Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices considered by most to be a religionand is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as "The Buddha" (the Awakened One), who was born in what is today Nepal. He lived and taught in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent and most likely died around 400 BCE.
Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving Nirvana. Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas, renunciation of worldly matters, meditation, physical exercises, study, and the cultivation of wisdom.
Buddhism is broadly recognized as being composed of two major branches:
* Theravada, which has a widespread following in Southeast Asia
* Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism and Tendai), found throughout East Asia. It should be noted that in some methods of classification, Vajrayana is considered a third branch.
While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world.
Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism does not have a clearly definable common core. Significant disagreement also exists over the importance and canonicity of various scriptures.
Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million and 500 million. Formal membership varies between communities, but basic lay adherence is often defined in terms of a traditional formula in which the practitioner takes refuge in The Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (refers either to those who have attained a degree of awakening, or simply ordained monks and nuns). However, many would regard the notion of membership or conversion as inapplicable to what the Buddha taught, citing the emphasis on leading an ethical life and cultivating skillful mental qualities as the heart of the teaching.