“What is Buddhism?” is actually a difficult question to answer. Depending on who you ask, where they’re from, what their school/tradition is, and the amount of knowledge and understanding they have, each person will probably have a different answer. A basic answer is this: Buddhism is a religion, a philosophy, a psychology, and a way of life. It is the practice of love; loving-kindness and loving-compassion. It is the practice to live in peace and bliss. A more complex answer would be: Buddhism is a practice of psychology, of the mind. It is a mind-centered religion aimed at eradicating the three poisons (ignorance, greed, and anger) that cause us to suffer and live in this cyclic existence of death and rebirth.
The Buddha taught that the main factor contributing to suffering is desire. Desire is what causes us to want the things we can’t obtain and the things that we can obtain, we always want more of it or wanting the newest things. These desires turns into greed, and when our greed isn’t satisfied, we become angry. Our anger causes us to be ignorant towards the true nature of reality. So Buddhism is the practice of spiritual development that leads to the insight into the true nature of reality. A practice to teach us how to escape suffering, eradicate our ignorance, greed, and anger, and ultimately to become enlightened.
Unlike most other religions that base their faith in a god or deity, Buddhism is not a faith-based religion towards a higher being for one’s liberation or access to heaven or a better life. Instead, Buddhism takes a firm stand that the only way towards our liberation or a better life is faith in ourselves. There is no god or deity figure in Buddhism. Buddha was not a god or a mystical being. He was human; he cried, bled red, got sick, and died just like a human. Relying on gods was not useful for those seeking enlightenment, the Buddha taught. What makes him extraordinary is his realization to the path to escape our constant birth, death, and rebirth. The main focus in Buddhism is in the practice (self-inquiry and experimentation in the teachings) rather than belief and faith.
The best way to explain Buddhism to people is to show them. Not showing them statues or relics, but rather the observation people make of you over time. Because Buddhists are constantly practicing loving-kindness, compassion, and generosity, and never swaying towards anger, frustration, or impatience, this simple way of living is the essence of being a Buddhist and the best way to show people what Buddhism is.
The foundations of Buddhism is in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. These basic yet complex Dharmas can liberate us on a basic level and put us on a path of greater understanding. It is very important to truly have a strong grasp and understanding of what might seem like “Buddhism 101,” but this 101 information is the foundation of anything else we will learn.