Have you always found it hard reading the real history of Buddhism and its modern-day beliefs? Here’s all you need to get started.
The origin of Buddhism relates to a man named Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. He was born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal) during the 5th century BCE. Rather than being a founder of a new religion, Siddhartha Gautama was the founder and leader of a sect of wandering ascetics (Sramanas). As a result, it was one of many cults that existed at that time all over India. In addition, they named this sect as Sangha to distinguish them from other similar communities.
The Sramanas movement originated in the culture of world rejection. Certainly, it emerged in India from about the 7th century BCE. Moreover, it was the common origin of many religious and philosophical traditions in India. For instance, Charvaka school, Buddhism, and Jainism. In addition, the Sramanas are renunciant who rejected the Vedic teachings. Even when it was the traditional religious order in India and its conventional belief.
The Introduction Of Buddhism
Siddhartha Gautama lived during this period of significant social changes in India. Coincidentally, many new religions questioned the authority of the Vedic religion. Certainly, a nomadic society had developed this religion before the era of Siddhartha’s time. Most of all, it gradually gained supremacy over most of north India. Especially, in the Gangetic plain.
In the 6th BCE, the nomadic sect was not in existence again. However, in the new urban setting, a significant sector of Indian society became uninterested with the ancient Vedic faith. Furthermore, Siddhartha Gautama was one of the major critics of this religious establishment.
As a result, in the late 6th century B.C.E. Buddhism came into existence. Of course, that was when Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) shared his findings on enlightenment. Subsequently, it became the most essential religion in most of the countries of Asia. Hence, Buddhism assumed many different forms. But, in each case, there has been an attempt to draw from the life experiences of the Buddha. Above all, his teachings and the “spirit” or “essence” (called dhamma or dharma) are the models of his religious life.
Early Stages Of The Buddha
Siddhartha began teaching around Benares (at Sarnath). Also, his class was one of spiritual and intellectual teachings. Moreover, the Buddha was born at the period when the Hindu ideal of renunciation of family and social life to seek the way of truth first became common. Certainly, this was prevalent among holy persons.
Siddhartha Gautama was the warrior son of a king and queen. However, according to myth, at his birth, a soothsayer predicted that he might become a renouncer. In other words, he will withdraw from temporal life. So, to prevent this, his father provided him with many luxuries and pleasures.
But, as a young man, he once went on a ride with four chariots where he discovered more severe forms of human suffering. That is old age, illness, and death (a corpse).
The difference between his life and this human suffering made him realize that all the pleasures on earth were temporary. As a result, could only mask the rate of human suffering.
He left his wife and new son (“Rahula”—fetter) and took on several teachers. Also, he tried severe renunciation in the forest until the point of near-starvation. However, at a point, he realized he was only adding more suffering to himself. Therefore, he ate and sat down beneath a tree to meditate.
But, six months later, he attained Nirvana (Enlightenment). Certainly, this experience provided him both the real answers to the causes of suffering and its permanent solution.
Now, the Buddha (“the Enlightened or Awakened One”) began to teach others these truths. Most importantly, he did this out of compassion for their suffering. As a result, he taught important doctrine which included the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path.
The Buddha encouraged a moderate or “balanced” wandering lifestyle. In addition, he promoted the cultivation of mental and emotional composure. And, he did this through the teaching of meditation and morality.
After the Buddha’s death, his celibate wandering followers gradually settled down into monasteries. These monasteries were a result of the merit-producing gifts from the married laity. As a result, these laities were in turn taught by the monks some of the Buddha’s teachings. Also, they engaged in such practices as visiting the Buddha’s birthplace. And, also, worshipping the tree under which he became enlightened (Bodhi tree). Additionally, they paid reverence to the Buddha images in temples. And, even more, the relics of his body housed in various stupas or funeral mounds.
How Then Did Buddhism Begin To Spread?
A famous Indian emperor Ashoka the Great who ruled from 268 to 232 BCE and his son, turned Buddhism into the state of religion throughout South India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). This happened in the 3rd century B.C.E.
He provided a favorable social and political climate for the acceptance of Buddhist ideas. Further, He also encouraged Buddhist missionary activity. And, subsequently, he even generated among Buddhist monks certain expectations of patronage and influence. Especially, on the machinery of political decision making.
Furthermore, he opened a trade route through southern India. As a result, some of the merchants using these roads were Buddhists who took their religion with them. Similarly, Buddhist monks also used these roads for missionary activity. Most of all, Buddhism entered Sri Lanka during this era.
For example, to spread his teachings, many monastic schools developed his followers. And, this was because his practical lessons were mysterious on several points.
One May Ask, What Part Of His Teaching Was Mysterious?
One of it was that he refused to give a plain answer to whether humans have a soul (Atta/atman) or not.
On the same note, the Buddha also developed different schools. However, He never appointed a successor to follow him as leader of the Sangha (monastic order). Hence, he did this to urge the monks to be lamps unto themselves and make the Dhamma their guide.
Origin Of The Different Buddhist Schools?
During the first century C.E. a significant split occurred within the Buddhist community. Consequently, this brought about the up-spring of two schools namely:
- The Mahayana and
- Hinayana branches.
Only the Hinayana (“the Lesser Vehicle”) branch of schools, i.e. the Theravada school remained. Most of all, this school stresses the historical figure of Gautama Buddha. And, also, the centrality of a monk’s lifestyle and meditation practice. Further, this school can be found in Sri Lanka and all Southeast Asian countries.
Later on, the Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) branch of schools began about the 1st century C.E. On the other hand, Mahayanists can be found today especially in Korea, China, Japan, and Tibet.
What Are Other Prominent Schools?
Other three most prominent schools are:
- Pure Land,
- Chanor Zen and
Generally, Mahayana schools utilize texts called Sutras. Hence, stressing that lay people can also be good Buddhists. Also, they taught other valid paths to Nirvana in addition to meditation. For example, the chanting and good works utilized in Pure Land. Moreover, they believe that the Buddha and all human beings have their origin in what they called Buddha Nature. On the other hand, they also refer to it as Buddha Mind or Emptiness.
Do Mahayana Schools Teach Other Spiritual Lessons?
Mahayana also taught about the bodhisattvas. And, these are persons who have reached the point of Enlightenment. But, they turn back and take a vow to use their Enlightenment, compassion, wisdom, and power to help release others from suffering.
However, Buddhism became virtually extinct in India (ca. 12th century C.E.). Certainly, this was because of the rise of Hinduism, Muslim invasions, or too high a stress on the monk’s way of life.
Nevertheless, as a religion, it has more than proved its viability and practical spirituality in the countries of Asia.
BUDDHIST EXPANSION ACROSS CENTRAL & EAST ASIA
Buddhism entered China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). During the first centuries, Buddhist missionaries accompanied merchant caravans that traveled using the Silk Road. However, the majority of these missionaries belonged to the Mahayana school.
The initial stage of Buddhism in China was not very promising. Because the Chinese culture had a long-established intellectual and religious tradition. Above all, they also showed a strong sense of cultural superiority that did not help the reception of Buddhist ideas.
Many of the Buddhist ways appeared strange to the Chinese. And, moreover, contrary to the Confucian ideals that dominated the ruling elites. As a result, the monastic order received a severe set of criticisms. Hence, considered unproductive. Consequently, they placed an unnecessary economic burden on the population.
Certainly, the independence from secular authority emphasized by the monks was seen as an attempt to weaken the traditional influence of the emperor.
Despite its difficult beginning, Buddhism managed to build a substantial presence in China. This took place towards the fall of the Han dynasty on 220 Central. Subsequently, its growth accelerated during the time of disunion and political chaos that dominated China during the six dynasties period (220-589 CE).
Also, the universal spirit of Buddhist teachings made it attractive to many non-Chinese rulers in the North. Especially, those who were looking for opportunities to attain political power.
Eventually, Buddhism in China grew strong. In addition, it was profoundly influencing. And, also, virtually every aspect of its culture.
From China, Buddhism entered Korea in 372 CE. Most importantly, this was during the reign of King Sosurim, the ruler of the Kingdom of Koguryo.
Also, there is archaeological evidence that suggests that Buddhism was present in Korea from an earlier time.
Further Expansion Of Buddhism
The official introduction of Buddhism in Tibet (according to Tibetan records) took place during the reign of the first Tibetan emperor Srong btsan sgam po (Songtsen Gampo, 617-649/650 CE). Although, we know that the proto-Tibetan people had been in touch with Buddhism from an earlier time. And, was through interaction with Buddhist merchants and missionaries.
Therefore, Buddhism grew powerful in Tibet, absorbing the local pre-Buddhist Tibetan religions. Also, between China and India, Tibet received monks from both sides. Therefore, the tension between Chinese and Indian Buddhist practice and ideology turned out to be inevitable.
From 792 to 794 CE many debates held in the Bsam yas monastery between Chinese and Indian Buddhists. However, the dispute was in favor of the Indians. Consequently, the Tibetans abandoned Buddhists translations from Chinese sources. Also, the Indian Buddhist influence became principal than ever.
The many forms and practices that developed within the Buddhist fold allowed many different types of people to satisfy their spiritual needs through this great religion.
Buddhism is one of the most important Asian spiritual traditions. Above all, It shows a flexible approach, adapting itself to different conditions and local ideas while maintaining its core teachings. As a result of its broad geographical expansion, coupled with its liberal spirit, Buddhism today encompasses many different traditions, beliefs, and practices.
On the other hand, after Siddhartha Gautama passed away, the community he founded slowly evolved into a religion-like movement. Therefore, the teachings of Siddhartha became the basis of Buddhism. The historical evidence suggests that Buddhism had a humble beginning. It was a relatively minor tradition in India. Also, some scholars proposed that the impact of the Buddha in his days was suffered limitation from the scarcity of written documents, inscriptions, and archaeological evidence from that time.
Modern Buddhism Beliefs
The Buddha did not concern himself with satisfying human curiosity related to immaterial things. Hence, he ignored topics related to the existence of God, the afterlife, or creation stories.
During the centuries, Buddha diverged to many metaphysical systems like deities and astrology. But, it never affected his moral conduct.
The most modern and essential teaching of the Buddha is “The Four Noble Truths.” It is often shared with different adjustments across all Buddhist schools.
However, What Is The Four Noble Truths?
The First Noble Truth generally translates as “all life is suffering”. One can easily understand this when it comes to painful situations like death, illness, abuse, poverty, and so forth.
Life as we usually live, it is full of the pleasures and pains of the body and mind. Moreover, according to the Buddha, pleasures, do not represent lasting happiness. Instead, they are intertwined with suffering since we want the pain to go so that pleasure can come.
But, suffering also may arise from good things because nothing is permanent. To clarify, everything is changing, and whatever gives us happiness will sooner or later come to an end. Above all, it seems that all pleasures are temporary. Therefore, the more we enjoy them, the more we will miss them when they end. Hence, “Nothing lasts forever,” is one of the insights of the Buddha.
Someone May Ask What Is The Cause Of Suffering?
According to the second Noble Truth, suffering comes by a craving for pleasures. That is to say, we always refuse to accept living conditions.
Most importantly, the real cause of suffering is desire. Suffering comes from passion, also referred to as “thirst” or greed. As a result, our hopes will always exceed our resources and leave us unhappy and unsatisfied. All suffering originates in desire. But, not all desire generates pain. In other words, only selfish desire creates suffering. An example is a desire directed to the advantage of the part rather than to the good of the whole.
Does Suffering Have An End?
The third Noble Truth, however, states that suffering has an end. And, the fourth truth offers the means to that end. That is the Eight-Fold Path or the Middle Way.
If one follows this combined path, he or she will attain Nirvana. Certainly, this is a great state of awareness, in which there is only peace and joy.
Hence, by stopping desire, suffering also ends. The idea is not to get too attached to material goods, places, ideas, or even people. Therefore, non-attachment to anything is the main idea behind the third noble truth. Moreover, it means that since everything changes, if our attachment is too strong, we will inevitably suffer at some point. After all, we will all get old, die, and decay. Of course, this is a natural cycle, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, the problem comes when we attach too much and do not accept the changes.
Which Other Roles Does The Eightfold Path Play In Modern Buddhism Practice?
Eightfold Path composes of right views, right intentions, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Hence, observing these helps us live moderately which is an ideal life.
Other Core Buddhism Beliefs
Buddhism Do Not Believe In Sin
In some religions, sin is the origin of human suffering. But, in Buddhism, there is no sin. Hence, the root cause of human pain is avid ignorance”. Likewise, in the entrance area of some Buddhist monasteries, sometimes the images of four scary-looking deities are displayed. These are the four protectors whose purpose is to scare away the ignorance of those who enter.
Buddhism Requires No Faith or Belief
Also, Buddhism requires no faith or belief. That is to say when one understands religion as believing something unsupported by evidence. And, then ignorance overcame by understanding. Faith is not enough to overcome ignorance. Therefore, faith and belief are not necessary for a Buddhist.
Buddhism Does Not Include The Concept Of A God
In the most basic form, Buddhism does not include the concept of a god. As a result, the existence of God is neither confirmed nor denied. Hence, it is a non-theistic system. On that note, Buddhists see the Buddha as an extraordinary man, not a deity. Although, some Buddhist schools have incorporated supernatural entities into their traditions. However, even in these cases, the role of human choice and responsibility remains supreme. And, also, far above the deeds of the supernatural.
Non-existence Of Buddha
The monks think that the Buddha never existed. But, there is a good reason for this. That is, the core of Buddhism is not the Buddha. But, his teachings or Dharma. Furthermore, there is a saying that those who wish to understand Buddhism and are interested in the Buddha are like persons who study mathematics by studying the life of Pythagoras or Newton. Therefore, by imagining the Buddha never existed, they avoid focusing on the idol. Consequently, they can embrace the ideal.
During the last decades, Buddhism also gained a significant presence outside Asia. Most of all, its believers estimated to be almost 400 million people. However, Buddhism in our day has gone worldwide. Hence, it is no longer culturally specific. For many centuries, this tradition has been a dominant force in Asia which touched nearly every aspect of the eastern world. For example, arts, morals, lore, mythology, social institutions, etc.
Today, Buddhism influences these same areas outside of Asia, as well.