Statue of a lama
Nepalese statue of a lama, seated on a lotus throne.
A path to enlightenment
Buddhism takes its name from Buddha, a philosopher who travelled around northern India 2500 years ago. Buddha taught that every human being has a divine essence and can achieve freedom by thinking and acting in the right way. His teachings spread throughout mainland Asia and on into Mongolia, Indonesia and Japan. Dozens of different branches developed, of which Theravada and Mahayana are the greatest. In India, the arrival of the Islamic Mughal Empire in the twelfth century put an end to Buddhism. Pakistan, Central Asia and the Near East also gave it up in favour of Islam. In China, Buddhism continued but was marginalized for many years after the establishment of Communist rule in 1949. In the West, it is currently in vogue, in the form of a loose package of Eastern spirituality involving yoga and meditation.