Buddhism in brief



Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest spiritual traditions, with roots stretching back 2,500 years. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, who, after a quest for understanding our own nature and freedom, found a path to awakening. The Buddha’s teachings are a meaningful guide for the lives of millions of people, bringing human mental qualities into focus through a training in ethics, mindfulness, meditation and wisdom.

The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born into a wealthy family in an area that today lies on the Indian-Nepalese border. He lived a sheltered childhood with all the luxuries of his time, and it was only when he was confronted with life’s many problems outside the palace walls that his search for the meaning of life intensified. At the age of 29, he left his comfortable life and began to wander in search of a deeper meaning. He studied the sages and philosophers of the time, but did not find the answer there. He tried further with strict practices and asceticism – but still without success.

Then one full moon night by the Neranjara River in the month of May, the Buddha sat under a tree in a peaceful wooded area and cultivated his mind with deep, light and silent meditation. With such a clear mind, able to focus deep and long, he began to cultivate insights about human nature and life − about the human mind and body. The insights he gained resulted in full awakening and he was then called the Buddha – the awakened one.

Awakening is a very deep and comprehensive insight into our life and the nature of our mind, creating a permanently beautiful mind. His awakening was not a revelation from a divine being, but wisdom he himself developed through deep meditation, a clear mind and contemplation. It is this wisdom that sets people free from desire, hatred/negativity and misunderstanding − and creates an unshakable inner peace.

The Buddha’s teachings

After Buddha’s awakening, he spent the rest of his life teaching a doctrine that will lead people – regardless of social status, age, gender and race – to the same perfect awakening. This teaching is called the Dhamma/Dharma, meaning the nature of life or the truth of existence. Today, these teachings have been translated from Sanskrit/Pali into many languages, including a good English language.

Own investigation and studies

On a visit to the Kalamas people, Buddha was asked how one should relate to various opposing teachers, traditions and religions. Buddha discouraged blind faith, but wanted people to study and investigate for themselves. He pointed out the danger of relying on rumors, traditions, the opinions of others, old texts, majority opinions, teachers, sages and priests. Instead, people should keep an open mind and examine their own life experience. When you see that actions lead to happiness for yourself and others, you should accept this and live by that wisdom. This also applies to Buddha’s teachings, which should be examined and studied with a clear mind. In the beginning, the doctrine is a theory, and over time, with mindfulness on one’s own mind, one will find out for oneself whether the theory matches reality. The insights will come gradually and with each insight the result is greater mental freedom, lightness and energy. And the more insights you have, the clearer your mind becomes and the easier it is to reach new and deeper insights.

The four noble truths

The teachings of Buddha do not focus on philosophical speculations about a creator God or the origin of the universe, nor on reaching an afterlife heaven. The teachings are focused on the down-to-earth reality of human life, and the need for a lasting solution to all forms of discontent and problem. In short, the four noble truths:

  1. All living beings are subject to various types of disappointment, sadness, lack of comfort, stress, fear, hatred – in short, subject to suffering.
  2. The cause of this suffering is desire, which comes from our misunderstanding of the idea of a permanent soul or ego.
  3. This suffering ceases upon awakening (nirvana), which is deep insight into the misconceptions surrounding the ideas of a permanent soul/ego/self.
  4. This liberation is achieved through a gradual training, called the Middle Way or the Eightfold Path.

The Middle Way or the Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a guide to achieving awakening and freedom. The path is divided into eight integrated aspects: understanding, intention, speech, action, livelyhood, effort, mindfulness and stillness/meditation.

  1. Right understanding means having insight into the four noble truths and human nature/reality.
  2. Right intention refers to cultivating a friendly and peaceful attitude, and the ability to let go.
  3. Right speech means refraining from lying, gossip and inaccuracy.
  4. Right action focuses on ethical behavior.
  5. The right livelyhood is about choosing a profession that is in harmony with Buddhist principles.
  6. The right effort involves engagement in overcoming negative mental tendencies and cultivating positive mental qualities.
  7. Right mindfulness is about being present mentally and seeking understanding about the body and mind.
  8. Right meditation involves a cultivation of stillness, inner peace and clarity, which is used to reach insights about the nature of our mind and our human reality.

It is this training towards ethics, meditation and wisdom that leads to freedom – which we can also call happiness or quality of life.


In Buddhism, karma is a central teaching that refers to the law of cause and effect of our actions. According to Buddhist thinking, karma is the consequences of actions, and it specifically refers to the mental and physical actions a person performs throughout life. The idea is that any action, whether positive or negative, will generate similar results in the future. What a person sows through their actions, they will reap in the future as consequences in their own life. Buddhism emphasizes that karma is not deterministic, but rather a guideline for understanding how one’s actions affect one’s own life. Through awareness of our actions and intentions, we can actively shape our own karma and work towards achieving positive results for your own growth and development. The essence of Buddhist teachings on karma lies in the call for responsibility and self-reflection in relation to one’s behavior, for the good of oneself and society.

According to Buddha, no living being has the power to stop the consequences of good or bad karma. You reap what you sow. Good acts of kindness result in satisfaction and happiness. Bad actions result in reduced happiness, less mental energy and presence.

You can’t avoid the result of bad karma, but you can reduce its negative impact. A teaspoon of salt in a glass of water feels very salty, but a teaspoon of salt in a freshwater lake is barely noticeable. Similarly, bad actions from a person who does little good can be experienced as difficult – while the same bad action from a person who usually does a lot of good will experience the karma’s consequences mildly.


According to Buddhism, when the human body dies, a mental process continues and we end up creating a new life – which we call rebirth. Some remember their past lives, including Buddha, but also many people today. Remembering your past lives is part of the spiritual training, and comes as a result of strengthened memory through deep meditation.

When we remember our past lives, we gain a greater and meaningful perspective on existence and life, and our behavior will naturally change. When we know we have existed in a previous life, and we are living a human life now, it seems logical to have multiple lifetimes in the future as well.

This rebirth doesn’t just happen in the human sphere. There are more glorious and happy spheres, as well as darker and gloomy spheres − and a rebirth can happen among all of these. And it is our wishes and actions that determine what the next life will be like.

No creater God

Buddhism is unique in that it does not have a central concept of a creator figure. Buddhism does not emphasize worship or belief in a personal creator. Instead, Buddhism focuses on the individual’s responsibility for their own qualities, development and awakening. No powerful being can save, or remove the responsibility and consequences of our human actions.

The misconceptions about a soul

Buddhism’s concept of non-self (anatta) is a key teaching that differs from other traditions. Buddha rejected the idea of a permanent, unchanging soul or self. Rather, an individual’s identity is composed of elements such as body, emotions, thoughts, perceptions and consciousness, all of which are constantly changing.

This idea challenges the view of an essential and eternal soul, and instead encourages us to understand the ‘self’ as a temporary collection of changing elements. And it is deep insights into this idea of self that are key to reaching freedom and awakening.

This idea of a soul is actually the main cause of human problems. It manifests itself as an “ego” and a desire for control. Wishing to control yourself, your family, your work situation and society. These attempts to control are called craving and negativity/hatred – and the result is a lack of inner peace, harmony and freedom. We genuinely seek satisfaction, but mentally experience the opposite. But through spiritual development, the deeper the insights and wisdom we gain, the more we can help the world around us, without creating problems for ourselves.

Democracy and equal opportunities

2,500 years ago – that’s 1,500 years before the Viking Age in Norway – Buddhism was established based on democratic principles and equal opportunities for men and women. But over centuries, women in many countries have lost these same opportunities around spiritual practice, giving Buddhism a justifiably bad reputation, and it’s only now in modern times in the West that we see the contrasts so clearly.

But in recent decades, many improvements have been made and the focus is now back on the Buddha’s standard − equal opportunities for men and women. This also fits in with the culture that exists in Europe and is in line with human rights.

The relevance of Buddhism today

The ethical principles of Buddhism, which include compassion, kindness, non-violence, are deeply relevant to society both locally, nationally and globally. The Buddhist approach to problems and the desire to overcome them also resonates with modern people’s search for meaning and inner balance.

In addition, Buddhism offers an alternative perspective on material success by emphasizing inner happiness and contentment. It encourages balancing material needs with spiritual growth and development.

Buddhism’s relevance today lies not only in its historical legacy, but also in its ability to offer timeless wisdom that can help individuals and communities navigate through today’s complex, challenging and ever-changing reality.

  • About the author


    Spiritual Director DNBF

    Nitho is a Norwegian Buddhist bhikkhu, who after business school at NHH and a few years of work experience, traveled to Australia where he completed a 15-year full-time spiritual training. He now teaches retreats and Buddhist theory and practice in the Nordic countries, and is one of the leaders of the Buddhist Society of Norway – dnbf.org

Further reading

Here are some recommended and popular books for those seeking more basic information about Buddhism:

  • In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

    Author: Bhikkhu Bodhi. Language: English. ISBN: 0861714911. Link: Amazon

  • Buddhism in a Nutshell

    Author: Narada Thera. Language: English. ISBN: 1681723085. Link: Amazon

  • What the Buddha Taught

    Author: Walpola Rahula. Language: English. ISBN: 0802130313. Link: Amazon

  • Buddhism – A Very Short Introduction

    Author: Damien Keown. Language: English. ISBN: 9780199663835. Link: Amazon

  • An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices

    Author: Peter Harvey. Language: English. ISBN: 0521676746. Link: Amazon