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Buddhism: An Introduction

History and Background


The early stages of Buddhism were mostly limited to India and are commonly referred to as Theravada Buddhism. Later Buddhism, which gained widespread popularity beyond India (particularly in China and Japan), was called Mahayana Buddhism.


  • The main principle of Buddhist philosophy is the belief that all life is painful.


  • Everyone is exposed to the horrors of birth, sickness, decrepitude, and death, as well as separation from what they love.


  • Suffering is caused by want—specifically, bodily desire and the need for personal fulfilment.


  • Happiness may be attained only by overcoming these wants, which entails following the 'eightfold path.'


  • By pursuing this path, the Buddhist seeks to reach nirvana, a state of joy that is beyond the limitations of the mind and emotions.





The Buddha


Early Life


Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha or the "Enlightened One," was born in Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, on the northern edge of the Ganges river valley in what is now southern Nepal.


The peoples of the area were organised into tribal republics throughout the late Vedic period, controlled by a council of elders or an elected king; however, the grand palaces described in historical stories of the Buddha's life are not seen among the archaeological remains.


Textual Sources


His family is claimed to have been Kshatriya. The majority of information about his life comes from Buddhist texts, the earliest of which were not put to paper until well before the Common Era began, some centuries after his death.


The events of his life as described in these books cannot be taken as historically accurate, despite the fact that his historical existence is recognised by experts. He is claimed to have lived for 80 years, although the exact date of his death is unknown.


Social Life


At the time of his birth, a scholar at his father's court reportedly delivered a prediction. The prediction stated that if the boy remained at home, he would grow up to be a great king, but if he chose to leave, he would become a saviour for mankind.


The young prince led a rich existence; his father protected him from the world's woes, including old age, disease, and death, and supplied him with summer, winter, and rainy season palaces, as well as all manner of pleasures. He married Princess Yashodhara at the age of sixteen.




The Four Passing Sights


Siddhartha informed his father one day that he desired to see the globe. This journey would forever alter the course of his life since it was on this journey that he saw 'the four passing sights.


  • The first unsettling image Siddhartha observed was that of an elderly man. When Siddhartha inquired as to what had become of this man, he was informed that the man had grown old, as everyone does eventually.


  • Later, he met a sick guy and was informed that everyone was capable of being ill and experiencing pain, just like that individual.


  • He then witnessed a funeral procession carrying a body to the funeral home, its supporters wailing terribly. When Siddhartha inquired as to what this meant, he was taught that it was a way of life, since both prince and beggar would eventually die.


  • The final sighting was of a monk pleading for food. The beggar's calm expression convinced Siddhartha that this was the type of life for him.

Way Forward


Afflicted by the ills of human life and individuals seeking a state beyond them, he requested permission from the king to leave the city and retire to the forest.


With the father's agreement, the prince left Kapilavastu behind and went into the forest. He ate whatever was in his begging bowl at the time.


The prince spent the next six years learning to meditate and develop deep levels of joyful concentration. But he quickly agreed with his masters that they would be reborn after death. He then joined a group of five monks who practised extreme personalities.


The prince mastered these tactics, reducing his daily supply to a single seed. In Buddhist art, he is depicted as malnourished, with dark eyes and exposed ribs. Forsaking his fleshly sadness, he accepted a young woman's plate of rice and cream.


His friends deserted him because they believed in the efficacy of asceticism. Now alone, the prince vowed to sit under a Bodhi tree in Gaya (Uruvela, Sambodhi, or Vajrasana) until enlightenment.


The prince sat in meditation all night on May's full moon. He was let go during the third-night watch, just before dawn. On this night, he became a Buddha, a learned person who awoke from ignorance's sleep and spread his knowledge around the world.


The Buddha stayed near the tree for seven weeks. This scene is often depicted in Buddhist art.


Bodh Gaya is the most important of the four major pilgrimage sites associated with Gautama Buddha's life, along with Kushinagar (where he learned), Lumbini (where he was born), and Sarnath (where he died) (the place of his first teaching).


The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Bodhisattva and Buddha


Bodhisattva: A bodhisattva is someone who has embarked on a long journey to discover and then teach the path to liberation from suffering.


Buddha: A Buddha is someone who has discovered that path, followed it to its conclusion, and passed it on to the rest of the world. After death, Buddhas do not resurrect but attain nirvana, a state free of suffering (meaning "passing away").


Due to the rarity with which Buddhas appear throughout history and the fact that they alone reveal the path to liberation (moksha) from suffering (dukkha), the appearance of a Buddha in the world is regarded as a watershed moment in the universe's history.


Jatakas


Jatakas are compilations of stories about the Buddha's earlier versions. They are one of the earliest forms of Buddhist literature.


An experience reminds the Buddha of a past existence. He then returns to the present, identifying various members of his audience as current versions of characters from his past-life storey.


The Jataka tales have long been a favourite form of Buddhist literature. They are responsible for around 32 stone carvings representing the Buddha's previous lives at the Bharhut Stupa in northern Madhya Pradesh.


Stone carvings are a great way to find out which events in Buddha's life were deemed important by society. The Jataka stories are well-known outside India; in Southeast Asia, the storey of Prince Vessantara (the Buddha's penultimate reincarnation) is as well-known as his previous life's storey.




Important Aspects of Buddha's Teachings


The Four Noble Truths

  • Every person in life has pain and frustration.


  • Desire is the source of this pain and disease: desire, lust, attachment to people and things, and even to life itself.


  • To be free of pain, humanity must be liberated from every desire and desire, as well as from all attachments.


  • This is accomplished through sticking to the Noble Eightfold Path. This alone is sufficient to bring about nirvana, the ultimate objective of all Buddhist teachings.


The Noble Eight-fold Path


Correct belief requires knowledge and comprehension of the Four Noble Truths.


  • Right intention: steady commitment of the objective, which becomes the disciple's objective.


  • Proper speech entails being aware of one's words and avoiding false and unkind speech, idle talk, and gossip.


  • Correct action: avoidance of evil; unselfish and helpful behaviour.


  • Appropriate livelihood: not working in a profession that is inappropriate.


  • It would be harmful to other beings.


  • The proper effort entails a sustained effort to prevent and eliminate harmful impulses while nourishing and developing good ones.


  • Appropriate awareness is the development of self-awareness via sustained attention to one's thoughts, feelings, and actions.


  • Correct concentration, when combined with appropriate effort and attention in spiritual practice, helps the student overcome all obstacles in his search for nirvana.


Buddhist Schools


The Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika-sutra), one of the most important Mahayana sutras promoting a new conception of the Buddha, claims that the Buddha left the royal palace in search of freedom from suffering and found it six years later while meditating under a tree.


Rather than that, he explains that he attained enlightenment uncountable billions of ages ago and has been preaching the dharma in this world and in many other worlds ever since.


Due to the impossibility of his life span for regular humans, he has resorted to clever techniques purporting to sacrifice his princely existence, practise discipline, and acquire supreme knowledge.


Indeed, he was enlightened throughout and invented these acts to inspire the world. Similarly, the Buddha pretends to achieve nirvana in order to instil a strong call to action in his followers, ignoring the fact that his life span is limitless.


Nirvana


Nirvana is a central idea in Buddhism. The idea of nirvana has a variety of elements.


  • The absence of attachment and suffering is nirvana.

  • Nirvana is a singular experience that is unrelated to everything else.

  • Nirvana cannot be accurately represented in words as the Absolute Truth.

  • However, the term (nirvana) suggests that there is a purpose to be achieved and that this objective is greater than anything experienced in this world of ordinary understanding.



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