Background: Based on the teachings of one man, Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was a Hindu, as Hinduism was practiced in India at that time, and he built his teachings upon the framework of Hinduism. To understand Buddhism it is helpful to understand the basic thoughts of Hinduism.
Sacred Book: Literature includes the “Three Baskets” or three collections of the Buddha’s teaching and the commentaries on it. It also includes many sutras and tantras that have been recognized by the followers of the Mahayana and Tantric Buddhist traditions as “the word of the Buddha,” along with commentaries on these texts.
The Nature of God: There is no absolute God in Buddhism, although many have interpreted Buddhism as a search for God. The Buddha did not deny the existence of God outright, but said that the question of His existence “tends not to edification.” That is, those seeking enlightenment need to concentrate on their own spiritual paths themselves rather than relying on an outside support. Today there are some who refer to Buddhism as atheistic, and Buddhists teach that all that exists in the physical universe has always existed, without beginning and without end.
Human Condition: The Buddha based his entire teaching on the fact of human suffering. Existence is painful. Limitation gives rise to desire, and, inevitably, desire causes suffering, since what is desired is transitory, changing, and perishing. It is the impermanence of the object of craving that causes disappointment and sorrow. Central to Buddhism is the belief in “no self.” There is no soul or human spirit. The concept of the individual ego is a popular delusion.
Eternity: The belief in rebirth, or reincarnation, as a potentially endless series of worldly existences in which every being is caught up was already associated with the doctrine of karma in pre-Buddhist Hindu India.
What is Salvation? Nirvana is the aim of religious practice, to be rid of the delusion of ego, thus freeing oneself from the fetters of this mundane world. One who is successful in doing so is said to have overcome the round of rebirths and to have achieved enlightenment. This is the final goal – not a paradise or a heavenly world.
How is a person saved? A liberating purification is effected by following the Noble Eightfold Path constituted by right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditational attainment.
Notes: Buddhism, as practiced in China, is not really Buddhism but simply borrows the name. What Chinese call Buddhism is a blending of ancestor worship and traditional Chinese folk religion, with a smattering of Buddhism.