creations). Put another way, Mara is less a god of evil and more a god of anti-enlightenment.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Mahayana and Theravada have various classes and ranks of wrathful entities, fierce and monstrous warrior deities with vicious tempers and powerful bloodlust who attack the abstract enemies of Buddhism, like ignorance and delusion. That said, they are devout Buddhists themselves who protect adherents on the path, preserve ancient teachings, and guard temples. Their visage is so fearsome, with snarling, fanged mouths, wreaths of flame, and heavy swords that many westerners once confused and conflated them with demons, and some still do, though their nature is more akin to militant guardian angels.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Asuras are driven by envy among other drives.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: The Buddha miraculously calmed Naalgiri (an enraged elephant) simply by emanating maitri (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion)! This is also how evil spirits get converted into good and then vow to protect Buddhism, thus explaining the legion of Dharmapalas protecting Buddhism.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other Buddhists have been said to have converted evil spirits from evil to good.
  • Humans Are Special: Zig-Zagging Trope. We are not any more (or less) special than any other life form... But because we live a balanced life, we have the best chance to attain enlightenment and are the only race that can become Buddhas. Pretas and dwellers of Naraka suffer too much to better themselves. Animals are dominated by instinct and can't fully understand dharma. Asuras are Drunk with Power, and Devas' lives are so filled with comfort that most of them do not care about the future at all. Some texts like the Lotus Sutra says non-humans can attain enlightenment, such as the Nagaraja's daughter (a naga, a type of deva). All stress, however, that doing so is much more difficult than for a human.
  • Humans Are Flawed: This is one of main reasons why it is preferred to be reincarnated as a human in order to achieve enlightenment, as humans are flawed enough to have room to improve themselves and overcome these flaws.
  • Humble Hero: Many branches of Buddhism (especially the Tibetan variation) teach followers never to value any worldly materials such as wealth, luxuries, sex, fame, etc., and embrace humility and accept who you are and your flaws to better yourself. In fact, it's one of the requirements of enlightenment.
  • I Choose to Stay: "Bodhisattvas," those who are ready to achieve Enlightenment... but refuse to do so in order to ensure everyone else can, too. A popular concept in Buddhist art and literature.
  • Knight Templar: Dharmapalas are this in their defense of Buddhism.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Sermon of the Seven Suns claims that the world will be destroyed by seven suns burning everything.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Buddhism essentially purports that the universe we inhabit is this.
  • Lotus Position: A very common meditation position for Buddhists.
  • Meditation Powerup: Tranquility leads to enlightened ass-kicking. The legendary Shaolin monastery is a Chan (also known as Zen in Japan and the US) Buddhist monastery that uses martial arts as a form of meditation. In a broader view, Zazen and other forms of meditation allow for impressive feats of concentration, which allow for other, equally impressive, feats. Also, various supernatural powers are said to be gained by meditation.
  • Men Are Better Than Women: It was the traditional view of Buddhism, and remains widely held in Asian Buddhism today, that women are primarily obstacles on men's path to enlightenment. It was additionally held in many (but not all) traditions that being born a woman is the result of negative karma from a previous life, and that it is impossible for a woman to attain Enlightenment (the best she can hope for is to be reborn as a man in the next life). In some legends, a woman who attains Enlightenment is miraculously transformed into a man at the moment of her ascension. There are also bhikkhunis, Buddhist female monks. However, tradition states that the Buddha permitted female monks only after laying down additional rules which do not have to be followed by bhikkhus (male monks), as many of them have to do with ensuring bhikkhunis remain subordinate to bhikkhus.
  • Mono no Aware: A Japanese aesthetic heavily rooted in Buddhist concepts of impermanence.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Icchantikas are sentient beings who have crossed this. Texts vary in if they are or are not beyond redemption. Varying versions of the Nirvana Sutra have differing opinions as well.
    • In later, more localized adaptations of Buddhism, there are many hells, or Narakas, where those who racked up particularly bad karma were reborn, where they live, suffer, die, and are reborn again for many kalpas (eons) on end until they have worked off all their bad karma. But the lowest hell, Avici, is reserved for those who commit one or more of the Five Grave Offenses, the personal Moral Event Horizons of the religion: intentionally murdering one's father, intentionally murdering one's mother, killing an arhat (enlightened being), shedding the blood of a Buddha, and causing a schism in the sangha (the community of Buddhist monks and nuns). Existence in the Avici hell lasts the longest out of all of the other hells put together, such that it is often known as "the non-stop way."
    • Avici hell means "without waves". One can translate it to The Ceaseless. With a cosmology where a trillion of trillion years is a mere metric for time, this should clarify that the cosmic judgment of karma reserves Avici for the worst of the worst only.
    • Also, considering the cyclic nature of Buddhist cosmology, even sins fit for Avici are not truly irredeemable. Still, that is only theoretical. Nobody who has fallen into Avici, since the beginning of reality an infinity of years ago, has been redeemed yet.
    • However, there is dispute about when this idea originated. Traditionally, it comes from the story of Devadatta, a monk who killed his father, twice assaulted the Buddha, and split the sangha. But there are at least two versions of the story of Devadatta - one of which has him being consigned to a very long stay in Avici and one of which has him repenting and achieving some level of enlightenment. Some historians date the story of Devadatta to a hundred years or more after the Buddha died, which would make it a later addition.
  • No Swastikas: Defied, Buddhism (along with just about everyone actually) was using that symbol long before there was a Nazi Party. If you see a swastika in an East Asian product it's very probably not a Nazi one. Unfortunately, it has led to some problems with Asian exports.
  • Noble Demon: Theravada's texts note that there are plenty of Asuras in heaven. These Asuras are incarnations of people who did good deeds with the wrong motive. For example, helping the poor to impress the public.
  • Obsessed Are the Listmakers: As an old joke says, "Christians love God, Buddhists love lists." The canon is packed with them.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Buddha lived from approximately 563 BCE to 483 BCE (traditional dating in the range of 566-560 BCE to 486-480BCE, with newer dating in the range of 491-480 BCE to 411-400 BCE).
  • Power Levels: Similar to the These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know example below, the first two of the "Four Imponderables" specifically discourage debating the power levels of Buddhas, gods, et cetera.
  • Religion is Magic:
    • Many Buddhist traditions include monks being developing spiritual powers (flight, control of weather, etc) and having the ability to invoke and banish or bind spirits. As in the yogic traditions above, these powers are seen as a potential distraction from achieving enlightenment and so are to be used sparingly. Additionally, relics of the Buddha and other enlightened individuals are supposed to have particular power.
    • An interesting note is how matter-of-fact the treatment of the supernatural can be in some Buddhist traditions. For example, in many Tibetan monasteries, part of the oath you take when you become a monk is that you are not a spirit disguised as a human being. Other monasteries are placed specifically to be bindings for demons, oracles and divination are fairly common practice for lamas, and there are many lamas who have repeatedly reincarnated and continued their teaching. Part of the reason China's destruction of monasteries and abuse of monks during the Cultural Revolution was so devastating was the way knowledge of the spiritual landscape and the whereabouts of reincarnated lamas was lost.
    • The Chinese take this seriously enough (with enough Chinese being Buddhists themselves) that Tibetan Buddhist monks are specifically required to obtain official Communist Party approval before they can reincarnate. This is also a convenient means of political control.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Guan Yu is the bodhisattva Sangharama in Chinese Buddhism.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: Well, third place. Being reborn as a Deva is the highest state, but it's impossible to achieve Nirvana — it's just too much fun. Being born human is the middle state, and the one most conducive to escaping the cycle.
  • Self-Immolation: The Bodhisattva Bhaisajyaguru (vaiduryaprabharaja) gives us one of the oldest examples as in the Lotus Sutra. Self-immolation is tolerated by some elements of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism, and it has been practiced for many centuries, especially in India, for various reasons, including Sati, political protest, devotion, and renouncement. Certain warrior cultures, such as in the Charans and Rajputs, also practiced self-immolation. An article entitled History of Religions, written by Jan Yun-Hua, investigates the medieval Chinese Buddhist precedents for self-immolation. Relying exclusively on authoritative Chinese Buddhist texts and, through the use of these texts, interpreting such acts exclusively in terms of doctrines and beliefs (e.g., self-immolation, much like an extreme renunciant might abstain from food until dying, could be an example of disdain for the body in favor of the life of the mind and wisdom) rather than in terms of their socio-political and historical context, the article allows its readers to interpret these deaths as acts that refer only to a distinct set of beliefs that happen to be foreign to the non-Buddhist.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: 14 Unanswerable Questions. These aren't actually meant to be deep secrets or eldritch lore. Instead, they are things that can't be answered and so you shouldn't waste time worrying about. Basically four questions, or not, or both, or neither. This obviously leaves 16 rather than 14 due to varying counts or whether or not including the boths and neithers or only for some questions.
    • Is the world eternal? Or not? Or both? Or neither?
    • Is the world finite? Or not? Or both? Or neither?
    • Is the self the body? Or not? Or both? Or neither?
    • Does the Tathagata (Buddha) exist after death? Or not? Or both? Or neither?
      • Though Mahayana and Vajrayana consider the answer to be: yes, the Tathagata exists after death. Buddha says in the Brahma Net Sutra: "Now, I, Vairocana Buddha am sitting atop a lotus pedestal; On a thousand flowers surrounding me are a thousand Sakyamuni Buddhas. Each flower supports a hundred million worlds; in each world, a Sakyamuni Buddha appears. All are seated beneath a Bodhi tree, all simultaneously attain Buddhahood. All these innumerable Buddhas have Vairocana as their original body." Such a statement may imply that a Buddha is immortal. Even though he descends in the samsara to preach Dharma and save sentient beings from suffering, his original body remains in a transcendent realm. That body will not die upon the death of the physical body of Buddha, and hence a Buddha is beyond arising and passing away. The idea that the physical death of a Buddha is the termination of that Buddha is graphically refuted by the movement and meaning of the Lotus sutra, in which another Buddha, who passed long before, appears and communicates with Shakyamuni himself. In the vision of the Lotus Sutra, Buddhas are ultimately immortal. A similar doctrine of the eternality of Buddhas is repeatedly expounded in the tathāgatagarbha sutras, which share certain family resemblances with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra
  • The Unfettered: Literally, as the ten fetters are what keep people from Nirvana. 1. Belief in a self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi) 2. Doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings (vicikicchā) 3. Attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāso) 4. Sensual desire (kāmacchando) 5. Ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo) 6. Lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth (rūparāgo) 7. Lust for immaterial existence, lust for rebirth in a formless realm (arūparāgo) 8. Conceit (māno) 9. Restlessness (uddhaccaŋ) 10. Ignorance (avijjā)
  • Unwanted Assistance: One legend has the god Sakra come and ask spiritual advice from Buddha. He explains that he often sought wisdom from human sages. However, when they learned that he was actually a god, they ended up worshiping him instead.
  • Warrior Monk: Shaolin Monks and Sohei are early examples of this.
  • Wise Serpent: The religion features the Naga (creatures that are also present within Hindu Mythology), a type of divine or semi-divine creature that can appear in serpentine, human, or half-human / half-serpent forms. note  One particular naga, Mucalinda, protected Siddhartha Gautama from a storm whilst he meditated under the Bodhi Tree; thereafter, many great Buddhist thinkers and philosophers adopted some variation of "naga" in their name or title, such as Dignaga, Nagasena, and Nagarjuna.

Countries Where Buddhism is Popular (in decreasing order of believers)

  • China, including Tibet (contains the most self-professing Buddhists in the world, though they're not the majority)
  • Thailand (the most populous Buddhist-majority country in the world)
  • Myanmar/Burma
  • Japan
  • Sri Lanka
  • South Korea (slowly eroded by Christianity in recent years, but remains an important cultural heritage)
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam (less than a quarter, but has a larger number than those listed below)
  • Laos
  • Malaysia (Mostly eroded by Islam, but Buddhism is still practiced by the Chinese minorities)
  • Taiwan
  • Singapore
  • Mongolia
  • Bhutan
  • The Republic of Buryatia, Tuvan Republic, and Republic of Kalmykia in Russia (the last being the only Buddhist-majority polity in Europe)