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The fourth-largest religion in the world, Buddhism embraces a variety of beliefs, spiritual practices, and traditions, many of which were attributed to the Buddha.

According to legend, the first Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama, who is believed to have been born in 563 BC in what is now an area of Nepal near its border with India. His parents, a king, and a queen, built a palace around him, within which it was subject neither to religion or suffering, and where he knew only happiness, empathy, and joy.

As an adult, he married and went out into the world, where he witnessed suffering and was moved by it. He set out to experience as many religions as he could, in search of happiness. He sought help in several ancient religions and philosophies, including those involving fasting and other disciplines, including asceticism.

Finally, he came to what he described as the "Middle Path," while meditating under the Bodhi tree. Through trial and error, he developed a path that he considered to be a way of balance rather than extremism. As the enlightened Buddha, he soon attracted followers and founded a monastic order, devoting the remainder of his life to teaching the path that he had discovered.

His followers referring to the Buddhist principles as the Dharma, and propagated them after his death at the age of eighty.

Over the years, several schools of Buddhist thought were developed, the more commonly known being Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Most Buddhists classify themselves as either Theravada or Mahayana. Theravada considers the Buddha to be unique, while Mahayana considers him to be one of several Buddhas. Zen Buddhism is a form of Mahayana Buddhism, practiced mostly in China, Japan, and Korea.

Buddhism is not actually a religion. There is no deity to be worshipped. The altars that are seen in Buddhist temples are intended to be inspirational, reminding Buddhists of the path that they have chosen to walk. Those who worship the image of Buddha do so erroneously, as true Buddhists are merely paying respect to the memory of the Buddha. There are no holy books, bibles, or scripture in Buddhism. For this reason, many people believe that Buddhism can be practiced in conjunction with other religions.

Among the principle Buddhist doctrines are the Four Noble Truths, which are regarded as the core teachings of the Buddha. They are desire or suffering (Dukkha), thirst or craving (Samudaya), cessation of desire or suffering (Niroda), and the Middle Path (Magga).

Another founding principle is known as the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. Also known as the Middle Path, it is applied to the everyday life of the Buddhist, The steps are: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right Samadhi, which is also known as the state of intense concentration.

A third key principle is known as the Chain of Causation, also known as the Twelve Nidāna, a Sanskrit word that can be translated "link," "cause," or "motivation." The Twelve Nidāna are ignorance (Avijjā), constructing activities (Saṅkhāra), rebirth consciousness (Viññāna), name and form (Nāmarūpa) sixfold sense bases (Ṣalāyatana), contact (Phassa), sensation (Vedanā), craving (Tanhā), clinging attachment (Upādāna), becoming (Bhava KammaBhava), birth (Jāti), and all the sufferings (Jarāmarana).

Also of significance in Buddhism is the Three Marks of Existence. The teachings of Buddhism hold that all living beings have three main features, which are also known as the Signs of Being or Dharma Seals. One of these is impermanence (Anicca), which explains that no conditioned things are permanent. Another is desire or suffering (Dukkha), which reveals that no conditioned things are satisfied. The last is non-self (Anatta), which shows that all things, conditioned or not, are non-self. There is no everlasting essence in any phenomena or being. In other words, there is no permanent soul.

Also known as the Three Poisons, the Three Fires are another principle of Buddhism. These refer to the innate flaws that exist in all beings. The Three Fires are delusion or confusion (Moha), greed or sensual attachment (Raga), and aversion or ill will (Dvesha). The symbols representing the Three Fires are the boar, the rooster, and the snake,

Lay devotees to Buddhism are expected to abstain from killing, stealing, sensual misconduct, lying, and the use of intoxicants. Monks in many of the Buddhist fraternities are held to the same expectations as lay devotees, as well as abstinence from sexual activity, eating at the wrong time, the use of jewelry, perfume, adornment, and entertainments, and sleeping on high beds. Some fraternities add to these, such as abstaining from dancing and singing, accepting money, and other precepts.

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