Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Brief History of India - Buddhism (563-483 BC)

Siddhartha Gautama -    A Northern Indian aristocrat who was troubled by questions concerning the meaning of life and the existence of suffering and death in the world. In his late twenties, Gautama then abandoned his wife and family and a cloistered life of luxury and set out to seek answers to his questions using the traditional Hindu methods of self-denial and meditation. His quest lasted six years and involved philosophic meditation and the most extreme forms of asceticism, or bodily self denial. Then while seated under a sacred fig tree, he had a moment of illumination in which he understood the reasons behind human suffering and a means to overcome them. At this moment, he became Buddha, or "the Enlightened One." Having achieved this state of enlightenment, Buddha then became an itinerant teacher in the north of India.

The Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha were :

  1. Sorrow and suffering must be endured by all. 
  2. Suffering and sorrow result from the greedy desire for pleasure and possessions which people cannot have.
  3. Escape from such suffering and sorrow is achieved by giving up such desires and by reaching a state of mind of "not wanting".
  4. Reaching a state of enlightenment and perfect peace called nirvana by following the Middle Way (the avoidance of worldly pleasure and extreme asceticism), or the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path to Nirvana taught by buddha were:
  • Right views, or insight into the nature of life.
  • Right intentions.
  • Right speech (avoiding lying and gossip).
  • Right action (being honest and avoiding crime). 
  • Right living (the avoidance of harm to others).
  • Right effort (the prevention of evil). 
  • Right mindfulness (the awareness of one's self).
  • Right concentration to direct the mind in meditation.
Differences over beliefs and practices produced a split within Buddhism about 100 BC, and a number of different schools of Buddhist thought developed.  One of the two most important is Hinayana  or Theravada , the more traditional of the two schools, and it viewed Buddha as a teacher who had presented a set of guidelines for life.

 This "Southern Buddhism" eventually spread into Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.  The second school, the Mahayana, considered Buddha as a god and savior.  Adherents of this "northern Buddhism," which spread to Afghanistan, central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, turned it into a formal religion, complete with priests, temples, statues, creeds, and rituals.  One of its central concepts was the replacement of Nirvana as the highest goal with that of the enlightened status of a self-less bodhisattva, a "Buddha-to-be," who would help others attain Nirvana.

Within India itself, Buddhism had a curious history.  In the third century BC, King Ashoka made it the state religion.  But, the Brahmans opposed it, for Buddhism, by abandoning elaborate rituals and by opening salvation to all without outside assistance, threatened their position.  Over time, many Buddhist teachings and ttitudes were incorporated into Hinduism, and Buddhism more or less disappeared as a separate faith.

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