‘Buddhism’ is the general name given by post-Buddha historians to the religious principles and practices, doctrines and dogmas, of the followers of Gautama Buddha. Though what Buddha taught might be regarded as a cleansing or reformation of the Hinduism of his times, his teachings, over the centuries, have attained a distinctive character of their own, thus deserving the appellation ‘Buddhism’ or ‘Buddha-mata’ or ‘Bauddha-dharma’.
The four noble truths (catvāri āryasatyāni) and the eightfold noble path (ārya-aṣṭāṅgika-mārga) form the core of Buddhism. Ahiṁsā or non-injury or non-violence is a cardinal ethical principle. Monastic life, as means to nirvāṇa (libe-ration) and Buddha-hood is emphasized greatly.
During the second Buddhist Council held at Vaiśāli (the present Basarh of Bihar) about a 100 years after the demise of Buddha, there was a split in the ranks of the Buddhists. The conservatives came to be known as the Sthaviravādis or Theravādis. The rest came to be called the Mahāsāṅghikas. These two groups gradually evolved the Hīnayāna and the Mahāyāna schools. The former stressed individual nirvāṇa as the goal of life. The latter stressed compassion, in addition, so that all can be helped in their attempts at obtaining nirvāṇa. Whereas Mahāyāna flourished in China, Japan and Tibet, Hīnayāna spread in Śrī Laṅkā, Myanmar (Burma) and some South East Asian countries.
Buddhism also developed in course of time, four schools of philosophy: the Mādhyamika or Śūnyavāda, the Yogācāra or Vijñānavāda, the Sautrāntika and the Vaibhāṣika.
Philosophical works on these schools were written both in Pāḷī and Sanskrit languages.
See also BUDDHA.