Practice Buddhism

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition and way of life that originated in present-day Nepal over 2,500 years ago. Today, there are a few different sects of Buddhism, and while they do have slightly different practices, they all follow the same basic path and abide by the same tenets. One of the main principles in Buddhism is that all beings are afflicted with suffering, but that you can aspire to end suffering for yourself and others by living life according to kindness, generosity, and openness.[1]


Abiding by the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows

  1. Strive to end suffering. The basis of Buddhist teaching is something called the Four Noble Truths, which are based on the idea that suffering is an intrinsic part of life, but that suffering can be ended by breaking the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.[2] From the four truths come the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows, which are a path that can help you end suffering.
    • The first noble truth is the truth of suffering.
    • The first bodhisattva vow is the vow to rescue living beings from suffering.
    • In Buddhism, suffering refers to the physical and mental suffering of all human beings.
    • The key to ending suffering is reaching nirvana, which can be done by living according to the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as the Middle Way).
  2. Live according to the Noble Eightfold Path. The two staples at the center of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths can be understood as the belief behind Buddhism, and the Noble Eightfold Path is the discipline and practice behind that belief.[3] Living according to the Noble Eightfold Path includes:
    • Right speech, action, and livelihood. The key to following these three elements involve living according to the Five Precepts.
    • Right effort, mindfulness, and concentration, which can be achieved by practicing meditation.
    • Right understanding and thought, which come about when you practice meditation, cultivate mindfulness, and live according to the Five Precepts.
  3. Try to put an end to wanting and craving. The second noble truth is a recognition of the cause of suffering, which comes from desire, ignorance, and the craving of pleasure and material goods.[4] The corresponding bodhisattva vow involves vowing to end desire and craving.
    • Buddhist don’t believe that suffering and desire can be ended easily. Rather, this is a pursuit that spans many lifetimes, but you can do your part by following the Noble Eightfold Path.
  4. Continue learning. The third noble truth is the understanding that suffering can end, and this means suffering both in life and in spiritual terms. The answer to the end of suffering is learning, enlightenment, and action.
    • The corresponding vow for the third noble truth is to learn about dharma and how it affects suffering.[5]
  5. Aspire for nirvana. The fourth truth in Buddhism has to do with the path that leads to the end of suffering, which was the path of the Buddha. Suffering ends when one finds enlightenment and nirvana, which is the end of suffering.
    • To obtain nirvana, you must strive to live your life according to the Noble Eightfold Path.

Living According to the Five Precepts

  1. Avoid killing. The Five Precepts in Buddhism are not commandments, but rather undertakings that you should strive toward. The first precept, which is to abstain from killing living beings, can be applied to all creatures, including humans, animals, and insects.
    • In positive, this precept means to be kind and to love other creatures. For many Buddhists, this precept also entails a general philosophy of nonviolence, which is why many Buddhist are vegetarian or vegan.[6]
    • Unlike religions that say you'll be punished if you don’t abide by the laws and rules of the religion, Buddhism focuses on the consequences that your actions will have in this life and the next.
  2. Do not steal. The second precept is to abstain from taking things that aren't yours or that aren't given to you.[7] Again, this isn't something you're commanded to do, but rather something you must want to practice. Free will and choice are very important principles in Buddhism.
    • This precept means don’t steal from friends, neighbors, family, strangers, or even businesses, and it could apply to money, food, clothes, and other items.
    • On the other side of the coin, this precept also implies that you should strive to be generous, open, and honest. Give instead of take, and help others when you can.
    • There are many things you can do to be generous and giving, including giving money to charity, volunteering your time, raising money and awareness for different causes, and donating gifts or money when possible.
  3. Do not engage in sexual misconduct. Another important notion in Buddhism is exploitation, and practicing Buddhists should undertake not to exploit themselves and others. This includes sexual, mental, emotional, and physical exploitation.[2]
    • Buddhism does not mean you have to be abstinent, but it does mean that you should be conscious of your actions. If you are going to engage in sexual activity, it should only be with consenting adults.
    • Traditionally, Buddhist teachings also indicated that a person should not have sex with a partner who was married or engaged.
    • Instead of engaging in sexual misconduct, strive to practice simplicity and being content with what you have.
  4. Tell the truth. Truth, learning, and inquiry are also important ideas in Buddhism, which is why it’s important that people abstain from false speech. This means avoid lying, telling untruths, and hiding things from others.
    • Rather than lying and keeping secrets, focus on being open, clear, and truthful with yourself and others.
  5. Avoid mind-altering substances. The fifth precept, which is to avoid substances that confuse the mind, is related to the Buddhist principle of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that you should strive to cultivate in your daily life, and this means being aware and conscious of your actions, feelings, and behaviors.[8]
    • The problem with mind-altering substances is that they confuse the mind, make you forget what's important, cause you to lose focus, and can contribute to actions or thoughts that you'll regret later.
    • Mind-altering substances include drugs, hallucinogens, and alcohol, but could also apply to other psychoactive substances like caffeine.

Understanding Buddhist Teachings and Practices

  1. Understand the importance of karma and good deeds. Karma, or kamma, means action, and a large part of Buddhist philosophy is the importance placed on the consequences of your actions. The idea is that good actions are motivated by generosity and compassion. These actions bring about well-being in yourself and others, and they create happy results as a consequence.
    • To incorporate more good actions into your life, you can help people who need a hand, volunteer your time and skills to people who need you, teach others things you have learned, and be kind to people and animals.
    • Buddhists believe that life is a cycle of life, death, reincarnation, and rebirth. Your actions have consequences in this life, but they can also impact other lives as well.
  2. Know the karmic consequences of bad deeds. Unlike good actions, unwholesome actions are motivated by greed and hatred, and they bring about painful results.[9] Particularly, bad deeds will prevent you from breaking the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, meaning your suffering will continue if you inflict suffering on others.
    • Unwholesome actions include things like being selfish, greedy, and refusing to help other people.
  3. Learn about the concept of dharma. Dharma is another very important notion in Buddhist teachings, because it describes the true reality of your life and the world. However, dharma is not static and unchanging, and you can change reality by changing your perception, by making different choices, and by choosing right actions.[10]
    • The term dharma also describes the path and teachings of Buddhism in general, so it can be thought of as the way you live your life.[11]
    • To practice dharma in your everyday life, try being thankful for the things you have, grateful for your life, and by enjoying life. You can show thanks through prayer, by making offerings, and by working toward enlightenment.[12]

Practicing Meditation

  1. Select a quiet spot. Meditation is one of the most important practices in Buddhism, because it provides insight, stillness, quietness of mind, temporary reprieve from suffering, inner peace, and helps you on the path to enlightenment.
    • To meditate properly, it’s important to find a spot that’s quiet, and that will allow you to concentrate on your practice. A bedroom or other empty room is a good place.
    • Turn off your phone, the television, music, and any other distractions.[13]
  2. Sit in a comfortable position. Sit cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion if that’s comfortable for you. If you are not comfortable in that position, try kneeling, or sit on a chair.
    • Once you’ve found a comfortable seat, sit upright, hold your head straight, and relax your back and shoulders.[14]
    • Place your hands palms-down on your thighs or folded in your lap.
  3. Adjust your eyes. You can close your eyes, keep them partially open, or leave them completely open for your practice. Especially when you're first starting out, find a position and arrangement that’s comfortable and that facilitates your meditation.
    • If you want to keep your eyes open or partially open, shift your gaze downward and fix it on something a few feet or yards in front of you.[15]
  4. Pay attention to your breathing. One of the most important parts of a meditation practice is the focus on your breath. You don’t necessarily have to breathe a certain way, but you do want to concentrate on the air flowing in and out of your body.
    • The focus on the breath is important because it helps you concentrate on the present moment without fixing your thoughts on any one idea.
    • Meditation is also about being mindful and present, and focusing on your inhalation and exhalation is a great way to center yourself and be present in the moment.[16]
  5. Let your thoughts come and go. One of the main goals of meditation is clearing your mind and finding calmness. To start, allow your thoughts to come and to pass without getting caught up in any of them. If you find yourself becoming fixated on a particular thought during, go back to focusing on your breathing.
    • Do this for about 15 minutes a day for the first week. Then, extend your sessions by five minutes each week. Aim to reach 45 minutes of meditation each day.[17]
    • Set a timer to so you know when you can end your practice.


  • During your learning, you may come across Buddhist terms with spelling variations. This is because there are several sects of Buddhism, and the scriptures were written in different languages. Mahayana texts were written in Sanskrit, and Theravada texts were written in Pali.

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