Buddhism became a popular religion in India and abroad during the ancient period. It was founded by Gautam Buddha.
Life of Gautam Buddha
- Buddha was born in 563 BC at Lumbini near Kapilavastu in Nepal. His father was the ruler of Kapilavastu. Buddha was inclined towards spiritual pursuits since his childhood.
- He was married at a young age to princess Yashodhara and had a son.
- Buddha in his early life was moved by the sight of an old man, a sick man, and a dead body. He was consoled when he saw an ascetic in search of salvation. These sights came to be known as the ‘Four Great Sights’.
- Later, he left the palace, his wife, and his child to find a solution to the problems of the people. This is known as ‘the Great Renunciation’.
- After leaving home, Buddha wandered from place to place. He later went to Gaya and followed the life of extreme austerity. Finally, at the age of thirty-five, he attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya in Bihar and came to be known as Buddha or the Enlightened One.
- Mahabodhi temple was constructed at the place where Buddha received enlightenment. He was also called ‘tathagat’ or the founder of the truth.
- Buddha delivered his first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath near Varanasi in the presence of five saints. This event in the history of Buddhism came to be known as dharmachakrapravartana or the turning of the wheels of sacred law.
- Buddha’s fame spread far and wide, and he traveled to various parts of the country spreading his messages and teachings.
- In his last years, Buddha went to the city of Kushinagar, near Gorakhpur district in present Uttar Pradesh. He attained salvation at the age of 80 in 483 BC at Kushinagar. Remains of his body were taken to eight different places by his disciples where huge mounds called stupas were erected.
Teachings of Buddhism
Four Noble Truths
The essence of Buddhism lies in the four noble truths. These are
- The world is full of sufferings.
- Suffering has a cause.
- Desire is the cause of suffering.
- With the end of desires, sufferings can also be ended.
Eight Fold Path
The path which leads to the end of suffering is known as the Eight-Fold Path or the Middle Path. It is a mid-path between luxurious living and severe penance. These are
- Right Action: To remain away from theft, luxury and desire
- Right thought: Not to believe in rituals and evil practices
- Right belief: To give up desires
- Right living: Not to indulge in dishonest dealings with others
- Right speech: To speak truth
- Right effort: To help others and not to indulge in any sinful activity
- Right recollection: To think about pious things and help others
- Right meditation: To concentrate only on good deeds and work
Code of Conduct
The code of conduct spread by Buddha included
- Not to lie
- Not to own property
- Not to consume alcoholic drinks
- Not to commit violence
- Not to indulge in corrupt practices Buddha stressed on right karma.
He believed that man should follow the Eight Fold Path and his karma decides the type of existence in the next life. It is called the wheel of existence. He stressed morality and good actions. Buddha preached that the goal of life is to attain salvation, eternal peace, and bliss. He spread the message of universal brotherhood. Buddha rejected rituals and sacrifices. He believed in the doctrine of non-violence stressing that actions should not harm any living creature.
The organization for teachings of Buddhism
- The organization for the teaching of Buddhism came to be known as Sangha. It later became a powerful institution as it played an important role in spreading Buddhism.
- Both men and women could become members of the sangha but had to renounce the world before joining it.
- The members had to live a disciplined life and had to follow the Ten Commandments. These included speaking the truth, following brahmacharya, following non-violence, denouncing property, shunning music and dancing, taking meals only at fixed times, not use intoxicants, not use scented goods, and not possess money.
- The Buddhist monks had to go to the villages and cities and beg for food for fixed hours. Therefore, they came to be known as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis meaning beggars.
- The members led a life of chastity, austerity, devotion, and purity.
Sects of Buddhism
During the Fourth Buddhist Council, in the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism was split into two sects— Hinayana and Mahayana.
- Mahayana considered Buddha as an incarnation of God as he could ensure salvation. As a result, images of Buddha began to be made.
- The concept of Boddhisattvas developed. According to Mahayana, Boddhisattvas were the holy Buddhists who had not attained salvation but were on the way towards it.
- Kanishka was a follower of the Mahayana sect. The followers of Mahayana are found in the northwestern parts of India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.
- The people belonging to this sect stood for following the doctrines of Buddha.
- They denied the existence of God and believed that the Eight Fold Path was the means of attaining salvation.
- Buddha was not considered God but as human being who had attained salvation.
- Followers of the Hinayana sect are found in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
Impact of Buddhism
- The doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence impacted the people and society deeply. Stress was given to animal protection.
- Buddhism challenged Hindu practices such as yajnas, sacrifices, and rituals. It outrightly rejected these practices and the caste system.
- Buddhists influenced emperors such as Ashoka and Chandragupta who later became non-violent. Thus, it affected Indian politics.
- As Buddhism spread to many parts of the world, such as China, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, close cultural contacts emerged between these countries and India.
- Buddhism contributed immensely to language and literature. Many Buddhist texts were written during the period. Tripitakas-Vinaypitaka, Suttapitakas and Abhidhammapitaka were composed. The Vinaypitaka lays down rules for the Buddhist monks living in the sanghas. Suttapitakas contained various teachings of Lord Buddha and Abhidhammapitaka deals with Buddhist philosophy. The Jataka tales tell us about the life of Buddha.
- Stupas, chaityas, viharas, and rock-cut cave temples were constructed by the Buddhists. The stupas were the semi-spherical dome-like structures that contained the relics of Buddha. The Stupas at Sanchi, Amravati, and Bharhut have survived till today.
- Chaityas were rectangular halls with semi-circular roofs supported by a number of columns.
Decline of Buddhism
- One of the reasons for the decline in Buddhism was the spilled of the religion into the two major sects of Mahayana and Hinayana.
- There was the revival of Hinduism during the Gupta Period. Buddhism no longer remained a state religion. The Rajputs of Rajasthan were warlike people and could not follow the policy of ahimsa. Thus, the lack of royal patronage brought an end to Buddhism.
- Gradually, corruption crept into the sanghas. Because Buddhism was patronized by the rulers, there was an influx of money into the sanghas. The monks and the nuns began to live a luxurious life which resulted in the decay of spirituality among its members.
- From the 8th century AD onwards, there were Turkish invasions in the country which dealt a great blow to Buddhism. Many monasteries were destroyed and plundered. Buddhist monks were killed in large numbers.
- The invaders also destroyed the universities of Nalanda and Taxila. These universities were razed to the ground, and Buddhists books and documents in their libraries were burnt. Many Buddhists monks flew to neighboring countries such as Nepal and Tibet.
- All the above reasons led to the decline in Buddhism in India.