What is Buddhism:
Buddhism is an Eastern religion and philosophy based on the teachings attributed to an prince-turned-ascetic named Siddhartha Gautama. It is chiefly concerned with suffering and how to overcome it. The goal of Buddhism is to attain Nibbana or Nirvana – a state of mind that is completely at peace, no longer craves and therefore no longer suffers. Understanding how to achieve this state is expected to be attained through meditation and mental training. Buddhists also believe in rebirth, which is in turn influenced by karma – the idea that a person’s actions attracts either happiness or hardship depending on the intent behind them. Much like Christianity and Islam, Buddhism varies greatly across the nationalities it has encompassed.

How Buddhism began:
Siddhartha Gautama was a Prince born around the 4th Century BCE. There is archaeological and historical evidence attesting to his existence as a person, though in the stories that contain the particulars of his life as a religious teacher, it’s often unclear how much is actual and how much is folk lore. The sayings of Buddha were passed down orally for three or four centuries before being written down in what is known as the Pali Canon. According to these, Siddhartha left his family and luxurious lifestyle at age 29 to become an ascetic – an indigent holy man who voluntarily takes on a life of poverty and contemplation in order to reach spiritual enlightenment. After unsuccessful attempts to find satisfaction through the leadership of other teachers, he decided that self-deprivation was actually working against him, not for him. He changed his tact, and after nourishing his body, sat under a tree to meditate for several weeks. During those weeks, he made several realizations about the nature of suffering, reality, self and what to do to cease suffering. Afterwards, he began teaching others about what he had discovered and showing them ways to discover it for themselves. His movement grew, and was carried on by his supporters after his death.

Who is a Buddhist:
The least nebulous definition of who can be labeled a Buddhist is a person that has undertaken the practice of "taking refuge in the Triple Gem". It is roughly equivalent to the Nicene creed, the Sinner's prayer, or the sacrament of confirmation or the Islamic profession of faith. It demonstrates that the believer accepts 3 "gems" as tools to help find enlightenment. These "gems" are the Buddha, the dharma (doctrines), and the sangha (religious community). It can be a private decision or a formal ritual at a temple.

Aspiring Buddhists are advised to thoroughly investigate Buddhism before making this commitment. Once they’ve become a Buddhist, they are expected to strive to avoid killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and intoxication.

How is Buddhism different from other religious views:
One distinguishing feature of Buddhism is that instead of striving for an eternal afterlife of peace, the ultimate goal is actually non-existence – to escape the constant cycle of life, death and rebirth. In Buddhism, nothing is considered permanent, therefore an eternity in any particular state is not possible. A person’s notion of self and of reality are said to be illusions.

Buddhism doesn’t have a doctrine of judgment or sin. One’s thoughts and actions have direct consequences that are not consciously administered by an interventionist god as punishment or reward, but arise naturally in a 'cause and effect' relationship.

A few misconceptions:
One of the most common misconceptions about Buddhism is that rebirth in Buddhism is the same idea as reincarnation in Hinduism. This is not true. Hindus usually believe in an immortal soul, while Buddhists do not. Reincarnation is basically the “re-housing” of an immortal soul in a new mortal body. The idea of rebirth deals with the arisal of the same set of attributes that define a consciousness in different lives, in a cycle that can be broken (though it is more extensive and nuanced than can be described in one sentence).

Another misconception is that there is only one Buddha, and that Buddha is the name of the Buddhist god. Buddha is the title given to an individual that has awakened to the highest level of enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama was not the only Buddha, and is not revered as a god in the sense of creating and governing the universe, but as a teacher, though some forms of Buddhist worship do seem similar to Hindu polytheism.

On the other extreme, there is a tendency by some in the West is to portray Buddhism as simply an Eastern philosophy completely free of the hallmarks of superstition and mythology that other religions exhibit. This is not always the reality – the Buddhist scriptures do include questionable events such as a snake shielding the Buddha from rain with its hood and Buddhism is interpreted differently in the various cultures it has embedded itself in, often adapting to local traditions. These things might not be fundamental to the main teachings, but they are endemic to Buddhism as a religion nonetheless.