A philosophy founded in India in 525 BC, Buddhism now has over 300 million followers. Buddhism believes that this world is full of suffering; that the individual is trapped in a cycle of life and death and that an escape (liberation or nirvana) from this suffering is the only solution. This philosophy rests on four noble truths and the eight-fold path for liberation.
Before Buddhism
During the fifth and seventh centuries BC, India was in a state of cultural, religious and intellectual ferment. The caste system, gave undue privileges to the priests, who were sometimes more powerful than the royal family while people in the lower caste were treated as untouchables.
In this backdrop, smaller upheavals were occurring with thinkers and sages who were trying to go back to the roots of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Thinkers began focusing on morals and slowly notions such as samsara and the cycle of life and death, moksha and the liberation from this bondage were beginning to take shape. It was in this kind of backdrop that the founder of Buddhism - Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini.
Gautama Buddha
Buddha was born into a royal family, but at the age of 29, he gave up the luxury he was brought up in, left his wife and went in search of an ultimate solution to the problem of suffering. After six years of spiritual discipline he achieved Nirvana and spent the rest of his 45 years spreading his teaching and establishing a community to continue his work.
Buddhism denied the caste-system and the rituals of the Vedas; it spread its teachings in the vernacular rather than the Brahmanical Sanskrit, thus reaching out to a vast number of people and provided a realistic view of life and solutions towards peace and self-fulfillment.
Basic Beliefs
The basic beliefs of Buddhism rest on the four noble truths:

  • Existence is suffering (dukhka); 
  • Suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment (trishna); 
  • There is a cessation of suffering, (nirvana) 
  • There is a path to the cessation of suffering, the (eightfold path)

The eightfold path is as follows:

  • Right views
  • Right resolve
  • Right speech
  • Right action 
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort 
  • Right mindfulness, and 
  • Right concentration

Buddhism is divided into two main schools: Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and South-east Asia, and the Mahayana (developed around the first century BC) in China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. There is a third school, the Vajrayana, which has a long tradition in Tibet and Japan. Despite being different schools the basic tenets of Buddhism remain the same.
Decline in India
Buddhism has largely disappeared from its country of origin, India. There are several reasons for this: Ashoka spread the seeds of Buddhism far and wide, beyond the country of origin; people following Buddhism lived in monasteries and were not part of the day-to-day lives of the Hindu community, which followed several rituals, thus strengthening its own cultural ties; Hinduism itself was going through a change. In the subsequent years, the invasions of the Hun and the Muslims were also significant factors in the decline of Buddhism in India.