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History of Indian Buddhism
Birth of Siddhartha Gautam
The religion is based upon the teachings, life experiences of its founder Siddhartha Gautam, born in circa 563 BCE.
He was born into royal family of Sakya clan who ruled from Kapilvastu, in Lumbini which is situated near the Indo-Nepal Border.
At the age of 29, Gautama left home and rejected his life of riches and embraced a lifestyle of asceticism, or extreme self-discipline.
After 49 consecutive days of meditation, Gautama attained Bodhi (enlightenment) under a pipal tree at Bodhgaya, a village in Bihar.
The First Sermon
Buddha gave his first sermon in Sarnath, near the city of Varanasi in UP. This event is known as Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana (turning of the wheel of law) on the full moon day of July.
The sermon contained the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
Tenets of Buddhism
Buddha asked his followers to avoid the two extremes of indulgence in worldly pleasure and the practice of strict abstinence and asceticism.
He ascribed instead the ‘Madhyam Marg’ or the middle path which was to be followed.
According to him everyone was responsible for their own happiness in life, stressing upon the individualistic component of Buddhism.
The main teachings of Buddhism are encapsulated in the basic concept of four noble truths or ariya-sachchani and eightfold path or astangika marg.
Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
The essence of Buddhism is the attainment of enlightenment. It points to a way of life that avoids self-indulgence and self-denial. There is no supreme god or deity in Buddhism.
The ultimate goal of Buddha’s teaching was the attainment of nibbana which was not a place but an experience, and could be attained in this life.
Buddha also established code of conduct both for the monastic order and the laymen to follow which are also known as the Five Precepts or Pancasil and refrain from them.
- Sexual misconduct
- Lying or gossip
- Taking intoxicating substances e.g. drugs or drink
The Buddhist Councils in India
- Buddhist Councils marked important turning points in the early Buddhism.
- These councils resulted in sectarian clashes and the eventual Great Schism that resulted in the two major schools, Theravada and Mahayana.
- In total, 4 major Buddhist councils were convened:
Different Schools of Buddhism
- It is one of the two main schools of Buddhism.
- The term Mahayana is a Sanskrit word which literally means “Great Vehicle”.
- It believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and Idol worship of Buddha and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature.
- It originated in northern India and Kashmir and then spread east into Central Asia, East Asia and some areas of Southeast Asia.
- Buddhist schools embedded in China, Korea, Tibet and Japan belong to the Mahayana tradition.
- Literally Lesser vehicle, It believes in the original teaching of Buddha or Doctrine of elders.
- It does not believe in Idol worship and tries to attain individual salvation through self discipline and meditation.
- Theravada is a Hinayana sect.
- It is the most ancient branch of extant Buddhism today.
- It remains closest to the original teachings of the Buddha.
- Theravada Buddhism developed in Sri Lanka and subsequently spread to the rest of Southeast Asia.
- It is the dominant form of religion in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
- Vajrayana means “The Vehicle of the Thunderbolt”, also known as tantric Buddhism.
- This Buddhist school developed in India around 900 CE.
- It is grounded on esoteric elements and very complex set of rituals compared with the rest of the Buddhist schools.
- It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty as the Chan school of Chinese Buddhism in and later developed into various schools.
- It spread to Japan in 7th century C.E.
- Meditation is the most distinctive feature of this Buddhist tradition.
Contribution of Buddhism to Indian Culture
- The concept of ahimsa was its chief contribution. Later, it became one of the cherished values of our nation.
- Its contribution to the art and architecture of India was notable. The stupas at Sanchi, Bharhut and Gaya are wonderful pieces of architecture.
- It promoted education through residential universities like those at Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramasila.
- The language of Pali and other local languages developed through the teachings of Buddhism.
- It had also promoted the spread of Indian culture to other parts of Asia.