How To Practice Buddhism – A Guide For Beginners

how to practice buddhism

For anyone interested in learning more about a spiritual belief system, it’s important to start with the basics.

What is Buddhism? Who was the Buddha? What different types of Buddhism are there?

If you’d like to learn more about how to practice Buddhism, this handy guide can help.

How To Define Buddhism

Before we explore how to practice Buddhism, we should establish the basics.

First and foremost: how do we define Buddhism? Of course, it’s easier said than done! Especially considering this spiritual tradition has over 500 million international practitioners and is known to be one of the oldest religions in the world.

So, what is the definition of Buddhism?

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition, also known as one of the most ancient religions that was started by the Buddha himself. (And don’t worry — we’ll tell you all about who he was in just a second.)

When did Buddhism begin? Well, over 2,000 years ago in Nepal, a young man sat beneath a Bodhi tree to meditate. After becoming Enlightened, he laid the foundations of this ancient spiritual tradition.

What Does Buddha Mean?

The word buddha means The Awakened One” in  Sanskrit.

When we think of the word buddha, we often think of The Buddha — the man whose teachings became the core of Buddhism.

But it’s important to know that while The Buddha was an important figure in Buddhism, he wasn’t the only Buddha. In fact, there are branches of Buddhism that believe anyone can become a buddha — and that includes you!

A buddha is a person that is able to see the world with eyes unclouded by judgment or bias. Easier said than done, right? Maybe that’s why so few have earned the name.


Is Buddhism Monotheistic?

The short answer is no. But let’s take a look at why.

The Buddha was a man called Siddhārtha Gautama. He was born in Lumbini, Nepal between 563 – 480 BCE. When he saw the violence, sadness, and selfishness around him, he vowed to find a way to end human suffering.

After studying with many sages, gurus, and ascetics, he sat beneath a Bodhi tree. After 49 days of intense meditation, he rose, Enlightened and eager to share his newfound spiritual understandings.

While Siddhārtha Gautama did become the Buddha, Siddhārtha was not a god. He made no claims to divine origins or powers. He was just a mortal man who wanted to share his ideas with any who would listen.

Monotheistic religions believe in the existence of the only one god and creator. Polytheistic religions believe in the existence of many gods and deities, often belonging to a divine pantheon.

Is Buddhism monotheistic? No. But it’s also not polytheistic. Buddhism is a nontheistic religion, which means that Buddhism has no official god or deity.

What Are The Different Types Of Buddhism?

As is the case with many major religions, there are different schools of thought in Buddhism.

Everyone is entitled to interpret the teachings in their own way. Over time, those interpretations became the branches of Buddhism that attracted followers from all around the world.

There’s really no right way to learn how to practice Buddhism. If you need further evidence, look no further than the different branches that exist today!

There are many different types of Buddhism, including:

  • Theravada Buddhism
  • Mahayana Buddhism
  • Vajrayana Buddhism
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Thai Forest Tradition
  • Nichiren Buddhism
  • Pure Land Buddhism

As Buddhism spread, more branches began to develop. But two schools of Buddhism stand today as the oldest and most prominent: Theravada and Mahayana.


Theravada Vs Mahayana Buddhism

Theravada and Mahayana are the two most prominent schools of Buddhism.

Theravada is the oldest branch of Buddhism, emerging directly from the teachings of the Buddha in the Pali Canon. In Sanskrit, Theravada means, “The School of the Elders,” which is precisely what this branch of Buddhism stands for.

Theravada Buddhism follows the teachings of the Buddha in the ancient Pali language. It’s most popular in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. This branch of Buddhism places a heavy focus on the meditative aspects of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists believe that the ultimate goal of the Buddhist is to become an arhat, or Enlightened being.

Mahayana Buddhism places more emphasis on the bodhisattva and the collective attainment of Enlightenment. A bodhisattva is a holy person who is able to reach nirvana on their own but chooses to stay on Earth out of compassion for others — to guide and assist.

Mahayana means, “The Greater Vehicle.” In Mahayana Buddhism, Enlightenment isn’t a state reserved only for monks. Mahayana Buddhists believe everyone can attain nirvana, and that the role of the bodhisattva is to stay on Earth to guide others.

What Are The Basics Of Buddhism?

The core teachings of Buddhism came from the Buddha. While many branches of Buddhism exist, the core tenets remain.

There are two essential teachings that are universally followed by Buddhists around the world. These are the basics of Buddhism. They are the the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, as passed down by the Buddha himself.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. All of human existence is suffering.
  2. The cause of suffering is craving.
  3. The end of suffering comes with putting an end to craving.
  4. There is a path we can follow to put an end to suffering.

The path out of suffering? Well, that’s what the Noble Eightfold Path is for.

Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right understanding is understanding the power of the Four Noble Truths.
  2. Right thought is engaging in selflessness and loving kindness in your thoughts.
  3. Right speech is speaking without verbal abuse, lies, hatred, or blame.
  4. Right action is abstaining from murder, sexual misconduct, and theft.
  5. Right livelihood is engaging in work that fulfills you and helps others.
  6. Right effort is practicing the Noble Eightfold Path consistently.
  7. Right mindfulness is observing the patterns of your body, mind, and the world around you without judgment.
  8. Right concentration is the regular practice of meditation.

Besides the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, there is another important teaching the Buddha left behind: the five aggregates.

define buddhism

What Are The Five Aggregates?

The five aggregates are also called the five skandhas, which translates into, “heaps, collections, or groupings.”

The five aggregates are the elements that make up human existence. They relate to the way we perceive the world, what we think, and how we act.

What’s important about the five aggregates is that the Buddha wanted his followers to see them for what they were: individual pieces that could be separated and examined.

We’re tempted to view ourselves in the aggregates. But it’s important to be able to separate yourself from them to understand their fleeting nature.

The five aggregates of Buddhism are:

  • Form, physical matter.
  • Sensation, the sensory experience of an object.
  • Perception, the mental labeling of a sensory experience.
  • Mental formation, biases, prejudices, interests, attitudes, and actions.
  • Consciousness, awareness of physical and mental processes.

At first glance, the skandhas might not make much sense. But by meditating on these individual elements, Buddhist practitioners are able to separate themselves from their prejudices. By doing this, they’re able to draw closer to the state beyond suffering.

So, there you have it! A quick crash course in how to practice Buddhism. If you’d like to learn more, look into local Buddhist centers or temples near you. Buddhists are a welcoming community and are often happy to speak with those curious about the practice.

Exploring how to practice Buddhism in your own way is an important step in the process. But keep in mind, there’s no right or wrong answer. If you want to learn how to practice Buddhism, the easiest way is to just dive in. Try a few beginner meditations, read up on the Four Noble Truths, explore Buddhist sutras.

As Deborah King, Author of Mindvalley’s Be A Modern Master Program says, “We are meant to express the divine through our bodies. That’s why we’re here.”

There’s plenty to explore and a great wealth of knowledge to be gained.

Do you want to learn more about spiritual empowerment? Heal emotional wounds and past traumas that are holding you back and take the next step in your spiritual journey with this FREE Masterclass below:

How have you been practicing Buddhism? Share in the comments below.

Shannon Terrell

Shannon Terrell is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. She revels in the thrill of exploration, whether it be new cultures, new landscapes, or new ways to bring on the happy. If she’s not hiking or practicing yoga, she probably has her nose in a book.

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