Buddhism is one of the major world religions. Unlike other major religions, Buddhism is not a theistic religion, meaning it is not centered on the worship of an almighty God. Rather, most Buddhist teachings are based on extensive philosophical-logical considerations in connection with guidelines for living, as is also the case in Chinese Daoism and Confucianism.
In addition, the practice of meditation and the knowledge gained from it is an important element in Buddhism.
Like other religions, Buddhism also encompasses a wide range of manifestations, which include both philosophical teachings and monasteries, church-like or club-like religious communities and simple popular piety. In the case of Buddhism, however, they are not held together by any central authority or teaching authority that promulgates dogmas.
What all Buddhists have in common is that they refer to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in northern India, according to the dating approaches prevailing in research today in the 6th and possibly even in the early 5th century BC. Chr.
He is referred to as the “historical Buddha” to distinguish him from the mythical Buddha-figures that are not historically attested. “Buddha” literally means “the awakened one” and is an honorific referring to an experience known as bodhi (“awakening”). According to Buddhist teachings, what is meant by this is a fundamental and liberating insight into the basic facts of all life, from which the overcoming of suffering existence results. The aim of Buddhist practice is to gain this insight by following the example of the historical Buddha and following his teachings – whereby the two extremes of self-destructive asceticism and unbridled hedonism, but also radicalism in general, are discouraged, rather a middle path should be taken.
In this context, the statements of the founder of the religion, Buddha, represent the central authority in the tradition, and there is a historically grown canon of texts with which the basic lines of the religion were determined within the framework of Buddhist councils. However, they are not dogmas in the sense of a revealed religion whose authority is based on belief in a divinely inspired holy scripture. Accordingly, the Buddha is revered in Buddhism, but not worshiped in a narrower sense.
Depending on the source and how it is counted, Buddhism has between 230 and 500 million followers worldwide – making it the fourth largest religion on earth (after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism). Buddhism originated in India and is now most widespread in South, Southeast and East Asia. About half of all Buddhists live in China. Since the 19th century, however, it has also begun to gain a foothold in the western world.