Unit one: The Buddhist way

buddhist studies for secondary students

It’s a strange fact that those who live closest to wonders of the world, like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia or the Taj Mahal of India, often take no notice of them at all. These incredible places become too familiar; they seem too accessible and their magic is somehow lost. People seem to think they can learn about the wonders so close to them at any time, but so often never get around to making a start.

It’s this habit we sometimes have — of missing out on the wonders that are with us in life all the time, simply because we ignore them or just don’t notice them at all — that Buddhists are hoping to avoid. Perhaps this is also the reason that Buddhism is still popular and interesting to people all over the world today, even though the Buddha first taught His ideas more than 2,500 years ago.

All around the world, many people have heard of Buddhism. You might have heard the name of Buddha, perhaps you’ve even visited a Buddhist temple or met people who call themselves Buddhists — but what is Buddhism really all about?

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is taught as a way to the welfare and happiness of all using keys to reveal the true nature of the world and practices to maintain a right relationship with the self and with the world and those in it. Buddhism is a religion, a series of practices and a way of life based on the teachings of the Buddha who, after achieving enlightenment, taught that the nature of the world is constant change. Buddha taught that everything in the world is impermanent and that it is the failure to understand this true nature of life on Earth that leads to much of our unhappiness, suffering and trouble. Buddhism is a way to correct our view, conduct and expectations of life in order that we can bring an end to suffering and share in the happiness, wisdom, peace and Nirvana that Buddha himself discovered after following the paths of the lessons he has since laid down as the foundations of Buddhism.

The Buddha’s life and His Teachings inspire individuals who practice Buddhism to develop self-reliance, moral responsibility, tolerance, compassion, wisdom and many other qualities that can enrich happiness and make life more meaningful in today’s world. Along with these qualities, an understanding of the true nature of things will enable the Buddhist to live in harmony with a changing world and to enjoy the highest level of happiness.

It is sometimes said that Buddhism focuses on the unhappy side of life or takes a pessimistic view. This may be because the key teaching focuses on the nature and causes of suffering. However, this is only one side of the story. In focusing on suffering and its causes, Buddhism is actually committed to realising and developing happiness. There are many kinds of happiness recognized in Buddhism as true and lasting. Some of these are contentment, freedom of enjoyment, debtlessness and happiness from being good. However, Buddhism is not optimistic either, it does not teach that the world is full of happiness.

The core aim of Buddhism is to clear a Buddhist student’s vision so that they might see things as they really are. With this insight to the true nature of things, a Buddhist can then understand that there is no point in trying to change the world, but that they are free to change themselves, their attitude to the world and their part in it in ways which will lead to wisdom and happiness.

Who is Buddha?

Born near Nepal on the full moon of May in 623 BC, Buddha was first named Prince Siddhartha Gautama, meaning ‘wish-fulfilled’. Following a series of profound signs and prophecies about his important spiritual future, Prince Siddhartha was well-educated, married and lived a wealthy and happy life until four great omens changed his views about existence.

Outside his palace one day he came across first a decrepit old man, then a diseased man, a corpse and a hermit — these encounters, known as The Four Sights, were the Prince’s first awakening to deeper truths about life.

At 29, he left the royal court to wander the country as a monk searching for a way to end suffering. There are many stories about Prince Siddhartha’s journeys and how they led him finally to Enlightenment, which Buddhists describe as true insight into the meaning of life and perfect peace. At 35, Prince Siddhartha achieved this state of Enlightenment, also known as Buddhahood and Nirvana, and lived from then on as the Buddha; teaching, serving humanity and offering an example of a way of life and a state of mind that we still know as Buddhism.

Select and Discuss a story from:

Key Stories from the >> Life of Buddha (Parts 1 & 2)

The Buddhist Idea about Life

Although Buddhism began about 2,500 years ago, the Teachings are still strong today, and there are growing numbers of students and Buddhists all around the world. This is not a tradition of the past, but a growing part of life in the modern world.

As a way of life, Buddhism aims to teach people how to grow in maturity and wisdom so that they may understand themselves better and learn more about the world in which they live. Many Buddhist studies teach about everyday life and how to cope with the events and situations common to all people. From this basic level, Buddhism aims to help its students develop attitudes towards life that will improve their relationships with family, friends and the people in our daily lives. Buddhist students also learn practices to develop their minds so that they can experience life in a true way, rather than as the mind imagines it to be.

Buddhists draw on the story of the Buddha who showed through His own experience that there is a way to end all suffering and attain supreme happiness. The Buddha’s teachings, because of this great secret, offer Buddhists hope and the opportunity for a content and meaningful life.

Key Ideas in Buddhism

  • The Spirit of Free Inquiry (See the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry below)
    The spirit of free inquiry is an important feature of Buddhism. The Buddha encouraged people to investigate the truth of His Teachings for themselves before accepting his ideas. He never expected people to practise His Teaching out of ‘blind faith’ and superstition, but instead encouraged a free spirit of questions and contemplation. Buddhists believe that people should accept and practise Teachings and lifestyles they find, through their own experience, to be physically and mentally beneficial.

  • Self-reliance
    Buddhism also stresses the importance of self-reliance and individual effort. There are the two main ways that Buddhists focus on self-reliance. Firstly, each person must work out for themselves the way to end their own suffering and attain happiness. And secondly, it is up to each person to realise that it is their own actions that determine their future. In Buddhists thinking, each individual’s destiny is not determined by an outside power but by the way we live our own lives and our personal attitudes to suffering, happiness and the world around us. This means that every one of us is responsible for our own actions. Every one of us can progress or develop only as much as our own efforts allow. Buddhists learn that dedication, self-discipline and wise judgment are the keys to reaching the highest goals in life.

  • Tolerance

    Because Buddhism respects the right of all people to inquire freely and to make their own choices, it also teaches tolerance toward other faiths and ways of life. Buddhist students are taught to live in harmony with everybody, regardless of race or religion.

  • Loving-kindness and Compassion

    All living things are equal to a Buddhist. Universal loving-kindness, (a gentle and warm approach to life) together with a compassionate attitude, are the main ways that Buddhists accept not only other people, but all other creatures. All living things, humans and animals alike, share the same environment — we are all part of the same world, as we know from learning about the environment and about nature. If people want to live happily, Buddhism teaches that we must each have concern for the welfare of the other living things that we are here sharing the world with.

  • Buddhism and Science

    There is no conflict between the discoveries of science, even in the modern technological world of today, and the ancient teachings of the Buddha. Buddhists agree that many things He taught about 2,500 years ago have actually been proven by science! The importance of the power of the mind, the impermanence of things — even breakthroughs that seemed incredible to science like the divisibility of the atom, the relativity of matter and energy and the structure of the universe were all taught by the Buddha even before science. A Buddhist does not ignore the facts that science teaches about mankind and the universe, but learns that modern thinking often has ancient roots.


Buddhism is a strong faith that continues to grow and attract followers all over the world. It began more than 2,500 years ago with the story of Prince Siddhartha, who became Buddha after achieving enlightenment.

Buddha’s teachings describe a way to end suffering, achieve happiness and live in harmony with all living things. Buddhist students are encouraged to learn by investigation and experience, they are taught that it is only through their own efforts that they can achieve goals and peace. Buddhism teaches tolerance toward other faiths, loving-kindness and compassion for all living things. Buddhists respect and use science, they believe many of the Buddha’s teachings have been proven by science.

Activity Box

The Meditation Class: Instructions in Insight and Loving-kindness meditation – showing techniques in sitting and walking.

Buddhist History & Culture: Buddhist Timelines, Scriptures, Women, Countries, Deities, Culture, Statistics.

The Buddhist World: Buddhist Monastics, Pilgrimage, Festivals and Ceremonies, Spread of Buddhism.

eBook Library: Nine Maha (Great) Buddhist Crosswords Puzzles.

Online Research Projects: Choose a topic from nine suggested research projects