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Buddhism introduction

An overview of articles and British Library resources relating to Buddhism.


Buddhist teachings have produced a wealth of philosophical and doctrinal literature in numerous languages and schools, examples of which are seen here.

Originating in northern India in the 5th-6th century BCE Buddhism is concerned with the universal salvation. The Buddha lived as Prince Siddhartha, before renouncing his family and wandering in search of enlightenment.

Buddhism teaches that all of life is suffering, caused by desire. To cease suffering one must end desire and this can be achieved through following the Noble Eight-fold Path (eight rules that guides the life and morals of a follower). Buddhists believe that all actions bring reward or retribution.

Devotees founded temples and monasteries and sponsored the writing of holy texts. As the Buddha’s teachings spread across Asia, different sects stressed particular aspects of the quest for salvation.



The Buddha and Buddhist sacred texts

Professor Peter Harvey recounts the life and teachings of the Buddha, as well as considering the role that the Buddha plays in the deferent branches of Buddhism and how his teachings have been collected. 

The development of the Buddhist 'canon'

The Buddhist ‘canon’ is vast, complex and difficult to define. Here Professor Tim Barrett outlines some of the key works for the different branches of Buddhism. 

Translation and transmission of Buddhist texts

Professor Tim Barrett explores the translation and transmission of Buddhist texts, looking at the spread of Buddhism from its origins in India, into China and Southeast Asia. 

Buddhist meditation and chant

There are many kinds of Buddhist meditations; here Dr Sarah Shaw describes the ‘middle way’ of the Buddha and explores key aspects of Buddhist meditation and chant, such as the use of Buddha-images and visualisation. 

Women in Theravada Buddhism

Writing from the perspective of the Theravāda tradition, Ajahn Sister Sundara explores the role of women in Buddhism, in particular the role of Buddhist nuns. 

Buddhism film

Find out how different Buddhist traditions practices their faith through the concept of the Three Jewels: the Buddha; Buddhist teachings (Dharma); and Sangha, the religious communities that practice Dharma.

Buddhism resources at the British Library