What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is the teaching of the Buddha, just as Christianity is the teaching of Jesus Christ and Islam is the teaching of Mohammad.
Yet, there is one major characteristic that distinguishes Buddhism from the other major religions. Those who embrace Buddhism can also become a Buddha. In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, believers are encouraged to learn the teachings of the founder and to devote themselves to a unique, absolute deity. Nonetheless, these followers cannot become a deity. However, in Buddhism, anyone is said to have the potential to become the Buddha if they awaken to the truth behind the universe and humans beings, which can be understood through studying the teachings of the Buddha.
Ultimately, Buddhism is everyone’s attempt to become a Buddha.
What is ‘Buddha’?
“Buddha” is the Sanskrit word for “aspirant.” After practicing and overcoming austerities for six years, the Buddha decided to abandon the severe practices. He would eventually discover the truth while meditating under a bodhi tree. For this reason, people called him the “Buddha” or the “one who has awakened to the truth.”
The original Buddha from India was an “ojin Buddha” – a body of a Buddha manifested to correspond to the different needs and capacities of living beings. The Buddha that is represented in the Lotus Sutra is called a “hojin Buddha,” which is a Buddha that has gained Enlightenment a long time before the dawn of existence, even long before this universe was created. Essentially, this Buddha is the “truth.”
As the teachings came to be received in the western regions of Asia, the Chinese used two Chinese characters (“butsu” and “da”) to represent the word, “Buddha.” When Buddhism came to Japan, the Japanese only used the first character, and it came to be read as both “butsu” and “hotoke.”
This is taken from a September 2015 lecture by Ven. Kenjo lgarashi. Read more of his lectures here.