Siddhartha to Buddha: A life journey


Born on the Nepali side of the present day Nepal-India border, Siddhartha Gautama was a prince around the fifth century B.C.E. who, upon seeing people poor and dying, realized that human life is suffering. He renounced his wealth and spent time as a poor beggar, meditating and traveling but ultimately, remaining unsatisfied, settling on something called “the Middle Way.” Siddhartha Gautama was the first person to reach this state of enlightenment and known as the Buddha.

“The middle way” idea meant that neither extreme asceticism nor extreme wealth was the path to enlightenment, but rather, a way of life between the two extremes was and is. Eventually, in a state of deep meditation, he achieved enlightenment, or nirvana, underneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening). The Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar, India—the site of his enlightenment—is now a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.

Followers of Buddha: Sangha & Monasteries

Soon there grew a body of disciples of the Buddha and he founded a sangha, an organisation of monks who too became teachers of dhamma. These monks lived simply, possessing only the essential requisites for survival, such as a bowl to receive food once a day from the laity. As they lived on alms, they were known as bhikkhus.

Initially, only men were allowed into the sangha, but later women also came to be admitted. According to Buddhist texts, this was made possible through the mediation of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s dearest disciples, who persuaded him to allow women into the sangha. However children have to take permission of their Parents, Wife of their husband, and debtors of their creditors. The Buddha’s foster mother, Mahapajapati Gotami was the first woman to be ordained as a bhikkhuni. Many women who entered the sangha became teachers of dhamma and went on to become theirs, or respected women who had attained liberation.

The Buddha’s followers came from many social groups. They included kings, wealthy men and gahapatis, and also humbler folk: workers, slaves and craftspeople. Once within the sangha, all were regarded as equal, having shed their earlier social identities on becoming bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The internal functioning of the sangha was based on the traditions of ganas and sanghas, where consensus was arrived at through discussions. If that failed, decisions were taken by a vote on the subject.

Buddhism: Basic Philosophy

According to Buddhist philosophy, the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing; it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it. Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence. It is by following the path of moderation between severe penance and self-indulgence that human beings can rise above these worldly troubles. In the earliest forms of Buddhism, whether or not god existed was irrelevant. The Buddha regarded the social world as the creation of humans rather than of divine origin.

The idea of life after death is differently conceived in different religions. Buddhism teaches that humans are trapped in a repetitive cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. This is a vicious circle. The one goal of human is to break this cycle and experience complete liberation from suffering by putting an end to desire, the cause of suffering. That attainment, called in Buddhism Nibbana (Nirvana), is indeed the human destiny. According to Buddhist tradition, his last words to his followers were: “Be lamps unto yourselves as all of you must work out your own liberation.”

The Buddha taught about Four Noble Truths. The first truth is called “Suffering (dukkha),” which teaches that everyone in life is suffering in some way. The second truth is “Origin of suffering (samudāya).” This states that all suffering comes from desire (tanhā). The third truth is “Cessation of suffering (nirodha),” and it says that it is possible to stop suffering and achieve enlightenment. The fourth truth, “Path to the cessation of suffering (magga)” is about the Middle Way, which is the steps to achieve enlightenment.

Eight Fold Paths: the path consists of various interconnected activities related to knowledge, conduct, and meditative practices. Right view Right intention Right speech Right action Right livelihood Right mindfulness Right effort Right concentration.

Buddhism prescribes the three gems (triratna), prajñā (knowledge), śila (conduct) and samādhi (meditation) as the means of liberation. The five conducts (pañcaśila) are very important for a Buddhist monk. These are: 1. non-violence 2.non-stealing 3.celibacy 4.truthfulness 5.Not taking any intoxicating things like liquor.

Different council and Rise in Buddhism

First Council

The Buddha gave his teachings in the form of discourses (Sutta). He spoke not in Sanskrit, the language of the priestly class, but in dialect close to Pali.

Three months after his death the First Council was held in Rajagriha, Magadha. Their goal was to give the Buddha’s teachings a degree of permanence and consistency by converting them to written form, the inner meaning of the life of the Sangha was expressed in the songs of the early monks. They were called the ‘Songs of the Elders’ Theragatha by monks, Therigathi, by the nuns.

In that First Council itself, certain differences arose in the Sangha. Some conservatives claimed to follow the teachings of Buddha in their ‘ancient’ or ‘primordial’ (Thera) form. As against them, a new movement arose which was more overtly innovative with an emphasis that it should be open to the concerns of the lay people. This led to the division of Theravada school (or Hinyana) and the new Mahayana (Greater Vehicle).

Second council

The division became as sharp as to lead into a schism in the Second Council which was held a century after the first, in Vesali.

Third Buddhist Council (247 BC)

King Ashoka organized the Third Council in the third century BCE. Under his leadership, Buddhist monks were sent into neighboring countries; thousands of stupas and monasteries were built. Third council’s primary aim was primarily held to eliminate corruption practices of bogus monks from Sangha.

Fourth Buddhist Council

Took place under the patronage of Kushan king Kanishka in Kashmir (72AD) This council distinctly divided the Buddhism into 2 sects Mahayana and Hinayana.

Buddhist scriptures

The Buddha (and other teachers) taught orally – through discussion and debate. Men and women (perhaps children as well) attended these discourses and discussed what they heard. None of the Buddha’s speeches were written down during his lifetime.

After his death (c. fifth-fourth century BCE) his teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of “elders” or senior monks at Vaisali (Pali for Vaishali in present-day Bihar). These compilations were known as Tipitaka – literally, three baskets to hold different types of texts. They were first transmitted orally and then written and classified according to length as well as subject matter.

The Vinaya Pitaka included rules and regulations for those who joined the sangha or monastic order; the Buddha’s teachings were included in the Sutta Pitaka; and the Abhidhamma Pitaka dealt with philosophical matters.

Each pitaka comprised a number of individual texts. Later, commentaries were written on these texts by Buddhist scholars. As Buddhism travelled to new regions such as Sri Lanka, other texts such as the Dipavamsa (literally, the chronicle of the island) and Mahavamsa (the great chronicle) were written, containing regional histories of Buddhism. Many of these works contained biographies of the Buddha. Some of the oldest texts are in Pali, while later compositions are in Sanskrit.

When Buddhism spread to East Asia, pilgrims such as Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled all the way from China to India in search of texts. These they took back to their own country, where they were translated by scholars. Indian Buddhist teachers also travelled to faraway places, carrying texts to disseminate the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhist texts were preserved in manuscripts for several centuries in monasteries in different parts of Asia.

Buddhism: Different school of thoughts

Theraweda or Hinayana Buddhism

Buddhism also spread south eastwards, to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia including Indonesia. The older form of Buddhism, known as Theravada Buddhism was more popular in these areas. The theraweds consider that they are the one who the following original path of Budhism.  However Mahayani Budhism called this sect as Hinayana (Lesser vehicle).

Theravada Buddhism ( the “Doctrine of the Elders” ) later spread from northern India to Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asian countries like Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand.

Mahayana Buddhism

By the first century CE, there is evidence of changes in Buddhist ideas and practices. Early Buddhist teachings had given great importance to self-effort in achieving nibbana. Besides, the Buddha was regarded as a human being who attained enlightenment and nibbana through his own efforts.

However, gradually the idea of a saviour emerged. It was believed that he was the one who could ensure salvation. Simultaneously, the concept of the Bodhisatta also developed. Bodhisattvas were supposed to be persons who had attained enlightenment. Once they attained enlightenment, they could live in complete isolation and meditate in peace. However, instead of doing that, they remained in the world to teach and help other people.

The worship of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattas became an important part of this tradition. The worship of Bodhisattvas became very popular, and spread throughout Central Asia, China, and later to Korea and Japan.

One more change that Mahayana Buddhism developed was that Earlier, the Buddha’s presence was shown in sculpture by using certain signs. For instance, his attainment of enlightenment was shown by sculptures of the peepal tree. Now, statues of the Buddha were made. Many of these were made in Mathura, while others were made in Taxila.

Celibacy: its surprising evolutionary advantages – new research

The Mahayana scriptures were composed from around first century BC originating as written works in Sanskrit .The main sources for our understanding of Mahayana teachings are the very extensive Chinese and Tibetan Canons.

This new way of thinking was called Mahayana – literally, the “great vehicle”. Those who adopted these beliefs described the older tradition as Hinayana or the “lesser vehicle”.

Vajrayan Budhism

In the 7th century, a major movement within Mahayana Buddhism arose. This stream of Buddhism, called the Vajrayana, is most prominent in Tibet and its surrounding regions, although forms of it are found in China and Japan. The Vajrayana, literally the “Diamond Vehicle” or the “Thunderbolt Vehicle,” understands itself to be an esoteric form of Mahayana Buddhism with an accelerated path to enlightenment.

This Tibetan tradition sees itself as embodying both the teaching and meditation practice of the Theravada monks, as well as the teaching of the “emptiness” of all conditioned things that is distinctive to Mahayana philosophy. Vajrayana is also called Tantrayana, because it is based on the tantras, the systems of practice which emphasize the indivisibility of wisdom and compassion, symbolized as the union of male and female.

Three terms characterize the practice of Vajrayana, each one of which has overt ritual meanings, inner psychophysical meanings, and secret transcendent meanings:

  1. Mantra—a syllable or phrase for chanting or meditation, containing within it the sacred power and cosmic energies of a Buddha or bodhisattva. The mantra literally “protects the mind” from negative mental states by invoking these divine energies within oneself.
  2. Mandala—a “circle” or cosmic diagram for ritual or interior visualization, representing various realms of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and their cosmic energies in two- or three-dimensional forms.
  3. Mudra—a “symbol” or “ritual gesture,” made by the position of the hands or body, and signifying the qualities and presence of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Vajrayana ritual.

Buddhism: The Lamp of Logic

We get a glimpse of lively discussions and debates from Buddhist texts, which mention as many as 64 sects or schools of thought. Teachers travelled from place to place, trying to convince one another as well as laypersons, about the validity of their philosophy or the way they understood the world. Debates took place in the kutagarashala – literally, a hut with a pointed roof – or in groves where travelling mendicants halted. If a philosopher succeeded in convincing one of his rivals, the followers of the latter also became his disciples. So support for any particular sect could grow and shrink over time.

It is equally important to know that The Buddhist world-view generated introspection among the Hindu elite. As a response, a group of revitalized Hindu scholars, on the one hand decried the increasing role of rituals and rigidity of caste structures and on the other, incorporated the Buddha into its pantheon by treating him as an incarnation of Vishnu. A long travel of Buddhism also shows that how they incorporated different deity in vajrayan which are very much influenced by hindu goddess like Devi “Tara”.

Devi Tara –Can any similarity with Devi Durga be seen. We can see how different religion influence each other thought process. The Tara devi in Hinduism is one of the “64 yogini or mahavidh

The greatest loss, in my view, on account of the ‘banishment’ of Buddhism from India was that the method of rationality and scientific enquiry encouraged by Buddhism suffered a setback.