Four hundred million people call themselves Buddhists today. Yet most Westerners know little about this powerful, Eastern-spawned faith. How did it begin? What do its adherents believe? Why are so many Westerners drawn to it? Essential Buddhism responds to these questions and many more, offering an accessible, global perspective on the religion's past, present, and future. It identifies how the principal concepts and practices originated and evolved through diverse cultural adaptations into three basic formats: Theraveda (including Vipassana, brought from Vietnam in the 1960s and including such practitioners as Jack Kornfield and Jon Kapat-Zinn); Mahayana (including Zen Buddhism, originally brought to America by Japanese teachers after World War II and popularized by Jack Kerouac and Thomas Merton); and: Vajrayana (including Tibetan Buddhism, from the teachers who fled the Chinese takeover of Tibet in the 1950s as well as the Dalai Lama, and embraced by Allen Ginsberg, Richard Gere, and countless others) Essential Buddhism is the single best resource for the novice and the expert alike, exploring the depths of Buddhism's popularity and illuminating its tenets and sensible approach to living. Written in the lucid prose of a longtime professional storyteller, and full of Buddhist tales, scriptural quotes, ancient stories, and contemporary insights, Essential Buddhism is the first complete guide to the faith and the phenomenon.