Buddha Shakyamuni (18th c.) © Himalayan Art Collection

About Buddhism

The Buddha Shakyamuni was born in Lumbini, Nepal as prince Siddhartha in 563 B.C. and lived to be 80 years old. As a young man, Siddhartha left the pleasures of royal life in search of an end to the miseries of existence. After quickly perfecting the meditation practices taught by the most advanced teachers of his time, Siddhartha realized that enlightenment could not be attained by extreme methods of asceticism or by achievement of concentration states. By practicing the middle way of gently examining the nature of his own mind he attained buddhahood, the enlightened state.

Over the next 50 years and until his death, Buddha Shakyamuni gave many different kinds of teachings in order to accommodate the various capacities of beings. Although the Buddha gave only oral teachings, his early disciples recorded his teachings and instructions and thus passed them on in their original form. All these teachings are included in what are known as the sutrayana and the tantrayana.

Accomplished Buddhist masters also authored many treatises that explain the meaning of the Buddha's teachings. The emphasis was on the authentic and accurate transmission of the teachings as this is of prime importance. Over the centuries different lines of transmission, each with its own characteristics, came about.

Buddhism in Tibet includes all the teachings that originated in India. Through the effort of Indian masters and Tibetan translators, the whole corpus of Buddhist teachings was translated into Tibetan. Thus, Buddhism flourished in Tibet as the national religion until the middle of the 20th century when China invaded Tibet.