buddhism

“Exploring Buddhism: Buddha’s Indian Legacy” [2023]

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Buddhism is a religion and philosophy that originated in ancient India. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, which means “the awakened one.” The core beliefs of Buddhism include the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths state that suffering exists, that suffering arises from craving and attachment, that it is possible to end suffering, and that the path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is a set of guidelines for ethical and mental development, which includes right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Buddhism spread throughout Asia and has various branches, including Theravada and Mahayana.

Buddha is Enlightened One and Buddhism is a philosophy of life expounded by Gautama Buddha who lived and taught in northern India in the 6th century B.C. The Buddha was not a god and the teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating Human beings from the suffering of the world.

Buddha
Buddha

Buddhism Origin

The origin story of Buddhism centers around the life of Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who lived in ancient India around the 5th century BCE. According to traditional accounts, Siddhartha was born into a royal family and was raised in luxury, shielded from the suffering of the outside world. Despite his privileged upbringing, Siddhartha became deeply concerned with the nature of suffering and the human condition.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace and family to seek answers to these questions. He studied with various religious teachers, but ultimately found their teachings to be unsatisfying. He then decided to pursue a path of self-discovery, and after six years of severe asceticism and meditation, he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. From that moment on, he was known as the Buddha, or “the awakened one.”

After his enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching others about the path to enlightenment and the end of suffering. He is said to have taught for 45 years, and his teachings were recorded and passed down by his followers. These teachings form the foundation of Buddhism, which has since spread throughout the world.

It is important to note that the origin story of Buddhism is based on traditional accounts, and some details may vary depending on different texts and interpretations.

Buddhism originated in northern India, Later on, Emperor Ashoka helped to spread Buddhism to South-East Asian countries as – Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and China, from where Buddhism moved on to influence people of the Himalayas residing in Sikkim (India), Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Central Asia as well as China, Korea, Viet Nam and Japan. For example Around 95% population in Thailand is Buddhist, the highest concentration in the world.

Now let us dive into the Life of Buddha who created the Buddhism

Birth Story of Buddha

  • Siddhartha (Buddha) Born to a royal family that ruled over the land of the Sakyas at Kapilvastu in Nepal around 490 B.C.E. 
  • Legends say that in 623 B.C. on a beautiful full moon day the Queen Mahamaya was travelling from Kapilvastu to Devadaha, to give birth to her child at her parental home. Halfway between these two cities, the Queen gave birth to a son while standing in a grove of trees now known as Lumbini. 
  • Later over 300 years after the event, King Ashoka erected a stone pillar to mark this sacred place, which is now a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site.
  • On the fifth day after his birth, his father, King Suddhodana invited eight Brahmins for the naming ceremony of the boy they were also asked to predict the baby’s future. The baby was named Siddhartha
  • The invited men predicted that the boy would either become a great king or a great teacher when exposed to any suffering. 
  • Queen Mahamaya passed away on the seventh day after childbirth and the Baby Siddhartha was raised by his aunt.

Palace Life of Buddha

  • Siddhartha grew up in all the luxuries and was pursued to excel in education by his father. 
  • At the age of 16, he was married to his cousin, princess Yashodhara. But the inner flame kept him motivated as he was still not happy. He longed to see the world beyond his palace.
  • At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace with his charioteer Channa to see the world beyond his palace
  • Siddhartha was deeply intrigued by what he had never seen before, the ‘Four Passing Sights’:
    • an old man weakened with age; 
    • a sick man crying in pain; 
    • a dead man whose corpse was taken for cremation; 
    • and a wandering sannyasin
  • He was saddened by seeing ageing, sickness, and death for the first time. But He was inspired by the sannyasin and decided to leave the palace, his wife, and the newborn son with the aim to gain a higher understanding of life its sufferings and find a solution to sufferings in the world. 
places of buddhism
places of buddhism

How Siddhartha became the Buddha

  • Siddhartha search for enlightenment started by practising strict asceticism. In the six years of hardship, Siddhartha finally realized neither luxury nor starvation can provide him with a deeper understanding of Life.
  • He then followed the Middle Path, and gained enlightenment in a villageBodh Gaya, under a Bodhi tree as he sat down in meditation. 
  • Buddha saw his past lives, death, and rebirths in enlightenment and realized that he had eliminated all desires and ignorance within himself. By now the Siddhartha had become the ‘Awakened One, a Buddha. 
  • Buddha gave his first sermon to a group of ascetics with whom he practised earlier, they were the very first disciples of Buddha. 
  • Buddha then continued to spread his teachings in India for the next forty-five years until his death at the age of 80 in a small town called Kusinara.

Why Buddha is So Special

Buddha is considered special in Buddhism because he is believed to have achieved enlightenment, or the ultimate understanding of the nature of reality and the human condition. Through his own effort and spiritual practice, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which form the foundation of Buddhism and provide a way for others to end suffering and achieve enlightenment.

The Buddha is also considered special because he is seen as a model for how to live an ethical and compassionate life. He taught about the importance of non-violence, honesty, and kindness, and his teachings have been an inspiration for millions of people over the centuries.

Additionally, the Buddha is considered a “perfect teacher” in Buddhism, who is able to teach the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings) in a way that is appropriate and accessible to people of all levels of understanding and spiritual development. This is why, in many Buddhist traditions, the Buddha is venerated as a teacher and guide, who can help people navigate the difficulties of life and find true happiness.

In summary, Buddha is special in Buddhism because he is considered to have achieved a profound understanding of the nature of reality and the human condition, and to have provided a path for others to do the same. He is also considered as a model for how to live an ethical and compassionate life, and as a perfect teacher who can guide people on the path to enlightenment.

  • Buddha lived his life in the time when an early form of Hinduism, ‘Brahmanism’ was influential in India. His teachings shared some of the basic ideas of Brahmanism, such as karma and rebirth, moksha, the existence of gods, yogic practices, and the value of spiritual insight. 
  • However, Buddha rejected the authority of Vedas, sacrifices to gods, and the social system of caste
  • Buddhism was open to people of all social classes
  • The social order of monks and nuns known as the Sangha was introduced by Buddha himself
  • Many followers became monks and nuns; others remained lay-people providing material support to the monks and nuns, who in return gave laypeople teachings and advice. This mutual relationship still lies at the heart of the different schools of Buddhism.

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths talks about human suffering. They may be described as:

  • Dukkha-Suffering exists
    • According to it, Life is full of suffering and Suffering is real and almost universal. This belief attributes suffering to many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, and the impermanence of pleasure.
  • Samudaya-It says that there is a cause of suffering.
    • It connects Suffering to the attachment. Attachment is a desire to have and control things. It can take many forms in mind such as the desire for sensual pleasures; desire for fame; desire to avoid unpleasant feelings and sensations like fear, anger or jealousy.
  • Nirodha: There is an end to suffering.
    • It points to the solution that Attachment can be overcome by Humans. All the Suffering ceases with the final liberation i.e. Nirvana (Nibbana). In Nirvana or the Enlighten State, the mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. And It lets go of any desire or craving.
  • Magga
    • In order to end this suffering, humans must follow the Eightfold Path. There is a path for accomplishing this.
buddhism
buddhism

Dharma

Dharma is a central concept in Buddhism and is often translated as “teachings,” “law,” or “truth.” It refers to the teachings of the Buddha, which provide a path to enlightenment and the end of suffering. The Dharma is said to be the Buddha’s greatest gift to humanity, as it offers a way for people to understand the nature of reality and to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

The Dharma can be divided into two categories: the teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which provide a framework for understanding the nature of suffering and the path to its cessation. And the secondary teachings, which are further explanations and elaborations on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, including teachings on ethics, meditation, and other spiritual practices.

The Dharma is considered to be timeless and universal, and it is said to be applicable to all people, regardless of their culture, background, or level of spiritual development. Buddhists believe that by studying and practicing the Dharma, they can gain insight into the nature of reality, develop compassion and wisdom, and ultimately achieve enlightenment.

In summary, Dharma is a central concept in Buddhism which refers to the teachings of the Buddha that provide a path to enlightenment and the end of suffering, it includes both the primary teachings and the secondary teachings. The Dharma is considered to be timeless and universal, and is believed to be applicable to all people regardless of their background or spiritual development.

THE EIGHTFOLD PATH

The Buddha’s Eightfold Path consists of Panna, Sila and Samadhi as discussed below

Panna: Discernment, wisdom

  1. Samma ditthi: Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths. That is the right view is the true understanding of the four noble truths.
  2. Samma sankappa: Right thinking- following the right path in life. The right path is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.

These two are referred to as Prajna or Wisdom.

Sila: Virtue, morality

  1. Samma vaca: Right speech- This path instructs for No lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language. The Right Speech of Humans should abstain from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.
  2. Samma kammanta: Right conduct or Right Action. It involves abstaining from hurtful behaviours, such as killing, stealing etc.
  3. Samma Ajiva: Right livelihood: It instructs that a Human should support himself without harming others. Right Livelihood is making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including even animals.

These three are referred to as Shila, or Morality.

Samadhi: Concentration, meditation

  1. Samma Vayama: Right Exercise or Effort: Right Effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one’s mind: The Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again, and the Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.
  2. Samma Sati: Right Mindfulness: This Path instructs that a Human should become aware of his body, mind and feelings. The Right Mindfulness is the focusing of one’s attention on one’s body, feelings, thoughts and consciousness and in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.
  3. Samma samadhi: Right Concentration: This path tells us to meditate in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness. It instructs to meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness
buddhism in india
buddhism in india

Important Places of Buddhism

PlaceFeature
LumbiniLumbini is currently located in Kapilavastu, Nepal. It is the birthplace of Buddha.  
BodhgayaLocated in Bihar on river Neranjana, known as Uruwela at that time. It is the place of enlightenment of Buddha.
SarnathAt Sarnath Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon.
KushinagarKushinara, Uttar Pradesh. Site of Buddha’s death or Mahaparinirvana
SravastiSravasti, Uttar Pradesh. Most of the monastic life of Buddha was spent in Shravasti. It is also the birthplace of Jaina Tirthankar Sambhavanath.
SankasyaThere is a belief that Buddha after his death descended from heaven here.
RajgirAfter the great departure -Mahabhinishkramana, Buddha had first gone to Rajgir. He started begging alms over there and living the life of an ascetic. King Bimbisara had offered Buddha his throne which he turned down.
VaishaliAfter leaving Kapilavastu, Buddha came to Vaishali first and had his spiritual training from Allara and Udaka.

Buddha and India

Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, was born in ancient India in the 5th century BCE. His teachings, which form the foundation of Buddhism, emerged out of the spiritual and philosophical traditions of the time in India. The Buddha’s teachings were initially transmitted orally and were later written down in the Pali Canon, which is considered to be the earliest Buddhist scripture.

Buddhism quickly spread throughout India, and it was embraced by people from all walks of life. Monks, nuns, and laypeople alike were drawn to the Buddha’s teachings on the nature of suffering and the path to enlightenment. Buddhism became one of the dominant religions in India and had a profound impact on Indian culture, influencing art, architecture, literature, and philosophy.

However, Buddhism eventually lost ground in India due to the emergence of various internal schisms and external political and religious pressures. During the 12th century, Muslim invasions of India led to the destruction of many Buddhist monasteries and centers of learning. By the 13th century, Buddhism had largely disappeared as a major religion in India.

Despite this, Buddhism has had a significant influence on Indian culture and continues to be a topic of interest among scholars and practitioners of Buddhism. The Buddha’s teachings have also been widely spread in other parts of the world by the Buddhist missions and Indian traders and merchants.

In summary, Buddha was born in ancient India, his teachings emerged from the spiritual and philosophical traditions of the time, and Buddhism quickly spread throughout India, becoming one of the dominant religions in the region. However, Buddhism eventually lost ground in India due to various internal and external factors, but it continues to have a significant influence on Indian culture and continues to be a topic of interest among scholars and practitioners of Buddhism.

Spread of Buddhism

Buddhism spread throughout Asia and beyond, primarily through the efforts of Buddhist monks and traders. Shortly after the Buddha’s death, his followers began to spread his teachings and establish monasteries throughout India. As Buddhism gained popularity, it began to spread to other parts of the Indian subcontinent, including present-day Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

During the reign of the Indian Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, Buddhism was officially endorsed as the state religion and actively promoted through the establishment of monasteries, the sponsorship of missions, and the creation of rock and pillar edicts throughout the empire. This helped Buddhism to spread beyond India, to Central Asia, and eventually to China, Korea, and Japan.

Buddhism
Buddhism

In addition to the official support, Buddhism also spread through the efforts of merchants and traders who traveled along the Silk Road between China and India. They brought with them not only goods but also ideas and religions, which helped Buddhism to spread to other parts of Asia.

From China, Buddhism spread to Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia, and from there to the surrounding regions. In the following centuries, Buddhism also reached Southeast Asia, through the sea trade route and the spreading of the Theravada Buddhism.

In summary, Buddhism spread throughout Asia and beyond, primarily through the efforts of Buddhist monks and traders. The support of Emperor Ashoka and the expansion of the Indian empire and the Silk Road trade helped Buddhism to spread beyond India and reach Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. From there it reached other parts of Asia, such as Tibet, Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Mongolia.

Fa-Hien and Buddhism

Fa-Hien, also known as Faxian, was a Chinese Buddhist monk who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries CE. He is known for his extensive travels to India and Central Asia, during which he visited important Buddhist sites and studied with prominent Buddhist teachers. He is considered one of the first Chinese pilgrims to visit India and one of the most important early Chinese Buddhist monks.

Fa-Hien and Buddhism
Fa-Hien and Buddhism

Fa-Hien left China in 399 CE, at the age of 60, with the goal of studying the teachings of the Buddha and collecting Buddhist scriptures. He traveled along the Silk Road through Central Asia, and then to India, where he visited many important Buddhist sites, such as Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, and Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon. He also met and studied with many prominent Buddhist teachers and scholars, and collected Buddhist texts and artifacts.

Fa-Hien returned to China in 414 CE, after 15 years of travel, and brought with him many Buddhist texts and artifacts, which helped to further the spread of Buddhism in China. He also wrote an account of his travels, titled “A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms,” which is considered an important primary source on the history of Buddhism in India and Central Asia during that period.

In summary, Fa-Hien was a Chinese Buddhist monk who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries CE, he is known for his extensive travels to India and Central Asia. He was one of the first Chinese pilgrims to visit India and one of the most important early Chinese Buddhist monks. He collected Buddhist texts and artifacts during his travels, which helped to spread Buddhism in China. He also wrote an account of his travels, which is considered an important primary source on the history of Buddhism in India and Central Asia during that period.

Hsüan-tsang and Buddhism

Xuanzang, also known as Hsüan-tsang or Yuanzang, was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, and traveler who lived during the 7th century CE. He is known for his extensive travels to India, where he visited important Buddhist sites and studied with prominent Buddhist teachers. He is considered one of the most important Chinese Buddhist monks of his time, and his legacy continues to be celebrated in China and other parts of Asia.

Hsüan-tsang and Buddhism
Hsüan-tsang and Buddhism

Xuanzang left China in 629 CE, at the age of 27, with the goal of studying the teachings of the Buddha and collecting Buddhist scriptures. He traveled along the Silk Road through Central Asia, and then to India, where he visited many important Buddhist sites, such as Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, and Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon. He also met and studied with many prominent Buddhist teachers and scholars, and collected over 600 Buddhist texts, which he translated into Chinese upon his return.

Xuanzang returned to China in 645 CE, after 16 years of travel, and brought with him many Buddhist texts, which helped to further the spread of Buddhism in China. He also wrote an account of his travels, titled “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions,” which is considered an important primary source on the history of Buddhism in India and Central Asia during that period.

Xuanzang’s legacy continues to be celebrated in China and other parts of Asia. His journey to India is celebrated in Chinese literature, art, and popular culture, and his translation and study of Buddhist texts has had a lasting impact on the development of Buddhism in China.

In summary, Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, and traveler who lived during the 7th century CE. He is known for his extensive travels to India, where he visited important Buddhist sites and studied with prominent Buddhist teachers. He collected over 600 Buddhist texts and translated them into Chinese upon his return, which helped to spread Buddhism in China. He also wrote an account of his travels, which is considered an important primary source on the history of Buddhism in India and Central Asia during that period. His legacy continues to be celebrated in China and other parts of Asia.

Nirvana

Nirvana is a central concept in Buddhism and is often translated as “extinction,” “extinguishing,” or “liberation.” It refers to the state of ultimate liberation from suffering and the cycle of rebirth. It is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path and is considered to be the highest spiritual attainment.

In Buddhism, it is believed that all beings are trapped in a cycle of rebirth, known as samsara, which is characterized by suffering, impermanence, and the absence of a permanent self. The goal of Buddhism is to end this cycle and achieve liberation, or nirvana.

Nirvana is described as a state of perfect peace, happiness, and freedom from all forms of suffering. It is said to be a state of pure consciousness and awareness, beyond all dualities such as pleasure and pain, self and non-self. It is also said to be beyond the reach of words and concepts, and therefore, it cannot be fully understood or described.

Achieving Nirvana is not something that can be attained through ritual, prayer, or devotion alone. It requires the cultivation of wisdom, ethical behavior, and mental discipline through the practice of the Eightfold Path. It is said that only those who have achieved enlightenment, or have awakened to the true nature of reality, can attain Nirvana.

In summary, Nirvana is a central concept in Buddhism and refers to the state of ultimate liberation from suffering and the cycle of rebirth, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. It’s described as a state of perfect peace, happiness, and freedom from all forms of suffering, beyond the reach of words and concepts. It can only be achieved through the cultivation of wisdom, ethical behavior, and mental discipline through the practice of the Eightfold Path. Those who have achieved enlightenment can attain Nirvana.

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