(Last Updated on : 13/01/2011)
Buddhism, dating back to 6th century B.C., is a religious canon that propagates religious tolerance. This religion largely covers the practices, traditions and beliefs based on Lord Buddha's teachings. It promotes the concepts of anicca, anatta and dependent origination. It is important for an individual to rise above the mundane attachments to attain salvation. The ways to attain it are laid down by the founder of this path Gautama Buddha
. It is widely believed that his principles, teachings and philosophy are the ways through which one can be liberated. However, Buddhist schools differ on the accurate nature of the path to liberation, the importance of the several teachings as well as scriptures and their particular practices. Early Buddhism is not an absolutely original doctrine. It is no freak in the evolution of Indian thought. Buddhism grew and flourished within the fold of orthodox belief.
The founder of Buddhism, Lord Buddha
was the one who was responsible for propagating the doctrines of Buddhism. Born at Lumbini, in the territory of the Sakya republic, of wealthy patrician stock, Lord Buddha went forth 'from home into the homeless life' at the age of twenty-nine, attained supreme enlightenment at Bodh Gaya
at the age of 25 years, and passed away at Kusinagara at the age of eighty. During his lifetime his teaching spread throughout the kingdoms of Magadha
and Kosala, as well as in the circumlocution principalities and republics. He is also known as Shakyamuni and his birth, teachings, death and the rules for the Sangha are to be found in the Buddhist canons. According to some modern scholars Lord Buddha was a human teacher whom the devotion of his followers turned into a god. Based as it is on assumptions quite different from those of Buddhism, such an interpretation of an important doctrinal development must be rejected outright. Within the context of a non-theistic religion the concept of deification has no meaning. The Buddha claimed to be a fully enlightened human being, superior even to the gods, and as such he has invariably been regarded.
The teachings of Buddha
, steeped in spiritual aura are a step-by-step way towards lasting happiness. The four noble truths and the noble eight fold paths which are the cornerstone of Buddhism and also the fundamental idea of Buddha's teachings are the simplest ways to understand the very essence of Buddhism. These are the principles which Gautama Buddha realised while he was meditating. The Four Noble Truths comprise the Nature of suffering, the Origin of Suffering or Samudaya, the Cessation of Suffering or Nirodha and the Way that leads to the Cessation of Suffering. The doctrine of the noble eightfold truth contours the very foundation on which the later philosophies of Buddhism evolved. Buddha preached that if one follows these principles then he would definitely attain enlightenment.
All these facts are of far-reaching consequence. In the first place, the Dharma in Buddhism
having been orally taught, there intervened between the Parinirvana
of the Buddha and the committing of his teaching to writing a period of oral transmission lasting two or three centuries in the case of some scriptures, and much longer in the case of others. Then the fact that the monks had been authorised to learn and teach the Buddha's message in their own dialects meant that the Dharma was from the beginning extant in a number of linguistic forms, so that, when finally it did come to be written down, this was done not in one language only but in many. Thus, it is said, the Canon of the Mahasanghikas was in Prakrit, that of the Sthaviravadins in Paisaci, that of the Pudgalavadins in Apabhramsa, and that of the Sarvastivadins in Sanskrit language
Hence when Buddhism spread outside India it came about that the Scriptures were translated into the language of those countries where the message was preached, into Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and so on. At no time, not even when Buddhism was confined to north-eastern India, was there any one canonical language for all Buddhists. In Buddhism, therefore, the spiritual life consists essentially in the following of a path, the successive steps and stages of which have been carefully mapped out by tradition in accordance with the spiritual experience of the Buddha and his disciples, both immediate and remote. As temperaments and methods of practice differ, this path can be formulated in various ways and the number and order of its constituent factors determined and described from various points of view. The architectonic of the Path, however, does not vary, and they reveal the same basic structure. This architectonic is most clearly exhibited in the formula of the Three Trainings (trisiksha), namely Morality (Ma), Meditation (samadhi), and Wisdom (prajna), which according to one tradition was the recurrent theme of the discourses delivered by the Buddha.
From the traditional point of view Buddhism begins with the believer going for refuge to the Three Jewels (triratna), the Buddha, the Doctrine (Dharma) and the Community of monks (Sangha). As the first of these, the Buddha himself, although there is no longer any doubt about his historical existence, the exact dates of his birth and Parinirvana (his physical death) are still the subject of controversy. In all probability those given by the Ceylon chronicles, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa (excluding its continuation the Culavamsa, the dates of which are sixty years out), equivalent to 563-483 B.C.
In its primary sense 'sila' means 'behaviour' and in its derived sense 'good behaviour' which is the expression of a mental attitude. Despite the formidable lists of precepts with which, in practice, Buddhist ethics has tended to become identified, 'sila' is in the last analysis defined in purely psychological terms as those actions which are associated with wholesome mental states, productive of good karma, and dissociated from those which are unwholesome. What constitutes a wholesome mental state differs from one 'yana' to another; or rather, there is a difference of emphasis. For the Hinayana, good actions are those connected with the wholesome mental roots of non-greed (aloblui), non-hale (advesha) and non-delusion (ainoha); for the Mahayana and Vajrayana, those inspired by love (maitri) and compassion (karuna) for sentient beings. In this fact lies the importance of 'sila' as a preparation for 'samadhi'. 'Samadhi' or Meditation (the translation is approximate only) comprises the exercises by means of which the practitioner attains mental concentration and the superconscious states, as well as these states themselves. It is the heart and centre of the Buddhist spiritual life. Broadly, in the Hinayana
the term 'samadhi' generally refers to the practice of the meditation exercises, and in the Mahayana to the spiritual states attained by such practice.
There are some popular forms of meditations, among which are the contemplation of the ten stages of decomposition of a corpse, by means of which craving (lobha) is destroyed, the cultivation of loving kindness (maitri) towards all sentient beings, which destroys hate (dvesha), and mindfulness of the bodily movements and the process of respiration, which leads to the destruction of delusion (moha). The Mahayana makes use of the same exercises but combines them with the practice of Sunyata. In the Vajrayana, meditation includes the repetition of the mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the visualisation of their forms, which, after being conjured forth from the void ness, worshipped, and meditated upon, are resolved back into it again. There are also various exercises which, by manipulating the gross energies of the physical body, aim at activating their subtle and transcendental counterparts. Whatever the type of exercise may be, the aim of it is to attain a state of purity and translucency of mind wherein the Truth can be as it were reflected.
According to Buddhism, Nirvana
is one of the ways of attaining perfection. The traditional explanations of Nirvana is presented as the 'blowing out' of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion and as the state wherein the thirst for sensuous experience, for continued existence, and even for non-existence, is altogether absent. However these etymologies, the goal of Buddhism is far from being a purely negative state, a metaphysical and psychological zero wherein individuality disappears, as some of the older Orientalists maintained that the Buddhists believed. Psychologically, Nirvana is a state of absolute illumination, supreme bliss, infinite love and compassion, unshakable serenity, and unrestricted spiritual freedom. Ontologically, it is for the Hinayana an eternal, unchanging, extra-mental spiritual entity, wholly unconnected with the cosmic process, and for the Mahayana the Absolute Reality transcending all oppositions including that between itself and Samsara. As the supreme object of the spiritual consciousness, or Dharmakaya, it is the embodiment of Great Wisdom and Great Compassion and embraces all possible virtues and perfections. It is the Infinite Light (Amitabha) and the Boundless Life (Amitayus), which has nothing to do with personal immortality.
Buddhism is, thus, more than just being a mere religious concept. More than a religion Buddhism is a reality, which transports one further away from sheer realities and sufferings. It is a philosophy, which supports in understanding Truth. Attaining enlightenment is therefore the crux of Buddhist philosophy. Different Schools of Buddhism came into existence with the passage of time. The two primary schools of Buddhism were Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Later from these two branches several forms of Buddhism came into existence. Though the form of expression in these schools differs but the basic principles remain the same. The schools of Buddhism are Theravada Schools of Buddhism, Vajrayana Schools of Buddhism, and Chinese Schools of Buddhism
and Japanese Schools of Buddhism.
There are several Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India as well as in other Asian countries. Starting from his birth town to the place where he attained Parinirvana, all the important places involving the life of Lord Buddha are vital religious centres for the Buddhists. While some are crucial because Buddha had visited there others are important because of the Buddhist temples or because of Buddha's disciples. The most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India are Champanagar
, Hajipur Cave
, Indasala Cave
, Lauria Nandangarh
, Lumbini, Khandagiri, etc.