To be precise, can anyone provide a one page summary of Buddhism as a whole, suitable to distribute to someone who knows nothing about the religion?

(Yes, this is a "please do my homework for me" question - we're starting up a university Buddhist club, and need a handout to give out at the club fair).

  • Possible duplicate of How to explain what Buddhism is?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 7:56
  • 1
    It's closely related, but not quite a duplicate.
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 13:33
  • Is the goal to teach as much as possible on this one page, while using language to encourage reading the entire thing, and then coming to the club if they wish to learn more, or is the goal simply to provide a teaser introduction, and try to get as many people to come to the club as possible - where you could explain more in greater detail. Christian religions often take the first approach, and sound pushy/preachy which turns some people off - while doing the second is difficult to do well and those who don't go (which will be most), don't learn anything. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 18:01
  • Another related question: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1487/…
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 18:03

9 Answers 9


Okay, okay... I'll do my own homework. Here's a one page summary of Buddhism (adapted from Wikipedia) directed towards newcomers to Buddhism. Please comment with suggestions, etc.

What Is Buddhism Handout

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a nontheistic religion or philosophy (Sanskrit: dharma; Pali: dhamma) that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha ("the awakened one"). According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent around the 5th century BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings put an end to suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving.

Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars:

  1. Theravada Buddhism ("The Teaching of the Elders") is followed mainly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. In Theravada Buddhism, the ultimate goal is the attainment of Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana), or freedom from suffering, achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path (a.k.a. the Middle Way), thus escaping what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth.

  2. Mahayana Buddhism ("The Great Vehicle") is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism (a.k.a. Vajrayana - “Diamond Vehicle”), Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). Mahayana Buddhists aspire to Buddhahood via the bodhisattva path, a state wherein one remains in the cycle of suffering and rebirth to help other beings reach awakening.

The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels:

  1. The Buddha – One who attains enlightenment by oneself, then teaches others to become enlightened;

  2. The Dharma – the theory and practice taught by a self-enlightened Buddha; and

  3. The Sangha – the community who attained enlightenment following the teachings of Buddha.

Taking "refuge” in the triple gem has traditionally been recoginized as a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Beyond this, Buddhist traditions generally incorporate some or all of the following practices:

  • Following ethical precepts – a set of general ethical rules to be followed as a support for spiritual practice: abstention from killing, stealing, cheating, lying, and drugs and alcohol.

  • Renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic – an optional path for those wishing to dedicate their lives to Buddhist practice by donning robes and following the example of the Buddha.

  • The development of mindfulness and practice of meditation – the practice of mental development as a means of freeing oneself from mental defilement and being of benefit both to oneself and others.

  • Cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment – the ultimate goal of mental development, generally seen as necessary for true spiritual enlightenment.

  • Study of scriptures – generally distinguished from true wisdom but still held as important for purposes of learning to differentiate between right and wrong practice and development.

  • Devotional practices – non-theistic objects of devotion include the Buddha, past enlightened followers of the Buddha, Bodhisatvas, angels, gods, and living spiritual teachers.

  • Ceremonies – common physical and verbal rituals used to focus the mind include: mantra and scriptural recitation; lighting candles, flowers, and incense; bowing; circumambulating objects of reverence; etc.




(All files are dedicated to the public domain)

  • Instead of "please comment" it might be more convenient to post this as a new/separate/follow-on question (see e.g. 'posting a new question' and 'posting a self-answer').
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 11:33
  • 1
    Ref. section on devotional practices: Is it accurate to describe angels and gods as non-theistic objects of devotion?
    – Buddho
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 6:45

My last year's entry for Justin Whitaker's "Buddhism in 200 words" challenge, based on the Associated Press' Style Book entry for Buddhism:


Buddha, Buddhism. A major religion founded in India about 450 B.C. by Siddharth Shakya, popularly known as the Buddha ("awakened").

Buddhists believe that human experiences originate in the mind, training which through cultivation of ethics, meditation, and wisdom leads to nirvana (the release from suffering) or enlightenment -- the insight into the true nature of things. Until the goal is attained, believers experience the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara).

Major traditions within Buddhism include:

  • Theravada: Seeing themselves as orthodox adherents to the original teaching, followers emphasize monastic discipline for individual attainment of nirvana, and lay ethics for a better rebirth. Dominant in Cambodia, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

  • Mahayana: Seeing themselves as upholders of the true spirit of the teaching, followers emphasize altruism and compassion, exemplified in the bodhisattva’s vow to bring all beings, prior to oneself, to enlightenment. Mahayana is found mostly in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China. The major branches are Pure Land, devoted to attaining rebirth in a blissful land, Zen, which focuses on intuitive insight and meditation, and Vajrayana, a synthesis of Buddhist and yogic elements that promises special, often secret, techniques to cleanse one's mind from obscurations and achieve enlightenment.


What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhist practices like meditation are means of changing yourself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a path — a path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood. An enlightened being sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.

Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, caste, sexuality, or gender. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realise and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives.

There are around 350 million Buddhists and a growing number of them are Westerners. They follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterised by non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and, usually, by the practice of meditation.

  • 1
    Great first post. Welcome.
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 21:51

This is a tough question and just about any attempt to define Buddhism can run into problems.

On the most general level, Buddhism is any religion/philosophy that traces its lineage back to Gotama Siddartha (known as the Buddha after his enlightenment). Now this definition -- while being general -- may also be too general.

A more specific definition is that Buddhism is a belief system and way of life rooted in The 4 Noble Truths.

  • While I don't agree with the first paragraph, the last is very interesting. I'd never thought of it that way.
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 21:56

Here's a little different approach, bhante. Young university students might get more attracted to a rebellious and in your face style of presentation. :)

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is the doctrine of the Buddha. It is commonly referred to as the Dhamma. The Dhamma is like the great ocean. The great ocean tastes the same(salty) wherever you dip your mouth in it. Similarly, the Dhamma tastes the same regardless of which part you start to learn it from. What is that taste? It is the taste of liberation(vimutti).

What does Buddhism offer you?

You have been searching for satisfaction since the day you were born, have you not? If you are already satisfied, you wouldn't be coming to this university to study. You wouldn't be spending sleepless nights, just to pass exams.You wouldn't be looking for various methods to make yourself happy on a daily basis. You spend most of your time on any given day in search of satisfaction, yet you can't see an end in sight. You still have to keep doing things to keep yourself happy. It doesn't stop even if you get a doctorate. Even the richest man in the world has to keep doing things everyday to make himself happy. Ever stopped to think why that is, instead of trying the same methods over and over again? Ever wondered if there is a better way? Well, there is! Thanks to a young prince named Siddhartha who lived in India over 2500 years ago. He thought differently from the rest. He saw the dissatisfaction in the world and the things people do to mitigate it. He realised that whatever they do doesn't seem to give a permanent solution to suffering. He refused to submit to this like the rest of the world. He didn't want to keep doing the same things people have been doing which have failed since time immemorial. He left his palace in search of a happiness that does not fade.

There are 2 way to search for happiness in life.

The ignoble search and the noble search.

What is ignoble search? There is the case where a person, being subject himself to birth, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to birth. There is the case where a person, being subject himself to aging, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to aging. There is the case where a person, being subject himself to illness, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to illness. There is the case where a person, being subject himself to death, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to death etc.

And what is the noble search? There is the case where a person, himself being subject to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeks the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. Himself being subject to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, seeks the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less, undefiled, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. This is the noble search. It is the search that led prince Siddhartha to become the Buddha

What is the advantage of learning Buddhism over other religions or over science for that matter?

You don't have to wait till you die to realise the final goal. There's a clear path defined which you can practice and reach the destination while you are still alive. So there's no risk involved. There's no waiting in hope. The Buddha achieved this at the age of 35. What he realised is through direct knowledge. It's not a hypothesis created in the mind to explain certain behavior that might change in the future. It neither requires faith or verification by others. Once you achieve the goal, you will be satisfied and the search ends for good. For thousands of years, many who have followed the same path have achieved the same satisfaction that never fades. You can too!

  • I think it's good of your answer to say explicitly, "What does Buddhism offer you?", if it's trying to recruit people to the club. yuttadhammo's answer didn't (it was more neutral/impersonal -- possibly because it's adapted from Wikipedia). Andrei's answer did (in 200 words) when it said "leads to nirvana (the release from suffering) or enlightenment -- the insight into the true nature of things".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 14:41
  • May I suggest that in the typical demographics of the west, being primarily non Buddhist; that belief in rebirth (or the absence of death) is far less common. So with people who don't necessarily think about/understand/believe/accept rebirth anyway; describing the disadvantages of rebirth is not the strongest point. (I actually thought rebirth sounded like a great thing at one time! ;-))
    – Robin111
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 16:18
  • @Robin111 there's no reference to rebirth. Which section you are referring to? Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 16:29
  • "And what is the noble search? There is the case where a person, himself being subject to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeks the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding." This mostly. :)
    – Robin111
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 16:31
  • Ah! There the birth means the arising or coming into existence. It can be a human or a material thing too. In anycase, birth that led to the current life is the reason for all the suffering we experience. ;) Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 16:37

As of my understanding,

Once Load Buddha said these lines to a person(Bahiya Daruciriya) who really wants to know what Buddhism is really quickly. Please forgive me for my worst English translations.

Where there is seeing, there is only the seeing
Where there is listen,heard there is only heard
Where there is a taste there is only taste
Where there is a feel, there is only the feeling
Where there is a thought, there is only thought.
If so, you not here. You are not anywhere else. And you are not in between.

I can say this more clearly in Sinhalese, so a person with more linguistic ability sees this, he can translate this more clearly.

Edit Sinhala text as per the comment by 'Shrawaka'.

දැකීමෙහි දැකීමක්ම පමණි
ඇසීමෙහි ඇසීමක්ම පමණි
දැන‍ෙන්නෙහි දැනීමක්ම පමණි
සිතිමෙහි සිතුවිලි මාත්‍රයක්ම පමණි
එසේ නම් ඔබ එතැන නැත. ඔබ අන් තැනකද නැත
ඔබ ඒ අතරත් නැත.

This is Buddhism. This is all you need to do to attain Nirvana.

  • accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/jootla/wheel414.html says, "Thanks to the intervention and the guidance of his lofty benefactor, Bahiya Daruciriya was directed to the Blessed One, whose brief and cryptic discourse had such a powerful impact that Bahiya achieved arahantship right on the spot (Ud 1.10, pp.18-19). After his death, the Buddha declared Bahiya the foremost bhikkhu with respect to quickness of understanding."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 13:03
  • I think your english translation is more accurate than sinhala where it should be as දක්නා ලද්දෙහි (රූපයෙහි) දක්නා ලද පමණක් වන්නේ ය. “දිට්‌ඨෙ දිට්‌ඨමත්‌තං භවිස්‌සති“- “දැකීමෙහි දැකීමක්ම පමණි (දුටු දෙයක් හෝ දුටු කෙනෙක් ලෙස නොගෙනීමෙනි) - In what is seen there must be only what is seen" as here.
    – Shrawaka
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 14:47
  • 1
    Yes. Now only I noticed that. If it's a verb, then there should be a doer. Which is making unnecessary complications here. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 1:40

to be a Buddhist you must believe the Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment and that Nirvana is a real thing that can be experienced directly by following the 8 fold path as the Buddha taught.


In very brief, Buddhism is a teaching to create value and absolute happiness in daily life. It is a teaching available to all. It is a philosophy which has profound reason and is applicable to all facets of life. It is based on the unchanging and all-encompassing law of causality, and teaches how life works. The only purpose of Buddhism is value creation and true happiness in daily life.


An Introduction
Once upon a time there lived a prince called Siddhartha. One day he went to royal garden. By the way he sees a dead body accompanying suffering relatives. Then he start to think deeply about suffering. why i don't feel suffer, why only they suffer, because if bondage then only suffering arise. then he see a "Bikku" who searchers the way to illuminate bondage that create life sufferings. On his return way a lady called "KisaGothami" says "Nibbutha Gata", with that encouragement he decide to find Vimukthi or end of suffering.
So he search teachers who can show how to overcome life sufferings. One of them teach him everything consist Four "MahaButha" (elements) so develop concentrate on it and realize only "Akasa" is. then only "Vingnana" as the reality.
Another teacher shows the person(Athma) is when only feels it. if there is not "Sagna" then no self.("Newer sangna na sagnayathanaya").

"Maha Bodhisattva" realize they are not the complete solutions for the life problem and decide to find his own path. He follows "Aththakilamathanu yoga" that popular Yoga technique. After about six years he give up it and follows his own experience at his very young age - Anapanasathi. After enlightenment at first sermon teach four Noble Truths.

In Short:

The point here is that phenomenal reality is projection, an interpretation that depends on the point of view. Because experienced reality is projection, we can control it by controlling our point of view.

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