The current teaching of Buddhism began in northern India with the life and teachings of Gotama Buddha (Buddha means enlightened one). He was born in about 563 bce. When he grew up he went in search of the truth about life. Having found it he spent the rest of his life teaching others how they might find enlightenment. His teachings became popular and he had many followers. They came to be known as Buddhists.

After he passed away the Buddha's followers took his message to other parts of India. It gradually spread eastwards to places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, China and Japan. As it spread Buddhism met and was influenced by other religions. Gradually three main types of Buddhism developed. Theravanda Buddhism became the main form in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. This tradition claims to carry on the earliest practices and beliefs and to have scriptures (the Pali Canon) which contain the actual words of Siddartha Gotama. Mahayana Buddhism is strongest in China and Japan and the tradition in Tibet and Mongolia is known as Vajrayana Buddhism. The different forms emphasise different paths to enlightenment.

For centuries very little was known about Buddhism in the west. Travellers and scholars particularly those from the USA, the United Kingdom and Germany began to learn about it in the early years of the nineteenth century. However Buddhism was not practised in Britain until the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1926 the Buddhist Society was formed. Most Buddhists in Britain are people who have personally chosen to adopt this way of life.

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