Buddhism is a system of philosophy based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a 5th century B.C.E Nepalese prince. As a young man Siddhartha renounced his worldly inheritance and chose instead the path of spiritual exploration. After a series of journeys he achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and so became the Buddha. He then spent the remainder of his life spreading the teachings (Dhamma) and ordaining monks to the new order (Sangha). The Buddha (Teacher), Dhamma (Doctrine) and the Sangha (Brotherhood) represent the three jewels of Buddhism and together are known as the Triple Gem.
Today Buddhism is one of the worlds great, living religions with an estimated 500 million adherents. The Buddhist system of thought is built upon the foundation of the Four Noble Truths together with the Eightfold Path.
The 4 Noble Truths:
The path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold path.
The Eightfold Path:
Right view - to see and to understand things as they really are
Right intention - the volitional commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement
Right speech - to tell the truth and speak with kindness and gentleness
Right action - do no harm, act honourably and with compassion
Right livelihood - to earn one's living in a righteous way
Right effort - to exercise constant vigilance in attaining wholesome states
Right mindfulness - clear perception, clear consciousness
Right concentration - single mindedness on wholesome thoughts and actions
Vajrayana Buddhism (Thunderbolt Vehicle) is a form of Buddhism that developed in India after the 5th century C.E. It is often debated whether it is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism or a distinct path beside Mahayana and Theravada - significantly this is how the tradition understands itself.
It is generally accepted that Vajrayana Buddhism emerged out of the Mahayana in India, sometime in the 6th -7th centuries. It quickly spread out of India and became established in several parts of the Buddhist world, particularly in Tibet, where it became the dominant form of Buddhism. In fact Vajrayana is often referred to simply as "Tibetan Buddhism."
Although it may have originally emerged as a reaction to the philosophical scholasticism of Indian Buddhism and may have been intended to return to the original teachings and practices of the Buddha, Vajrajyana has developed into a complex philosophical and ritual system. Vajrayana is also sometimes called "Tantric Buddhism," an esoteric extension of Buddhist thought and practice which sees itself as a quicker, more effective path to enlightenment. As with Mahayana Buddhism, the Vajrayana emphasizes the role of the bodhisattva, but the tradition tends to favor diverse deities and expands the bodhisattva pantheon. Vajrayana ritual and devotion employs mantras, mandalas and an array of other rituals. Great emphasis is placed on the role of the guru in the Vajrayana; these are religious teachers who have mastered the philosophical and ritual tradition. The Tibet translation of guru is "lama," and the various Tibetan schools of the Vajrayana trace long lineages of gurus who serve both as religious and political leaders. The Dalai Lama is the most well known of all Tibetan Lamas.
(Source Patheos.com). Continue reading at http://www.patheos.com/Library/Vajrayana-Buddhism.html
Theravada (Doctrine of the Elders) is the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Tipitaka or Pali canon, which scholars generally agree contains the earliest surviving record of the Buddha's teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) and Sri Lanka. Today Theravada Buddhists number well over 100 million worldwide.
(Source Accesstoinsight.com). Continue reading at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bullitt/theravada.html
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is a technique which aims to clear mental impurities and result in happiness. The focus is on self-transformation through self-observation, through the practice of mindful breathing. It allows you to deeply understand the connection between mind and body. The aim of the self-exploratory journey is to gain a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
Mindfulness of breathing allows you to concentrate on your breath and heighten your awareness of all bodily sensations, including discomfort. The experience should allow you to gain clarity on "the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace" [Source: www.dhamma.org]