2,500 years ago, a Prince named Siddhartha Gautama shed his royal life after a sudden realization that even he cannot escape illness, suffering and death. Seeking answers to his questions, ‘Why must people suffer?’ and ‘What causes suffering?’, Siddartha spent most of his life praying, meditating, and fasting until he finally understood the basic truths of life. Discovering the road to Nirvana, Siddhartha became the Buddha and began teaching others about the path to enlightenment. Keep on reading to learn 50 facts about Buddhism.
Fact 1: “Buddha” is not a personal name, but is an honorific title that means “awakened one”.
- Buddha’s real name was Siddhartha Gautama.
Fact 2: Approximately 500 million people around the world are Buddhists.
- That’s roughly 10% of the world’s population.
Fact 3: In 1950, a million Tibetans were killed and over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed during the Chinese invasion.
- As a result, Tibetan Buddhists have adopted a policy of peaceful resistance to the invasion of their country.
Fact 4: Between the 12th and early 20th century, several Buddhist Monks practised ‘Sokushinbutsu” (“a Buddha in this very body”), which is a type of self-mummification.
- The monks would eat pine needles, berries, tree bark, resin, and certain herbs to help starve and preserve their bodies.
Fact 5: Unlike many other religions, there is no such thing as a ‘Buddhist Bible’.
- Similarly, most religions have a central system that revolves around a God or many Gods, Buddhism has neither of these. Instead, Buddhists believe that nothing is ‘fixed’ in life, and so change is possible anywhere, at any time!
Fact 6: According to legend, Buddha was born in Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India, under a full moon in a beautiful garden.
- That night, the sky rained flower petals and the earth shook.
Fact 7: Statues of the Buddha usually depict him with short, curly hair to signify that he denounced his privileged past.
- At that time, the wealthy elite sported a fashionable topknot hairstyle.
Fact 8: Buddhism originated at around 400 BC, with the historical individual known as the Buddha.
- Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family and life was rather easy for him, with opportunities being presented to him left, right and centre.
Fact 9: The Buddha was first mentioned in Western writing, in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, in 2 AD.
- Clement was a Christian Theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.
Fact 10: Buddhism is often considered to be a form of Psychology rather than a religion.
- This was mainly because Buddhism put a strong emphasis on meditation and mindfulness.
Fact 11: Many traditional Buddhists believe in reincarnation and rebirth.
- Modern Buddhists believe this idea can be discarded without losing any central Buddhism values.
Fact 12: Most statues of the Buddha show him with half-closed eyes which is meant to show a state of meditation.
- It also symbolizes the Buddha’s indifference to the material world.
Fact 13: Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) came from a Hindu family, and both religions overlap somewhat.
- The major difference is that Hinduism is clearly a ‘theistic religion’ (belief in a God), whereas Buddhism is mostly non-theistic.
Fact 14: What sets Buddhism apart from other religious practices is that Buddhism does not require a person to believe in a creator God or Gods.
- Buddhism believes in three elemental concepts: 1) Nothing is permanent, 2) All actions have consequences, and 3) It is possible to change.
Fact 15: Interestingly, scholars cannot say with certainty, what exactly Buddha himself taught Buddhism.
- This was because the earliest Buddhist texts were orally transmitted and written down hundreds of years after Buddha’s death.
Fact 16: The Buddha is also called the “Great Physician”.
- The Buddha was primarily concerned with identifying the cause of human suffering and finding a way to eliminate it, hence the nickname.
Fact 17: The Buddha is often depicted alongside Hindu Gods like Brahma “the Creator,” and Indra, “God of Rain and Warfare.”
- Many people in India, at the time of the Buddha, were Hindus.
Fact 18: Marco Polo believed that if Buddha had been a Christian, he would have been a great saint and follower of Jesus Christ.
- The Italian merchant was in awe of the Buddha’s goodness and how he led a pure way of life.
Fact 19: The “fat” Buddha that people often see in restaurants is not the Buddha.
- Rather, he is a character in Chinese folklore called ‘Budai’.
Fact 20: According to tradition, the Buddha lived during the 5th century BC and died at the age of 80.
- He supposedly died lying on his right side between two Sal trees, which, according to legend, miraculously bloomed out of season.
Fact 21: The Buddha’s teachings are also referred to as the ‘dhamma’, which means doctrine, truth, or law.
- The truth that was taught by the Buddha, is uncovered gradually through sustained practice.
Fact 22: Scientists found that meditation changed Buddhist Monks’ brainwaves in a way that increased their feelings of happiness and resiliency.
- This show of extraordinary synchronization of brain waves was known as gamma synchrony.
Fact 23: According to legend, after the Buddha was cremated, a single tooth remained and is now currently housed in a $62 million dollar temple in Sri Lanka.
- Additionally, it’s believed that whoever is in possession of the tooth is the rightful leader of Buddhism.
Fact 24: After the Buddha died and was cremated, his ashes were divided and buried among his followers in India.
- A large, dome-shaped mound called a Tupa was built at each burial site.
Fact 25: Biographers speculate that Steve Jobs had strong feelings towards Buddhism.
- This was reflected in his emphasis on focus, simplicity, and perfection, all of which he tried to implement in his Apple designs.
Fact 26: David Beckham’s popular status has “earned” him a place among the Gods in Bangkok.
- An image of the soccer star David Beckham, is enshrined on a frieze in Bangkok, with the likes of Bodhisattvas (buddhas) and Gods.
Fact 27: Actress Uma Thurman’s father is a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies.
- She’s also the first Westerner to become a Tibetan Buddhist Monk.
Fact 28: The world’s 2 largest standing Buddhas used to be in Afghanistan.
- However, in 2001 the Taliban destroyed the huge Buddhas.
Fact 29: The largest seated Buddha in the world was carved out of the rock face of Lingyun Hill in Leshan, China around 800 AD.
- The statue stands about 230feet (70m) tall and the shoulders measure 90feet (30m) across.
Fact 30: There’s no such thing as the ‘devil’ in Buddhism.
- Instead, something is called “evil” if it causes suffering, which according to Buddha, is our ego, or the concept that we are ‘separate’ from the world.
Fact 31: In the 1500s Mongols made a Tibetan Monk president.
- Instead of having elections or choosing their next leader using bloodlines, they decided to find the reincarnated version of the last president.
Fact 32: The lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism which represents the journey of enlightenment.
- This is because the lotus grows from the muddy waters and into the light, just as a “Buddha” or enlightened one does.
Fact 33: In Buddhism, the most important concept is to let go of the past and future, to focus on the moment.
- This is a glaring difference between Buddhism and other religions, as other religions concern themselves with the creation of the world and life, and the afterlife.
Fact 34: While some Buddhist sects believe in heaven and hell, most Buddhists believe heaven or hell is a state of mind.
- In short, by shifting our awareness, we attain a different level of consciousness.
Fact 35: A lot of Hollywood celebrities practice Buddhism.
- Famous Western Buddhists include Courtney Love, Allen Ginsberg, Kate Bosworth, Leonard Cohen, Orlando Bloom, Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, Tiger Woods, and Tina Turner.
Fact 36: The first major Western thinker to take an interest in Buddhism was German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860).
- He saw it as the most rational and ethically evolved religion of all the world’s religions.
Fact 37: According to legend, the Buddha sat under a Bo tree, for 49 days.
- After being tempted by demons, he discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to Nirvana (ultimate bliss).
Fact 38: There are Four Noble Truths in Buddhism.
- This includes 1) Existence is suffering, 2) The cause of suffering is craving and attachment, 3) Suffering stops at some point and turns into Nirvana, and 4) The path to Nirvana consists of eight steps, which is called the Eightfold Path.
Fact 39: Approximately 1 in 7 Asian Americans, or 14%, are Buddhist.
- But surprisingly, Asian Americans as a whole are less likely to believe in God and to pray on a daily basis, than pure Americans.
Fact 40: At present, there are nearly four million Americans that practice Buddhism, and about half of them have post-graduate degrees.
- That’s more than the number of Episcopalians.
Fact 41: The symbol of the Noble Eightfold Path represents the Buddhist faith.
- Its 8 spokes represent the “Middle Way,” which means a Buddhist life should not be too hard nor too easy.
Fact 42: More than 7 million Westerners say that they’re Buddhists
- Buddhism first came to North America through Chinese immigrants, who settled in the Western parts of the United States, beginning in the 1840s.
Fact 43: China has the largest population of Buddhists with roughly 244 million devotees.
- However, more than 90% of Thailand and Cambodia’s total population are Buddhists.
Fact 44: Buddhists don’t kill animals, instead they practice a vegetarian diet.
- However, the views on vegetarianism vary between different schools of thought.
Fact 45: Buddhists believe in Karma which is the belief that every action has a consequence later on in life.
- It’s not certain when, but every genuinely good intention will get good karma, and every evil act will get bad karma.
Fact 46: The Buddha reached enlightenment after a long meditation under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya.
- Meditation is very important, and every Monk practices it several times daily, for long periods of time.
Fact 47: In the Pali Vinaya-Pitaka, it is written that hair should be shaved when it reaches the length of 2 finger-widths or every 2 months.
- It’s considered a symbolic gesture, showing that the Monks are ready to commit and leave the past behind, and to discourage vanity.
Fact 48: Buddhism’s three major branches are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
- Mahayana is the most practised branch of Buddhism, followed by Theravada which is commonly practised in Southeast Asia.
Fact 49: Siddhartha Gautama’s name meant “he who achieves his aim”.
- His life was one of luxury, sheltered and protected from the suffering and the violence of the world.
Fact 50: Most modern scholars agree that the historical Buddha lived between 563 to 483 BC.
- That meant that the teachings of Buddhism have been passed down for over 2,500 years.