Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, who lived in Northern India about 2500 years ago. Buddha is revered, not as a God, but as an example of how we should aspire to live our lives.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama had a privileged life insulating him from suffering. One day, he went outside the royal enclosure where he saw, for the first time, an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. This greatly disturbed him, as he learned that this was the inevitable fate of human beings. Siddharta left his protected royal life and followed a life of extreme asceticism, but after six years he felt there should be a 'Middle Way' of moderation. One day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation, and was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth towards the path of enlightenment. He became known as the Buddha or 'awakened one'.

Basic Beliefs

Buddhists believe that the essence of Buddha is within each of us and we can attain our Buddhahood through sincere practise of the eight-fold path, which includes virtuous conduct such as compassion and generosity, meditation and the cultivation of wisdom. Many Buddhists believe in spiritual rebirth but this is understood as a causal connection between lives rather than the reincarnation of an unchanging individual soul. For most Western Buddhists faith in the efficacy of following the eight-fold path is more central than assent to specific verbal formulations of religious belief.

Customs and Practices

Although it is particularly strong in northern areas of the Indian sub-continent and in some parts of South East Asia, Buddhism is a world-wide religion. Many Eastern Buddhist traditions started becoming established in the West during the 20th Century and in Scotland there are as many as ten schools from several traditions represented. These include the Theravadan tradition (originally from India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand), the Tibetan tradition (northern India, China, Tibet and Mongolia), the Zen Buddhist tradition (China to Korea, Japan and Mongolia), and the Zen Buddhist tradition (which originated in China and spread to Korea, Japan and Malaysia). In addition, a specifically Western development of Buddhism is represented by the Triratna Buddhist community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order).

Places of Worship

The term 'worship' is not really appropriate in Buddhism, where there is no belief in a separate creator god. Buddhist temples, centres or meeting places are where Buddhists gather to meditate, study, chant or pray together. There is a strong emphasis in the western development of Buddhism on the centrality of meditation practice. There are meditation groups and centres throughout the main Scottish cities. These include a large Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Samye Ling together with its retreat centre on Holy Island, a priory in Edinburgh for the Soto Zen School, a number of Theravadan Buddhist communities and Glasgow and Edinburgh Buddhist Centres.

Main Festivals

Buddhist festivals generally commemorate particular events in the Buddha's life, including his birth (Wesak), his enlightenment, the day of his first teaching (Dharma Day) and his death (Parinirvana).

Food and Diet

Although their high valuation of life and their rejection of violence means that some Buddhists are vegetarian, this is not always the case. Some Buddhists may fast on New Moon and Full Moon days.

Click here for useful links to the various Buddhist communities in Scotland.


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