ORIGIN OF BUDDHISM
Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha was a contemporary of Vardhamana Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. Gautama Buddha was born in 563 B.C. in Lumbini (now in Nepal) in the Sakya Kshatriya clan of Kapilvastu.He was the son of Suddhodana, who seems to have been the elected ruler of Kapilvastu, and headed the republican clan of the Shakyas. His mother, Maya was a princess from the koshalan dynasty. Maya died in child-birth and the little Siddhartha was brought up by his aunt and stepmother Prajapati Gautami.
THE FOUR MAJOR EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF BUDDHA
THE GREAT RENUNCIATION’ (MAHABHINSHKRAMANA)
Since his early childhood, Gautama showed a meditative bent of mind. Once, the sight of an old man, a sick man, a dead body and an ascetic (the Four Great signs) intensified Gautama’s deep hatred for the world and made him realise the meaninglessness of worldly pleasure. The misery of the human life left a deep impact on Gautama. At the birth of his son Rahula, he left home at the age of twenty-nine in search of the Truth. This departure, leaving his home, family and kingdom in search of truth is known as ‘The Great Renunciation’ (mahabhinshkramana). This event is symbolised by a horse.
To find a solution to the misery of mankind, he spent years as a wandering ascetic. For six years he lived as a homeless ascetic, seeking instruction under two religious teachers Alara Kalama (at Vaishali) and Uddaka or Ramaputta (at Rajagriha) and visiting many places. At Uruvela, he practised the most rigid austerities only to find that they were of no help to him in reaching his goal.
He then took a bath in the stream of the river Niranjana, modern Lilajan, and sat under a pipal tree at modern Bodh Gaya. Here, at last at the age of 35 he attained unto supreme knowledge and became known as the Buddha or the enlightened one, ‘Tathagata’ (he who had attained the truth) and Sakya-Muni or the sage of Sakya clan. Buddha attaining enlightenment under the pipal tree in Bodh Gaya is known as nirvana. This is symbolised by a Bodhi tree.
DHARMA CHAKRA PRAVARTANA
He gave his first sermon at Isipatana, the deer park at Sarnath. This sermon was called the “Dharma Chakra Pravartana” or “turning of the wheel of law”. This is symbolised by a wheel.
For forty-five years he roamed about as a wandering teacher and proclaimed his gospel to the princes and people and laid the foundation of the Buddhist Order of monks (Sangha). Gautama Buddha passed away at the age of 80 in 483 B.C. at a place called Kusinagar, identical with the village called Kasia in the district of Deoria in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.Mahaparinirvana is another major event in the life of Buddha which refers to Buddha’s death. This is symbolised by a stupa.
His message laid down the foundation of both Buddhist religion and philosophy which in course of time spread far and wide to Ceylon, Burma, Siam, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, etc. Buddhism stood between the two extremes: unrestrained individualistic self-indulgence and ascetic punishment of the body.
THE MAJOR DOCTRINES AND TEACHINGS OF BUDDHISM
FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Lord Buddha emphasized Four Noble Truths to mankind. He said that the world is full of suffering. All sufferings have a cause: desire, ignorance and attachment are the causes of suffering. The suffering could be removed by destroying its cause. In order to end suffering, one must know the right path. This path is the Eight Fold Path.
EIGHT - FOLD PATH (ASHTANGAMARGA)
The central theme of Buddha’s religion is the eight–step path (ashtangamarga). The first step is the proper vision leading to the realization that the world is full of sorrows caused by desire, greed etc. The second is right intention which seeks to avoid the engagement of the senses and luxury. It aims to love humanity and increase the happiness in others. Right speech is the third step; it implies the practice of truthfulness promoting mutual friendship.
Right action includes abstention from killing, stealing and unselfish deeds. Right livelihood instructs a man to live by pure and honest means. Right effort means proper way of controlling one’s senses so as to prevent bad thoughts. The seventh step is correct awareness or right mindfulness which means understanding the idea that the body is impermanent and meditation is the means for the removal of worldly evils. The last step is right concentration which will lead to removal of evils generated by attachment to the body and the mind. This will lead to peace and unravel the real truth. Anyone who would follow the noble eightfold path would attain nirvana irrespective of his social origin.
REGARDING KARMA AND NIRVANA
Buddhism laid emphasis on the law of ‘Karma’ by which the present is determined by the past actions. If an individual has committed no sins, he is not born again. This is an important part of Lord Buddha’s teachings. Buddha preached that the ultimate goal of one’s life is to attain Nirvana, the eternal state of peace which is free from desire and sorrow, decay or disease and of course from birth and death. Therefore, annihilation of desire is the real problem. Prayers and sacrifices will not end desire nor will rituals and ceremonies as emphasized by Vedic religion but he stressed on moral life of an individual.
REGARDING GOD AND TRANSMIGRATION OF SOUL
Buddha neither accepted nor rejected the existence of God. He was a practical reformer who took note of the realities of the day. He said everything is transient in this Universe. There is no immortal soul. The Universe is soulless. The transmigration is no transmigration of soul. In transmigration nothing passes over from one life to another – only a new life arises as part of events which include the old or rather it is the reaction of one’s own actions. He believed that one’s ignorance makes a person believe in existence of God or soul and this ignorance creates desire in man, then leads to action and that action leads to impulse to be born again to satisfy desire. This leads to chain of birth and rebirth which is the primary cause of misery of a man. The chain of ignorance, desire, attachment etc. can be snapped by knowledge or Gyan.
He believed that every individual is the maker of his own destiny. We are born time and again to reap the fruits of our Karma’. Good deeds, lead to higher life till salvation is achieved while evil deed hinder our spiritual elevation. One should neither lead a life of luxury nor a life of severe ascetism.
The best course to be pursued by an individual is the Middle Path (Madhyama Pratipat or Tatha Grah Marg). Buddha laid stress on truth, charity, purity and control over passions and advocated for cardinal virtues i.e. Maitri (Love), Karuna (Passion), Mudita (joy at other’s success) and Upeksha (Equanimity) towards all living being in order to lead a better life in the next birth. Besides one should avoid pursuing bad instincts such as ill-will, anger, deceit, jealousy, arrogance etc. One should not steal, speak lie or get drunk or have illicit relations. Thus, Buddha preached moral and ethical conduct for the common man.
HOW BUDDHAS TEACHINGS APPEALED TO COMMON PEOPLE
Buddha’s liberal and democratic approach quickly attracted the people of all sections. His attack on the caste system and the supremacy of the Brahmanas was welcomed by the lower orders. Irrespective of caste, creed and sex, people were welcomed in the new order. Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and condemned animal scarifices. He detested the complex and meaningless rituals. He strongly believed that sacrifices and rituals could neither help a person to wash away his sins nor benefit any sinner by performing various ritualistic practices.
Max Muller wrote “What was felt by Buddha had been felt more or less intensely by thousands and this was the secret of his success”. The practice of social equality on which Buddhism was based was the call of the day. Buddha understood and preached what masses desired at that time. Thus Buddhism represented the spirit of its age. Lord Buddha was a living example of righteousness, chastity and holy ideals.
The teachings of Buddha were not only simple but quite practical. Buddha prescribed a middle path for the attainment of Nirvana. For the common man, it did not mean acquisition of difficult knowledge, observance of costly rituals, severe ascetism or abandoning family life but it meant observing certain simple rules of morality to attain salvation.
Moreover, Buddha preached in the language of the masses, i.e. Pali which facilitated the spread of Buddhist doctrines among the common people. Gautama Buddha also organized the sanga or the religious order whose doors were open to all. However, slaves, soldiers and debtors could not be admitted. The Buddhist sangas proved to be the best instruments in the propagation of Buddhism. Each local sanga was like a workplace or an assembly for the followers of Buddhism where teachings of Buddha were imparted to the followers.
The sangas were also centres of learning, spiritual exercise for the monks, exchange of ideas among the members. These Sangas prepared religious preachers or monks into a well- organized body to propagate the teachings of Buddha. Besides various scholars like Nagarjuna, Vasumitra, Dinang, Dharamkisti etc. produced vast literature on Buddhism which provided the base for its strength.
EVENT IN LIFE OF BUDDHA
Lotus & Bull
The Great Departure (Mahabhinishkramana)
First Sermon (Dhammachakraparivartan)
PATRONS OF BUDDHISM
From its inception, Buddhism got the protection and support of various rulers. Bimbisara and Ajatshatru of Magadha, Prasanjit of Kosala and Udayana, king of Kaushambi, were either followers or admirers of Buddha. Pradyata, king of Avanti too had invited Buddha to his kingdom. King Ashoka also played an important role in the propagation of the religion. Emperor Kanishka also patronized Buddhism and took measures to propagate it outside India. Asoka’s son Mahendra and daughter Sanghmitra were sent to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism. Many monasteries were established by him and the sangas were also liberally donated by the Mauryan Emperor. Buddhism also came to be adopted by merchant class.
FIRST BUDDHIST COUNCIL
First Buddhist council was held soon after the mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, around 483 BC under the patronage of king Ajatshatru with the monk Mahakasyapa presiding, at Rajgriha, in the Sattapani Cave. The idea was to preserve and codify Buddha’s teachings (Sutta) and rules for disciples (Vinaya). Ananda, one of the great disciples of Buddha recited Suttas and Upali, another disciple recited Vinaya.
SECOND BUDDHIST COUNCIL
The second Buddhist council was held in 383 BC. This idea of this council was to settle a dispute on Vinaya Pitaka, the code of discipline. The dispute was on 10 Points such as storing salt in horn, eating after midday, eating once and going to villages for alms, eating sour milk after one’s meal etc. It was not settles and Buddhism sects appeared for the first time. The subgroups were Sthaviravada, Mahasanghika and Sarvastivada. It was held at Vaishali under the patronage of King Kalasoka and the presidency of Sabakami. Sthaviravada followed the teachings of the elders and Mahasanghika became extinct later. Sthaviravada later continued till 3rd Buddhist council.
THIRD BUDDHIST COUNCIL
Third Buddhist council was held in 250 BC at Pataliputra under the patronage of King Asoka and under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa. The teachings of Buddha which were under two baskets were now classified in 3 baskets as Abhidhamma Pitaka was established in this council, and they were known as “Tripitaka”. It also tried to settle all the disputes of Vinaya Pitaka. In the third council at Pataliputra, the philosophical interpretations of the doctrines of Buddha were collected into the third Pitaka called Abhidhamma Pitaka. An attempt was made to define true canonical literature and eliminate all disruptive tendencies.
The fourth council The Fourth Buddhist Council was held at Kundalvana, Kashmir in 72 AD under the patronage of Kushan king Kanishka and the president of this council was Vasumitra, with Aśvaghosa as his deputy. This council distinctly divided the Buddhism into 2 sects Mahayana & Hinayana.
- The literary sources of Buddhism are the three “Tripitaka” written in Pali – Sutta Pitaka, VinayaPitaka, and AbhidhammaPitaka.
- Dhammapad is known as the Gita of Buddhism. It is basically canonical text of Buddhism.
- Aswaghosa, the buddhist monk was the writer of Buddhacharita.
- MilindaPanho is a Buddhist Treatise about a dialogue between the Indo-greek king Menander and Buddhist monk Nagasena.
- Sunyavada or the theory of void is propagated by a south Indian Buddhism Philosopher, Nagarjuna. he wrote Mulamadhyamakarika, where he wrote that sunyata is the nature of all things.
TWO IMPORTANT SECTS OF BUDDHISM MAHAYANA & HINAYANA
Hinayana, the lesser vehicle, believes in the original teaching of Buddha or Doctrine of Elders. It does not believe in Idol worship and tries to attain individual salvation through self-discipline and meditation. Ultimate aim of Hinayana is thus nirvana. Stharvivada or Thervada is a Hinayana sect. Asoka Patronized Hinayana. Pali, the language of masses was used by the Hinayana scholars. Mahayana or “great vehicle” believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and Idol worship of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature. It spread from India to various countries including China and South East Asian nations. Zen, Pure Land, Tiantai, and Nichiren, Shingon and Tibetan Buddhism are traditions of Mahayana. Mahayana believed in universal liberation from suffering for all beings (hence the “Great Vehicle”). Ultimate aim of Mahayana is “spiritual upliftment”. It allows salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of the Amitābha Buddha by having faith and devoting oneself to mindfulness of the Buddha. Language of Mahayana was predominantly Sanskrit.
“LESSER” AND “GREATER” VEHICLES
The word vehicle is used here to describe the Buddha’s teachings, since the ultimate purpose of the teachings is to carry people from the shore of this impure world to the other shore of enlightenment. A great vehicle is like a large ship that can carry many people over the ocean. A lesser vehicle is like a little boat that can carry only a few people across a river.
So Mahayana, which promises spiritual liberation to both monks and ordinary people is called greater vehicle because it can help a large number of people in attaining enlightenment. On the other hand, Hinayana which calls for strict discipline cannot be practiced by ordinary people can only carry fewer people towards enlightenment.
A bodhisattva is literally a living being (sattva) who aspires to enlightenment (Bodhi) and carries out altruistic practices. The bodhisattva ideal is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition as the individual who seeks enlightenment both for him- or herself and for others. Compassion, an empathetic sharing of the sufferings of others, is the bodhisattva's greatest characteristic. A bodhisattva is a being who carries out the work of the Buddha’s, vowing not to personally settle into the salvation of final Buddhahood until she or he can assist all beings throughout the vast reaches of time and space to fully be free.
Both Jainism and Buddhism originally derived their ideas from the Upanishads and both had a common background of Aryan culture. Both appeared as revolts against orthodox Brahmanical Hinduism. Both Buddhism and Jainism sprang in Eastern India where the Aryan culture had no sweeping influence. They contributed to the rise of the revolutionary anti-Brahmanical creeds of Buddhism and Jainism in Eastern India.
In respect of their basic philosophical concepts, Buddhism and Jainism were indebted to the Sankhya philosophy. The Buddhists and Jainas equally believe that the world is full of misery, that the object or religion is to liberate self from the miseries of this world by eliminating rebirth. This concept of the Jainas and the Buddhists that world is a misery and that man is subjected to the result of Karma was borrowed from the Upanishadas and the Sankhya philosophy.
Both Mahavira and Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and the efficacy of Vedic rites. Both upheld ascetic life, moral and ethical codes. Both the teachers upheld non-violence as means of salvation. Both dismissed caste system. Jainism and Buddhism had largest number of followers among the mercantile class. Both Mahavira and Buddha preached their doctrines in the language of the people.
The teachings of 24Tirthankaras including Vardhamana Mahavira
The teachings of Gautama Buddha
Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, and so on
Concept about soul
Believes that soul is a living entity which sticks to different types of non-living matter.
They do not believe in the ideas of eternal self or soul (Atman) and eternity. Soul is treated as an ever changing entity.
Notion on Karma
It is a real substance that is attached with each jiva or body. Not effected from the person’s actions.
Is a process, (an impression of karma determines the future). Karma is the direct effect of one’s own action
Non-violence, not lying, not stealing, celibacy, non-possession
Way to liberation
Rigorous asceticism and self- mortification
Middle Path (through ashtanga marga)
Confined to India
Spread to other parts of world
IMPORTANT BUDDHIST MONASTERIES IN INDIA
One of the earliest in Spiti Valley
Listed by the ASI as a national historic treasure
Oldest monastery in India
Karnataka (near Mysore)
Largest centre of Nyingmapa sect
Established by Penor Rinpoche in 1963
CONTRIBUTION TO INDIAN CULTURE
Buddhism made positive contribution to Indian culture. It gave to Indian people a simple, economical and popular religion. It rejected rituals and sacrifices, authority of the Brahmanas which had made Hinduism unpopular. The monastic system or the organisation of religious devotees in disciplined communities or orders was another contribution of Buddhism to India. It also provided religious unity to Indian people by raising the public morality by its adherence to a high moral code.
At the same time, it gave serious impetus to democratic spirit and social equality. The philosophers of Buddhism had a rational approach towards religion and individualistic in its approach. It preached that the self-emancipation could alone help an individual to attain Nirvana. As far as the Indian education and literature is concerned, the ancient Buddhist residential places became the centres of learning and Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila became centres of Buddhist learning.
In the domain of architecture, sculpture and painting, the chaitya, vihara cave architecture, stupas of Sanchi, Sarnath, Nalanda, Amravati and Ellora are regarded as the best specimens of Indian architecture.
CHAITYAS AND VIHARAS
Chaitya is like a prayer hall. It has pillars on side of a passage or a pathway leading to a Stupa. The Stupas generally contain relics of Buddha and are revered and worshipped. Viharas are the dwelling places donated to the normally wandering Buddhist monks. They provide them shelter during rainy season.
In ancient Indian Buddhist monasteries, a ceremony called Pavarna used to be held. It was the confession by monks of their offences committed during their stay in the monasteries during the rainy season.
The schools of Gandhara and Mathura produced the first images of Buddha which are appreciable pieces of art. The statues of Buddha carved in stone, copper and bronze are also some of the best examples of Buddhist art. The mural paintings of Ajanta caves earned world-wide fame. Thus, Indian architecture, sculpture and painting owe a large debt to Buddhism. Finally, the spirit of toleration has been a source of great inspiration from Buddhism to Indian society.
DECLINE OF BUDDHISM
Buddhism remained one of the foremost religions of not only India but the whole of Asia for many centuries but slowly it lost its hold over Asia and practically became non-existent in India. Corruption had crept in Buddhist Sangas because of the free entry of wealth and women in the monastic order. The division of the Buddhism into different sects also contributed to the destruction of the image of the movement among the people. The adoption of Sanskrit as language of the Buddhist texts made Buddhism lose popular contact and hold over the masses, since Sanskrit was not the language of the masses. The moral corruption of monks led to intellectual bankruptcy of the Sanga and when Hinduism was reviewed particularly under the patronage of Gupta rulers, Buddhism failed to meet its intellectual challenge and therefore lost popular support.
Moreover, Buddhism basically was an atheistic system which did not regard God as an essential creator and preserver of the Universe. On the other hand, Hinduism a strong faith based on the existence of God preached the masses about the God as Saviour and perpetual merciful helper of mankind. The ruling class also realised might as the order of the day and need of the time where non-violence and other teachings were becoming increasingly irrelevant, and thereby withdrew its support to Buddhism. Hinduism bounced back with the spirit of toleration and the acceptability of new ideas in its fold. But the final blow to Buddhism came with the invasion of Hunas and the Turks.