Buddhism catered to religious striving of the time. It was a midway between Hinduism and Jainism. Buddhism presented the ascetic traditions to Indian society. It had more followers abroad than in India. Buddhism was one imprint that India left on other civilisations.
Gautama Buddha (The Founder of Buddhism)
Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. He belonged to the Kshatriya clan of Sakya. He was born in 567 BC at Lumbini near Kapilavastu, near Nepal. His father Suddhodana was the ruler of Kapilavastu. Like Mahavira, he was inclined from his childhood, towards spiritual pursuits.
All the royal luxuries in which Gautama lived had no effect on him. He was married at a young age to a princess called Yashodhara and had a son named Rahul.
The Great Renunciation
Once Gautama's charioteer was driving him through the town. The appearance of an old man bent with age moved Gautama. Again the sight of a sick man, groaning with pain, was pathetic. The dead body of a man being carried made Gautama think about man's destiny. He was consoled when he saw an ascetic in search of salvation. These sights are known to be the 'Four Great Sights'. He left home, his wife and the child in order to find a solution. This event is known as 'The Great Renunciation'.
Enlightenment of Gautam Buddha
After leaving home in search of Truth, Gautarna wandered from place to place. For some time he studied under renowned teachers of Rajgriha and then went to Gaya. He practised severe penance and led a life of extreme austerity. Finally, at the age of thirty-five Gautama attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. This event occurred in 537 BC when he became the Buddha or the Enlightened One.
At the place where Buddha got enlightenment, a temple known as Mahabodhi Temple was constructed later. The peepal tree is now referred to as the Mahabodhi Tree. Buddha was also called the Tathghat, the founder of Truth. After the enlightenment, he embarked on preaching his religion. He delivered his first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath near Varanasi in the presence of five ascetics. This event in the history of Buddhism is known as Dharmachakra Parvartan or the turning of the wheel of sacred law. Buddha's fame spread far and wide. For another forty years he travelled all over the country spreading his message. He established a Bodh Sangha (Buddhist order) at Magadha. He had a large number of followers including the rulers of Magadha, Kosala and Kosambi.
Teachings of Buddhism
Buddha followed a simple path and inspired people to lead a simple life. His message to people was that the world is full of sufferings and a man could attain salvation by following his teachings contained in the eight fold path and four Noble Truths.
Four Noble Truths
The essence of Buddhism lies in Four Noble Truths. They are:
- The world is full of suffering.
- The suffering has a cause.
- Desire is the cause of suffering.
- If desire is stopped, suffering can also be stopped.
Eight Fold Path
The way to nirvana, in Buddhism, or the path that leads to removal of suffering, is known as the eight fold path (asthangika marg) or the middle path.
It is a path midway between luxurious living and hard penance.
- Right Action : To remain away from theft, luxuries and violence.
- Right Thought : To remain away from empty rituals and worldly evils.
- Right Belief : To give up desire.
- Right Living : Not to have dishonest dealings with others.
- Right Speech : Speak the truth and do not think ill of others.
- Right Effort : Work for deliverance from sins and for the welfare of others.
- Right Recollection : Think about pious things.
- Right Meditation : Concentrate on only what is right.
Buddha's Attitude Towards God
Buddha held that the whole universe was controlled by Dharma, a universal law. He was silent about the existence of God, though he never formally denied it. Like Mahavira he emphasised non-violence.
Code of Conduct
Buddha formulated a code of conduct for his followers. This is included the following:
- Not to tell a lie.
- Not to own property.
- Not to consume alcoholic drinks.
- Not to commit violence.
- Not to indulge in corrupt practices.
Karma : Like Hinduism, Buddhism believed in the theory of Karma. Buddhism says that man is the maker of his destiny and believed in rebirth. The evil deeds will be punished. Therefore, man should follow a middle path. It is karma which decides the type of existence in the next life. It is called the wheel of Existence.
Stress on Morality : Buddha insisted on a life based on good actions. His followers were enjoined to practise nonviolence and to lead a upright life.
Nirvana : The ultimate goal of life is to attain Nirvana or salvation, the eternal peace and bliss. It is a peaceful state of mind, which conquers all diseases, makes the person free from the chain of births and deaths.
Universal Brotherhood : Lord Buddha preached universal brotherhood of mankind. He wanted people to live in peace setting aside all their feuds. He invited people of all classes and races to join Buddhism.
No Faith in Rituals and Sacrifices : Buddha said that yajnas cannot change a man's destiny. Sacrifices and rituals are empty rhetorics.
Ahimsa : Like Mahavira, Buddha attached importance to sanctity of life.
Organisation for teaching of Buddhism
The Sangha : The organisation for teaching of Buddhism came to be called the Sangha. It was the monastic order established to spread Buddhism. Later the Sangha became a powerful institution. It helped to spread Buddhism far and wide. The principles that governed the Sangha are the following:
- Membership : The members of the monastic order were called Bhikshus (monks) and Bhikshunis (nuns). They were required to renounce the world before joining the Sangha. The minimum age was 15 years during Buddha's time. The members had to take the oath Buddham Sharnam Gachhami (I take shelter under Buddha, Religion and the Sangha). The followers had to undergo training for 10 years. During the period of their training they were called shramanas.
- Ten Commandments : The members had to lead a disciplined life and follow the ten commandments:
- to speak the truth.
- to abide by Brahmcharya.
- not to harm creatures.
- not to own property.
- to shun music and dancing.
- to take meals only at fixed times.
- not to use intoxicants.
- not to use scented goods.
- not to sleep on cushions.
- not to keep money.
- Viharas : The Bhikshus and the Bhikshunis were required to roam about in different parts of the country for eight months of the year. They had to sleep in Viharas which had separate rooms for men and women. Special rules were framed for the Bhikshunis. This was done to ensure discipline. In the Viharas, the members led a life of chastity, austerity, devotion, and purity.
- Constitution : The Sanghas were run on democratic lines. All members had equal rights. A session of the Sangha was called when 20 or more monks desired to have such a session. An agenda was laid and each item was debated.
The Buddhist Councils : The Buddhist Councils were held periodically. At these Councils, discourses and debates took place. The first Buddhist Council was held in 483 BC, soon after the nirvana of Buddha. It was patronised by Ajatashatru, the ruler of Magadha.
The second Buddhist council was held at Vaishali in 383 BC. The third Council was held at Pataliputra, during the reign of Ashoka, under the chairmanship of a monk, Mogaliputta Tissa. The fourth Council was held during the reign of Kanishka in Kashmir under the leadership of Vasumitra and the great scholar Ashvagosha.
Influence of Buddhism
- Ahimsa : The doctrine of Ahimsa became a weapon against the ills in the society. After the rise of Buddhism, animal protection became a new culture. Mahatma Gandhi later used Ahimsa in the form of non-violent struggle against the British rule.
- Influence on Religious Life : Buddhism provided a challenge to Hinduism. There soon started reform Movement within Hinduism. The costly yajnas and sacrifices and rigidity of caste system were done away with.
- Influence on Social Life : Buddhism fostered intellectual tradition and exposed the weaknesses in our society. The Shudras (people belonging to the lowest class of traditional Indian society) who had been subjected to many atrocities, got an opportunity to have their say in matters of political and social life. In the beginning of the Modern Age as well as after the Independence of India there were many socio-religious reform movements.
- Political Impact : Buddhism touched the hearts of emperors like Ashoka and Chandragupta. They shunned bloodshed and war.
- Cultural Impact : Buddhism spread far and wide in South-East Asia, China and Sri Lanka. It had a far-reaching cultural impact raising the prestige of India. There emerged close cultural contacts between these countries and India. Buddhism acted as a vital force between different cultures.
- Art and Architecture : Buddhism made immense contribution to the evolution of art and architecture. Stupas, viharas and rock-cut cave temples were a unique contribution. Later when statues of Buddha began to be carved after the Christian era, there emerged several schools of art and architecture.