Buddhism at its core is a set of ethical, spiritual and ritual practices as well as doctrine and philosophy that together provide a way to profound insight into the nature of existence leading to freedom from sorrow, discontent and suffering—what has been called ‘enlightenment’ or more properly ‘awakening’. Unlike other great religions of the world, Buddhism does not have a set of revealed truths handed down from God to his prophets, but a set of practices and supporting doctrines that were discovered by the Buddha as an ordinary man in the course of his own spiritual journey. Since the Buddha was an ordinary man, his spiritual journey is one that we can take for ourselves, following the guideposts he left and reaching the same experience of awakening embodying compassion, wisdom, loving kindness towards all without exception, equanimity and sympathetic joy with the good fortune of others. Therefore, the Buddhist is defined not so much by what he believes, but by what he does.
Beginning 2,500 years ago with the Buddha’s own quest for understanding the nature of life and how one can live effectively in the world, free from the sorrow and discontent that seems to cast a shadow across joy, Buddhism has developed a diversity of practices, doctrines and institutions as it has moved from country to country, through changing cultures and changing times.