Buddhism


Buddhism opened its doors not only to the Indians of all castes and creed but also to the foreigners who had settled in India-Indo -Greeks and Indo-Scythians. Buddhism was propagated to foreign countries too like Ceylon and Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, Central Asia and China, Nepal and Tibet and the Indonesian countries, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. Thus Buddhism occupies a unique place in the history of Indian religions. Buddha was born as prince Siddhartha in the Sakya tribe.
He was born in the Lumbini grove near the city of Kapilavastu. He was unhappy to see the sufferings of human life. He also left home and wandered as an ascetic for many years. Finally he felt that he received enlightenment i.e. he become Buddha and found the answers to the questions that arose in his mind. Buddha taught that the world is full of sufferings it is due to the desire for worldly things. He showed the path leading to the end of these sufferings and the path is called the Buddha's eight fold path.
Eight fold paths include eight kinds of action and thought which would show a man how to live a virtuous life. Eight fold include –
1. Right faith
2. Right resolve
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right living
6. Right effort
7. Right thought
8. Right concentration

Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath where his five former disciples had settled. To these five ascetics he preached his first sermon and called it Dharma Chakraparavartana. Buddha emphasised on the importance of non-violence and forbade the killing of animals as part of religious practices. He urged people to lead good life according to which the purpose of life was to purify the mind and attain Nirvana, i.e. no more rebirths. He started monasteries which were places where Buddhist monks lived and spent their lives praying and preaching Buddhism. These monasteries or viharas were used as schools also.
Many people joined Buddhism and very soon it spread in many parts of India. Buddha died at the age of 80 in 483 BC at Kushinagara in the Malla republic. His last words were 'all composite things decay, strive diligently.

Gautama Buddha
Gautama or Siddharata, the founder of Buddhism was born in 563 BC in Lumbini in the Sakya kshatriya clan of Kapilavastu. His mother was Maya, a princess of the neighbouring clan of the Koliyas. A Maya died in childbirth Siddharatha was brought up by his aunt and stepmother Prajapati Gautami. The sight of an old man, a sick man, a dead body and an ascetic intensified Siddharata's deep hatred for the world and made him realise the hollowness of worldly pleasures.
After the birth of his son he left home at the age of 29 in search of the Truth. This departure is known as the Great Renunciation. For 6 continuous years he lived as a homeless ascetic seeking instruction under two Brahmin religious teachers and visiting many places. Finding no satisfaction there he practised the severest penances the most rigid austerities and made fruitless efforts to find the Truth. He then gave up penances, took a bath in river Niranjana and sat under a pipal tree at Bodhgaya(modern). Here he attained supreme knowledge and insight. Revelation came to him that the great peace was within his own heart and he must seek it there.
This is known as Nirvana and since then he became Buddha(the Enlightened one) or tathagat(one who attained the Truth). From there he reach Sarnath where he gave his first sermon (dharmachakrapravartana) as a result 5 disciples joined him. Buddha's last teaching was heard by Subhadra a wandering ascetic and Ananda his favourite disciple. The most renowned among the early converts to his teaching were Sariputta and Moggallan, ascetics of Rajgriha who were converted by Assaji one of the five original disciples.
Five great events of Buddha's life and their symbols are
  • Birth- Lotus and Bull
  • Great Renunciation-Horse
  • Nirvana-Bodhi tree
  • First sermon-Dharamachakra or wheel
  • Parinirvana or death-Stupa

Buddhist Councils
The first Buddhist council took place in 483 BC at Sattaparni. Religious doctrine were compiled and embodied in Pali canon. The literature is known as Tripitakas. President of the council was Mahakashapa. Upali recited the Vinay Pitaka and Ananda recited the Sutta Pitaka. Vinay Pitaka was the rules of the order and Sutta Pitaka was the great collection of the Buddha's sermons on matters of doctrine and ethics. The second council was held in 383 BC, 100 years after Buddha's death at Vaishali under the presidentship of Sabbakami. Here Buddhism was divided into Sthaviras and Mahasanghikas. The third council was held in 250 BC at Patliputra in the reign of Ashoka. The president was Tissa Mogaliputta.
A decision was taken to send missionaries to various parts of the subcontinent. Here a new Pitaka or Abhidharmma Pitaka was added. Secondly canonical literature was precisely and authoritatively settled.
The fourth Buddhist council was held in the 1-2nd AD at Kundalavana, Kashmir in the reign of Kanishka under the leadership of Vasumitra and Asvagosha. Here Buddhism was divided into two broad sects the Mahayana and Hinayana. Hinayana treated Buddha as nothing more than a human being whereas Mahayanism treated him as God and worshipped his idol. Bodhisatva of Mahayanism was a saviour and would help every living organism in attaining Nirvana. The Mahayana sect adopted Sanskrit in place of Pali as their language. The earliest text is Lalitvistara. Later another sect Vajrayana appeared in eastern India. The chief divinities of this sect were the Taras. They did not treat meat, fish, wine etc as taboo in dietary habit and freely consumed them.
Ashoka, Kanishka, Harsha and Palas of Bihar and Bengal were great patron of Buddhism. Upagupta converted Emperor Ashoka to Buddhism. Ashvagosha was first biographer of Buddha who wrote Buddha Charitam in Sanskirt. Nagarjuna propounded the theory of Shunyavada. Pushyamitra Sunga persecuted the Buddhist. Shashanka the Gauda king cut the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya.

Buddhist Scriptures

Vinaya Pitaka:

Mainly deals with rules and regulations which Buddha promulgated. Also gives an account of the life and teaching of the Buddha.

Sutta Pitaka:

It consists chiefly of discourses delivered by Buddha himself on different occasions.

Abhidhamma Pitaka:

It contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha's teachings.

Khandakas:

It contain regulations on the course of life in the monastic order and have two sections - Mahavagga and the Cullavagga.

Buddhist Philosophy
Buddha believed in the theory of actions or Karma. He held that one of the chief features of the universal law of Dharma is as a man acts so shall he be. We get the reward of our past actions in the present life and for our present actions we get rewarded in the future. Buddha had no faith in personal God. A belief in the supernatural was a weakness. He neither admitted nor denied the existence of God. However he believed that a supreme force controls the whole world. To it he gave the name of Dharma. Buddha's conception of religion was purely ethical. He did not care for worship or rituals. He put all his emphasis on conduct.
He was against useless sacrifices and rituals. According to Buddha, the highest goal of man's life is to achieve Nirvana. According to him Nirvana meant when there is no craving, no selfishness and no hatred or malice for others. It can be achieved by following the eight fold path.

Contribution of Buddhism to Indian culture
Buddhism greatly influenced the Indian religion. It gave to Indian people a simple and popular religion. It rejected ritualism, sacrifices and dominance of priestly class. It has also left its permanent mark on Indian religious thought. Buddhism appealed to the masses on account of its simplicity, use of vernacular language in its scriptures and teachings and monastic order. Buddhism left deep impact on the society. It gave serious impetus to democratic spirit and social equality. It opened its doors to women and shudras. Buddhism encouraged abolition of distinctions in society and strengthened the principle of social equality.
The Buddhist viharas were used for education purposes. Nalanda, Vikramshila, Taxila, Udyantpuri, Vallabhi and others cities developed as high Buddhist learning centres. Buddhism helped in the growth of literature in the popular language of the people. The literature written both in Pali and Sanskrit were enriched by scholars of Hinyana and Mahayana sects. The Buddhist texts like Tripitakas, Jatakas, Buddha charita, Mahavibhasa, Miliand panho, Lalit Vistara are assets to Indian literature.
The main contribution of Buddhism to Indian life is in the domain of architecture, sculpture and painting. The stupas, viharas, chaityas that were built at Sanchi, Bahrut, Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Amravati, Taxila and other places are simply remarkable. The Sanchi Stupa with its beautiful ornamental torans is considered a masterpiece in architecture. The cave temples of Ajanta, Karle, Bhaja, Ellora etc show their achievement in rock cut cave temples. The Ajanta painting depicting touching scenes of Buddha's life are world famous.
They bear a testimony to the heights reached by them in the field of painting. This Buddhist art forms a glorious chapter in the history of Indian art and architecture. They fostered a new awareness in the field of culture. Buddhism established intimate contact between India and foreign countries. Indian monks and scholars carried the gospel of Buddhism to foreign countries from the 3rd century BC onwards and made it the prominent religion of Asia. These religious movements helped in carrying the message of Indian civilization to many distant countries of Asia. It also helped in assimilating foreign influence in Indian culture.


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