Buddhism, one of the 3 world religions, has been founded by Siddhartha Gautama around 500 B.C. Siddhartha was said to have given up a comfortable, upper-class life to follow one of poverty and spiritual devotion. At the age of 35, he famously meditated under a sacred fig tree and vowed not to rise before he achieved enlightenment. After this experience, he became known as Buddha, or “enlightened one.” Followers were drawn to Buddha’s teachings and the practice of meditation, and he later established a monastic order.
Buddhism has been brought to Japan in the late 6th century. Since then Buddha is honored as a deity who coexists besides the Shintō Kamisama. As a result, Buddhism and Shintō became interconnected – Shintō priest started to recite buddhist chants and prayers in their shrines while temple grounds opened up for shintōistic elements. Those Shintō items are still today present on the themple grounds – such as Ema (votiv wood plate), Omikuji (oracle) or Omamori (charm) to only name a few.
Buddha’s teachings encourage Buddhists to lead a moral life by accepting the four Noble Truths:
1. life is suffering
2. suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. suffering ceases when attachment to desires ceases, and
4. freedom from suffering is possible by following the “middle way”.
The concept of “middle way” is central to Buddhist thinking, which encourages people to live in the present and to practice acceptance of others. The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is one of the most revered and influential Tibetan Buddhist leaders, promoting peace and tolerance all over the world.