It is said that, if life is about managing your affairs in the best possible manner, then religion is about managing your life in a most effective way. Well, when we talk about various religions that are practised today in different nook and corner of the world, the name of Buddhism shines very bright. Scholars have opined that Buddhism is the most essentialist religion, which is all & all about self-transformation and eliminating forever the formidable reality of suffering.
Technically speaking, Buddhism is a sacred path of living put forward by an Indian prince Gautam Siddharth around the 6th century BC in and around the eastern Indian kingdom of Magadha. Though Buddhism has traversed many nations and regions through its around 2,600 years of history, the chief strength of this religion lies in taking human suffering head-on in the most scientific and effective manner.
Buddhism Origin – As An Upsurge Against The Brahmanical Orthodoxy
The story of the origin of Buddhism is quite interesting and intriguing. Unlike Hinduism, the origin of Buddhism is not shrouded in mystery or semi-historicity. It is very much a historical religion. Buddhism has its seeds in the confusion of a young prince, who was disturbed by the sufferings of human life and wanted a method by which he could conquer sufferings. Buddhism is largely considered as a revolt against the prevailing religion of the time Brahmanism, which had become highly ritualistic and dogmatic during the times of Buddha (known as the later Vedic age).
Siddhartha Gautama, the soon-to-be Buddha, was born into a royal family at Lumbini in what is now the republic of Nepal, near the Indian border. As Buddha grew up, he was extremely intelligent and compassionate. He belonged to the Kshatriya caste (the warrior clan of ancient India), he was tall, strong, and handsome. It was predicted that he would become either a great king or a spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they tried to prevent Siddharta from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world. They surrounded him with every kind of pleasure. He was given five hundred attractive ladies and every opportunity for sports and excitement. He completely mastered the important combat training, even winning his wife, Yasodhara, in an archery contest.
However, Prince Siddhartha was very much out of the lot. Despite having all the comforts and luxuries, he was not the one who would get absorbed into these pleasures. He was very introspective and not satisfied with worldly happiness and pleasures. His parents had intentionally kept him away from things like poverty, sufferings, as they wanted him to become a great ruler and not a renunciant. However, things changed drastically, when he saw certain things around him.
Once, while he was moving out in his kingdom on his chariot, he had a glimpse of the following four sights, which are called The Four Great Sights in Buddhism. He saw:
- An Old Man Abandoned By His Family Members,
- A Sick Man Crying With Pain,
- A Dead Body Surrounded By Wailing Relatives,
- The Cool & Serene Face Of A Renunciant
After seeing these, he reflected. He thought, “If disease, old age and death are the most glaring realities of human existence, then of what use is all the richness and worldly pleasures & happiness. If everything is perishable, how can we be satisfied.” Thereafter, he decided to give up the life of a king and householder and go out in search of the truth.
One night, he left his abundant palace, sleeping wife and the infant son in search of the truth. He tried to find truth through various means. After unsuccessfully trying the wisdom of some established scholars, he joined five other renunciants who too were searching for the truth. They together practised severe austerities for several months.
However, one day Siddhartha realised that he has practised so many austerities and turned himself into a skeleton, with hardly any flesh, but he is yet to procure the happiness which he has been seeking. When he shared these thoughts with his five colleagues, they refused to agree and parted ways with Siddhartha.
One night Siddhartha sat down under a peepal tree with a firm resolve and said to himself, “Let my bones wither away, let my blood dry up, I won’t get up until I know the truth” Thus, he sat in meditation for several days. And one night he got enlightenment at a place, which is located in a city now known as Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Thus, Siddhartha was transformed into Buddha on that epochal day.
Now, he was faced with the issue: Should he keep this truth to himself or teach it to others. His compassion and love for suffering humanity were so much that he decided to share this truth with others. Well, the five renunciants who had left him some days ago became his first followers.
The Religion Of Buddhism – Golden Mean Of Human Wisdom
Buddhism is considered the most logical and scientific major religion in the world. It sidelines all the factors & issues that do not serve the real purpose of life. And the real purpose of life is nothing but the cessation of sufferings. As Buddha has himself said, “I teach only one approach. The cause of human suffering and the method of its cessation”.
Buddha has cited a very good instance while explaining the point against suffering “If there is a person who has been wounded with a pierced arrow. Will you ask him, who shot that arrow, why did he shoot that arrow. Before you will get the answers to these questions, the wounded person will die. So, also don’t ask questions like Who is God, What is Soul, etc. These questions are not the core purpose of life. They won’t help you in any real manner. Just think about sufferings and how can you remove them”
Buddha condemns the extremes of sensuality & self-mortification. He says, “Sensuality causes attachment, so it is not required. As for austerity (self-mortification), it makes one weak and disables him/her from serving humanity. Real wisdom lies in following the middle path”
Buddhism is called the path of moderation. Thus, it is the middle path between:
- Austerity & Sensuality,
- Eternalism & Nihilism
- Theism & Atheism
The Schism In The Buddhist Sangha
Due to historical and sociological reasons, differences emerged in the Buddhist Sangha. There were majorly two broad interpretations of Buddha’s doctrines. One is Theravada Buddhism (sometimes also referred to as Hinayana Buddhism, however now this term is unpopular and often offensive) and the other is Mahayana Buddhism.
Theravada Buddhism (which literally means the preservers of the original doctrine) are considered the more conservative and orthodox followers of Buddha. They practice Buddhism as it was originally taught by Buddha. Thus, they don’t worship Buddha, consider Nirvana as the goal of life and consider spirituality to be an individual pursuit.
As for Mahayana Buddhism (which means the larger vehicle), they have expanded Buddha’s teachings to make them more sublime and lofty. They erect Buddha temples, strive for Bodhisatva-hood and feel that humanity can embrace Nirvana collectively. Buddha had said, “I have given you only some truth. You can develop it even more.” Thus, Mahayana Buddhism has worked on Buddha’s truth and expanded it.
While Theravada Buddhism is practised more in southern countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos; Mahayana Buddhism is practised in northern countries like China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan.
There is a third version of Buddhism known as Vajrayana Buddhism. Scholars are divided as to whether Vajrayana Buddhism is an extension of the Mahayana School or an independent sect of Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism includes the tantra mantra (esote…) and is practised mainly in Bhutan, Tibet (China), Mongolia and certain pockets of India.
Buddhism – Beliefs And Teachings
A Broad Overview Of Buddhist Teachings
The adherents of Buddhism don’t believe in a supreme god or deity. Rather they focus on attaining enlightenment—which is a state of inner peace and wisdom. When Buddhists reach this spiritual attainment, they’re said to experience nirvana.
The founder of Buddhism is Gautam Buddha, who is considered an extraordinary man, but not a god. The word Buddha means “one who has awakened or become enlightened.”
The state of Nirvana is attained by pursuing morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists meditate quite frequently because they believe it helps them awaken truth.
Buddhism has several philosophies and traditions within itself, making it a tolerant and evolving religion.
According to certain scholars, Buddhism is not an organized religion, but rather, a “way of life” or a “philosophy” or a “code of ethics” or a “spiritual tradition.” Buddhism discourages both — self-indulgence and also self-denial.
The most important teachings of Buddha, known as The Four Noble Truths, are essential to understanding the religion. Buddhists believe in the theory of karma (the law of cause and effect) and reincarnation (the continuous cycle of rebirth). People pursuing Buddhism can worship in temples or in their homes. Buddhist monks, known as bhikkhus, practice a strict code of conduct, which includes celibacy. There is no single symbol to represent Buddhism, but a number of images have come up that represent Buddhist beliefs. These include the lotus flower, the eight-spoked dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree and even the swastika (an ancient symbol whose name means “well-being” or “good fortune” in Sanskrit).
Buddha’s teachings are known as “dharma” (in Sanskrit) and “dhamma” (in Pali). He taught that wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity and compassion were important virtues.
The Five Precepts
Specifically, all Buddhists live by five moral precepts, which requires them to practice:
Ahimsa – Not killing living things
Asteya – Not taking what is not given
Brahmacharya – Celibacy (Monogamy in case of householders)
Truth – Speaking only truth
Aparigraha – Not amassing money, property, possessions (in case of householders, not amassing them beyond measure)
Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths, which Buddha taught, are:
- The truth of suffering (dukkha)
- The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
- The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
- The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)
Collectively, these principles explain why humans hurt and how to overcome suffering.
The Eightfold Path
The Buddha taught his followers that the end of suffering, as described in the fourth Noble Truths, could be achieved by following an Eightfold Path.
In no particular order, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism teaches the following ideals for ethical conduct, mental disciple and achieving wisdom:
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
Buddhism – Some Basic Information
Buddhism was born in eastern India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautam. The religion is now more than 2,500 years old and is followed by over 500 million people worldwide.
Buddhism is the most important religion in several Asian countries. It is a religion that teaches about the need to get rid of sufferings. The final goal in Buddhism is achieving Nirvana, the most blissful state that one can achieve. It is a condition without any suffering.
|Place of Origin
||Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)
|Main Branches (Denominations)
||Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana
How is Buddhism different from other religions?
Buddhism is different from most other faiths. This is so because it is not centred on the worship of any God as such. In fact, Buddhists do not believe in a personal creator God.
Buddhism is the ultimate experience. It is the crux of the solution to the problems of the world, it provides a vision, which is achieved after seeing ‘THE ENTIRETY’ in its completeness, with a strong sense of logic & reasoning and on the basis of pragmatism. It is the flowering of the Indian Spiritual wisdom to its farthest end. Buddhism is THE VIRTUAL MIDDLE PATH and stands at the centre of human wisdom. It lies between the extremes of sensuality and austerity, between self and nihilism, between theism and atheism. Buddhism is the most preferred religion of scientists and logic-oriented persons and is growing at a very fast pace in the western world.
Buddhism is philosophically scientific and ethically anti-dogmatic. It does not call upon its followers to follow the precepts slavishly or for the sake of it, on the contrary, it gives us the freedom to test ourselves the values and religio-spiritual premises and accept them only when they pass our own personal test. The religion, which took birth in hierarchical India, is against the caste system and any discrimination based on creed, language, nationality. The Buddhist religion has even traditionally given higher status to women. In a nutshell, we can say that it is strongly anti-superstition and anti-rituals.