Buddhism is a religion of about 350 million people around the world (6% of the world’s population and forth largest religion). The word comes from 'budhi', 'to awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (“enlightened”) at the age of 35. By the time Guatama died, Buddhism had become a major influence in India; three hundred years later, Buddhism had encompassed most of Asia.
Gotama believed that Enlightenment lay in the “middle way,” not in luxurious indulgence or self-mortification. He discovered what would become known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’—1) to live is to suffer (Dukha), 2) suffering is caused by desire (Tanha, or “attachment”), 3) one can eliminate suffering by eliminating all attachments, and 4) this is achieved by following the noble eightfold path. The “eightfold path” consists of having a right 1) view, 2) intention, 3) speech, 4) action, 5) livelihood (being a monk), 6) effort (properly direct energies), 7) mindfulness (meditation), and 8) concentration (focus).
Buddhism roughly falls into two broad categories, Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada is the monastic form which reserves ultimate enlightenment and nirvana for monks, while Mahayana Buddhism extends this goal of enlightenment to the laity as well, that is, to non-monks. Within these categories can be found numerous branches. Zen Buddhism has been popular with celebrities in the West which has broadened its influence.
Important teachings of Buddhism include Rebirth (reincarnation), that when a man dies, he will return to live as another person, animal, or god, etc. Karma (action) means that everything (good or bad) that happens to a man is the result of his conduct in previous lives. What happens in future lives is determined by his actions now. Nirvana (release) teaches that man's ultimate goal is to be released from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. This is a state of rest with no earthly desires.
The basic Biblical response to Buddhism is that it is a philosophy of self-effort. (Titus 3:5) not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. It’s not what you do but what has already been done through the work of Christ on the cross atoning for our sins and rising from the dead. All a person has to do is to personally accept this free gift of salvation (Eph 2:8-9).
Reincarnation is non-biblical because the Bible says (Heb 9:27)…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. And Karma? Our life choices have consequences and the real choice is to accept Christ or not which will affect our eternal destination (Gal 6:7-8; 1 John 5:12). Nirvana? That is a substitute for heaven and can be realized when one is born again and not reborn over and over (John 3:1-8). True rest is through Jesus Christ (Mat 11:28-30).