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Buddhism is a non-theistic religion (no belief in a creator god), also considered a philosophy and a moral discipline, originating in India in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. It was founded by the sage Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha l. c. 563 - c. 483 BCE) who, according to legend, had been a Hindu prince before abandoning his position and wealth to become a spiritual ascetic and, finally, an enlightened being who taught others the means by which they could escape samsara, the cycle of suffering, rebirth, and death.
The Buddha developed the belief system at a time when India was in the midst of significant religious and philosophical reform. Buddhism was, initially, only one of many schools of thought which developed in response to what was perceived as the failure of orthodox Hinduism to address the needs of the people. It remained a relatively minor school until the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232 BCE) of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) who embraced and spread the belief, not only throughout India, but through Southern, Eastern, and Central Asia.
Buddhism's central vision can be summed up in four verses from one of its central texts, the Dhammapada:
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves. (I.1-2)
From desire comes grief, from desire comes fear; one who is free from desire knows neither grief nor fear.
Attachment to objects of desire brings grief, attachment to objects of desire brings fear; one who is free of attachment knows neither grief nor fear. (XVI.212-213)
The Buddha came to understand that desire and attachment caused suffering and humans suffered because they were ignorant of the true nature of existence. People insisted on permanent states in life and resisted change, clung to what they knew, and mourned what they lost. In his quest for a means to live without suffering, he recognized that life is constant change, nothing is permanent, but one could find inner peace through a spiritual discipline that recognized beauty in the transience of life while also preventing one from becoming ensnared by attachment to impermanent objects, people, and situations. His teaching centers on the Four Noble Truths, the Wheel of Becoming, and the Eightfold Path to form the foundation of Buddhist thought and these remain central to the different schools of Buddhism which continue in the modern day.
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Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma, “Eternal Order”) was the dominant faith in India in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE when a wave of religious and philosophical reform swept the land. Scholar John M. Koller notes how, “a major social transformation from agrarian life to urban trade and manufacture was underway, leading to a questioning of the old values, ideas, and institutions” (46). Hinduism was based on acceptance of the scriptures known as the Vedas, thought to be eternal emanations from the universe which had been “heard” by sages at a certain time in the past but were not created by human beings.
The Vedas were “received” and recited by the Hindu priests in Sanskrit, a language the people did not understand, and various philosophical thinkers of the time began to question this practice and the validity of the belief structure. Many different schools of philosophy are said to have developed at this time (most of which did not survive), which either accepted or rejected the authority of the Vedas. Those which accepted the orthodox Hindu view and the resulting practices were known as astika (“there exists”) and those which rejected the orthodox view were known as nastika (“there does not exist”). Three of the nastika schools of thought to survive this period were Charvaka, Jainism, and Buddhism.
The Buddha recognized that the paths of Charvaka & Jainism both represented extremes & found what he called a “middle way” between them.
Hinduism held the universe was governed by a supreme being known as Brahman who was the Universe itself and it was this being who had imparted the Vedas to humanity. The purpose of one's life was to live in accordance with the divine order as it had been set down and perform one's dharma (duty) with the proper karma (action) in order to eventually find release from the cycle of rebirth and death (samsara) at which point the individual soul would attain union with the oversoul (atman) and experience complete liberation and peace.
Charvaka rejected this belief and offered materialism instead. Its founder, Brhaspati (l. 600 BCE) claimed it was ridiculous for people to accept the word of Hindu priests that an incomprehensible language was the word of God. He established a school based on direct perception in ascertaining truth and the pursuit of pleasure as the highest goal in life. Mahavira (also known as Vardhamana, l. 599-527 BCE) preached Jainism based on the belief that individual discipline and strict adherence to a moral code led to a better life and release from samsara at death. The Buddha recognized that both of these paths represented extremes and found what he called a “middle way” between them.
According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini (modern-day Nepal) and grew up, the son of a king. After a seer predicted he would either become a great king, or spiritual leader if he were to witness suffering or death, his father shielded from any of the harsh realities of existence. He married, had a son, and was groomed to succeed his father as king. One day, however (or, in some versions, over a succession of days), his coachman drove him out of the compound where he had spent his first 29 years and he encountered what are known as the Four Signs:
- An aged man
- A sick man
- A dead man
- An ascetic
With the first three, he asked his driver, “Am I, too, subject to this?”, and the coachman assured him that everyone aged, everyone grew sick at one point or another, and everyone died. Siddhartha became upset as he understood that everyone he loved, all his fine things, would be lost and that he, himself, would one day be as well.
When he saw the ascetic, a shaven-headed man in a yellow robe, smiling by the side of the road, he asked why he was not like other men. The ascetic explained he was pursuing a peaceful life of reflection, compassion, and non-attachment. Shortly after this encounter, Siddhartha left his wealth, position, and family to follow the ascetic's example.
He at first sought out a famous teacher from whom he learned meditation techniques, but these did not free him from worry or suffering. A second teacher taught him how to suppress his desires and suspend awareness, but this was no solution either as it was not a permanent state of mind. He tried to live as the other ascetics lived, practicing what was most likely Jain discipline, but even this was not enough for him. At last, he decided to refuse the needs of the body by starving himself, eating only a grain of rice a day, until he was so emaciated that he was unrecognizable.
According to one version of the legend, at this point, he either stumbled into a river and received a revelation of the middle way. In the other version of the story, a milkmaid named Sujata comes upon him in the woods near her village and offers him some rice milk, which he accepts, and so ends his period of strict asceticism as he glimpses the idea of a “middle way”. He goes and sits beneath a Bodhi tree, on a bed of grass, in the nearby village of Bodh Gaya, vowing he will either come to understand how best to live in the world or will die.
The Buddha understood, in a flash of illumination, that humans suffered because they insisted on permanence in a world of constant change.
He understood, in a flash of illumination, that humans suffered because they insisted on permanence in a world of constant change. People maintained an identity which they called their “self” and which would not change, maintained clothing and objects they thought of as “theirs”, and maintained relationships with others which they believed would last forever – but none of this was true; the nature of life, all of life, was change and the way to escape suffering was to recognize this and act on it. At this moment he became the Buddha (“awakened one” or “enlightened one”) and was freed from ignorance and illusion.
Having attained complete enlightenment, recognizing the interdependent and transient nature of all things, he recognized that he could now live however he pleased without suffering and could do whatever he wanted. He hesitated to teach what he had learned to others because he felt they would just reject him but was finally convinced that he had to try and so preached his first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath at which he first described the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path which led one from illusion and suffering to enlightenment and joy.
It should be noted that this story of the Buddha's journey from illusion to awareness was later tailored to him following the establishment of the belief system and may, or may not, reflect the reality of Buddha's early life and awakening. Scholars Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. note that early Buddhists were “motivated in part by the need to demonstrate that what the Buddha taught was not the innovation of an individual, but rather the rediscovery of a timeless truth” in order to give the belief system the same claim to ancient, divine origins held by Hinduism and Jainism (149). Buswell and Lopez continue:
Thus, in their biographies, all of the buddhas of the past and future are portrayed as doing many of the same things. They all sit cross-legged in their mother's womb; they are all born in the “middle country” of the continent; immediately after their birth, they all take seven steps to the north; they all renounce the world after seeing the four sights and after the birth of a son; they all achieve enlightenment seated on a bed of grass. (149)
However this may be, the legend of Siddhartha's journey and spiritual awakening became well known in oral tradition and was alluded to or included in written works from around 100 years after his death through the 3rd century CE when it appears in full in the Lalitavistara Sutra. The story has been repeated since and, lacking an alternative, is accepted as true by the majority of Buddhists.
Teachings & Beliefs
As noted, what started Siddhartha on his quest was the realization that he would lose everything that he loved, and this would cause him suffering. From this realization, he understood that life was suffering. One suffered at birth (as did one's mother) and suffered then throughout one's life by craving what one did not have, fearing for the loss of what one did have, mourning the loss of what one once had, and finally dying and losing everything only to be reincarnated to repeat the process.
In order for life to be anything other than suffering, one had to find a way to live it without the desire to possess and hold it in a fixed form; one had to let go of the things of life while still being able to appreciate them for the value they had. After attaining enlightenment, he phrased his belief on the nature of life in his Four Noble Truths:
- Life is suffering
- The cause of suffering is craving
- The end of suffering comes with an end to craving
- There is a path which leads one away from craving and suffering
The four truths are called “noble” from the original arya meaning the same but also “worthy of respect” and suggesting “worth heeding”. The path alluded to in the fourth of the truths is The Eightfold Path which serves as a guide to live one's life without the kind of attachment that guarantees suffering:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
As Koller points out, the first three have to do with wisdom, the next two with conduct, and the last three with mental discipline. He continues:
The Noble Eightfold Path should not be thought of as a set of eight sequential steps, with perfection at one step required before advancing to the next. Rather, these eight components of the path should be thought of as guiding norms of right living that should be followed more or less simultaneously, for the aim of the path is to achieve a completely integrated life of the highest order…Wisdom is seeing things as they really are, as interrelated and constantly changing processes…moral conduct is to purify one's motives, speech, and action, thereby stopping the inflow of additional cravings…mental discipline works to attain insight and to eliminate the bad dispositions and habits built up on the basis of past ignorance and craving. (58)
He called his teachings the Dharma which, in this case, means “cosmic law” as opposed to Hinduism which defines the same term as “duty”. One could, however, interpret Buddha's Dharma as “duty” in that he believed one had a duty to one's self to take responsibility for one's life, that each individual was finally responsible for how much they wanted to suffer – or not, and that everyone, finally, could be in control of their lives. He discounted a belief in a creator god as irrelevant to the lives of human beings and a contributor to suffering in that one cannot possibly know God's will and believing that one can only leads to frustration, disappointment, and pain. No god is required in order to follow the Eightfold Path; all one needs is the commitment to taking full responsibility for one's own actions and their consequences.
Schools & Practices
Buddha continued preaching his Dharma for the rest of his 80 years, finally dying at Kushinagar. He told his disciples that, after his death, they should have no leader and he did not want to be venerated in any way. He requested his remains be interred in a stupa and placed at a crossroads. This did not come to pass, however, since his followers had their own ideas, and so his remains were deposited in eight (or ten) stupas in different regions corresponding to important events in his life. They also chose a leader as they wished to continue his work and so, as humans do, held councils and debates and initiated rules and regulations.
At the First Council in c. 400 BCE, the teachings and monastic discipline were decided upon and codified. At the Second Council in 383 BCE, a dispute over proscriptions in monastic discipline led to the first schism between the Sthaviravada school (which argued for observing said proscriptions) and the Mahasanghika school ("Great Congregation") which represented the majority and rejected them. This schism would eventually result in the establishment of three different schools of thought:
- Theravada Buddhism (The School of the Elders)
- Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle)
- Vajrayana Buddhism (The Way of the Diamond)
Theravada Buddhism (referred to as Hinayana “little vehicle” by Mahayana Buddhists, considered a pejorative term by the Theravada) claims to practice the belief as it was originally taught by Buddha. Adherents follow the teachings in the Pali language and focus on becoming an arhat (“saint”). This school is characterized by a focus on individual enlightenment.
Mahayana Buddhism (which includes Zen Buddhism) follows the teachings in Sanskrit and adherents work toward becoming a Bodhisattva (“essence of enlightenment”), one who, like Buddha, has attained full awareness but puts off the peace of nirvana in order to help others shed their ignorance. Mahayana Buddhism is the most popular form practiced today and also claims to follow the Buddha's teachings faithfully.
Vajrayana Buddhism (also known as Tibetan Buddhism) dispenses with the concept of having to commit to Buddhist discipline and change one's lifestyle in order to begin a Buddhist walk on the Eightfold Path. This school advocates the belief illustrated by the phrase Tat Tvam Asi (“thou art that”) that one already is a Bodhisattva, one only has to realize it. One need not, therefore, give up unhealthy attachments at the start of one's walk but, rather, just proceed along the path and those attachments will become less and less alluring. As with the others, Vajrayana also claims it is the most faithful to the Buddha's original vision.
All three schools adhere to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, as do the many other minor schools, and none is objectively considered more legitimate than the others though, obviously, adherents of each would disagree.
Buddhism continued as a minor philosophical school of thought in India until the reign of Ashoka the Great who, after the Kalinga War (c. 260 BCE), renounced violence and embraced Buddhism. Ashoka spread the Dharma of the Buddha throughout India under the name dhamma which equates to “mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity” (Keay, 95). He had the Buddha's remains disinterred and reinterred in 84,000 stupas all through the country along with edicts encouraging the Buddhist vision. He also sent missionaries to other countries – Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, Greece among them – to spread Buddha's message.
Buddhism became more popular in Sri Lanka and China than it had ever been in India and spread further from temples established in these countries. Buddhist art began appearing in both countries between the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, including anthropomorphic depictions of Buddha himself. Earlier artists, during Ashoka's time, had refrained from depicting Buddha and only suggested his presence through symbols but, increasingly, Buddhist sites included statues and images of him, a practice first initiated by a sect of the Mahasanghika school.
In time, these statues became objects of veneration. Buddhists do not “worship” the Buddha but, at the same time, they do in that the statue representing Buddha becomes not only a focal point for concentration on one's own path but a way of expressing gratitude to the Buddha. Further, one who becomes a Buddha (and, according to Mahayana Buddhism, anyone can) does become a kind of “god” in that they have transcended the human condition and so deserve special recognition for that accomplishment. In the present day, there are over 500 million practicing Buddhists in the world, each following his or her own understanding of the Eightfold Path and continuing to spread the message that one only has to suffer in life as much as one wants to and there is a way which leads to peace.
Criticisms of BuddhismIts History, Doctrine and Common Practices
We know of Buddhism because Buddhist scholars began to write down Buddhist stories during a time when the faith was threatened. This was done after hundreds of years of oral transmission of those stories:
“ For the first five hundred years the Scriptures were orally transmitted. They were written down only at the beginning of the Christian era, because at that time the decline in faith threatened their continued survival in the memories of the monks. Different schools wrote down different things. [. ] The years between A.D. 100 and 400 were the golden age of Buddhist literature. ”
"Buddhist Scriptures" by Edward Conze (1959)2
The second great Buddhist council was held in 387BCE in Vaisali, and was attended by 700 theras (Therevada senior monks). Disputes were discussed, and the Buddhist community suffered more splits yet "even in this council of Vaisali we cannot find the fact that the Master's preachings were reduced to writing. [. ] Thus the same doctrine of the Teacher began to be differently stated and believed. [. ] There were many different schools of the Buddhists at the time when King Acoka ascended the throne (about 269 B.C.)"3. The Buddhist Canon is full of "discrepancies and contradictions" and even the major Buddhist denominations are unsure if their texts are the original ones or if they are based on Human speculations about the original texts, which were themselves "handed down by memory about one hundred years" before being written down3.
Buddhism therefore suffers from the same problems as Christianity and Islam: Everything we know about the religion comes from fallible human sources, and, the earliest collections of writings on the religion have profoundly contradicted each other. The model for oral transmission was, and sometimes still is, followed today, where teachers form long-lasting relationships with students. The founders of major sects are given much credibility and all of this lasts on one big claim: that the teacher passes on the religion as he himself received it. But this model never works. In all instances, Buddhist doctrine and practice vary greatly. Modern-day communities of Buddhists have widely differing practices as a result.
“ Lineages of teachers, which are often reputed to be unbroken right back to the Buddha, pass instructions on practices to their students [. who themselves then] emphasize the need to carry out a practice in accordance with the precise procedure passed from teacher to student. This means there can be striking differences between practices that have been passed on through contrasting lineages. All the practices developed over time, most often in isolation from each other. Consequently, practitioners using contrasting techniques may never have come into contact with each other. There was therefore no need for them to take account of or explain contrasts. ”
"Representing Western Buddhism: a United Kingdom Focus" by Helen Waterhouse (2001)4
“ Buddhism, having been adopted by savage tribes as well as civilized nations, by quiet, enervated people as well as by warlike, sturdy hordes, during some twenty-five hundred years, has developed itself into beliefs widely divergent and even diametrically opposed. Even in Japan alone it has differentiated itself into thirteen main sects and forty-four sub-sects. ”
"Zen - The Religion of the Samurai" by Kaiten Nukariya (1913)5
Buddhism suffers from denominational conflicts in the same way as other religions. The scholar of religion Helen Waterhouse notes that "anyone who has had dealings with a range of Buddhist groups will be aware that Buddhists belonging to one group are often happy to criticize Buddhists belonging to another. [. ] There is a range of focuses for such criticism, among which perhaps the most common is the questioning of the authenticity of the teachers of other groups in terms of their legitimacy within a lineage or the quality of their personal practice"6.
For example: Zen Buddhism specifically distances itself from other branches of Buddhism, claiming that Buddhist scholars are wasting their time while deliberating over the specific phrases and words used within Buddhist scripture.
“ As the finger has no brightness whatever, so the Scripture has no holiness whatever. [. ] Those who spend most of their lives in the study of the Scriptures, arguing and explaining with hair-splitting reasonings, and attain no higher plane in spirituality, are religious flies good for nothing but their buzzing about the nonsensical technicalities. [. ]
Buddhist denominations, like non-Buddhist religions, lay stress on scriptural authority but Zen denounces it on the ground that words or characters can never adequately express religious truth, which can only be realized by mind [. ]. It is an isolated instance in the whole history of the world's religions that holy scriptures are declared to be 'no more than waste paper'. ”
"Zen - The Religion of the Samurai" by Kaiten Nukariya (1913)7
Now the advent of globalisation and the internet, disparate Buddhist groups regularly confront each other over differences in doctrine. Waterhouse (2001) states categorically that it is impossible to construct an original form of Buddhism from modern-day examples because the change that has occurred has been too great. As most major Buddhist sects disagree on some important theological issues, it must be the case that most of them are wrong in their teachings.
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COPYRIGHT 2019. TRICYCLE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Buddhism for Beginners is an initiative of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available.
COPYRIGHT 2019. TRICYCLE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
COPYRIGHT 2019. TRICYCLE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Design by Point Five
Buddhism - History
Buddhism is a major global religion with a complex history and system of beliefs. The following is intended only to introduce Buddhism's history and fundamental tenets, and by no means covers the religion exhaustively. To learn more about Buddhism, please look through our Web Resources section for other in-depth, online sources of information.
Historians estimate that the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, lived from 566(?) to 480(?) B.C. The son of an Indian warrior-king, Gautama led an extravagant life through early adulthood, reveling in the privileges of his social caste. But when he bored of the indulgences of royal life, Gautama wandered into the world in search of understanding. After encountering an old man, an ill man, a corpse and an ascetic, Gautama was convinced that suffering lay at the end of all existence. He renounced his princely title and became a monk, depriving himself of worldly possessions in the hope of comprehending the truth of the world around him. The culmination of his search came while meditating beneath a tree, where he finally understood how to be free from suffering, and ultimately, to achieve salvation. Following this epiphany, Gautama was known as the Buddha, meaning the "Enlightened One." The Buddha spent the remainder of his life journeying about India, teaching others what he had come to understand.
The Four Noble Truths comprise the essence of Buddha's teachings, though they leave much left unexplained. They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. More simply put, suffering exists it has a cause it has an end and it has a cause to bring about its end. The notion of suffering is not intended to convey a negative world view, but rather, a pragmatic perspective that deals with the world as it is, and attempts to rectify it. The concept of pleasure is not denied, but acknowledged as fleeting. Pursuit of pleasure can only continue what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst. The same logic belies an understanding of happiness. In the end, only aging, sickness, and death are certain and unavoidable.
The Four Noble Truths are a contingency plan for dealing with the suffering humanity faces -- suffering of a physical kind, or of a mental nature. The First Truth identifies the presence of suffering. The Second Truth, on the other hand, seeks to determine the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them can only bring suffering. Ignorance, in comparison, relates to not seeing the world as it actually is. Without the capacity for mental concentration and insight, Buddhism explains, one's mind is left undeveloped, unable to grasp the true nature of things. Vices, such as greed, envy, hatred and anger, derive from this ignorance.
The Third Noble Truth, the truth of the end of suffering, has dual meaning, suggesting either the end of suffering in this life, on earth, or in the spiritual life, through achieving Nirvana. When one has achieved Nirvana, which is a transcendent state free from suffering and our worldly cycle of birth and rebirth, spiritual enlightenment has been reached. The Fourth Noble truth charts the method for attaining the end of suffering, known to Buddhists as the Noble Eightfold Path. The steps of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Moreover, there are three themes into which the Path is divided: good moral conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech) meditation and mental development (Action, Livelihood, Effort), and wisdom or insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).
Contrary to what is accepted in contemporary society, the Buddhist interpretation of karma does not refer to preordained fate. Karma refers to good or bad actions a person takes during her lifetime. Good actions, which involve either the absence of bad actions, or actual positive acts, such as generosity, righteousness, and meditation, bring about happiness in the long run. Bad actions, such as lying, stealing or killing, bring about unhappiness in the long run. The weight that actions carry is determined by five conditions: frequent, repetitive action determined, intentional action action performed without regret action against extraordinary persons and action toward those who have helped one in the past. Finally, there is also neutral karma, which derives from acts such as breathing, eating or sleeping. Neutral karma has no benefits or costs.
Karma plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth. There are six separate planes into which any living being can be reborn -- three fortunate realms, and three unfortunate realms. Those with favorable, positive karma are reborn into one of the fortunate realms: the realm of demigods, the realm of gods, and the realm of men. While the demigods and gods enjoy gratification unknown to men, they also suffer unceasing jealousy and envy. The realm of man is considered the highest realm of rebirth. Humanity lacks some of the extravagances of the demigods and gods, but is also free from their relentless conflict. Similarly, while inhabitants of the three unfortunate realms -- of animals, ghosts and hell -- suffer untold suffering, the suffering of the realm of man is far less.
The realm of man also offers one other aspect lacking in the other five planes, an opportunity to achieve enlightenment, or Nirvana. Given the sheer number of living things, to be born human is to Buddhists a precious chance at spiritual bliss, a rarity that one should not forsake.
8d. The Birth and Spread of Buddhism
The Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath, shown here. He believed that freedom from desires set people free from the cycle of rebirth.
What is humanity's place within the universe?
For millennia, people around the world have asked this question. In 6th-century South Asia, this question stirred up a small revolution.
The answers provided by traditional Hindu teachings and practices made Indian philosophers and religious sages increasingly upset. Many members of the Vaishya class spoke against the injustices of the Hindu caste system and the overwhelming power of the priestly class, known as the Brahmins.
Many Brahmin priests were considered corrupt because they performed animal sacrifices and practiced other Vedic rituals. Resentment of such rituals and continued anger about unbalanced social power prompted the development of new intellectual teachings and philosophies. These new ideas maintained that some aspects of Hindu tradition and ritual had merit. They never directly challenged Vedic gods or beliefs.
But Siddharta Gautama did.
Buddha: Spiritual Revelation
Siddharta was born about 563 B.C.E. in the foothills of the Himalayas. A prince, he lived a sheltered life amid luxury, wealth, and comfort. But at age 29, Siddharta fled from his palace and discovered something new.
For the first time, he saw poverty, misery, and illness. At home, he soon felt discontented with his materialistic life and the conditions that surrounded him. In response to the emotions triggered by his experience outside the palace, he gave away all his belongings and searched for enlightenment through the abandonment of basic needs.
Siddharta began his quest with a period of starvation. According to legend, he grew so thin during this time that he could feel his hands if he placed one on the small of his back and the other on his stomach. These methods of self-denial eventually led him to a revelation.
Siddharta Gautama was a prince in a kingdom near the present day border of India and Nepal. Upon his enlightenment, his followers began to call him Buddha, which means, "Enlightened One".
Siddharta discovered that he needed to find another way &mdash something in between his rich and impoverished lifestyles. He resolved to follow the Middle Path.
Siddharta sought enlightenment through concentration. He sat under a pipal tree, practiced intense meditation, and fought off all worldly temptations. After 40 days, he reached the ultimate goal &mdash nirvana.
He came to understand his previous lives and finally gained release from the cycle of suffering. When he attained Enlightenment he became known by the title of Buddha, or "Awakened One."
The Buddha set out to share his experience and to teach others to follow the Middle Path. He traveled throughout northeastern India for several decades, spreading his philosophy to anyone who was interested, regardless of gender or caste. Even Brahmins and members of the nobility were converted.
The Buddha died in 483 B.C.E., after 45 years of traveling and teaching. Upon his death, the Buddha passed into a state of nirvana, the ultimate release from suffering in which the self no longer exists and salvation is achieved. Included in his last breaths were four words of inspiration: "Strive on with awareness." And his followers did.
Buddhism: Spiritual Revolution
Small communities of monks and nuns, known as bhikkus , sprung up along the roads that Buddha traveled. Devoted to his teachings, they dressed in yellow robes and wandered the countryside to meditate quietly. For almost 200 years, these humble disciples were overshadowed by the dominant Hindu believers. But the rise of a great empire changed all that.
In the 3rd century B.C.E., several ambitious leaders built the expansive Mauryan empire and fought many bloody battles were fought to extend its boundaries of control. One king, named Ashoka, was so troubled by the effects of the conquests on humanity that he converted to Buddhism. Adopting a code of nonviolence, he renounced all warfare and incorporated principles of Buddhism in his ruling practices.
Ashoka promoted Buddhist expansion by sending monks to surrounding territories to share the teachings of the Buddha. A wave of conversion began, and Buddhism spread not only through India, but also internationally. Ceylon, Burma, Nepal, Tibet, central Asia, China, and Japan are just some of the regions where the Middle Path was widely accepted.
With the great spread of Buddhism, it traditional practices and philosophies became redefined and regionally distinct. Only a small minority practiced the earliest forms of Buddhism, and Buddhist influence as a whole began to fade within India. Some scholars believe that many Buddhist practices were simply absorbed into the tolerant Hindu faith.
The Origins of Buddhism
Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama (the "Buddha"), is an important religion in most of the countries of Asia. Buddhism has assumed many different forms, but in each case there has been an attempt to draw from the life experiences of the Buddha, his teachings, and the "spirit" or "essence" of histeachings (called dhamma or dharma) as models for the religious life. However, not until the writing of the Buddha Charita (life of the Buddha) by Ashvaghosa in the 1st or 2nd century C.E. do we have acomprehensive account of his life. The Buddha was born (ca. 563 B.C.E.) in a place called Lumbini near the Himalayan foothills, and he began teaching around Benares (at Sarnath). His erain general was one of spiritual, intellectual, and social ferment. This was the age when the Hindu ideal of renunciation of family and socia llife by holy persons seeking Truth first became widespread, and when the Upanishads were written. Both can be seen as moves away from the centrality of the Vedic fire sacrifice.
Siddhartha Gautama was the warrior son of a king and queen. According to legend, at his birth a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer (withdrawing from the temporal life). To prevent this, his father provided him with many luxuries and pleasures. But, as a young man, he once went on a series of four chariot rides where he first saw the more severe forms of human suffering: old age, illness, and death (a corpse), as well as an ascetic renouncer. The contrast between his life and this human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth where in fact transitory, and could only mask human suffering. Leaving his wife—and new son ("Rahula"—fetter) he took on several teachers and tried severe renunciation in the forest until the point of near-starvation. Finally, realizing that this too was only adding more suffering, he ate food and sat down beneath a tree to meditate. By morning (or some say six months later!) he had attained Nirvana (Enlightenment), which provided both the true answers to the causes of suffering and permanent release from it.
Now the Buddha ("the Enlightened or Awakened One") began to teach others these truths out of compassion for their suffering. The most important doctrines he taught included the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. His first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (dukkha). Life as we normally live it is full of the pleasures and pains of the body and mind pleasures, he said, do not represent lasting happiness. They are inevitably tied in with suffering since we suffer from wanting them, wanting them to continue, and wanting pain to go so pleasure can come. The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving—for sense pleasures and for things to be as they are not. We refuse to accept life as it is. The third Noble Truth, however, states that suffering has an end, and the fourth offers the means to that end: the Eight-Fold Path and the Middle Way. If one follows this combined path he or she will attain Nirvana, an indescribable state of all-knowing lucid awareness in which there is only peace and joy.
The Eight-Fold Path—often pictorially represented by an eight-spoked wheel (the Wheel of Dhamma) includes: Right Views (the Four Noble Truths), Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood/Occupation, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness (total concentration in activity), and Right Concentration (meditation). TheEight-Fold Path is pervaded by the principle of the Middle Way, which characterizes the Buddha's life. The Middle Way represents a rejection of all extremes of thought, emotion, action, and lifestyle. Rather than either severe mortification of the body or a life of indulgence insense pleasures the Buddha advocated a moderate or "balanced" wandering life-style and the cultivation of mental and emotional equanimity through meditation and morality.
After the Buddha's death, his celibate wandering followers gradually settled down into monasteries that were provided by the married laityas merit-producing gifts. The laity were in turn taught by the monks some of the Buddha's teachings. They also engaged in such practices as visiting the Buddha's birthplace and worshipping the tree under which he became enlightened (bodhi tree), Buddha images in temples, and the relics of his body housed in various stupas or funeral mounds. A famous king, named Ashoka, and his son helped to spread Buddhism throughout South India and into Sri Lanka (Ceylon) (3rd century B.C.E.).
Many monastic schools developed among the Buddha's followers. This is partly because his practical teachings were enigmatic on several points for instance, he refused to give an unequivocal answer about whether humans have a soul (atta/atman) or not. Another reason for the development of different schools was that he refused to appoint asuccessor to follow him as leader of the Sangha (monastic order). He told the monks to be lamps unto themselves and make the Dhamma their guide.
Buddhism - History
Life of Siddhartha Guatama , the historical Buddha: conventional dates: 566-486 B.C.E. (According to more recent research, revised dates are: 490-410 BCE).
Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great (550 B.C.E.)
Confucius (551-479 )
Zarathustra (630-553 )
Birth of Mahavira (550)
First Buddhist Council at Rajagaha (486) after the Parinirvana*, under the patronage of King Ajatasattu.
The Buddhist Canon as it exist today was settled at this Council and preserved as an oral tradition.
Second Buddhist Council at Vesali (386) about 100 year after the Parinirvana.
First schism of the Sangha occurs in which the Mahasanghika school parts ways with the Sthaviravadins and the Theravadins.
Non-canonical Buddhist Council at Pataliputra (367)
Alexander the Great (356-323)
invaded India (327)
Reign of Indian Emperor Asoka (272-231) who converts and establishes the Buddha's Dharma on a national level for the first time.
Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra (250 ) under the patronage of Emperor Asoka about 200 years after the Parinirvana. The modern Pali Tipitaka now essentially complete.
Asoka's son and missionary Mahinda established Buddhism in Sri Lanka (247 )
Hadrian's Wall circa 3rd Century AD
Beginnings of Mahayana Buddhism (20O).
Composition of Prajnaparamita literature.
Historical record has it that two Buddhist missionaries from India in 68 AD, arrived at the court of Emperor Ming (58-75) of Han Dynasty. They enjoyed imperial favour and stayed on to translate various Buddhist Texts, one of which, The 'Sutra of Forty-two Sections' continues to be popular even today.
Buddhist monuments: Sanchi, Amaravati, Bodhi Gaya, India. (185-175)
Han Dynasty in China
Entire scriptural canon of Theravada School was committed to writing on palm leaves in Pali at the Aloka Cave, near Matale, Sri Lanka (35-32)
Milinda-pañha or Questions of King Milinda to Venerble Nagasena.
01BCE Mar 1, Start of the revised Julian calendar in Rome .
King Kaniska (78-101) convened the Fourth Buddhist Council at Jalandhar or in Kashmir around 100 C.E. (This is not recognized by the Theravadins).
Buddhism established in Cambodia 100 C.E and in Vietnam 150 C.E.
Composition of Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Buddhist texts.
Buddhism enters Central Asia and China.
Destruction of Jerusalem and the second Temple: (70 C.E.)
The Buddha first represented in art as human form.
The Age of Indian Buddhist philosopher Nargarjuna (150) founder of the school of Madhyamika ('the Middle Way').
Roman Empire reaches the height of its power.
In 185 C.E, Shunga a Brahman general became the ruler and the Shunga dynasty ruled for 112 years in India.
Expansion of Buddhism to Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
The Yogacara (meditation) school was founded by Maitreya natha (3rd century).
Buddhist influence in Persia spreads through trade.
Three Kingdoms dynasty (220𤫹) Division into three states: Wei, Shu, Wu. Many scientific advances adopted from India.
The Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity (312)
Asanga (310-390) and his brother Vasubandhu (420-500) prominent teachers of the Yogacara school of Buddhism.
Development of Vajrayana Buddhism in India.
Translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese by Kumarajiva (344-413) and Hui-yüan (334-416).
Buddhism enters Korea (372) .
Gupta dynasty exemplified by Chandra Gupta II (375-415) dominated North Central India.
Buddhist monastic university founded at Nalanda, India.
Buddhaghosa composes the Visuddhimagga and major commentaries in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism established in Burma and Korea.
Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien visits India (399-414).
Amitabha (Amida) Pure Land sect emerges in China.
Sri lankan Theravadin nuns introduce full ordination lineage into China (433).
Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into Java, Sumatra, Borneo , mainly by Indian immigrants.
5th Century Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England
Earliest hospital in Sri Lanka (437)
Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476)
Bodhidharma founder of Ch'an (Zen) arrives in China from India. (526)
Sui Dynasty in Chinese History (589-617) beginning of Golden Age of Chinese Buddhism.
Development of T'ien-tai, Hua-yen, Pure Land, and Ch'an schools of Chinese Buddhism.
Buddhism enters Japan (538) becomes state religion (594) .
Buddhism flourishing in Indonesia.
Jataka Tales translated into Persian by King Khusru (531-579).
The Age of Islamic Expansion
First pagoda built in China (600)
Construction of Potala Palace, Jokang and Ramoche temples to house Buddha images (641-650)
Harsa-vardhana ruler of a large empire in northern India from 606 to 647. He was a Buddhist convert in a Hindu era.
Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang (602-664) visits India.
Tang dynasty, China (618-906)
Academic schools ( Jöjitsu, Kusha, Sanron, Hossö, Ritsu, and Kegon ) proliferate in Japan.
Great debate between Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist schools.
Ch'an declared heretical in Tibet.
Nyingma School of Tibet Buddhism established.
Borobudur Temple complex built in Java.
Jataka Tales translated into Syrian and Arabic under title: Kalilag and Damnag.
Nara Period in Japanese history (710-784)
First monastery built in Tibet (Sam-ye) (749)
Moslem invasion of Central Asia (760)
Khmer kings build Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious monument.
Tendai School (founded by Saichö (767-822) and Shingon School (founded by Kukai: (774-835) appear in Japan.
Great Buddhist persecution in China (845)
Biography of Buddha translated into Greek by Saint John of Damascus and distributed in Christianity as "Balaam" and "Josaphat".
Heian Period in Japanese history (794-1185)
First printed book, Diamond Sutra, China (868)
First complete printing of Chinese Buddhist Canon (983 ) , known as the Szechuan edition.
Buddhism in Thailand (900-1000)
Islam replaces Buddhism in Central Asia (900-1000).
Sung Dynasty in Chinese History (960-1279)
1000 C.E The population at this time was about 200 million people in the world.
Conversion of King Anawrahta of Pagan (Burma) (1044-1077) by Shin Arahan.
Atisha (982-1054) arrives in Tibet from India (1042).
Marpa (1012-1097) begins Kargyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Milarepa (1040-1123) becomes greatest poet and most popular saint in Tibetan Buddhism .
The bhikkhu and bhikkhuni (monk and nun) communities at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, die out following invasions from South India.
Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism established.
Revival of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Burma. Decline of Buddhism in India.
1000-1100 There was a Confucian revival in China.
Edward the Confessor, English king (1042-1066)
Great Schism between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (1054)
Theravada Buddhism established in Burma.
Hönen (1133-1212) founded the Pure Land School of Japanese Buddhism.
Eisai (1141-1215) founds the Rinzai Zen School of Japanese Buddhism.
In 1193 the Moslems attacked and conquered Magadha, the heartland of Buddhism in India, and with the destruction of the Buddhist Monasteries and Universities (Valabhi and Nalanda) - in that area Buddhism was wiped out.
Buddhism in Korea flourishes under the Koryo dynasty (1140-1390 ).
Omar Khayyam, Persian poet and mathematician (1044-1123)
1119 Bologna University founded in Italy Paris University, in France, is founded in 1150.
Kamakura Period in Japanese history (1192-1338)
Shinran (1173-1263 ) founds True Pure Land School of Japanese Buddhism.
Dogen (1200-1253) founds Soto Zen School of Japanese Buddhism.
Nichiren (1222-1282) founds school of Japanese Buddhism named after him.
Mongols converted to Vajrayana Buddhism.
Theravada Buddhism spreads to Laos.
Some Buddhist texts still being translated into Arabic, in Persia.
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)
Magna Carta (1215 )
Genghis Khan invades China (1215)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Mongol conquest of China complete (1279)
Bu-ston collects and edits Tibetan Buddhist Canon.
Rulers of the north (Chieng-mai) and northeast (Sukhothai) Thailand adopt Theravada Buddhism (becomes state religion in 1360).
Theravada Buddhism adopted in Cambodia and Laos.
Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419) Tibetan Buddhist reformer and founder of Dge-lugs-pa (or Gelugpa, or 'Yellow Hat') order.
John Wycliffe (1328-1384) English theologian and biblical translator .
China regains its independence from the Mongols under the Ming dynasty (1368)
Beginning of Dalai Lama lineage in Tibetan Buddhism. I n Cambodia, the Vishnuite temple, Angkor Wat, founded in the 12th century, becomes a Buddhist centre.
Tibet's Gelugpa leader receives the title of "Dalai" from Altan Khan ( 1578) .
"Great Fifth" Dalai Lama meets Qing Emperor Shunzhi near Beijing.
Control of Japanese Buddhism by Tokugawa Shögunate (the ruling feudal government) (I603-1867)
Hakuin (1686-1769) monk, writer and artist who helped revive the Rinzai Zen Sect in Japanese Buddhism.
Japan closes the door to foreigners (1639)
Pilgrims reach America (1620)
Galileo recants (1633)
English Civil War (1642)
Colonial occupation of Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam .
King Kirti Sri Rajasinha obtains bhikkhus from the Thai court to reinstate the bhikkhu ordination line which has died out in Sri Lanka.
1700s Age of Enlightenment introduces revolutionary new ideas to Europe.
American independence (1776)
French revolution (1789-1802)
New sects begin to emerge in Japanese Buddhism.
Sri Lankan forest monks go to Burma for reordination (1862) .
First Western translation of the Dhammapada. (German-1862).
German translation of Lotus Sutra, 1852 and pioneer Buddhist scholars: - Neumann and Odlenburg, first German monk, Nyanatiloka.
First Chinese Temple in USA (San Francisco) (1853)
5th Buddhist Council in Mandalay, Burma (1868-1871 ) where the text of the Pali Canon was revised and inscribed on 729 marble slabs.
Meiji Restoration in Japanese history 1868, marking end of military rule.
History of Buddhism
History of Buddhism
The history of Buddhism religion dates back to the year 580 BC, which started with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born in the Lumbini, Southern Nepal, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of enlightenment. After going through a life of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment, which resulted in the alleviation of all his pain and suffering. He then set on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death.
Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous movements and divisions, such as Theravada, Mahayana, etc.
The First Council
The first council of Buddhism Sangha was organized a few months after Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. It was held in Rajagaha, with the aim of developing an agreement on his teachings. However, the teachings of Buddha were not written down even then.
The Second Council
The second council took place around 100 years after the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. The aim of the council, held at Vesali, was to settle a conflict over the nature of the arahant (or Buddhist saint) and monastic discipline, which had arisen between Mahasanghika majority (Great Assembly) of eastern India and Sthavira minority (the Elders) of the west.
The Era of Asoka the Great
Asoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was the ruler of the Magadhan empire. Initially a ruler obsessed with the aim of expanding his empire, he changed after witnessing the brutal carnage at the battle of Kalinga. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. He laid the foundation of numerous stupas and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha throughout the world.
The Third Council
The third council of Buddhism Sangha was held under Emperor Asoka, in Pataliputra. The reason for the council was deterioration in the standards of the monks. The consequence of the council was exclusion of numerous bogus monks from the Sangha.
Spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Emperor Asoka sent his son, Mahindra, to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism in the state. He succeeded in converting the King of Sri Lanka to Buddhism and soon, Buddhism became the state religion of the country.
The Fourth Council
The Fourth Council took place in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave near the village of Matale. It was in this council that decision was taken to write the teachings of Lord Buddha for the first time. The entire writing was collected in three baskets and given the name of Tipitaka or the Pali Canon. It comprises of three Pitakas, namely Vinaya Pitaka (the rules for the monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha's discourses) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological systemization of the Buddha's teachings). Another Fourth Buddhist Council (Sarvastivada tradition) was held around 100 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir. It is said to have been convened by the Kushana king, Kanishka,
Mahayana Buddhism and New Scriptures
Mahayana Buddhism emerged and grew between 150 BCE and 100 CE. With the rise of this sect, new sutras emerged. The most significant ones are the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.
The period between third and seventh century CE saw the establishment of a new form of Buddhism, which emerged out of the Mahayana sect. This form came to be known as Tantra, Mantrayana and Vajrayana. Tantras emphasized on the bodhisattva ideal and empathy for all beings. At the same time, it also laid stress on drawing of mandalas or 'magic' circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras, the recitation of phrases known as mantras and visualizations. It was also believed that one needs an experienced teacher or guru to learn the teachings of Lord Buddha.
Decline of Buddhism in India
From the seventh century, Buddhism went on a downward spiral in India, because of growth of Hinduism, decline of Buddhist universities and Muslim Turk invasions of northwest India.
Spread of Buddhism in China
Buddhism started gaining entry into China around 1 st century CE.
Spread of Buddhism in Japan
Fourth century CE saw Buddhism gaining ground in Korea and from there, religion spread to Japan in 538 CE. By the end of the century, Buddhism had become the state religion of the country. In 8 th century CE, the religion further spread under the patronage of Emperor Shomu. Six schools of Chinese Buddhism, namely Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu, were also introduced during this period. Later, Tendai and Shingon schools developed in Japan.
Spread of Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism, based on Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, started evolving in Japan around the 12 th century. Founded by Esai Zenji, it came to be known as Rinzai School in the country. Soto School of Zen also developed there in the 13 th century, with its base in Chinese Ts'ao-tung School.
Spread of Buddhism in Tibet
The arrival of an Indian tantric master, known as Padmasambhava, was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet.
Spread of Buddhism in the West
The efforts towards spread of Buddhism in the western countries were made in the 19 th and early-20 th century. T W Rhys Davies laid the foundation of the Pali Text Society there, towards the end of the 19 th century. Other names worth mentioning in this context are those of Edward Arnold, a poet Christmas Humphreys, an English barrister Alan Watts and Dennis Lockwood founder of the Friends of Western Buddhism Order (FWBO). Buddhism started spreading amongst the native population of America in the 1950s. Presently, one can find all schools of Buddhism in the USA.
Current Status of Buddhism
Today, Buddhism has spread to almost all the countries of the world, with the population of Buddhists estimated to be around 350 million. Out of these, almost half the number practice Mahayana tradition. The largest population of Buddhist is in China, while, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have the highest proportion of Buddhists in their population. The religion is also becoming quite widespread in America, Australia and United Kingdom.
The greatest ability in any society is to get along with it and influence their actions. Therefore, every religion or doctrine affects its society through its teachings either positively or negatively. But, Buddhism exercised a tremendous influence in its society. It is a missionary religion and aims at converting the whole of mankind to the doctrines of Buddha. It enriched religion, art, sculpture, language, literature and character behavior of India and many other countries in Asia.
Yes, the positive impact has given birth to a societal remarkable growth in all ramifications till date.