Buddhism can be described as a set of tools for helping us to fulfill our potential. The Buddha taught that we can all become more aware, creative, wise and kind. Through consistently and carefully working on simple things - like being more aware of the choices we make in our lives - we can have a greater sense of freedom, and feel more in control of our own destiny rather than being blown around by the winds of circumstance.

Buddhism recognises that each of us is unique and individual, and yet that whatever differences there may be between us - be they race, nationality, gender or sexual preference - we all have the same basic kinds of experiences and desires in life.

Using practical guidelines and methods such as meditation we can gradually deepen and transform our experience of ourselves and the world around us. We can live more in the present moment instead of hankering after the past or wishing for the future, and we can learn to embrace life as it really is, rather than struggle with it not being the way we would like it to be. Buddhist teaching never asks us to put aside our rational faculties and simply ‘believe’. Instead it encourages us to test its teachings against our own experience.

The word ‘Buddha’ is a title rather than a name: it means ‘one who is awake’, in the sense of having woken up to the way things really are. It was given to a man called Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 2,500 years ago in Northern India. At the age of 35, after years of intense spiritual exploration and practice, he gained direct insight into the nature of reality. This insight completely broke down the defensive barriers which we normally place between us and others.

He spent the rest of his life travelled from town to town helping people to make the same sort of break-through which he had experienced. From this starting point his teachings have spread throughout the world, constantly being developed and modified to best suit the needs of people in different cultures and at different times.

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