The Buddha, himself, explains this best, when he writes, “Do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘This is our Teacher’. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome and wrong and bad, then give them up… and when you know that certain things are wholesome and good, and that the wise believe them to be so, then accept them and follow them.”

This is Buddhism—it’s more about practice than merely holding a certain set of dogmatic beliefs.

It's closer to psychology than religion.

One fact about Buddhism fact that will surprise you the most is that it is closer to psychology than religion—it’s really quite practical.

The Buddha could be seen as an early psychologist, teaching his disciples the idea of acceptance—that the world is a certain way, and that wishful thinking only leads to sorrow.

One of the principal ideas of Buddhism is that suffering comes from craving—mainly, from wishing things were different than they are. We all wish that sickness didn’t take hold of our bodies. We want money, friends, and lovers. We want success and fame. We want and we want, and when the world doesn’t align with those wants, we suffer.

But Siddhartha, in his enlightenment, recognized the futility of this.

Buddhism fosters a mindset that helps adherents accept the world as it really is, and to abolish destructive cravings that lead to anger, sorrow, and suffering.

Doing this requires constant mindfulness—a concept that is becoming a huge trend in the psychology field. To be mindful is simply to focus your awareness on the present moment, while avoiding judging your thoughts and feelings as either bad or good. It means to live totally in the present, and it has proven to be incredibly therapeutic.

One of their leaders is found, not chosen.

Another Buddhism fact that may surprise you involves the Dali Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

The Dali Lama is found rather than chosen.

The Dali Lama is believed to have the ability to choose the body he is reincarnated into, meaning that each Dali Lama is a reincarnation of the last.

The High Lamas of the Gelupta tradition take on the search for the reborn Dali Lama each time the previous leader passes away. This can take years—it took, in fact, 4 years to find the current Dali Lama, Tensin Gyatso.

When the High Lamas have a vision, the search begins. They meditate at central Tibet’s holy lake, waiting for signs that may indicate where the new Dali Lama resides.

When the boy is found, the High Lamas enact a series of secret tests to make sure he is their actual reincarnated leader—this includes presenting the boy with a set of items, one of which belonged to the previous Dali Lama, and seeing if he chooses the correct one.

If chosen, the boy, family in tow, is taken to Lhasa, where he studies the Buddhist sutra to prepare for his place as spiritual leader of Tibet.

They study kōans.

A Buddhist kōan is a paradoxical statement or question that is used in Zen practice to provoke doubt and test progress in Zen practice. Once the solution has been found, the kōan is no longer paradoxical, and can be understood for what it is—a profoundly meaningful statement produced from the state of consciousness it is designed to awaken.

They’re usually just a few sentences in length. A well-known example is Master Hakuin Ekaku’s question, "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?"

Contrary to popular belief, these aren’t simply nonsensical statements which suddenly bring about “Enlightenment”. They are meant to be creatively solved, although not in the way our Western minds may expect.

This isn’t an easy process, either. Students meditate on them for a year or more, and in some schools, it can take up to 10 years to master all assigned kōans.

At the most basic level a kōan slowly breaks down a student’s conception of the way reality works, allowing them to begin to truly “see,” through the fog of presuppositions and expectations.

This last Buddhism fact may surprise you simply because of its effectiveness. Paired with a teacher, the solving of koans can breed immense clarity of mind.

Don’t believe that? Find a Zen master and try it out for yourself. You may just be surprised.

Learn about the path to a clearer vision.

Buddhism is very different from its Western stereotypes. It is a way of life that’s focused on alleviating suffering through a rational, emotional, and spiritual journey toward clarity. Surprisingly compatible with Western life, Buddhism is about cutting through prejudices and presuppositions to get to the truth of what reality is.

And these 7 Buddhism facts that will surprise you are only the beginning of this complex and ancient belief system. For more information about the core teachings of Buddhism, head here.