The word “Buddhist” literally means “of the Buddha.” Buddhism is an Indian spiritualism based on a set of original teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, who lived sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. It originated in India as a Sramana (meditative) tradition sometime during the sixteenth to fifteenth centuries CE, spreading throughout much of Asia. While it differs from other religions in that it preaches non-violence, Buddhism avoids the conflict between the good and evil, rendering it a vehicle for those who can let go of preconceptions and act with courage and compassion. Because of the potential for rebirth, Buddhists believe there is definitely someday a return to Buddha, the current Buddha whom they believe is the Buddha again. This is one reason why many people have followed Buddhist teachings, seeking to attain salvation and eternal life.
Buddhism is also a logical outgrowth of Hindu philosophy, owing both to the similarities in the Lotus Sutra and the teachings of the Buddha. Since the beginning of time, both Hinduism and Buddhism preach the need for enlightenment, which is a condition of complete understanding, peace, and loving kindness. Although the Buddha did not live as many people do today, his teachings are still greatly admired by followers and put forward as examples of how to live. Many people mistakenly think of Buddhists as religious practitioners, but the truth is that true Buddhists are concerned about poverty, happiness, compassion, and other emotional states, and are often said to be very compassionate individuals. In fact, the very word Buddha is a reference to enlightenment.
Most people who are not Buddhist or have yet studied yoga are sometimes confused by the difference between being a follower of buddhism, and being a bhakti. A follower of buddhism is someone who has read and analyzed the works of Buddha and achieved enlightenment. A bhakti is someone who has taken a vow to follow the Buddha’s path. Learning about buddhism should begin with one’s own enlightenment, then following the path of Buddha as he did. Studying the works of other Buddhists will deepen understanding of the teachings, but not the ultimate goal of experiencing enlightenment.