Buddhism, in general, is called a dharma which translates to doctrine or method.  It is a religion or philosophy largely based on the teachings of Buddha or Gautama Siddhartha, the son of a Raja who lived near present Nepal (~600 BC).  Buddha means ‘the awaken one’ which originates from the Sanskrit ‘Budh’ – the man who woke up.

Buddhism does not worship a God and Buddhist do not worship the Buddha. Buddhists believe discovering deep truths on how the world works. Their goal is to help sentient beings end ignorance (avidyā), to break free from the harmful nature of desire, to escape from what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth and to achieve a state of enlightenment or Nirvana.  The view that the Buddhist do not follow divine commands, but for trying to end the suffering of all conscious beings is similar with utilitarianism.

In “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” Buddhist author Chogyam Trungpa observes: “The Buddha was not a religious fanatic, attempting to act in accordance with some high ideal.  He just dealt with people simply, openly and very wisely.  His wisdom came from transcendental common sense.  His teaching was sound and open…It is a question of what is sane to you, the really solid, sound, stable approach to life”.

Comparative religion scholar, Dr. Alan Watts, has referred to Buddha as “the first great psychologist”.

There are two major branches of Buddhism:
 1) Theravada - "The School of the Elders"  (following in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia)
 2) Mahayana - "The Great Vehicle" (following in East Asia)

The Mahayana school includes several traditions: Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tiantai (Tendai), Shinnyo-en.

The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels:
 1. Buddha
 2. Dharma (the teachings)
 3. Sangha (the community)

Taking "refuge in the triple gem" has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist.

The Buddhist doctrine is called the ‘Middle Way’ – neither ascetic or hedonistic – and is summed up in the "four noble truths".  The first truth is about suffering, the second truth is about the cause of suffering, the third truth is about the ceasing of suffering and the fourth truth is about the way to the ceasing of suffering.

Four Nobel Truths
 1. Dukha – Suffering.  Chronic frustration, agonized bondage to the endless cycles of rebirths.
 2. Trishna – Cause of suffering. Ignorance about the ‘true’ nature of existence can result in a clutching or desiring of material or sensual pleasures which creates suffering (eg, money is your God).  Avidyā = ‘non-vision’; not seeing (ignorance).
 3. Nirvana - Elimination of ignorance and desire. Final salvation. To live in a ‘let go’ way.  Avoid living one’s life as a sense of duty.  Nirvana translates to ‘blow out’.  Our word ‘spirit’ has its roots in breath.  Life is breath.  If you hold your breath you lose it. Trisna in action: you breathe in air and if you ‘cling’ to it you lose it. Just like things in life (things, money, love).  Nirvana means breath out.  Whew!  The sigh of relief.  If you relax you’re in nirvana and you become a Buddha (best to be subtle about it or others will most likely use you as an object of trisna – of clinging).
 4. The Eightfold path – Method of realizing Nirvana.  All the paths begin with ‘right’.

Every Buddhist from the Therevada school recites a ‘formula’: The Three Refugees and The Five Precepts.  They are moral laws somewhat like the ten commandments.  The difference is that one takes them upon themselves voluntarily, not by obedience to a royal edict.

The Three Refugees:
 1. I take refuge in Buddha.
 2. I take refuge in the Dharma – the method.
 3. I take refuge in the Sangha – the fraternity of the followers of the Buddha.

The Five Precepts: 
 1. I promise to abstain from taking life.
 2. I promise to abstain from taking what is not given.
 3. I promise to abstain from exploiting my passions.
 4. I promise to abstain from false speech.
 5. I promise to abstain from getting intoxicated.

The Three Poisons

Avidyā (‘ignorance’) is one of the ‘three poisons’ which are represented in the hub of the ‘Wheel of Life’ as a pig, a bird, and a snake.  
 1. Ignorance (pig)
 2. Attachment (bird)
 3. Aversion (snake)

Ignorance is the root poison, from which attachment and aversion arise.  The three poisons have been compared to the western psychological concepts of:
 1. Narcissism   (bogus Pride)
 2. Desire  (Lust)
 3. Anger

American psychiatrist Mark Epstein states:
“The first wave of psychoanalysis, the classical period of Freud and his followers that extended into the 1950s, was primarily concerned with uncovering repressed desire and anger, or Eros and Thanatos, the life and death instincts, which in some way correspond to the Buddhist (concepts of attachment and aversion). The next wave, of object relations and narcissism that has dominated the past thirty years, exposed the gap within: the emptiness, inauthenticity, or alienation that results from estrangement from our true selves and our confusion or ignorance about our own true natures. In the Buddhist view, this is the black hog of delusion (i.e. ignorance), the root or precondition of greed and hatred”.

The difficulty for Western people is that Buddhism suggests fatalism.  It suggests that the individual is nothing more a puppet of cosmic forces.  The Buddhist does not feel this for his inner sense of identity is at one with himself and the entire cosmos.  Unlike the Buddhist, the Gnostic Christian, with his knowledge of Themes, knows that he has had a ‘cosmic’ hand in the whole affair (ie, you wrote your 'script') – all with to sole purpose to perfect the soul.