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BUDDHISM

||Tibetan Buddhism||

Buddhism was founded by Gautam Buddha in the 5th century BC. Gautam Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha in 544 BC in Lumbini in Nepal. At the age of 29 Prince Siddhartha decided to renounce his kingdom in search of an abode where there was no birth, no death, no sickness and no sorrow. He wandered for many years seeking answers to his questions. Finally after meditating under a Peepal tree for six years, he attained enlightenment and became the Buddha or the Enlightened One. He gave his first sermon to five of his disciples and thus was formed the sangha or the order of the Buddhist fraternity. Buddha travelled widely and preached his thoughts and ideology to the people. Soon, many Monasteries or viharas came up and became centres of learning and for the spread of Buddhist culture. Some of these, like Nalanda and Taxila, even gained an international reputation for excellence.

Buddhism primarily arose in opposition to the ritualistic Brahminical society and reached its peak under the Mauryan Empire (322-185 AD). Ashoka gave royal patronage to Buddhism and made it a pan-Asian religion. He sponsored Buddhist missions to various areas within his empire and also to the Greek-ruled areas of the Northwest, Sri Lanka in the south as well as the Central Asia. After the death of Ashoka in 232 BC, the Mauryan Empire gave way to the Sunga dynasty, which did not give a direct royal patronage to Buddhism. Soon Buddhism declined and was almost wiped out from India but instead spread to the South East Asian countries and to Sri Lanka.

Fundamental Principles

Buddhism was based on the Four Noble Truths (the Chatvari Arya Satyani) i.e. (1) The Truth ofSuffering: Suffering (dukha) is the centralfact of life. (2) The Truth of Origin (Samudaya)of Suffering: The cause of suffering is desires (ichcha), craving (tanha) or thirst (tishna) for sensual pleasures, for existence and experience, for worldly possessions and power. This craving binds one to rebirth, samsara. (3) The Truth of Cessation (Nirodha) of Suffering: Suffering can cease only by complete cessation of desires and (4) The Truth of the Path (Marga) To Ending Suffering: Suffering can be overcome by following the Eight Fold Path (Arya Ashtanga Marga), which consists of right belief (Samyak Dristi), right thought (Samyak Smrti), right speech (Samyak Vak), right action (Samyak Karmanta), right livelihood (Samyak Ajiva), right effort (Samyak Vyayama), right resolve (Samyak Sankalpa) and right meditation (Samyak Samadhi).

Buddhism is based on the principle or the law of impermanence i.e. everything is subject to change, although some things may last longer than others. It believes in the theory of karma and rebirth but holds that atman (individual spirit) does not transmigrate from one birth to another. Buddha advocated the Middle Path, in which he offered a balanced, harmonious way of life, steering between two extremes of self-indulgence and total abstinence. It preaches good moral conduct, meditation and contemplation and discourages superstitious beliefs, ritualism and caste system. It believes that a person can begin to move in the right direction by believing in the Buddha, his teachings and his monastic order and by adopting five fundamental moral precepts: not to deprive a living thing of life, not to take what is not given to you, not to engage in illicit sexual conduct, not to lie and not to take intoxicating drinks. To prevent suffering one has to conquer craving and desire and this conquest leads to the attainment of nirvana or complete enlightenment. The Wheel of Law or dharmachakra, is the most important symbol of Buddhism. According to the Buddha, dharma is the law that ensures the welfare of the greatest number of people if practiced faithfully. The wheel symbolises the goodness in every person. The wheel has eight spokes representing the eight virtues enumerated by the Eight Fold Path, the path to salvation.

The Buddhist place of worship is called a vihara or gompa, which usually houses one or more statues of the Buddha. The five great events in Buddha's life are represented by symbols as under: (a) Birth by Lotus and Bull, (b) Great Renunciation by Horse, (c) Nirvana by Bodhi Tree, (d) First Sermon by Dharmachakra or Wheel and (e) Parinirvana or death by the stupa.

Schism in Buddhism

After the passing away of the Buddha, a schism took place in the Buddhist order, dividing it into two main orders: Mahayana and Hinayana (or Thervada). The followers of Mahayana (literally meaning the 'great vehicle') believe that Buddha taught universal salvation. One should not aim at personal nirvana and hould help ease the suffering of humanity. In India, this form of Buddhism is followed in Ladakh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. This is also described as the Tibetan strain of Buddhism or Lamaism, since it came to India from Tibet. Thervada means 'doctrine of elders' and 'Hinayana' means 'lesser vehicle'. The aim of this form of Buddhism is to attain personal nirvana through the triple recourse to ethical conduct, mental discipline and higher knowledge or wisdom. In India, this strain of Buddhism is represented by the followers of Dr B.R.Ambedkar known as the Ambedkar Buddhists, who are exclusive to India. There were also other lesser schools like the Vajrayana or tantric sect, which settled in Bengal and Bihar during the 8th century AD under the protection of the Pala rulers, and the Yogachara School founded by Maitreyanatha.

The Vajrayana sect believed in the female divinities called Taras, who include the spouses of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. India now has about 30 million Buddhists who are concentrated largely in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Sikkim and Bihar.

Buddhist Scriptures

The Tripitaka, Anguttra-Nikaya, Dhammapada, Sutta-Nipata and Samyutta-Nikaya are the important scriptures of Buddhism. The Tripitika or the three baskets comprises the sacred literature of the Buddhists in the Thervada School.

It is divided into three parts, the Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka and the Abidhamma Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka deals with the rules and regulations which were promulgated by the Buddha.It describes in detail the gradual development of the Sangha. It also gives an account of the life and teaching of Buddha.

The Sutta Pitaka contains discourses delivered by Buddha himself on different occasions and the discourses delivered by Sariputta, Ananda, Moggaland and others.The Sutta Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas of groups: the Digha Nikaya, the Majjhima Nikaya, the Samyutta Nikaya, the Anguttara Nikaya and the Khuddakla Nikaya. The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha's teachings and investigates mind and matter, to help the understanding of things as they truly are. The Mahayana sect has its own sacred scripture in the Mahayana Sutras or the Vaipulya Sutras

It contains the Buddha's sermons on doctrinal matters delivered at various places during his earthly career. The most important scripture of the Mahayanas is the Prajnaparamita Sutra.

Buddhist Councils

The First Buddhist Council was held at Rajagriha in 483 BC under the auspices of King Ajatashatru to compile the Dhammapitaka and Vinayapitaka.It was presided by Mahakashyap.The Second Buddhist Council was held at Vaishali in 383 BC under the auspices of King Kalasoka.There were two opposing groups of Buddhist monks, one from Vaishali and Pataliputra, who had accepted certain rules which were declared against the teachings of the Buddha by the other group of monks from Kausambi and Avanti.The first schism in Buddhism occurred during this council, with those who opposed the rules being termed as the Sthaviravadins and those in favour of the rules being called the Mahasanghikas.

The Third Buddhist Council was held in Pataliputra in 250 BC during the reign of Ashoka under the presidency of Moggliput Tissa. The Fourth Buddhist Council was held at Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka, under the presidency of Vasumitra and vice-presidency of Asvaghosa. The final schism in Buddhism into the Hinayana and Mahayana sects took place during this council.


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