Buddhism

The Buddha lived over 2,500 years ago, yet his life and teachings continue to inform the lives of millions of Buddhists worldwide. Learn about the Buddha’s teachings, the different Buddhist traditions, and Buddhist meditation.

An image of the Buddha from a Japanese Lotus Sutra

The Buddha and Buddhist sacred texts

Article by:
Peter Harvey

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

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An image of the Buddha on a red background

The development of the Buddhist 'canon'

Article by:
T H Barrett

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.

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A Buddhist manuscript

Translation and transmission of Buddhist texts

Article by:
T H Barrett

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.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Buddhism

Discovering Sacred Texts: Buddhism

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.

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images of Amitābha Buddha printed on paper

Buddhist meditation and chant

Article by:
Sarah Shaw

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.

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Detail from Folio 22 of a 19th-century gilt board manuscript featuring Bhikkhuni Patimokkha

Women in Theravada Buddhism

Article by:
Ajahn Sister Sundara

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.

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Chinese characters in gold on a dark blue background

Buddhism introduction

Article by:
The British Library

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

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Further themes

Buddhism

The Buddha lived over 2,500 years ago, yet his life and teachings continue to inform the lives of millions of Buddhists worldwide. Learn about the Buddha’s teachings, the different Buddhist traditions, and Buddhist meditation.

Christianity

From its origins on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean to its expansion to every corner of the globe in modern times, discover how the production of biblical texts enabled Christianity to become the diverse faith it is today.

Devotional texts

From medieval Christian Books of Hours to the Sikh empress Rani Jindan’s prayer book, explore how devotional texts have helped believers make a personal connection with their faith.

Hinduism

From its origins as an oral tradition over 4,000 years ago, to contemporary retellings of its epic stories, Hinduism is characterised by seemingly limitless diversity. Discover more about Hinduism’s sacred texts and the colourful gods and goddesses that feature in them.

Illuminated texts

The British Library’s collection comprises some of the most beautiful, handwritten and illuminated sacred texts from many of the world’s religions.

Islam

As the unadulterated Word of God, the Qur’an is sacred to Muslims everywhere. Learn more about Qur’an and its content, and Islam’s other important sacred texts, such as the Hadith and Sunna.

Jainism

Characterised by principles of asceticism and non-violence, Jainism has its roots in India in the sixth century BCE. Discover more about Jainism’s sacred texts, its cosmology, and the religious views and practices of its adherents.

Judaism

Explore how the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud inform the lives of Jews today, and how prayer books such as the Haggadah, used in worship and religious festivals, have helped sustain Jewish identity over many centuries.

Living Texts

Whether retold from one generation to the next, or written down from one language into another, some sacred texts have evolved while others have remained the same throughout time, enriching and informing the lives of those that read them.

Pilgrimage, text and place

Explore the connections between sacred spaces and sacred texts.

Sacred texts

All faiths have their origins in texts, be they the word of God as revealed to prophets, oral stories retold by one generation to another over centuries, or written down in books. Explore the origins and developments of the world’s major faiths.

Sikhism

Discover more about the origins of the Sikh faith, the role of the Sikh Gurus in the compilation of its sacred texts, and the importance of prayer to Sikhs.

The Baha’i Faith

Emerging in the mid-19th century, the Baha’i Faith has grown rapidly from its Middle Eastern origins, and now has around 8 million adherents worldwide. Learn more about the founders of the Baha’i faith, and how they disseminated their beliefs.

Women, texts and faith

Explore the lives of women in the sacred texts of the world’s major faiths, and the changing ways in which women contribute to religious practice in contemporary society.

Zoroastrianism

With its roots in central Asia 3,500 years ago, Zoroastrianism has a rich history of interaction with the Abrahamic faiths, and of migration around the world. Learn more about this ancient religion, and the sacred texts that inform its beliefs.