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Introduction:

Buddhism is a religion to some people, a philosophy for some, and a way of life for some. It was founded over 2500 years ago by Siddhartha Guatama, an Indian prince. Having lived his early life in luxury, he became disillusioned with the world on seeing an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. He left his home to seek total eradication of all suffering. After trying and mastering all the spiritual paths prevalent at that time and not finding what he wanted, he realised that extremes of pleasure and self mortification cannot bring about liberation from suffering. He finally gained enlightenment through his own efforts and out of compassion for all suffering beings, started to preach his path of liberation.

According to Buddhism, every action, good or bad, has its consequences. We are caught up in the cycle of birth and death due to our ignorance and attachment to things that are impermanent in nature. To be free we need to realise the true nature of things. The Buddha preached the 8-fold path consisting of moral precepts, meditation and wisdom. Buddhism also lays great emphasis on compassion for all living beings.

Sub-divisions:

There are two main types of Buddhists: Theravada Buddhists are from countries such as Sri Lanka , Burma and Thailand. Mahayana Buddhists (which includes sub-branches like Zen, Pure land and Tibetan Buddhists) are usually from China, Japan, Vietnam etc. However there are quite a few westerners who follow Buddhism as well.

Beliefs and practices:

All Buddhists do not believe in a creator God, but some Buddhists worship Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (one who is training to become a Buddha), especially Mahayana Buddhists (e.g from China). Most Buddhists also believe in the doctrine of Karma (all actions have consequences) and rebirth after death.  

Some Buddhists practice chanting (usually softly on beads or loudly) and meditation (focusing the mind on the breath or being mindful of all activities such as walking, eating etc). Buddhist worship or meditation will not impact on timetables or exams.
However, Buddhist monks and nuns have to follow a number of precepts including not handling money, and not taking solid food after midday, and (for Thai monks) avoiding physical contact with members of the opposite sex. If there are any monks or nuns among students, these things should be taken care of.

Scriptures:

The main Buddhist scripture is called Tripitaka or the three baskets, and a book called "The Dhammapada", consisting of short 4-line teachings, is quite popular among Buddhists in general. Apart from that, many Buddhists read and chant sutras (esp. Chinese and Japanese Buddhists, who chant the Chinese version of the sutras), the most common of them being the Heart sutra, Diamond sutra, Lotus sutra, etc.

Festivals:

 Buddhist festivals are mostly communal occasions rather than private, and so would not have any impact on timetables or exams.
Dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to country and from year to year since they are based on the lunar calendar, except Japan which follows a solar calendar.

All Buddhists celebrate Vesak or Buddha day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, which are said to have taken place on the same day according to the lunar calendar. It falls on the full moon of the sixth month of the lunar year (usually in the months of May or June). This is the most important Buddhist festival.

Different schools of Buddhism have some unique festivals, some of which are partly cultural.

Major Theravada festivals
Magha Puja or Sangha day falls on the full moon of the third lunar month (February)
Asalha Puja falls on the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July): commemorating the Buddha's first sermon after enlightenment
Kathina or robe offering ceremony (on a convenient day after the monks' retreat)
Some (but not all) individual Theravada Buddhists follow the Uposatha or observance day on new moon, full moon and quarterly moon every month, when they follow eight precepts including not eating solid food after midday.
Thai Buddhists celebrate Songkhran (New Year) in mid-April.

Major Mahayana festivals
Chinese and Japanese Buddhists celebrate Ulambana (Ancestor day) in July, and Avalokiteshwara’s (Kuan Yin) birthday in March. Tibetan Buddhists celebrate Losar (new year) in February.

Special food restrictions:

 Most Buddhists are vegetarian (and some, esp Chinese Buddhists, are vegan), but not all. Apart from this there are no special dietary requirements.  

Dress code

Nothing special. Buddhists generally are traditional and like to dress and behave modestly. Monks follow a special dress code of yellow or orange robes.

Other restrictions/ customs:

 However, there are cultural traits which vary with the country.  Generally speaking, Buddhism is not too restrictive with regards to rules.

Manchester Buddhist Contacts:

Manchester University Buddhist Society

Manchester Buddhist Centre, 6-20 Turner Street, Manchester M4 1DZ