Buddhism is said by some to be a religion, to others it seems like a philosophy, and to others it seems like an ancient tradition of psychology. In fact, Buddhism cannot be reduced to any of these categories. At its heart, Buddhism is a world view and way of living based upon the awakening of the Buddha, which people follow in order to approach and live consistently with an awakened world view.
Buddhism was founded by a man who we call the Buddha, who was alive 2600 years ago - a very long time ago - six centuries before Christ. In fact, the Buddha was not a Buddha when he was born. He was a man called Siddhartha Gautama, born in the Śākya Kingdom in India. He sought an answer to the problem of the suffering he observed, and after years of religious practice attained "enlightenment", and awakened to the truth of all things. Having attained enlightenment, he became known Śākyamuni (The Sage of the Śākyas), or the Buddha (Awakened One), and travelled throughout India for the rest of his life in order to guide people towards the same understanding of truth he had realised.
There are many different lineages, traditions and schools which trace their origins back to this great sage. One of them is our school, which is called the Nichiren School (Nichiren Shū). It was founded by a Buddhist monk born in Japan in the 13th century, who sought to find the essence of the Buddha's teaching and enable all people to practise it.
Our primary practice in Nichiren Shū is chanting the Odaimoku (Sacred Title) of the Lotus Sutra: Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The Odaimoku expresses the essence of the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra, which is the Buddha's final teaching, and by chanting it we can establish a way of life consonant with the eternal truths preached by the Buddha therein. We are able to enter into complete enlightenment by the merits transferred to us from the eternal practice of the Buddha.
The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in what is today Southern Nepal approximately 2500 years ago. Siddhartha was a prince, the son of the tribal leader of the Śākya Clan. He was married, had one son (Rāhula), and lived the life of a nobleman in his country. At the age of 29, having been educated and trained as a prince, Siddhartha left his family. Because he observed the unsatisfactory qualities of life and sought a solution to them, he decided to become a monk and began ascetic practices. Studying under many teachers, Siddhartha mastered arduous yogic practices, starving himself and enduring the elements for many years. However, this still offered no release from suffering, and he realised that despite all he had learned he still had not gained what he had sought for so long.
Having abandoned the ascetic way (much to the dismay of his peers) he sat down under a Bo Tree near Uruvelā and started meditating; vowing not to leave the spot until he attained enlightenment. During his meditation under the Bo tree, Māra, the King of Illusion, confronted the prince-ascetic, trying desperately to dissuade the him from his quest. Although Mara tempted the prince and threatened him, he remained steadfast and refused to bow to the Devil King's illusions and trickery. After several weeks, Siddhartha finally achieved his goal and became the Buddha, the Awakened One.
After his enlightenment, the Buddha returned to the Deer Park where he and his peers had previously practised austerities together. Realising that he had reached his goal when they saw him approaching, they praised him and became his faithful students. The Buddha Śākyamuni (the Sage of the Śākya clan) began to explain to them what he had come to realise through his awakening, and guided them through his teachings on their own paths to becoming Buddhas. He continued preaching the Dharma (Truth) until he passed away at age 80.